David Tennant is by most accounts, the most popular Doctor to date, he had another one of the longest runs as the Doctor (slightly less than Tom Baker, slightly more than Matt Smith), and he successfully increased the international viewership of Doctor Who exponentially with his performance.
Seemingly the best parts of all the Doctors that came before him, David Tennant has helped to cement the Doctor into the pop culture consciousness.
Not only was he the Doctor with the most range, but he happened to have the best story arcs and the greatest character development. His Doctor could be fierce, protective, touching, and turn on a dime and be fragile or hurt, and without question always as funny and clever as ever. It is no wonder that he frequently wins as the fans’ favorite Doctor.
Worst Companion: Jackie Tyler
Best Episodes (Story Arcs)
The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (#174)
Why it’s the best: In case you missed it, I am a huge fan of the scary episodes, (the ones that are creepy or frightening will always be near the top of my lists), so it should be no surprise then that The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit story would be my choice for the best of the 10th Doctor.
Traveling with Rose at random (more fun that way), the Doctor ends up trapped on a space station, and whilst Rose and the Doctor contemplate how they will live out their lives without the TARDIS, all hell breaks loose. This story is frightening, but what makes it truly exceptional is that it also has one of the most compelling stories of the new series, the most arresting visuals, and some of the most character defining moments as the Doctor is faced with a confrontation that throws his core beliefs into question. Add to this the introduction of one of the greatest aliens of the series (an almost Cthulhu like slave species known as the Ood) and this easily rises to the top of the pile to become not only the best story arc of the 10th Doctor, but the best story of the entire show in my opinion. One of Rose’s best stories as well, as she rises to the occasion to help save the rest of the crew, this story is without question, Doctor Who at its greatest.
Human Nature / The Family of Blood (#185)
Why it’s the best: Let’s make a distinction now, if classic Who is about story and plot, new Who is most often about character. Often the best episodes are the ones where the characters are faced with an impossible and defining choice, or something major is revealed about them. It’s for this reason that the second story on this list is the fabulous Human Nature / The Family of Blood story arc.
When the Doctor turns up as a schoolteacher in 1913 England with seemingly no memory of his true identity, the mystery of what has happened to him unfolds in a way that reveals where the heart of the 10th Doctor lies. Faced with a choice between two identities, the Doctor and the persona he has adopted – schoolteacher John Smith – the question is posed, what would life be like for the Doctor if he could just live as a human? With one of the best and most dynamic performances by David Tennant in his time as the Doctor, and outstanding performances by Freema Agyeman as Martha and the supporting cast (particularly Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Jessica Hynes, and Harry Lloyd), this episode has some of the best drama of the show. Set in the time preceding the first World War, it reflects a story of lost innocence perfectly. Without question a truly remarkable script makes this one of the most moving stories.
The Girl in the Fireplace (#171)
Why it’s the best: Set in the future on an abandoned spaceship, this is another story that puts the dual time streams effect to excellent use. With fantastic sets, costumes, and writing, this is a story that proves how good Doctor Who can get. The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey investigate the ship and discover portals to 18th century Versailles that lead to moments in the life of Madame De Pompadour who is being attacked by clockwork figures. Sounds completely nutty, right? However, it provides the back drop for one of the Doctor’s greatest adventure stories and is the best single story to reflect one of Doctor Who’s major themes: everyone and everything in the Doctor’s life is temporary and fades (except the TARDIS), but the Doctor journeys on. With a fabulous guest star performance from Sophia Miles and a tragic love story, this is one of the most fun, funniest, and yet still poignant and profound episodes of the series. It’s also a great episode to introduce to those new to the Doctor.
The End of Time (#202)
Why it’s the best: The 10th Doctor’s final story gives him both an emotional send off, and an intricate story that reflects the complicated relationship between the Doctor and the Master, and reveals our best glimpse of the Time Lords in the new series. With a fabulous guest star performance by Timothy Dalton and the return of the extremely talented John Simm as the Master, and a great supporting performance from Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott, this story really delivers on its revelations about the Doctor, his past, and the Time Lords. While the plot occasionally flounders, it is still a solid story overall, and it has a rather surprise ending which reveals everything one need know about the Doctor’s character in one five minute scene. What really puts this one on the top of this list though, is that the 10th Doctor, more than any other Doctor, is all about his connections to his friends, who are in fact, his family. In this way the most human of the Doctors gets a real and honest farewell that is the most emotional regeneration to date. It packs a powerful punch and leaves us wishing there had been more, even while feeling complete.
