This new era of Doctor Who can hardly be called “new” anymore. The reboot of the British sci-fi adventure drama from the ’60s is entering its 11th season, its 13th Doctor, and another new set of companions about to explore the universe for the first time. But throughout all its seasons, Doctor Who has always stuck to its inherent optimism, celebrating humanity and the wonders of the universe around us through the eyes of a centuries old alien. The show isn’t unfamiliar with “new,” though. Every so often the title character gets replaced by a new actor, which means there’s always going to be an adjustment period. A new actor to get used to, a slightly different version of a character that’s been around for decades to fall in love with again, and sometimes, new companions to get used to as well.
We’re about to enter that process again. New companions, new showrunners, new production, and a new Doctor. This time, The Doctor will be played by Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to be cast as the title character. She’ll be accompanied by Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh, who all play the new companions. So while things may feel “new” again, the show remains the same. By that I mean, there’ll be that adjustment period that’s always been there, followed by wonderful episodes and charismatic leads. Before we get there though, let’s look back. Let’s remember the great moments of previous Doctors, from Christopher Eccleston to Peter Capaldi, and remember that once, we were wary of them too, before they swept us off our feet and offered us an adventure through time and space.
Season 1, Episodes 9/10: “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”
The optimism that ends this episode is such a wholesome moment for the ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccelston, a version of The Doctor that is still suffering from the fallout of the Time War. His rough and often times serious demeanor makes up most of this first season of the new era of Doctor Who, but his enthusiasm is wonderful by the end of this two-part episode. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and The Doctor land in London during World War II, right in the middle of the London Blitz. Rose comes across a child with a gas mask on his face, asking, “Are you my mommy?” One of the most horrifying transformations happens here, too, when a person’s face morphs into a gas mask. Plus, this is the first time we meet Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).
Season 2, Episode 4: “The Girl in the Fireplace”
“The Girl in the Fireplace” has everything: space, time windows, time travel to the future, time travel to significant historical periods, and a horse on a spaceship. Not to the mention, it’s a bit of a love story. The Doctor (David Tennant) takes Rose and Mickey to the 51st century, where they land on an abandoned spacecraft. There are no people, except one girl. The ship contains various time windows; The Doctor can step from the 51st century into the 18th, right into the life of Madame De Pompadour, a prominent figure in French history. As The Doctor pops in and out of Madame De Pomadour’s life at random, she’s forced to take the long route.
Season 3, Episode 10: “Blink”
Probably the most well-known Doctor Who episode, “Blink” usually tops most best-of Doctor Who lists and is the first suggestion made by any Who fans to people first starting out. It’s a story unique to the Doctor Who canon in that it barely features The Doctor at all. Instead, the focus falls on Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan!), who’s just encountered a species of aliens called the Weeping Angels, stone angel statues that can only attack when no one is looking. They kill you gently by sending you back in time to live to death while they feed on the energy left behind of the life you could have led. “Blink” turns ordinary objects into some of the most terrifying monsters of Doctor Who while also delivering the single most interesting bit of quirky time travel logistics there is.
Season 4, Episode 10: “Midnight”
Single location stories are always going to be good. When the drama is centered in one room, there’s no escape. In “Midnight,” The Doctor (David Tennant) decides to take a pleasure cruise on the planet Midnight, a planet made up of beautiful crystals but completely uninhabitable to people. That doesn’t stop the human race from turning it into a tourist attraction. The first bit of the episode introduces us to the cast of characters on the cruise with The Doctor. When the ship breaks down, a mysterious knocking is heard from the outside. The idea of a monster that repeats what it hears in order to learn is heart-stoppingly terrifying. The tension is magnificent, from the face-to-face interactions of The Doctor and the monster-possessing Mrs. Silvestri to the portrait of the very worst of humanity.
Season 5, Episode 10: “Vincent and the Doctor”
Deep down, we all wish to know what sort of lasting impact we’ll have on the world. The reality is most of us will never know. That’s the tragedy of life. For Vincent Van Gogh, this is especially true, at least in the way “Vincent and the Doctor” sees it. The episode is a respectful portrait of the legendary painter that simultaneously shows the joys and sorrows of life through the eyes of Van Gogh. Van Gogh, portrayed wonderfully by Tony Curran, sees a monster no one else can, in much the same way he sees the world in a way no one else does.
The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillian) pay a visit to Van Gogh to assist with the monster. The actual investigation into the monster isn’t all that interesting, however. Once it’s dealt with, The Doctor makes one last gesture for Van Gogh, bringing him to the year 2010 and showing him his paintings hanging on the walls of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The moment tingles with emotion as Van Gogh takes everything in, music swelling in the background. It’s a moment Amy thinks will change everything. After all, if someone knew their lasting impact, it could keep them going. But that isn’t the point of “Vincent and the Doctor.” Instead, the episode allows both the highs and lows to exist with each other, in much the same way life is for everyone. While Van Gogh’s end is tragic, some good moments linger.
Season 6, Episode 4: “The Doctor’s Wife”
The TARDIS takes on a human female form in the Neil Gaimen-penned episode “The Doctor’s Wife.” It’s the first time the relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS is really explored. The Doctor’s ship has always had living qualities to it, but in human form, the story of the TARDIS becomes something a bit more. It’s a tale as old as time in a way. A mad man runs away in a box, a vagabond, a lone hero, with only his horse to keep him company. In this case, the TARDIS is The Doctor’s longest running companion, but the best twist is it’s not a companion at all. The two complement each other, turning the TARDIS into a character all on its own.
Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: “The Day of the Doctor”
The 50th anniversary special had been hyped for awhile before it eventually premiered. With each cast announcement, the excitement kept building. There hadn’t been a significant Doctors meeting Doctors special in awhile and this one was bringing back one of the most popular Doctors of the show – David Tennant. The end result is over an hour-long event that centered around the day The Doctor most regrets, the day he killed his people and the Daleks during the Time War. It had been an event that happened off screen between the end of the original run of the series and the beginning of the new one. John Hurt makes his debut as the War Doctor and through some nifty and clever bending of time, the three Doctors — Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt — come together to take on the burden of ending the Time War.
Season 8, Episode 4: “Listen”
Exploring the universal fear of monsters under the bed, “Listen” is probably the best of the Peter Capaldi years. Not only does it explore the origins of new character Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a brief glimpse of The Doctor’s childhood sheds light on some of the events of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special. The episode was very early in Capaldi’s turn as The Doctor, but if there’s ever going to be an episode to change your mind about a Doctor, it’s this one. Creepy, unsettling, and gets at the very root of all childhood fears, “Listen” is Doctor Who at its best.