Top 10 Episodes of Doctor Who Season 1 and 2

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While long time followers try to survive the giant wait for the November 50th Anniversary special, it is a great opportunity for newcomers to be introduced to the greatness of Doctor Who, and familiar eyes to revisit old favorites. Wary casual watchers may be put off their pestering friends and relatives, but it isn’t just the rabid fan-base whom have been praising the series. In the Guinness World Records Doctor Who is labeled as the longest running British science fiction series, and it has won a number of awards over several categories such as 5 BAFTA TV and Hugo awards (“Best Television Series”, “Best Dramatic Presentation”…), 1 Saturn award, 14 National Television awards and numerous BBC Awards too. The actors portraying the Doctor, and the companions have won awards for their performances too. The adventures of the alien Time Lord ‘The Doctor’ with his Tardis were originally broadcast in November 1963 to 1989, and has created a legacy since. Numerous remakes had been attempted, including a TV movie in 1996, but none of them truly hit it off until 2005 on BBC.

Admitted procrastinator, writer and producer, Russel T Davies (Queer as Folk, David Tennant’s Casanova) was inspired to restart Doctor Who after falling in love with the original series from episode one. In the 90’s he approached BBC about a reboot and discussions and speculation occurred over 4 long years between 1998 to 2002. In his original pitch Russel suggested the elongating of episodes from 22 minutes to 45 minutes, and the adaption of the show for a new, modern-day audience. He competed with two others whom pitched for a reboot. In 2003 BBC sorted out tricky legal issues concerning production rights, and filming for the first episode became a reality in 2004.

The Doctor has been seen with a mix of different companions over the course of its run. In the older series, there was more a variety of side characters. Perhaps for the romance appeal, over the course of the 2005 series, the Doctor usually has a female compani0n. Seasons 1 and 2 follow the companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) over the Doctor’s regenerations of Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor, and David Tennant as the 10th Doctor. Since it follows the first major story arc of the reboot, it seems appropriate for those interested in learning more about Doctor Who to start here. For those whom have been skeptical up until this point, believe me when I say it makes a huge difference to start at the beginning and learn about all the characters.

Dearest newcomers, it is true that not every episode of Doctor Who is relevant to the overarching story. Every season has a major story arc, and there are many very interesting side stories and characters that weave themselves in and out of each one and cross over to future series. At most 4 episodes per season (out of 13) don’t add anything groundbreaking to the Doctor Who universe. However, it does a lot better than the majority of series out there, and when the show isn’t making you smack yourself for how clever it is, it delivers on a level of simple episodic fun. The writing is strong except for the odd forgettable, silly or generally awful monster-of-the-week episode which usually occur, thankfully, once per season. Some episodes I personally despise include: “Aliens of London”, “World War 3”, “Tooth and Claw”, “Fear Her” & “Voyage of the Damned” Christmas special, which are spread out over several seasons.

Doctor Who is not without flaws, but they are few and far between. Even when the plot is repetitive with its reoccurring villains or explanation-wise at the beginning of a new season, it is worth the effort. When Doctor Who pulls out its big guns, usually leading up to or at the season finale, it gets wonderful and exhilarating. It can make you laugh, cry, get chills or a combination of these, possibly at once! It’s the roller coaster of emotion that makes Doctor Who fans always come back for more, as mysteries of the Doctor Who universe get slowly explained and we are reminded of what the beautiful things in life are all about. The characters are given a great amount of detail that only expands as the series progresses – each of the Doctor’s companions are different in their own way and while we pick our favorites there are still plenty of great side characters to have a look out for. Captain Jack Harkness, for example, was so popular he is the star of a spin off series called Tourchwood. Oh, and there’s the Sarah Jane Adventures too. Let’s not forget the numerous regenerations of the Doctor, whom are a joy to watch – whether it’s serious Nine, the hyper but emotive Ten or eccentric Eleven.

Visually it is an eye catching show, although there are times when shots are not flattering due to poor choice of lighting or color. This disappears Season 5 onwards. The costumes of all the different time periods are beautifully detailed, creative, wonky and brilliant in variety. The special effects are, even 7 years ago, up to scratch and believable – at least it doesn’t look like something from a PlayStation 2. Who can forget the Tardis especially, and its great improvement over it’s 60’s Tardis? The full orchestra soundtracks by Murray Gold (David Tennant’s Casanova, UK Queer as Folk) add to atmosphere effectively. The majority of the tracks during the action scenes are nothing new melody wise (insert fast paced loud drums and violins!), but a few vocal or sombre tracks will really stick with you – a famous one being Doomsday.

