Doctor Who - 2005 onwards (aka Nu-Who)

Arantor

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Where to even begin. OK, so let's recap the old series reeeeeeeeeeal quick. This part is not really spoilery since we're talking the entirety of continuity from 1963-1996... Series kicks off in 1963 (yes, it's older than Star Trek) about an old man and his granddaughter who seemingly live in a junkyard. Granddaughter's teachers come home for a visit and discover that, in fact, the old man has a police box (common for the time) that can in fact travel in time and space.

The old man only ever calls himself 'the Doctor' - leading to the oft-asked, 'Doctor Who?' - and travels in time and space, righting wrongs as he finds them.

But even a lonely wanderer - a lonely god almost - has history. Has a past, a present, a future, maybe all at the same time.


I think, to sum up the entire show, probably a quote best from one of the showrunners:
Heroes are important. Heroes tell us who we want to be but when they made this particular hero they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help and they didn’t give him a superpower or a heat-ray, they gave him an extra heart. And that’s extraordinary. There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.

I won't give a score on the whole thing, because I can't really do better than 7.5/10 for the whole thing - we're a lot of episodes in now - but I'll look at each of the seasons.

I did start to pick it apart by season but even that's complicated because there's several chunks of quite important content that aren't in the seasons as such, e.g. the transformation from the ninth incarnation to the tenth incarnation is the Christmas special between seasons 1 and 2, or the special episodes between seasons 4 and 5 that are all canon-critical but not 'part of a season'.

To that end, I'm only going to look at the major canon incarnations of the Doctor. I have *tried* to avoid the big spoilers.

Season 1 is exactly how to start a show like this. We kick off right in the middle of the action, very much arriving in the middle of a 'classic style Doctor Who adventure', only this time it came to us, arrived right on our doorstep, straight into the Doctor getting caught up in an alien plot. The new companion - Rose - proves no slouch either and does her own investigation into who the Doctor is. It demonstrates the move away from the 4-6 episodes of 25 minutes each was the right move; each episode packs in an entire plot in 45 minutes with modern storytelling showing through.

The series also understands balancing the stakes; it's not like 'the universe is in mortal peril', it's just... the Doctor going off and doing what he does, righting wrongs where he goes.

What is also important to notice is that the Doctor is very clearly implicated to not be universally a hero. He's... done things. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Eccleston steals the show in the 'tortured stuff' as he put it. Those dark moments that showcase give the light side some texture.

Must watch episodes:
1. Rose
6. Dalek
9/10. The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

Honestly, the whole season is worth the watch at least once, even if there's a couple of episodes that are a bit less stellar (The Long Game, Boom Town, in my mind, possibly Father's Day). Possibly the weakest moment of the season is the point where it taps into mid-2000s TV staples for story reasons. Familiar to contemporous viewers, might be a little head-scratching today, but it had to start somewhere.

But I can't not give this season a 9/10. It's a rip-roaring ride of a season, reintroducing the series with a bang, keeping it a little light-hearted whilst keeping it interesting.

Tennant is really the one who came to the role and owned the stage. Eccleston - had he stayed longer - might have left a bigger mark, but the chemistry and all-round everything that Tennant brought to the role means that even now, over a decade later, Tennant is still "he's my Doctor" for a generation of viewers. While the format has an amount of 'they're MY Doctor', and whoever your 'first' is tends to be the one you think of most fondly, for many that's stlil Tennant.

To put it into context, Tennant's screentime in his opening episode is maybe 15 minutes out of the hour. Virtually the entire episode is run by the supporting cast but it's the finale that everyone remembers, where he's been semi-comatose throughout, but bursts out to save the day in a series of scenes where he just steals everything. He rounds it off with a couple of important moments, "No second chances, I'm that sort of a man." and his fury at the Prime Minister of the UK invoking military weapons against the aliens.

