Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Jodie Whittaker, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi all portrayed as their respective Doctors

The Best and Brightest of New Who

Time to get into this big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff

I could say that Doctor Who is literally about a mad person in a box traveling through all of time and space and I would technically be correct, but at the same time, I’d be oh so wrong. Airing its first episode on November 23rd, 1963, Doctor Who is nothing short of a phenomenon, first catching the love and admiration of the British public then going on to attract sci-fi lovers everywhere. 

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The show in a nutshell is an emotional journey and a tale about love, contradiction, aliens, and adventure. It must be doing something right since it’s been around for nearly 60 years. Although 15 of those years were due to a hiatus, there was so much love surrounding the show that it was brought back in 2005 and has been going ever since. There is no denying that the series has produced some of the best moments in sci-fi television history.

New Who

Brought back by Russell T Davies in 2005, Who has remained a constant fixture in the genre even though there as been contention as to the direction of the recent seasons. There’s been some downs over the the years, but trust me when I say the ups have been nothing short of spectacular.

Whovians around the world are now preparing for a highly anticipated 14th season that will see the return of David Tennant, Catherine Tate, showrunner Russell T. Davies, and the newest actor to play the Time Lord, Ncuti Gatwa. While we await the new season planned to air in 2023, let’s take a look at the top 15 episodes of Doctor Who. This list will be focused on New Who, so anything before 2005 won’t be here. 

20. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

Billie Piper and John Barrowman dancing in front of the Big Ben clockface in Doctor Who (BBC)

This was the episode that caused people to sit up and notice Steven Moffat as a horror writer. The story takes us to the Blitz in London, where a girl is stealing food from wealthy households while being pursued by a child in a gas mask. You might know the twist by now, if you don’t, I won’t spoil it for you.

Oh, and this episode also marks the first appearance of one Captain Jack Harkness! Unfortunately, John Barrowman’s sexual harassment would pretty much spell the ending for this character, but I still like to enjoy Jack while pretending somebody else played him.

19. The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords

Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones in Doctor Who (BBC)

This one is on the list mostly because it’s a showcase for Martha Jones, the Doctor’s most underrated companion and also hands down one of his best. She saves the whole planet Earth in this story simply by having grit, determination, and the ability to tell a story well. She goes up against the Master, arguably the Doctor’s greatest foe, and beats him hands down. Beautiful. I can even forgive the weird shrunken CGI Doctor in this story for the sake of Martha. Here’s to hoping we’ll see her again one day in a future Doctor Who story.

18. “School Reunion”

David Tennant, Elisabeth Sladen, and robot dog K9 in Doctor Who (BBC)

This episode marked the post-revival return for a star of the classic series. This was Sarah Jane Smith, one of the most beloved companions to ever appear on the show. Elisabeth Sladen slid back into the role like she’d never left it and took Sarah Jane on a journey of envy, loss and eventually wistful happiness. Meanwhile, Rose grappled with her own feelings of anxiety, wondering if one day the Doctor would “replace” her like he did with Sarah Jane.

This episode gained a new poignancy after Sladen’s death in 2011, and no Who fan will ever forget her.

17. “Dalek”

Billie Piper as Rose Tyler and a Dalek in Doctor Who (BBC)

The most anticipated episode when Doctor Who returned in 2005, and it didn’t disappoint. This was a newer, cooler Dalek in this episode, one that levitated up staircases and could massacre a room full of humans without even breaking a (metaphorical) sweat. Add to that some powerhouse performances from Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper and you have one of the best Who episodes ever.

Years later and the Daleks show up virtually every season. They’ve been used so much that—in my opinion at least—they’re not really scary anymore. But for 45 minutes in the year 2005, in front of a small TV screen, they were the most terrifying thing anyone had ever envisioned.

16. “Midnight”

The Doctor looking into a possessed passenger's face in a ship on Doctor Who.

One of the scariest Doctor Who episodes ever written. There’s no blood, no gore, just the horror of the unknown as the Doctor finds himself stranded on a tourist ship on a distant planet. Something unfathomable, unnamed and terrible is in there with him and it’s leading the Doctor’s fellow passengers to turn against each other. Truly shudder-worthy.