When picking my top 10 I tried to only let feelings of enjoyment come into consideration with episodic adventures. Otherwise story and character development were the major competitors. Christmas Specials were not considered since they are an hour long and are often considered separate to a season. Even though there are plenty of these lists online, I hope these resonate with a number of fellow Doctor Who fans, and inspire newbies to give the series a try!

10. The End of the World

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Episode 2 of Season 1 is the first adventure of Rose in the Tardis with the ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston- 5 billion years in future on a space station where the Doctor and Rose witness the earth being swallowed up by the expanding Sun. It was written by Russell T Davies and directed by BBC’s Euros Lyn (Belonging, Casualty). Is there a better way to introduce someone to time travel? Rose has to deal with a huge amount of culture shock as she encounters the Last Human being (who is a billion years old and unrecognizable!) and a few other mysterious other races.

This episode manages to be interesting and entertaining – a few characters introduced will appear later on and it is a suitable introduction to the franchise as many of the concepts of gadgets of the Dr Who universe get explained. It isn’t mind blowing in terms of story or character development, it just encapsulates the entertainment factor that every episodic show aims to have.

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9. New Earth

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Fast forward to episode 1 of Season 2, David Tennant as the Doctor and Rose go to ‘New Earth’ a planet which humanity inhabited after the Earth got destroyed by the sun. The Doctor visits the hospital, which has strange procedures going on. Cassandra, a character from a previous episode, makes a re-appearance in an interesting, clever adventure filled with foreshadowing and sexual tension! It is written by Russell T Davies and directed by James Hawes.

This episode accomplishes what the previous episodes accomplished – a memorable, roller coaster of an episode with everything one could want: trickles of romance, comedy and a sprinkle of foreshadowing. Again, it doesn’t offer a great deal to the story which is why it is down lower. We deal with Rose and The Doctor re-kindling their friendship, and if any episode will want to make you vomit it’s this one – as we encounter humans with every single disease!

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8. Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel

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A twist of events bring the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey to a parallel universe, where the people of London wear EarPods that feed information directly into the wearer’s brain and Rose’s father Pete is still alive. It was directed by Graeme Harper (Robin Hood, the Sarah Jane Adventures) and written by Tom MacRae (Threesome).

This episode, unlike some of the previous offers a splash of story and character development, with a healthy dose of fun. It sets up a couple of villains points that will become ever relevant and referred to episodes to come (The Cybermen, of course). Rose uncovers a little more of what her parents are like, at least in this world, which creates some interesting inner conflict.

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7. The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

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This is episode 9 & 10 of Season 1 and is divided into two parts. After chasing a questionable cylinder through the Time Fortex, The Doctor and Rose find themselves in World War II London, where there is epidemic of mental illness occurring which appears to be connected to a lost child. Separated, Rose and The Doctor try to solve the mystery before they get sick too. It was written by Steven Moffat (Coupling, Sherlock) and directed by James Hawes (39 steps).

This episode is on this place on the list because while it doesn’t offer a great deal to the story, it introduces a key character (the charming and intelligent time traveler Captain Jack Harkness) and succeeds on being spine tingling creepy, a great feat for a TV show which main focus is science fiction. Its imagery is unforgettable and the mood is sombre and serious (props to set, costume and lighting guys!). The conclusion is moving and memorable too – all around great writing and direction in these episodes.

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6. Rose

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The official end of Doctor Who’s 16 year hiatus begins with the first episode of Season 1, where we are introduced to the heroine of these two series, 19 year old Rose Tyler. It is shot in Cardiff, the 10th largest city in the UK and aired 26th March 2005. Strange, scary occurrences start when plastic mannequins of where she works start to come to life. It was written by Russel T Davies and directed by BBC’s Keith Boak (Out of the Blue, City Central).

This episode is essential for any Doctor Who enthusiast to watch, not only because it explains so many concepts and ideas surrounding the Doctor, but many characters we see episodes from now are introduced here. If you’ve seen this episode, you could almost jump forward to any episode you like and may be able to follow it. While the monsters in this episode are not nearly as memorable as some of the others, and granted, a bit silly – it is an entertaining and informative episode with a mix of comedy and drama.