That ultimately colours everything in the Tennant era: he's this zesty, full-of-life - "judging by the evidence, I've got a gob on me!" - but it's always twinged with hints of sadness and hints of anger. More than Eccleston, the 'lonely god' vibe is embodied here - he's not just a Time Lord, he's the last of the Time Lords, haunted by what he did, what he had to do.

And just occasionally it creeps out, such as in this exchange:
The Doctor: This plan of yours, what is it?
Finch: You don’t know?
The Doctor: That’s why I’m asking.
Finch: Well, show me how clever you are. Work it out.
The Doctor: If I don’t like it, then it will stop.
Finch: Fascinating. Your people were peaceful to the point of indolence. You seem to be something new. Would you declare war on us, Doctor?
The Doctor: I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy. You get one warning. That was it.

Or a scene later where someone he's grown fond of - unexpectedly - is shot right in front of him. He picks up a gun, points it at the person responsible, almost pulls the trigger and stops, turns it away from himself. "I never would. Have you got that? I never would. to all: When you start this new world [...] remember that. Make the foundation of this society “a man who never would”."

And you realise that the zesty full of life, cheeky chappy is just a cover for someone who is still carrying the PTSD and scars of someone who has seen too much, lost too much. Not merely lost his people, but losing the people close to him as well.

Season 2 - must watch episodes:
The Christmas Invasion (Christmas Special)
4. The Girl In The Fireplace
8/9. The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
12/13. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

Season 2 is a decent enough start for David Tennant, even if it has a few weaker episodes that are really quite noticeable (Love and Monsters in particular, but also Fear Her, though Tooth and Claw has its haters even if it's important canonically). The chemistry between Tennant and Billie Piper is pretty compelling viewing though and the finale is just oof. Series rating 7.75/10

Season 3 - must watch episodes:
The Runaway Bride (Christmas Special)
1. Smith and Jones
3. Gridlock
8/9. Human Nature / The Family of Blood
10. Blink
11/12/13. Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

Season 3 shows a different side to the Doctor. We're given a reminder that he shouldn't travel alone, and a few twists that come out of the blue. We do get a return of the Daleks this season but I don't really see it as a must-watch. It's not a 'don't watch' though... but The Lazarus Experiment and 42 are both overshadowed completely by the second half of the season. in its entirety. All in all 8.25/10

Season 4
Voyage of the Damned (Christmas Special)
1. Partners in Crime
2. The Fires in Pompeii
6. The Doctor's Daughter
8/9. Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
10. Midnight
11/12/13. Turn Left / The Stolen Earth / Journey's End

Season 4 is Tennant hitting his stride, as well as the writers. There's nothing here that should be avoided (except maybe The Unicorn and the Wasp, but that, plus Planet of the Ood and The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky suffer from being merely adequate when stacked up with episodes that are simply so much better.

The companion this season is a different mix - previously, the companion has been someone a little wide-eyed, a little impressed, even awestruck at the Doctor, but Donna Noble isn't. She gives him hell and it makes him a better person - makes her a better one too, which makes the season's end all the more painful. Overall 9/10.

2009 Specials
The Next Doctor
Planet of the Dead
The Waters of Mars
The End of Time - Parts I & II

The specials are a bit weird - they're all extended length one-offs (except for the End of Time, which is a two partner) but they form a cohesive story in themselves and while I think Planet of the Dead is substantially the weakest entry here, there is something about it that is compelling, especially the ending. It sets up for The Waters of Mars and the End of Time and we see what might happen if the Doctor ever put aside his morality. Also a superb bit of acting for Tennant as the character goes through the journey and figures out the price that must be paid, first for Adelaide Brooke, and then, well, spoilers.

I am not ashamed to admit both I and my then-girlfriend cried at the End of Time.

Matt Smith, where to start. This irrepressible walking adrenaline receptable. Arms waving everywhere as he talked. Opens the season with a bang. (There is not just a change of Doctor here but also a change of showrunner. The writing style changes to go with it.)