It’s one of a long list of Doctor Who episodes that should only be watched from behind the sofa. Just because this show is often referred to as “a children’s show” doesn’t mean it’s not utterly terrifying at times.

15. “The End of the World”

Christopher Eccleston as The Ninth Doctor (BBC)

Rose may have been the episode that brought the show back, but The End of the World was the confirmation that this new Doctor Who was a force to be reckoned with. In this episode, the Doctor takes Rose to see the destruction of Earth centuries into the future (talk about a bad date idea) and ends up embroiled in a murder mystery. At the end of the episode the Doctor confesses to Rose that his home planet of Gallifrey is also gone, and this tragedy would inform the show and the Doctor’s character for years to come.

14. “The Waters of Mars”

Lindsay Duncan as Adelaide Brooke in Doctor Who (BBC)

The beginning of the end for the Tenth Doctor. He’s faced with a terrible decision: should he maintain the laws of time and allow several people to die on Mars, or rescue them even if it disrupts the timeline? This was a Ten we’d only seen brief glimpses of before: a terrifying and god-like being who can’t help but see human beings as inherently beneath him. That, and the watery “Flood” zombies that cause the destruction on Mars, make this one of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who.

By the way, a pre-fame Gemma Chan appears in this episode! You’ll have to watch it to see if her character survives to the end.

13. “A Good Man Goes To War”

Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams in Doctor Who (BBC)

A Good Man Goes To War was the mid-season finale of season 6 and it finally revealed the truth of River Song’s origins. It’s a fantastic episode for fans of Amy Pond and Rory Williams, too, since they get some great moments of character development here. The only bad thing about this episode (apart from Moffat simply not being able to restrain himself from wink-wink-nudge-nudge maybe-Amy-slept-with-the-Doctor jokes) is that part two of season 6 completely and utterly failed to make Amy and Rory’s journey from this point on remotely realistic.

12. “The Pilot”

Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts in Doctor Who (BBC)

This was the episode that introduced us to Bill Potts, the first lesbian companion of the Doctor! Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor takes a shine to the smart young woman and invites her aboard the TARDIS, but unfortunately a girl Bill has a crush on has become a water monster that can follow her wherever she goes. This would all get a sweet payoff in the series 10 finale The Doctor Falls, and Bill’s story is still one of the greatest in modern-day Who (even if it is a little confusing at times.)

11. “The Power of the Doctor”

David Bradley as the First Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

Doctor Who pulled out all the stops for Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration episode, that also marked the 100th anniversary of the BBC. It was an absolute treat for Classic Who fans, because it brought back—deep breath—Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, David Bradley as the First Doctor, Sophie Aldred as Ace, Janet Fielding as Tegan, and (in cameo roles) Bonnie Langford as Mel, Katy Manning as Jo, and William Russell as Ian. Yes, ALL OF THEM! It was a crowded episode, no doubt about that, but a very fun one.

10. “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon”

Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

This was a perfect opener to a season that would leave us tearful, amazed, and downright gobsmacked as to how this was teed up since Silence in the Library. The first episode of series 6 gave us Eleven, River, Rory, and Amy summoned to Utah, where they bore witness to the death of the Doctor. Every second was glorious. In this two-part season premiere, we were taken on a rare trip to America where we were introduced to “The Silence.” We only had them for a brief moment, but they cemented their place as one of the most terrifying creatures in Doctor Who history.

9. “Listen”

Clara Oswald as Clara, Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and Remi Gooding as Rupert Pink in Doctor Who (BBC)

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was definitely a grower. His episodes drew some of the lowest ratings, but when asked about today, there is a certain fondness that he evokes. That’s often due to episodes like “Listen.” Despite being a show about aliens, Doctor Who doesn’t tend to veer into the horror category as much, but “Listen” is an example that shows they have no bounds to the type of story they can tell. 

“Listen” is suspenseful from beginning to the end. The episode is unsettling because we have no clue if the “Listener” is real or not, and it preys on some very real sentiments that can be found in the real world about the Boogeyman—a creature hiding under the bed. It’s no surprise that the episode was the first of Doctor Who to be nominated for the Bram Stoker Prize, an award granted for works of horror that have been amazingly written. 

