Counting down the
11 10 days to the 50th anniversary, here are my top 11 stories for each Doctor, continuing with 10 (David Tennant).
1. The Girl in the Fireplace
I’m The Doctor. And I just snogged Madame de Pompadour!
This one has just about everything present in modern Who–a little time travel, plenty of romance, the Doctor as clown and hero, crushing sadness, a dash of scifi, and even the hint of Doctor Who backstory (“Such a lonely little boy. Lonely then and lonelier now! How can you bear it?”). Sophia Myles crushes it as the older Reinette Poisson (Madame de Pompadour), and the connection between the Doctor and her feels more real in the 40 minutes of this story than any of the future ones where he seems to be in love with Rose.
2. Human Nature / Family of Blood
I’ve seen him. He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever… He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe.
In this one the Doctor isn’t even the Doctor for most of the story. Instead, he’s hiding in the guise of John Smith, a school teacher in rural England in the early 20th century. But it’s not just play-acting. He’s buried his true persona, his memories, and even changed his physical attributes to become human…and then he’s forced to choose between an idyllic life with a family and kids or the wandering Time Lord. It reminds me very much of ending of “The Last Temptation of Christ.” And David Tennant plays the two characters of John Smith and the Doctor with such light deft that you can see both men as different creatures without condescending to the audience by beating them over the head with it.
3. Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
Hey! Who turned out the lights!
Steven Moffat’s plans for threading the character of River Song (Alex Kingston) throughout the 11th Doctor’s reign may or may not have been pre-planned from here, but he sure picked up the ball and ran with it. Like River or not (and I do), this is where her backwards journey begins. But it’s not just the River Song show. The best companion in the new series (and one of the best ever), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), gets a huge and sad tale to go right along with the Doctor’s own. Throw in a really scary monster–the invisible, flesh-eating Vashta Nerada–and this is one great two-parter.
Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and DON’T blink.
This one doesn’t even feature the Doctor all that much. It’s really brought to life by Carey Mulligan before she went on to become Oscar-nominated Cary Mulligan (for “An Education”). The weeping angels are handled so well in this one, and I remember watching it in the dark and nearly jumping out of my skin. They’ll probably never have the same impact, sadly, despite being mentioned again and again as one of New Who’s best villains.
Ahh, taking a big space truck with a bunch of strangers across a diamond planet called Midnight? What could possibly go wrong?
Basically, just David Tennant as the Doctor and a handful of extras with a completely unseen monster–just banging on the metal walls of the cylinder in which they’re riding. This one is intense, and the scenes where the Doctor is trying to convince the murderous mob first not to throw a suspect passenger out to her death, then not to throw him out, and the face-to-face conversation with the entity that has possessed said passenger are riveting. It also features the 2nd Doctor’s son, David Troughton, and a pre-Merlin Colin Morgan.
6. The Waters of Mars
There are laws of time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? *Me!* It’s taken me all these years to realize that the laws of time are *mine* and they will obey me!
During the year leading up to the end of David Tennant’s run, we were left with a small number of specials instead of an actual season. Most of them were “ok”–enjoyable, but nothing special–but this one shook the Doctor’s own faith in his abilities, as he goes against the rules (because they seem stupid and cruel) only to find there are limits to his powers. It also leads straight into his final two-part story, The End of Time.
7. Turn Left
Sometimes I think there’s way too much coincidence around you, Donna. I met you once, then I met your grandfather, then I met you again. In the whole wide universe, I met you for a second time. Like something’s binding us together.
In her own little “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Donna is shown what would have happened had she made the wrong turn on the fateful day she met the Doctor. It ain’t pretty. It turns out that an attack by the unseen Trickster’s Brigade (a Sarah Jane Adventures villain) affects a parallel universe where everything is just anti-good.
8. The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
We are the legion of the beast. The legion shall be many; and the legion shall be free. He has woven himself in the fabric of your life since the dawn of time.
As with many monsters, this one is scarier in the first part when you don’t see him, but there are plenty of creepy bits to this two-parter, including the unsettling look (and initial introduction) of the Ood, the mysterious writing that even the TARDIS can’t translate, and a deep-voiced spirit that possesses a hapless crew member. This is a “base under siege” episode with the base simultaneously threatened with attack from an unseen evil entity and being sucked into a black hole. The tension is ratcheted up to…eleven.
9. School Reunion
The Doctor likes traveling with an entourage. Sometimes they’re human, sometimes they’re aliens and sometimes they’re tin dogs.
Companions from the past, Sarah Jane Smith and the Doctor’s robot dog, K9, return as a link to the stories of the 70’s and 80’s. Sarah Jane was one of the longest running companions, starting with the 3rd Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and getting dropped off miles from her home when the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) gets a summons to return to Gallifrey at the end of The Hand of Fear. This story reunites her with the Doctor, but she gets to see him hundreds of years older, several regenerations later, and with a new, young companion. Anthony Head (Giles of Buffy fame) gets a chance to camp it up as an alien baddie, too.
10. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday
Cyber Leader: Daleks, be warned. You have declared war upon the Cybermen.
Dalek Sec: This is not war – this is pest control!
Cyber Leader: We have five million Cybermen. How many are you?
Dalek Sec: Four.
Cyber Leader: You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?
Dalek Sec: We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek! You superior in only one respect.
Cyber Leader: What is that?
Dalek Sec: You are better at dying.
The heart-wrenching end of Rose as a regular companion brought two big surprises–the return of Mickey and the appearance of the Daleks in what was a Cyberman story. A dream match up between two of the Doctor’s oldest foes really serves to highlight the also-ran status of the modern Cybermen, but it’s fun to watch, if only for the above exchange. Meanwhile, Torchwood is introduced as a sorta well-meaning but inept organization designed by Queen Victoria after an earlier meeting with the Doctor (see Tooth and Claw) scares her into finding ways to prevent him and other aliens from invading England. Oh, yeah, did I mention it was the end of Rose, too?
11. The Christmas Invasion
See, that’s the thing, I’m the Doctor, but beyond that, I… I just don’t know. I literally do not know who I am. It’s all untested.
This is the first David Tennant episode, and like the first one for any Doctor, it’s met with a bit of hesitation. “Am I going to like this Doctor? What if the actor is all wrong? I really liked the last guy.” And for most of the episode, he’s stuck in a coma! It turns out this is as planned, as the tension of an alien invasion that threatens to kill a bunch of hypnotized humans builds up to a fantastic reveal for the 10th Doctor. He comes out with a bit of the swagger and sword play of the 3rd Doctor and the quirky alien humor of the 4th. This episode started the great tradition of Christmas episodes and planted seeds for future events (the severed hand, controlled regeneration energy, Harriet Jones, Torchwood, etc.).