I talked about Tennant's arrival as the Doctor as a big pivotal moment. Smith gets two moments where he 'arrives', first when he's discussing food with a 7 year old and concludes that he wants fish fingers and custard. Something about an irrepressible sense of mischief and fun. But the final moments of the episode make the point, not only about this being the Doctor, but his slightly revamped personal code.

The situation - aliens, the Atraxi, are knocking on the door, so to speak, wanting 'Prisoner Zero'. The Doctor discovers the identity of Prisoner Zero and returns them to the 'care' of the Atraxi. Who promptly leave.

The Doctor then casually calls them on a mobile phone he's just casually reprogrammed. "Oi! I didn't say you could go! Article 57 of the Shadow Proclamation. This is a fully established, Level 5, planet, and you were going to burn it? What...? Did you think no one was watching? You lot, back here, now!"

He is, at this point, still wearing the tattered remnants of Tennant's clothing, so while they're returning, he goes and gets some clothes and tries them on.

Atraxi: [scans the Doctor] You are not of this world.
The Doctor: No but I've put a lot work into it.
Atraxi: Is this world important?
The Doctor: Important? What's that mean, important? Six billion people live here, is that important? Here's a better question: is this world a threat to the Atraxi? Oh come on, you're monitoring the whole planet! Is this world a threat?
Atraxi: [montage of world events] No.
The Doctor: Are the peoples of this world guilty of any crime by the laws of the Atraxi?
Atraxi: [another montage of Earth] No.
The Doctor: Okay. One more, just one: is this world protected?
[as the Atraxi views a montage of all the aliens who have attacked humanity in some way]
The Doctor: You're not the first to have come here. Oh, there have been so many. And what you've got to ask is, what happened to them?
[Atraxi looks at a montage of the past incarnations of the Doctor. The Doctor steps through the montage when Tennant's Doctor is shown]
The Doctor: Hello. I'm the Doctor. Basically. Run.

We've seen this incarnation of the Doctor as a silly stupid flappy-haired man who is confused and surprised that he has legs, or what things taste like. And suddenly he's just casually telling an alien race to leave and never return and barely even raises his voice. It's positively chilling.

Season 5 - must watch:
1. The Eleventh Hour
4/5. The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone
10. Vincent and the Doctor
12/13. The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

As seasons go, it's one hell of an opener and one hell of a closer, with a very mysterious arc floating around. The previous seasons worked very much on the heart and soul of the Doctor, this shows a different flavour, one more of the mind. The twists are cleverer, more imaginative. I remember watching the finale to this season and declaring the showrunner a magnificent bastard because I did not see it coming. Sadly there are a couple of episodes that leave something to be desired (The Beast Below is pretty cringey, Victory of the Daleks is definitely oh-dear material, The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood is meh.) Overall season rating 8/10

Season 6 - must watch:
1/2. The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon
4. The Doctor's Wife
7. A Good Man Goes To War
13. The Wedding of River Song

Season 6 is very definitely an odd duck. They were clearly trying something new with the season; on broadcast it was actually split in two parts, as episodes 1-7 then 8-13, following up on an arc across the whole season that is very disturbing as the Doctor pieces it together. I've picked out the episodes that I personally thought were the standouts, but S6 is very story driven, which means that on some level you need to include The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People from the first half and Let's Kill Hitler, The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex and Closing Time from the second half, but this whole season is much darker than before. The Doctor has his reasons, and prevails in the end, but this season definitely suffered from weird pacing, a different style of adversary that doesn't fit so well, marketing that didn't quite align with the overall story this season, and generally just a more convoluted plot that never quite feels like it pays off properly. Overall season rating 6.5/10

Season 7 - must watch:
1. Asylum of the Daleks
5. The Angels Take Manhattan
6. The Bells of Saint John
7. The Rings of Akhaten
12. Nightmare in Silver

Season 7 definitely has some pacing issues too; the first half of the season as broadcast (1-5 plus the Christmas Special) left us reeling from the knock-out punch of the departing companions and a recurring mystery, before letting season 7B run and roll into the show's 50th Anniversary special. It's clear that the silly stupid flappy haired man from season 5 is definitely being weighed down by something serious, throughout season 6 and into season 7 but it's not clear why or what.