Why it’s the best: Doctor Who, first and foremost is about time travel. It is about monsters, history, space, and aliens as well, but first and foremost it is about time, and for me the episodes that are the best are the ones that focus on the difficulties and possibilities and potential problems with time travel. Blink is an episodes that focuses on exactly this. It is also one of the creepiest stories, featuring the mystery surrounding a dilapidated old house and the disappearances of people who find their way into it. While it is a Doctor-lite episode (that is, the Doctor is not the primary character of the episode), it is one that tops most fans’ lists of the best episodes of the series. There are a couple reasons for this, one is the fantastic guest star performance from Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow, the main character of the story. Another is the introduction of one of the most popular monsters in the Whoverse, The Weeping Angels, who are both fascinating and terrifying. This is the episode to suggest recommending to anyone new to Who, as it’s one of the great stand alone episodes. It shows quite well what this show is all about, and it does it with an intricate and excellently written story, which is precisely what makes Doctor Who great.
The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End (#198)
Why it’s the best: If The End of Time (#202) was the perfect sad send off for the Doctor, The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End was the triumphant story that brought everything from the new series together. Sure it has a resolution to season four’s story arc involving the mystery about why The Doctor met Donna, and why she is important, but beside this, it brings together all the Doctor’s companions and friends, and we see how the Doctor has made them and shaped them into what they have become, and how they are all capable and amazing characters in their own right. New Who has many of the Doctor’s greatest companions and to see them all working together against the Doctor’s most formidable foe, well, that is really what makes this story so incredible. Adding to this, there is also finally resolution for some important companions that they never had before, and a heartbreaking farewell to Donna Noble, ending with the Doctor traveling alone for almost the first time since the new series began. This story leads perfectly into what will soon become the 10th Doctor’s final story.
The Doctor’s Daughter (#193)
Why it’s the best: Once upon a time, the Doctor traveled with his granddaughter. This fact might surprise fans of the new series who are not familiar with all of the Doctor’s back story, but it is true. Very little is actually known about the Doctor’s family, besides Susan, which is perhaps what makes this episode so much fun. Here The Doctor, Martha, and Donna turn up on a future planet that has two warring factions of aliens, a species known as the Hoth, (which are a type of fish-like alien) and human like beings. What is quickly discovered is that they are a warrior race that is created through extracting DNA and creating children that are generated and aged within the machine and then come out as adults with all the military knowledge of the collective. Enter Jenny, the Doctor’s daughter extracted from his DNA. The mystery surrounding these warring factions and the goal they are both attempting to reach provides for a great story, but what makes this arc really exceptional is Jenny, and the Doctor’s obvious growing affection for the girl. Portrayed by Georgia Moffett as just as fun, funny, earnest, and pure of heart as the Doctor, she is a great vision of what the Doctor’s daughter could be and would be, and a poignant reminder of all that he has lived through and lost.
The Waters of Mars (#201)
Why it’s the best: Back to horror, this story was one of the specials that aired between seasons 4 and 5 of the new series, when the Doctor was traveling alone. Here he turns up on Mars as the first space crew has landed and established a base colony to determine the viability of inhabiting the planet, but the colony is quickly overtaken by an entity that threatens all their survival. With some of the most frightening visual effects and images in the show, this episode is truly freaky. Add to this another fantastic guest star performance from Lindsay Duncan as Captain Adelaide Brooks and it becomes really fantastic. Here we see the Doctor for the first time in the new series stepping into darker territory, faced with the realization that this is a fixed point in time that he cannot change, the Doctor is in an impossible situation knowing he should leave, but feeling morally bound to stay, and he makes a choice that may not be the right one. This story takes us into some of the grayest areas of the show thus far.
The Unicorn and the Wasp (#194)
Why it’s the best: Much of the new Doctor Who series involves monsters and mysteries, and often there is drama in those stories, but many of the best episodes of Doctor Who excel because of their humor and their writing, as well. Amongst the best of these is The Unicorn and the Wasp. The Doctor and Donna travel to 1920s England and turn up at a dinner party in the countryside, where they soon find themselves in a murder mystery like an Agatha Christie novel – with Agatha Christie. A bit divergent from where so much of the show usually goes, this story was one of the funniest, and proves yet again what is the best thing about Doctor Who, literally anything can happen in this series, and that is so much a part of what makes it fun.
Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead (#195)
Why it’s the best: Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, which was written by Steven Moffatt, (now the executive producer for the show) is one of the most original and twisty stories of the new series. Arriving on a planet that is a library (literally the whole planet) at a mysterious request that turns up on the Doctor’s psychic paper, to discover the library empty , and then crossing paths with an archaeological expedition who are seeking to discover why the library is empty, the Doctor meets in this episode a very important reoccurring character – Professor River Song. However, she has met him before. The mysteries surrounding River, and a little girl in a separate world that sees what is happening in the library, and the mystery of what happened to the library itself, all contribute to making this an exceptional arc. It has unexpected twists, and it has a great monster in the form of the Vashda Nerada. There are some very creepy moments too, with something called “ghosting” which will disturb even the most stalwart viewer. An exceptional mystery and a great setting all contribute to making it one of the best.