8. “The Fugitive of the Judoon”

Jo Martin as the Fugitive Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

At this point, it’s common knowledge that Jodie Whittaker hasn’t had the best run as the Doctor. This has nothing to do with her performance, but just the lackluster stories and scripts that she’s been given. That said, “Fugitive of the Judoon” is not only Thirteen’s best work, but it’s one of the best of the series as a whole.

The episode is a precursor to the two-part season 12 finale and focuses on Jo Martin, who is revealed to be a never-before-seen incarnation of the Doctor who had her memories locked away. The episode had us hooked from beginning to end and offered a jaw-dropping moment after a season of episodes that bore no real impact. Added to the cherry on top of an already perfectly frosted cake, we got Jack Harkness back.

7. “The Day of the Doctor”

Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

As we are nearing what is expected to be a fabulous 60th anniversary, I would be remiss not to include the show’s spectacular 50th anniversary special. What do you get when you put Matt Smith, David Tennant, Tom Baker, and Billie Piper all in the same episode of Doctor Who? Excellence, that’s what. It was also our first full introduction to the War Doctor, and it was a marvel to see the Doctor interact with a part of himself that he held a large amount of contempt for and come to peace with his actions. This episode is one for the history books.

6. “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood”

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

This is everything Doctor Who was meant to be, while at the same time never having attempted anything like it before. This episode focuses on Ten rewriting his biological code in order to appear human (harkening back to the fugitive Doctor) and taking on the alias “John Smith.” 

The Family of Blood were a family of hunters intent on finding the Doctor to take his immortality. In the end, the Doctor was hiding from them not because of what they could do to him, but because he feared what he could do to them. Ten has always been a complex and rather intense Doctor, but the punishment he bestowed upon the Family definitely showed his fury.

5. “The Eleventh Hour”

Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

We all have our gripes with Steven Moffat, but you have to admit when he was good … he was fantastic. It was going to be a hard time for whomever piloted the TARDIS after David Tennant, but Smith being a relatively unknown name at the time in addition to being the youngest person to take on the role, had a harder time than most would have. All of those doubts, however, disappeared within the first 5 minutes of “The Eleventh Hour,” and he was cemented as the Doctor by the end. 

4. “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”

Alex Kingston as River Song in Doctor Who (BBC)

The fact that the first time we see River Song is also the last time we see River Song will never cease to blow me away. As an avid reader, a planet filled with books seems like a dream, but nothing is ever that simple with this show. Cue the Vashta Nerada, and it turns into a nightmare real quick. 

This might be a controversial take, but “Silence” and “Forest” kind of set up the entirety of Eleven’s character arc, but it worked because of how good it was. River Song and the Doctor gave us some of the best stories to date, and the fact that it was based upon two people meeting at the opposite ends of their timelines … yeah. Steven was brilliant for that one. Plus, it holds up to this day. 

3. “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

Anything with Captain Jack in it is going to be a win regardless, but this two-part crossover featuring Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures was excellent. The Daleks have been featured in Doctor Who so many times that certain aspects may seem a bit stale, but that was far from the case here. The episode concluding with Doctor Donna, and a tearful goodbye between Rose and Ten, made this one of the most emotional moments of the series. However, with the return of Catherine Tate for the 60th anniversary special, we could see Donna finally get the ending she deserves.

2. “Vincent and the Doctor”

Tony Curran as Vincent Van Gogh in Doctor Who (BBC)

This is what television was supposed to be, and I witnessed it firsthand. Doctor Who is known for going back in time and making historical figures part of the narrative. Queen Victoria, Madame de Pompadour, and Agatha Christie have all had their moments, but Vincent van Gogh shined the brightest. 

Amy and the Doctor travel to Van Gogh’s time to meet the painter and have to go through the delicate nature of his mind. Written to portray the life and suffering of the man, and a real portrayal of his demons, “Vincent and the Doctor” will go down in history as one of the most poignant and heartfelt moments of the series. 

1. “Blink”

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.” These are the words that kept me up at night. In addition to being the best episode of Doctor Who, “Blink” is the most popular and for good reason. The weeping angels are the most terrifying creatures in Doctor Who history.

Based on the ingenious premise of statues that are only statues when someone is looking at them, you have something that’s never been done before. The episode that introduces them barely features the Doctor at all. Instead, Sally Sparrow is tasked with rescuing Ten and Martha as they’re trapped in 1969.

(featured image: The BBC)

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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.