As we meet the new companion, it's clear the dynamic is about to change between companion and protagonist, but not entirely clear how. But we have adventures with old enemies, and old friends, and it's very clear that something is very wrong in the Doctor's world. But the second half of the season never quite lets it breathe the way it probably should, and gives more power and influence to the companion than it probably should. Overall season rating 7/10

Anniversaries of shows are special, the big ones I mean. Not many shows have made it to 50 years and still going in some form or another, and Doctor Who has history of what it does for anniversary shows. This one was a big one. The 10th, 20th and 30th anniversary episodes had all been multi-Doctor episodes (even if the 30th was questionable and officially not canon, unlike the 10th and 20th)

The show had, as I mentioned, purposefully never touched too hard on what came before Eccleston in the revival era - but after Eccleston declined to return for personal reasons, they set about adding another iteration of the Doctor in - the one they don't talk about. The one who acted *not in the name of the Doctor*.

So they set up the regeneration from the Eighth Doctor (the one in the 1996 TV movie) who has chosen to not be a part of the Time War that Eccleston mentioned. "I'm not part of the war. I swear to you, I never was!" And they give him a 6 minute webisode, "The Night of the Doctor" as continuity. That 6 minutes is GLORIOUS. More is done in that six minutes to tell the story of the Doctor than some episodes fail to manage in ten times that.


And it turns into the swansong for the Eighth Doctor, as he regenerates - and becomes "Doctor, no more." played by John Hurt, which leads into the Day of the Doctor, the 50th.

As a piece of TV, it's pretty outstanding. Now dubbed The War Doctor, Hurt's incarnation has spent hundreds of years fighting on the front lines of the Time War; until one day he realises the only thing he can do is eliminate both races from the universe, while there's still some of it left.

And the device - the Moment - that makes this possible has a sentient interface - not only does it judge the War Doctor for what he is about to do, it determines that the price to be paid for genocide is his own survival. He must live on with the knowledge of what he has done - and the Moment makes him face what he becomes. He spends time with Tennant and Smith to see what he will become if he does what he knows he must do, what he declares must be done in the name of sanity.

And then it comes.
"You're not suggesting we change our own personal histories?"
"The alternative is burning, and I've seen that. I never want to see it again."

We've seen what doing this to the Doctor meant, what he had to carry, what it cost him to do what he did - and now he is at peace.

Much of the story wraps up around a painting, that has two titles, and is moved to a museum after the events of the story. The final scene is a touching nod for the fans with a cameo no-one saw coming.

The 50th Anniversary episodes are not really the best of Who. The best of Who stands on its own, like The Girl in the Fireplace or Blink, where you don't need to know the history or the lore to follow along. The Night of the Doctor and the Day of the Doctor are very much elements where you need the material, you need the lore somewhere in your brain for it to make any sense. To understand what happened and how it changes everything.

But as a celebration of Who itself, that it excelled at, and was a masterclass in writing to boot. On its own, 5/10 - but as part of the continuity, 10/10.

No-one quite knew what to expect with Capaldi. An older, angrier sort from the off, presumably - anyone who had seen The Thick of It would presumably have thought so.

But the question we find ourselves asking throughout Capaldi's run is a simple one. "Am I a good man?" We've seen the Doctor do things, we've seen the Doctor admit he isn't innocent, that he's taken lives, that he's convinced people to take their own. And after the events of his past, he's not sure where he stands any more. It digs into a few questions about the Doctor's past, and explores Clara's life beyond the TARDIS, in particular her relationship with a peer of hers, Danny Pink, and what *he* makes of the Doctor.

