Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was both damaged and as happy-go-lucky as the Doctor has ever been. He’s often unduly criticized for his performance, but he will always have the distinction of being the first Doctor of the new series, and successfully bringing the series back into the hearts and homes of viewers after a very long hiatus. They say you never forget your first Doctor, and Christopher Eccleston was mine, so I have quite a lot of respect for his performance.
His Doctor was the first of the new breed of Doctor with a haunted past, a fragile soul, and a need to connect with humanity.
BEST EPISODES (STORY ARCS):
Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (#164)
Why it’s the best: The return of Doctor Who in the 2005 brought quite a lot of silly humor into the Doctor’s stories. It was fun and funny as was the Doctor himself, but there is the criticism that much of the first season is filled with silliness and poor aliens. The Empty Child / The Doctor dances changed this tone entirely for the series and was not only the best story for the 9th Doctor, but one of the best of the series. It set its story in a dreary bomb ridden London, taking place almost entirely at night, and has one of the creepiest recurring and haunting images of the whole series. Anyone who has seen it will never get the phrase, “Are you my mommy?” successfully out of their head. Not to mention it has the introduction of the fabulous Captain Jack Harkness, and the first real moment of romance and jealousy between The Doctor and Rose. What really sets it apart though is how it delivers on its plot. Not every Doctor Who story has a great pay off for the weird occurrences, but this one really delivers.
Bad Wolf / Parting of the Ways (#166)
Why it’s the best: The new series excels at having a recurring element or theme woven into each episode of a season and bring it back for the season finales. These season long arcs are one of the best features of the new series, tying together seemingly random mysteries to prove how connected they actually are. None did this quite so effectively though as season one. When the Doctor and Rose end up back at Satellite 5, 100 years after the events of The Long Game (#162), they discover things worse than they had left them and uncover the threat that has been manipulating mankind for so very long. The 9th Doctor’s final arc sets up something special for the future of Captain Jack Harkness, allows Rose for the first time to step up and not just follow along with the Doctor, but prove she is truly his most worthy companion, and it shows us for the first time something we did not expect – The Doctor lies. It has a truly epic ending and is one of the better regeneration episodes as well.
Father’s Day (#163)
Why it’s the best: As I’ve mentioned previously, often the best episodes of Doctor Who are not about the places or times that are visited, but just as often they are about the things that are reveled about the characters and how they learn and grow, and the nature of time itself. In this episode, Rose convinces the Doctor to take her back to be with her father when he dies. He was hit by a car when she was a baby, she has no memory of him, but her mother always told her he died alone, and she just wants to be there with him so he does not have to die alone. Things get complicated when she interferes with events instead of letting them just happen. It has been criticized for the creatures known as The Reapers, but the idea that changing a fixed point in time causes a rift that needs to be corrected is a terrific one. What makes this story truly exceptional though, is how Rose learns and matures through it and the things that are revealed about her life, family, and character. With a terrific supporting performance by Shaun Dingwall as Pete Tyler, this is one of the best episodes for showing the humanity of both Rose and Jackie.
Why it’s the best: Sometime between the eighth Doctor and the ninth Doctor, something happened to the Doctor that was called The Time War (The Last Great Time War). This story develops this idea really for the first time. When facing off against his oldest enemy, the question becomes yet again whether or not to show mercy. One of the most interesting and ethically challenging of the ninth Doctor’s story, we see for the first time that the Doctor is in many ways hardened by his past experiences. Rose is the one who truly helps him to remember his compassion. It also reveals some dark things about the nature of mankind itself. A great episode to reintroduce modern audiences to the Daleks.
The Unquiet Dead (#159)
Why it’s the best: As a great stand alone Doctor Who episode, this one is terrific as it was the first of the new series to have excellent effects and a fun setting. When Rose and the Doctor turn up in Victorian Cardiff at Christmas to discover walking cadavers, the question becomes, what is animating the corpses? When Charles Dickens becomes involved, and a servant girl who has an ability to connect with these “spirits”, the story becomes one of the finer moments of the ninth Doctor’s one season. It also includes the first moment when the Doctor and Rose realize that if they should die, they are glad to be together to face it.
WORST EPISODE (STORY ARC):
The Long Game (#162)
Why it’s the worst: While there are a few weak episodes in this first season of the new series, this is definitely the weakest one. Featuring one of the worst companions of the series on his first real adventure with the Doctor, we get a glimpse of what happens when a companion essential flunks out. There is a great supporting performance from Simon Pegg as The Editor, but even that cannot save this episode. With too much of the story focused on the character of Adam, and a somewhat pathetic alien, there is not a lot that is good to say about it. It has an interesting concept in the reception and distribution of the news, but ultimately, the concept was not executed very well. Certainly not the worst story ever, but definitely one of the weaker ones.