Published on August 21st, 2014 | by Brad4
Doctor Who – The Ten Best Tenth Doctor Stories
No sooner was the Ninth Doctor there than he was gone. In his place came the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, then a relative unknown. The Tenth Doctor’s era has thus far been the lightest in tone, and it’s also probably my least favourite (though the two concepts aren’t linked.) The final throes of Russell T. Davies’ era as showrunner aren’t great, and where the Ninth Doctor went out on a triumphant note, the Tenth goes with a bit of a whimper. But this is not the place to discuss how rubbish The End of Time is; this is the place to celebrate the best of the Tenth Doctor. And he had enough material to take a proper look at, so there are some episodes I feel bad about leaving out. These are my favourite ten stories about the Tenth Doctor;
10. Tooth and Claw
Another trip back to meet a historical figure, this episode sees the Doctor and Rose defending Queen Victoria from a werewolf in the Scottish highlands. Do you need more than that sentence? OK, how about ninja warrior monks, a moon-powered laser invented by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria founding an institute to protect Britain from alien invasion? This episode is delightfully bonkers in the best kind of way, with a thoroughly enjoyable performance from Pauline Collins as the unamused monarch. Very daft, entertaining adventure.
9. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
You may come to recognise that I am a huge fan of Steven Moffat. In the Russell T. Davies era, Moffat’s were the episodes I always looked forward to, and I’ve absolutely loved his time as showrunner so far. This episode sees the Doctor and Donna (my favourite of the Tenth Doctor’s companions) summoned to the universe’s largest library by a psychic message revealed to come from archaeologist Professor River Song. Who is this woman, and why does she seem to know everything about the Doctor? This would be a key theme of the Eleventh Doctor’s time, and Alex Kingston brings her to life spectacularly here. The episodes themselves are a very cool two-parter, with a lot of Philip K. Dick-esque themes, and a bloody creepy concept for a monster in the Vashta Nerada.
8. Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
Ah, the Cybermen. Always second-fiddle to the Daleks, never really exploited for their truly creepy potential. This first two-parter is the closest NuWho has ever really gotten to the inherent tragedy at the metal heart of the Cybermen, as we see them created by a sick scientist with dreams of immortality. The Doctor, Rose and Mickey find themselves trapped on a parallel Earth, where Rose’s dad and Mickey’s grandmother are still alive, which allows for some nice pathos (and a very cute gag with the reveal of this universe’s Rose), and find themselves having to contend with the creation of the Cybermen by John Lumic (the late, great Roger Lloyd-Pack, chewing the scenery like nobody’s business.) This is really the only story in NuWho where the Cybermen feel like any kind of threat, and it’s a very good one.
7. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
The Doctor and Rose find themselves in a research outpost on a planet orbiting a black hole. Marvelling at the sheer impossibility of it all, the Doctor is a little disturbed by the discovery of writing on a wall so old the TARDIS can’t translate it. What follows is a survival horror, as something takes possession of one of the crew of the outpost and starts slaughtering his crewmates, with a view to escaping on their ship. This episode is also notable for the introduction of the Ood, one of the most popular new aliens to be introduced in NuWho.
6. The Girl in the Fireplace
More Moffat for the masses. This is a brilliantly creative episode as the Doctor, Rose and Mickey follow clockwork automata through various time windows into the life of Madame du Pompadour. This is one of those episodes where Moffat truly excels, using time travel not just as a means of getting to this week’s outlandish location, but also as an integral part of the plot itself. Big on ideas, and with a wonderful relationship between the Doctor and Sophia Myles’ Madame du Pompadour, this is one of the more popular episodes of the Tenth Doctor’s era.
5. Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
To date the only three-parter in NuWho, this run reintroduced my favourite villain from classic Who, The Master, and had him played by two fantastic actors. The first part, Utopia, sees the Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack thrown to the end of the universe itself, where they find themselves helping the last vestiges of humanity, particularly the kindly Professor Yana (Derek Jacobi), reach the mysterious Utopia project. All is not what it seems, though, and the Professor hides a dark secret even he doesn’t know about. The last ten-fifteen minutes are absolutely breathtaking.
Parts two and three play more as a separate two-parter, where the Master (John Simm) has placed himself as Prime Minister, and is preparing to make first contact with a mysterious new species he calls the Toclafane. Simm’s performance is manic, quite unlike any take we’ve seen on the Master before, but he’s at his best in a quiet moment from The Sound of Drums – the Doctor and the Master’s phone call. There are a few head-scratching moments throughout, but seeing the Master truly victorious and the Doctor pushed to the edge of desperation is an absolute joy.
4. Human Nature/The Family of Blood
Series three is a bit schizophrenic. The first seven episodes are pretty naff, to be honest, with uninspiring plots, a contractually-obliged Dalek appearance which represents the absolute nadir of that monster’s tenure, and Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones struggling to make any kind of impression. That all flips in an instant with Paul Cornell’s brilliant two-parter, based on his own Seventh Doctor novel Human Nature. The episodes follow John Smith, a teacher at a boys’ school in 1913. Seemingly unremarkable, Smith has dreams of impossible adventures across time and space. What he is unaware of is that he is the Doctor, disguised a human being. The episodes’ villains, The Family of Blood, are great, and Smith’s relationship with widowed nurse Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes) is very affecting. Brilliant stuff, redeeming a stumbling series in spectacular fashion.
3. Turn Left
Light on the Tenth Doctor, this episode spotlights his best companion, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). The premise is simple – an alien causes Donna’s first meeting with the Doctor to never have happened, and we see the events of the subsequent couple of years from her perspective, with the Doctor having died due to her not being there to save him from himself that first time. As you might expect, things go catastrophically wrong. This is a great showcase for Tate, who gives a wonderful performance at the heart of it. She’s ably supported by the brilliant Bernard Cribbins as her grandfather, Wilf, one of the show’s best ancillary characters. The scene where the Italian family they’ve been living with are being removed to a “labour camp” is utterly heart-breaking, as Wilf tearfully observes “That’s what they called them last time. It’s happening again.” Really powerful episode.
“Listen – your life could depend on this; 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. Good luck.” And with that, NuWho’s finest monsters were born. Broadly speaking, this is the Tenth Doctor’s most popular episode, which is unusual as he’s barely in it. This episode is instead carried by an early performance from Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow, who is brilliant. This is just flawless television. So what do I like better than it?
This is the scariest episode of NuWho. About 95% of it takes place in a small room, and the tension, paranoia and recrimination build as the episode goes on. The Doctor is on a shuttle tour of a planet made of sapphires, without Donna, who has elected to stay at the hotel and top up her tan. The shuttle is invaded by an unseen presence, which possesses one of the passengers, played by Lesley Sharp. At first unable to speak, she begins mimicking what the other passengers are saying. Gradually, the delays before she repeats the Doctor get smaller. Then she starts speaking simultaneously with him. Then she starts speaking first. It’s absolutely intense. Russell T. Davies got a lot of criticism over the course of his run, a fair amount of which he earned, but this is his crowning glory. Brilliant episode.
Any glaring misses in there? There were at least five more which I wanted to keep but had to cut. Let me know your favourites in the comments, and I will see you tomorrow for the Eleven Best Eleventh Doctor Stories.