Season 8 - must watch:
1. Deep Breath
2. Into The Dalek
5. Time Heist
7. Kill The Moon
9. Flatline
11/12. Dark Water / Death In Heaven

In a more tangible way than before, the question of whether the Doctor is a good man is present throughout. This season also features new takes on old stories, new perspectives on old matters, and a few thought provoking questions to boot. And a return of an old friend, with startling consequences. But the series has a few episodes that rattle a bit (for me, Robot of Sherwood and The Caretaker), and it wouldn't have hurt to dial down the central theme just a tiny bit. Overall: 7.75/10

Season 9 - must watch
1/2. The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar
5/6. The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived
7/8. The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion
10/11/12. Face The Raven / Heaven Sent / Hell Bent

I realise this is most of the season as a must watch, but hear me out. This season is constructed almost-exclusively of multi-part stories (3/4 is also a two partner). which gives the plots a little more room to breathe, and they need it this time around. The opener lands the Doctor in a fresh perspective take on one of his oldest foes and asks, just once, what might have happened if they'd been on the same side. The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived offers some insight into what immortality must be like. The Zygon Invasion/Inversion is... let's just say it features what is widely regarded as one of the finest monologues in the show's history and a deeply powerful, deeply resounding message and in a scene where Capaldi steals the show for a good 10 minutes straight. Lastly, I don't know how to explain the last three episodes. Heaven Sent is a true masterclass episode in what it means to be the Doctor, what love, loss and grief mean in his frame of reference and Hell Bent is what happens when you test someone on that love and loss and just how far the Doctor will go for what he believes in. Overall 9.5/10

Season 10 - must watch
The Husbands of River Song (2015 Christmas special)
The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016 Christmas special)
1. The Pilot
2. Smile
5. Oxygen
6. Extremis
7/8. The Pyramid at the End of the World / The Lie of the Land
11/12. World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls
Twice Upon A Time (2017 Christmas special)

Season 10 is, all in all, one of the finest seasons of Doctor Who. Season 9 was a standout in its own way, but 10... I've deliberately not picked out all the episodes partially because a couple of them are weaker for sure (Knock Knock, Empress of Mars, The Eaters of Light, they're not bad, but they're a long way away from the stand-out episodes.)

We start by wrapping up one of the arcs that has been around - that of River Song; we have seen them cross each other's paths a number of times now, but we get to see the first time he meets her and what we know must happen, and we get a glimpse into life where the Doctor isn't around so much.

But the real joy and privilege of this season is Bill. Seeing the world through her eyes, where she puts a few things together about the Doctor in a way no-one else did before, and she's not wrong. And she gets a very clear taste that while travelling is wonderful, and the Doctor moreso, that all the good things have a price, which clashes with her moral centre on more than one occasion. The season finale is a tour de force of betrayal, redemption, and ultimately loss, with some of the most poignant moments in the season saved up just for that moment.

The season is strong, but what elevates it from 9/10 is the Christmas special. The Doctor encounters Testimony, and the question of what happens if he doesn't regenerate. It doesn't have the gut-wrenching monologue of the last season but it has a few punches that land - hard. He spends time with a previous incarnation - as does Bill - and the question of why the Doctor first left Gallifrey all those years ago comes up. The reason the Doctor is what the Doctor does, laid bare.

It's compelling and elevates the entire season to at least a 9.5/10.

I can't tell the Jodie Whittaker story properly. I haven't seen all of it. I'm not likely to, either.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have no problems with the Doctor being female this time around, not one. We've seen multiple other Time Lords regenerate and switch gender. I happen to think Jodie Whittaker is a talented actress; I've seen her in other things including things David Tennant has also been in.

The problem is the writing is so dire. The new Doctor gets a new showrunner/head writer. It's borderline unwatchable in places and I didn't make it through all of season 11 before giving up. Now remember, I've seen all the old stuff, with cardboard sets and writing that tries to be subtle while bashing Margaret Thatcher. I remember the story about the literal Liquorice Allsorts man as a monster of the week. Or the plastic rubber spider things attached to peoples' backs. Or the Daleks, time after time, defeated by *stairs*. (Until 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks, anyway.)

