Doctor Who: The 10 best episodes of the modern era

It’s been over a decade since ‘Doctor Who’ returned to our screens in 2005 after a 16-year hiatus, and fans continue to debate which are the best ‘Doctor Who’ episodes of the new era.

We’ve been treated to over 130 new episodes featuring 4 (ish) new incarnations of the Doctor. We’ve seen the return of fan favourites like the Daleks, Cybermen and even the Zygons, and the addition of new nemeses such as the Silent and the Weeping Angels, not to mention more than a few poignant moments with the Doctor.

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But where to begin with the new Who? Here’s our pick of top 10 modern Doctor Who episodes:

10. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (2008)

Starring: David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Billie Piper, Elisabeth Sladen, John Barrowman, Freema Agyeman, Noel Clarke, and Camille Coduri.

The entire Earth has vanished from Time and Space and only the Doctor can save us. Sound familiar? This epic two-parter was one of David Tennant’s finest – starring as many of the old ‘Doctor Who’ companions as possible, coming together to save humanity. Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack Harkness, Martha Jones, Harriet Jones and even Rose Tyler returned.

And they faced an old enemy. That’s right – the Daleks are back. And this time, they mean business. With the Supreme Leader and a heavily-damaged Dalek Caan leading the assault, it’s soon revealed that their creator has also returned – Davros.

It’s the first time we’d seen Davros since 1988, and it’s also one of the most cinematic ‘Doctor Who’ episodes of the modern era, with showrunner Russell T Davies pulling out all the stops. They even managed to throw the entire fan base a curve ball with a fake-out regeneration at the end of the first episode. Brilliant.

9. Heaven Sent (2015)

Starring: Peter Capaldi

It’s technically the longest ever episode of ‘Doctor Who’ – taking part over four-and-a-half billion years with the Doctor trapped in a recursive cycle which sees him perish and return to life time and time again. And it’s one of the most poetic episodes of modern ‘Doctor Who’.

Mourning the death of Clara Oswald, the Doctor is trapped within the walls of an eerie castle. He’s been transported there by a mysterious figure, and after threatening those responsible he vows to never stop until he finds them. And he never does stop. Ever. It’s a long puzzle, but it doesn’t stop the Doctor from committing to figure it out. And while we see the Doctor going through many, many deaths and rebirths to get to the bottom of it, it turns out that he’s been at it for a lot longer than anyone anticipated.

After finally breaking out through the castle walls (after ‘four-and-a-half billion years’ of wearing away at a wall with his bare fists) it’s revealed that the castle is a construct – he’s actually been trapped inside his Confession Dial all this time.

And having broken out, he’s back on Gallifrey. ‘Heaven Sent’ is one of Peter Capaldi’s best episodes, and marked a turning point for the Twelfth Doctor, who had been plagued with slightly rubbish storylines.

8. Vincent and The Doctor (2010)

Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Tony Curran, Bill Nighy.

It’s one of those ‘Doctor Who’ episodes that’s completely unlike any other. ‘Vincent and The Doctor’ sees the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond arriving in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890. Why have they gone there? It’s all to do with one of Van Gogh’s paintings.

During a visit to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Doctor spots a mysterious, evil figure hidden within a painting – The Church of Auvers by Vincent van Gogh.

“I know evil,” says the Doctor. “And I see it in that picture.”

And it’s not long before they’re off gallivanting through time, chasing another evil monster that happens to be lurking in the shadows, near Amy’s favourite artist. But this is more than your usual monster-of-the-week episode. Instead, ‘Vincent and The Doctor’ attempts to peek beneath the story of the famed artist – tackling his history of mental illness wit subtlety and grace. It’s one of the most human episodes of the entire show, and really shows off what sets ‘Doctor Who’ apart from other sci-fi shows – it has real heart. And watching Van Gogh flirt with Amy is just priceless.

7. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (2005)

Starring: Christopher Eccleston, Billy Piper, John Barrowman

It’s ‘Doctor Who’ meets real history, as the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler head right into the midst of World War II. Chasing a metallic object through the time vortex, the pair end up in London during the Blitz and a sinister extra-terrestrial power is about to shake up war-torn London.

‘The Empty Child’ is an iconic ‘Doctor Who’ episode, if only for the incredibly bleak visual effect of its monster – a child wearing a gas mask. It’s scary, it’s grizzly, and it’s a weird and wonderful way to dig into just how the Doctor and other aliens have affected world history.

Oh, and it’s the first episode with Captain Jack Harkness, too. Throw in a creepy story, a thoroughly disturbing foe and a blistering performance by Christopher Eccleston, and you’ve got an episode which set the stage for ‘Doctor Who’ – reminding the world how brilliantly scary it can be.

6. The Eleventh Hour (2010)

Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill

It’s Matt Smith’s first adventure as the iconic Time Lord – ‘The Eleventh Hour’ introduced the world to a new, younger Doctor. And it gave us a much better idea of what to expect from his eccentric, goofy shenanigans. After an explosive regeneration, the Doctor crash lands the TARDIS.

And it’s landed right in Amy Pond’s back garden back in 1996. We’re introduced to the new ‘Doctor Who’ companion as a young girl, and The Doctor makes quite an impression. When he catches up with her years later, it turns out that she spent her childhood telling tall tales about the Raggedy Doctor.

It’s a cute, inventive way to introduce the new companion and it set up a beautiful friendship between the Doctor and Amy Pond which spanned over a decade within the space of a single episode.

It helps that Matt Smith’s Doctor was so charming and likeable. And the chemistry between him and Karen Gillan was just perfect. It’s a brilliant way to start a new series, and a perfect introduction to the new Doctor.

5. Dalek (2005)

Starring: Christopher Eccleston, Billy Piper

It’s the first time we saw a Dalek in modern ‘Doctor Who’ and what an introduction. ‘Dalek’ saw the Ninth Doctor encounter a rogue Dalek, being contained within a private museum which houses a collection of alien artefacts. And the Dalek is its only living specimen.

It’s the first time the Doctor has encountered a Dalek in a very, very long time. And as he interacts with the being, so begins an unexpectedly dark episode which ponders one of the big ‘Doctor Who’ questions – what is the difference between the Doctor and the Daleks?

The Doctor reveals to the lone Dalek that he is the last of his kind – the rest of the Daleks killed by his very own hand. But he is also the last Time Lord and the Dalek says that this makes them ‘the same’. The entire episode explores the parallels between them, even though the Doctor won’t admit that there are any.

And this is what makes ‘Dalek’ such a brilliant episode. The Doctor asserts that the Daleks are brutal, emotionless and uncaring – incapable of mercy – and yet, when the Dalek riles him up, he shows those same qualities, essentially torturing the helpless Dalek.

Chillingly, after the Doctor screams at the Dalek to ‘just die’, it responds by claiming that the Doctor would make a good Dalek. ‘Dalek’ was a gripping episode of ‘Doctor Who’ and gave us our first real peek at what makes the Doctor tick. Even if he wouldn’t like it himself.

4. The Waters of Mars (2009)

Starring: David Tenant, Lindsay Duncan

How far will the Doctor really go? That’s the question asked by ‘The Waters of Mars’ – a TV special which sees the Tenth Doctor attempting to rewrite history. Sure, he’s done that before but this time, he’s trying to meddle with a fixed point in time. And there’s no way that was going to end well.

After arriving on Mars, the Doctor encounters Bowie Base One – an international research base built into the Gusev Crater. But the base has been compromised by an infected alien species and it’s up to the Doctor to save the base’s personnel. Except, he probably shouldn’t have.

It turns out that the events at Bowie Base One are a fixed point in history – altering the timeline of these events is forbidden by the Time Lords. But the Doctor is convinced that the rules no longer apply to him and it’s not long before he takes matters into his own hands.

