Doctor Who has always been primarily about the importance of hope and change — and the show itself has changed quite a bit since it first began, especially in regard to those who portray the Doctor. Now that Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner are over, this seems like a good time to look back at their time...and then look forward to a new one.
I spent last week binge-watching all of the Doctor Who episodes from the moment where I had stopped watching (which was right after the Zygon two-parter). In a way, binge-watching a show like Doctor Who really makes the good episodes even better...and the bad ones even worse.
But I actually enjoyed Season 10 a hell of a lot — it was certainly Moffat’s best season since the 11th Doctor’s first one and it was clear that he had improved his writing and was no longer relying solely on “tricks” or making the female companions into plot devices. In fact, Bill Potts became one of my favorite companions ever, second only behind Donna Noble. The end of series ten might be my favorite Moffat finale — especially since the immediate threat isn’t something super huge, like the destruction of Earth, the universe, all of time, etc., but rather it’s about saving a small group of humans for a short amount of time. And it’s a very, very bittersweet episode.
So on the whole, I think Moffat managed to go out on a high note and create a legacy of well-done episodes (with a few clunkers here and there). Here, then, are my ten favorite episodes from Moffat’s era (in air-date order):
- “Vincent and the Doctor” — A nice “The Doctor meets a historical personage” episode, but with a much deeper meaning the usual. I like it’s portrayal of mental illness and the fact that neither the Doctor nor Amy were able to change Victor’s fate, even by showing him how beloved his work was.
- “The Lodger” — A nice comedic showcase for both Matt Smith and James Corden, this episode was just fun.
- “The Big Bang” — One of Moffat’s trickiest of trick episodes, it was also one of his best, giving us an entire world where the stars don’t exist, young Amy meeting older Amy, and the TARDIS as the sun itself, but it also provided us with a fairly small and self-contained finale, even if it didn’t answer any questions.
- “The Day of the Doctor” — Look, if the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors team up with John Hurt, I’m going to enjoy the episode no matter what. It helps that it might be the single funniest episode, as David Tennant and Matt Smith’s snark-to-snark combat becomes more and more hilarious. Plus: the return of Tom Baker. How can anyone not love this?
- “Listen” — This one might be a bit controversial, but it’s really the episode that cemented Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor for me. Nothing much happens, except perhaps the Doctor has a nervous breakdown. And yet everything in the episode works.
- “Heaven Sent” — Peter Capaldi spends almost the entire episode talking to himself and yet he completely and utterly pulls it off. He goes from angry to scared to indignant to frightful to just pissed off. He not only makes the episode, he makes the entire series. The last twist is good, but it’s not what makes the episode great. That’s all Capaldi.
- “Thin Ice” — A good old-fashioned Doctor Who episode set on the frozen Thames during the last great Frost Fair. In the classic era, it would have been four half-hour episodes long, but it does exactly what it needed to do and let us see more of Bill, too.
- “Extremis” — Another Moffat “twist” episode, but well done enough to forgive and even like. To use another TV show, this is the episode where the Doctor enters the Framework.
- “World Enough and Time” — I saw the “twist” in this episode coming (the fact that the lower levels, time moves faster) because Moffat loves that type of twist, but I didn’t see the slow, dreadful medical horror coming. This episode belongs to Pearl Mackie as she slowly realizes what’s going on, but can do nothing to stop it.
- “The Doctor Falls” — The end of the Twelfth Doctor. He gives his best speech, which almost works, and gives his final stand, which will only help a small group of people for a short amount of time. But he still does it, because that is what the Doctor does: he will stand and where he stands, he will fall.
I don’t want to be too negative with this article, though, so I won’t make a big list out of what I think are the worst episodes, but here are some episodes that were just plain unmemorable: “Night Terrors” (I think this involved a living dollhouse, right?), “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (if the only thing I can remember is the title, that’s not a good thing), “Kill the Moon” (the moon is an egg and it hatches, but it doesn’t matter because it also lays another egg that is the same size and shape and also in the same place, so nothing in this episode mattered at all), and “Sleep No More” (...sand people made from eye gunk — which makes no sense at all).
And now a wishlist for the upcoming season and the new Thirteenth Doctor.
- Don’t rely on dues ex machinas so much— Let’s be clear: this is Doctor Who, it will always have some dues ex machinas, but when two series both end with the companion being magically saved from the moment of her death and then traveling through time and space with another immortal that’s not the Doctor, well, that’s just plain lazy. Find a better way to save people in mortal peril.
- Give us better characterized companions — This isn’t really a criticism of Bill (who had great characterization), but rather Amy and Clara, who seemed to have been written with a few lines of characterization each when they started out. Both got better, with Clara ending up with a nice storyarc about becoming more and more like the Doctor, but it would really help it we had a companion be a full-fledged character when they first appear. You know, like Bill. (More Bill, is what I’m saying.)
- More non-human companions — Of all the nuWho companions, I can name the non-human ones on one hand. Actually, I only need one finger: Nardole. Who was awesome and hilarious. The Doctor can travel through all of space and time, so why so few non-human companions? The Classic Era had quite a few, so I think we are due for another one. Or just bring back Nardole.
- No more “mysterious backstory of the Doctor” episodes — it’s great to hint at the Doctor’s past. It’s less great when you center entire episodes on that past, because, really, there is no way you can reveal it. Not without disappointing pretty much everyone. So you end up with an episode that, despite being named “The Name of the Doctor,” adamantly refuses to actually name the Doctor. Please, don’t. We get it: he’s mysterious. We don’t need to have it hit over the head.
- More of the non-evil Master — “The Doctor Falls” showed the apparent final death of the Master, as Missy was killed by her previous regeneration (right after she killed him in order to regenerate into her...oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed). But, of course, we know that the Master probably survived — they’ve survived everything. So I would love it if we got a new Master, but one that wasn’t super evil. They don’t have to be good either — just in-between. In other words: make the Master like Loki.
- Less of the Daleks, please — every series has had a Dalek episode or a multi-part Dalek episode and, really, they’ve gotten tired by now. Even attempts at spicing them up haven’t really worked (looking at you, “Into the Dalek”). I’m not talking about never using them...but maybe retire them for a little bit. Don’t use them for a whole series.
That’s what I wish for the next season. But I really have no idea what it will be like — I’m really not sure what Chris Chibnall will do. I didn’t really enjoy a lot of his Doctor Who episodes — in fact, my favorite thing he’s done isn’t an episode at all, but a webisode called P.S. But he has shown a knack for writing interesting characters in Broadchurch, so it’s my hope that he will be a fantastic showrunner.
What are you people hoping for next series? And what was your favorite thing about Moffat’s era?