Critics of the show suggest the show has gone 'woke', with companions including a young female of Indian descent, a young man of unidentified POC origin (though both characters canonically grew up in Sheffield, UK, and so are second-or-more generation immigrants, plus the step-grandfather of the young man.

Now here's where it gets complicated. The show goes on to acknowledge that these two, being born in Sheffield just before the year 2000 would certainly have encountered racism in their lives so far; the young lady is a police officer, the young man is a warehouse worker with mild dyspraxia, shown to give him motor control issues on more than one plot-relevant occasion.

The fact that these things are baked into the characters is not inherently a problem. Giving representation of other ethnicities *is* important. But what's also important is not being clumsy and ham-fisted about it like the writing really is. We're treated to monologues about how bad racism is (from a literal alien, as if it wasn't subtle enough), the dangers of global warming in a very lectured way... I think you get the point.

Some of the critics don't get it. Doctor Who was always woke. The female companions always mattered as much as the male ones did. They were never inferior; the Doctor chose their companions because they were good people, not because of skin colour or anything else. And the whole premise was going about the universe fixing injustices with a whole heart. The Doctor was already woke; but elevating it to being *labelled* woke just demonstrates where it stops working.

If that wasn't enough - and honestly it was - the showrunner has a strange relationship with canon. Doctor Who has never been entirely precious about its canon, and many of the writers over the years have absolutely played fast and loose with it. Some have also tried to introduce agendas that weren't strictly there - the Seventh Doctor era and the whole 'Other' situation, but even then it was more subtle. (It was more subtle than, for example, the overt political commentary.) Here, though, the Doctor's entire origin story gets retconned, completely undone to explain a point of questionable continuity from a 1974 story. It's simultaneously far *too* respectful and not *nearly* respectful enough of canon. The story in question didn't need explaining, it certainly didn't need what ever the hell *that* explanation was.

But I think what I detest most about the Whittaker era writing is that it fundamentally misunderstands the Doctor, which from a fan on that level is offensive. I might have given it a sort of pass if it hadn't followed directly on from season 10, but I can't not.

Season 10's The Doctor Falls lays bare why the Doctor does what the Doctor does: "Because it's right! Because it's decent! And above all, it's kind. Just... kind." Then this is followed up by Twice Upon A Time where the First Doctor - the original, you might say - explains the reason he left Gallifrey, to answer a question about this appalling universe: why does good triumph when evil, by all measure, should win? Bill lays out a theory about it, and the First Doctor asks, "You know me in the future, do I ever understand?" Bill pauses awkwardly - before explaining that "No, no I don't think you do. But everyone who's ever met you does."

The Doctor isn't the key to the story. They're a plot device. The heart of the show is, and has always been, the people along for the ride. The ones who are inspired to be better people, to grow and do the right thing, and spread that goodness. The Doctor never has to lecture his enemies into submission because that's not how it works - they inspire their companions to do better, and they compel their enemies to be their own foible.

So to have a character who walks around lecturing and posturing - especially on contentious contemporary issues - misses the heart of the character so completely. It's especially galling when they visit actual historical characters such as Rosa Parks, because it can't help but smother on the posturing. That's not what the Doctor is about, it's not Who The Doctor Is. It's not Doctor Who. It's just a bad pretence.

I don't have a rating, I haven't watched all of it, I don't intend to start again. I'll pick the series back up with the 60th Anniversary next year.
 

Tiffany

Pixel Princess
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This is excellent! Thank you @Arantor for putting this all together; so much detail. How do you do it? 🤓 I look forward to looking at each spoiler and reading it in chronological order and context. I particularly can relate to your quote that sums up the show.
 

Arantor

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I had several goes at it, but also I've watched the first 10 seasons many times, and flipping through the episode list on iTunes was a good way to remember :)
 
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