Of course, this is nothing new – we’ve seen the Doctor interfere in galactic events many, many times before. But by altering history, he’s breaking the rules – the three Bowie Base workers he rescues should never have lived. And when base commander Adelaide Brooke learns that she shouldn’t have survived, she too decides to take matters into her own hands, killing herself to preserve the original timeline.

As well as being a scary, and chilling episode, ‘The Waters of Mars’ explores the dire consequences of the Doctor taking things too far. And what happens when he interferes beyond his understanding.

3. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls (2017)

Starring: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Michelle Gomez, John Simm.

It’s Peter Capaldi’s penultimate episode of ‘Doctor Who’ and what an incredible one it was, too. ‘World Enough and Time’ saw the Twelfth Doctor go head to head with an old enemy. No, not the Cybermen – The Master. And this time, it wasn’t Missy, either.

John Simm’s first appearance as The Master back in 2007 was a huge hit, and he soon became a fan favourite. And his return was even more spectacular than we could have imagined. During a harrowing adventure which saw Bill transformed into a Cyberman, ‘Doctor Who’ explored the origins of the Cyberman while introducing The Master once more, disguised as a Mr Razor – a caretaker working on the hospital ward where its patients are being turned into Cybermen.

Long story short, The Master is out to dupe the Doctor and after teaming up with Missy – a future incarnation of himself – we get the very first multiple Master episode. And it turns out they’re responsible for the creation of the Cybermen. The two-part story arc is a brilliant one, with the Doctor convinced that there’s some good left in Missy. She even manages to redeem herself although the Doctor never gets to see it – facing off against her future self in order to save the Doctor.

It’s action-packed, full of thrills and beautifully poetic, too.

2. The Day of The Doctor (2013)

Starring: Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, Jenna Coleman, Billy Piper.

‘The Day of the Doctor’ marked the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ and it was really something.

One of the most popular episodes of modern ‘Doctor Who’, it filled in some major gaps in the Doctor’s history – including a previously unseen incarnation known as the War Doctor, played by none other than John Hurt.

Heading deep into the Doctor’s personal history, we find out what happened during the Last Great Time War, with Matt Smith and David Tennant teaming up to help the War Doctor in a bid to save Gallifrey – altering history to save the Time Lords rather than dooming them all.

On top of this, we saw the War Doctor’s regeneration into the Ninth Doctor filling in the blanks and setting up Matt Smith’s Doctor to be the final regeneration. Yes, it set the stage for the rather epic story of how the Doctor cheated the Time Lords into granting him a new set of regenerations.

It’s everything you could want from an episode of ‘Doctor Who’ – action, adventure and some brilliant acting from Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt.

Not to mention, plenty of timey-wimey stuff.

1. Blink (2007)

Starring: David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, Carey Mulligan,

It’s one of the most iconic episodes of modern ‘Doctor Who’. ‘Blink’ introduced one of the scariest monsters we’ve ever seen – the Weeping Angels.

A powerful species of quantum-locked humanoids, the Weeping Angels kidnap their victims by sending them back in time and then feed on the days their victims never had. They’re a brilliantly unique enemy to face the world’s most iconic time traveller. And with a look that strikes fear into the hearts of ‘Doctor Who’ fans, the Weeping Angels are the perfect, sinister enemy.

“Blink and you’re dead.” But it’s more than just an incredibly creepy monster.

Although the Doctor essentially saves the lives of Sally and Larry – the Weeping Angels’ intended victims – he never actually meets them. Instead, Sally works out how to defeat them via a series of complex clues, left through history by the Doctor himself. It’s a beautiful way to explore the relationship between the Doctor and those he saves and with a nice circular ending, the entire puzzle fits together in the most satisfactory of ways.

It’s thrilling, smart and beautifully made and ‘Blink’ is without a doubt the best episode of modern day ‘Doctor Who’.

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