Why it’s the best: Bringing the Doctor back to New New York, as seen in the story New Earth (#168), this story presents a future dystopian world where the entire population of the city is trapped on a motorway. As I’ve stated previously, dystopian adventures are amongst my favorite storylines, and this is one of the funnier and more imaginative episodes. It brings back a classic Who monster, and has the Doctor acting heroic to save a girl he barely knows at this point, Martha Jones. With a few unexpected twists involving some recurring characters from The End of the World (#158) and New Earth (#168), this episode is a strange adventure, but one where both the Doctor and Martha shine. It is also the first time Martha shows her unfailing loyalty and faith in the Doctor, which is one of her finest qualities.
Love & Monsters (#175)
Why it’s the best: There are a few episodes in Doctor Who which do not feature the Doctor or barely feature him at all. Some of these are amongst the best of Doctor Who because the main characters and the stories themselves are still about the Doctor and are still very compelling. The Doctor meets many people and touches many lives, sometimes people are brought along on his journeys, sometimes his effect is purely incidental. In Love & Monsters, the main character Elton (brilliantly portrayed by guest star Marc Warren) starts seeking out the Doctor due to events in his life that seem to need explanation, in so doing he meets a group of people who are also searching for the Doctor. One of the funniest episodes overall, its one and only flaw is a less than stellar monster, but in terms of story and writing this one absolutely earns its place on this list for reminding us another important theme of the show, that the Doctor is wonderful, but sometimes those who encounter him are worse off for doing so.
School Reunion (#170)
Why it’s the best: Part of the fun of Doctor Who is the fact that it has lasted 50 years and there is a long history of adventures for the Doctor and his companions. So, one of the episodes in the new series that is the most fun, is this one as it reveals what happens to two of the Doctor’s most beloved companions. It also gives a glimpse to the current companion, Rose Tyler, what her future might have in store. It’s true, the Doctor does not like endings, but in this story, at least there is some closure for a character’s story that was left somewhat up in the air in the classic Who series. Bringing back Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith was a stroke of genius as it let us take a hard look at the Doctor’s relationships for the first time, and successfully brought back one of the greatest characters in the history of the show, something which no other companion has yet successfully been able to do in the new series. Good for you, Sarah Jane!
The Shakespeare Code (#180)
Why it’s the best: I’m a big fan of the historical adventures on Doctor Who, and unlike the classic series which was more concerned with historical events, the new Who tends to focus adventures around historical people. So introducing Shakespeare as an intuitive, bawdy genius in the form of guest star Dean Lennox Kelly was brilliant. This episode is full of great jokes in dialogue, and of miscommunication of affections, just as in a Shakespeare play itself. The producers really knew how to do Shakespeare justice in this story by using the things the bard loved in his plays to tell a very funny story and create a journey that is incredibly fun.
Planet of the Dead (#200)
Why it’s the best: After the fourth season ended, the following year had a series of holiday specials instead of a regular season, and the Doctor traveled without a regular companion. At this time came an Easter special which is not particularly well loved by fans, but which is highly underrated in my opinion, introducing us to one of the Doctor’s most capable companions, Christina (beautifully portrayed by guest star Michelle Ryan), and the most endearing scientific adviser at UNIT since the Doctor himself – Malcolm (played by the talented Lee Evans). These two could easily have become series regulars and the show would have been better for it. This is a very funny and endearing adventure and would be another great way to introduce someone to the show, as there are no complicated character back stories to have to try and sort through and no over arcing story lines. With the addition of two of the more interesting alien species, this story wins out over many other equally excellent adventures for a place on this list.
WORST EPISODE (STORY ARC)
Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks (#182)
Why it’s the worst: There have been many Dalek adventures over the long history of the show, and some of these have been amazing and some have been a mess. I’m going to go ahead and add this one to the latter category. Set in 1930s New York City at the height of the depression, this is an episode that is all over the map. It features Hooverville, the building of the Empire State Building and a Broadway Chorus line, which all play background to one of the silliest and most nonsensical Dalek stories yet. The Daleks are creating human- pig slaves in genetic experiments and attempting to develop a human-Dalek hybrid? Er… what?
Nothing in this arc really works for what we know about the Daleks. The pig creatures are one of the more ridiculous creations on the show, and the whole thing just seems pretty poor in relation to the quality of the rest of the new series. Also there is Tallulah (played by guest star Miranda Raison) who is one of the more irritating characters. Every time she speaks I just want to tape her mouth shut. The one redeeming thing in the show is a solid guest star supporting performance from Andrew Garfield. They had a great setting and seemed to have no idea what to do with it here. The fact that they actually thought this story was good enough to make into a two-part episode is why it wins out as the worst episode on this list over some other arcs from the 10th Doctor that were also somewhat mediocre.
(Need more on this? Just look at that picture and you will understand.)