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5. Dalek

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Episode 6 of season 1 begins with the Doctor and Rose turning up in Utah in 2012, where they are introduced to Henry van Statten, a man whom collects alien artifacts. It was written by Robert Shearman and directed by Joe Ahearne (Ultraviolet). Am I the only one who finds it amusing that the setting of 2012 in this episode is not too far off actual 2012? Finally someone managed to portray a realistic future!

This episode is on the dramatic side as the Daleks make their first appearance in the remake. It is important and pivotal to the story as it adds character background to the Doctor and information and history to the Doctor Who universe. It manages to be sad and oddly uplifting at the same time, as we grow attached to the villain in this episode. A smart choice of Mr Shearman to make us like a Dalek!

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4. School Reunion

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Episode 3 of Season 2 takes place in a school where The Doctor has been working. Rose notices something wrong with the chips, and UFO sightings by Mickey doesn’t make it look anymore promising either. It was written by stand-up comedian Toby Whithouse (Being Human, No Angels) and directed by James Hawes.

We are introduced to Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and her dog K-9, a previous companion from the 4th and 5th regenerations of the Doctor and are given history about their adventures together. This is an important episode as it gives us a window to the entire Doctor Who franchise, and has a mixture of comedic and sad moments. It is a bittersweet, truly memorable episode.

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3. Bad Wolf / Parting of the Ways

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The thrilling conclusion to season 1 occurs over these two episodes. The Doctor, Rose and Jack wake up into a world of reality TV and game shows. The only concern is there appears to be something off about it. It was written by Russel T Davies and directed by Joe Ahearn. The idea of putting the characters in TV shows is brilliant, creative, and sets itself up for some interesting scenes- both funny and sad.

The conclusion of the series itself is interesting with the explanation of ‘Bad Wolf’. However, the twist of turning Rose into a deus ex machina Super Saiyan seemed like a cheap ploy to get the characters out of otherwise inevitable doom, the biggest flaw in the writing to an otherwise near perfect ending. The most moving part of the finale is Rose and the Doctor being separated, as we gain insight as to what returning to a life without the Doctor does. Of course, we also get to see the regeneration of Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant – a pivotal moment in the series.

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2. Fathers Day

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Episode 8 of Season 1 is a very important episode for a number of reasons. Not only does it add invaluable detail to Rose’s character, and more explanation as to the rules of the Doctor Who universe, if you’re going to need a box of tissues for Season 1 this would be the episode. Rose asks the Doctor to take her back to the day her father Pete Tyler died in a car accident, and attempts to change his fate, with disastrous consequences! It was written by Paul Cornell (Robin Hood, Casualty), and directed by Joe Ahearne.

This was one of the first episodes of Doctor Who that gave hints as to its potential as a creative work in terms of world building and strong characters. Shaun Dingwall (Touching Evil, Color Me Kubrik) is great as Rose’s Dad – he pulls off hopeless and determined very well and turns an otherwise hateful person into someone likable. A lot of the comedy fro this episode comes solely from the awkward conversations Rose has with her Dad, since he doesn’t know it’s her!

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1. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

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The finale of Season 2 is a favorite among fans and the press as well. It won BAFTA awards in 2007 for Best Screenplay and Best Actor (David Tennant). The Doctor and Rose return to London to visit Jackie and learn that for last few months weird shadows have appeared all over the world. It was written by Russel T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper.

These episode bid farewell (at least for a while) to companion Rose Tyler, in a saddening turn of events. Billie Piper gets a chance to show her true colors in a iconic, emotional scene near the end, where fans everywhere restrained themselves from crying. Not only is this ending more realistic and believable to the ending of Season 1, but it puts a cherry on top of this fantastic love story in the Doctor Who world. For drama, science fiction and romance fans alike, this finale can’t be missed under any circumstances!

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What do you think? Leave a comment.

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12 Comments

  1. Oh nice list! School Reunion is my favorite episode of all time.

  2. Austin Bender

    School Reunion is one of my all time favorites, as well as The Doctor Dances. Great list, they’re all awesome!

  3. Taylor Ramsey

    This is a good list. My personal fav on it has to be School Reunion too.
    I was hoping we would start seeing more love for the classic series out on the Internet, but so far it has not really happened.

    • Jordan

      I think its because the olderr series is hard to access unless you buy it on DVD… why buy something you’re not sure is good? Has the episodes been re-aired on TV? They should , especially with this wait. I hear the Tom Baker episodes aren’t too bad.

      • Austin Bender

        Tom Baker’s are pretty good, especially for fans new to the old series. Some are streaming on Netflix if you have a streaming account. My favorite classics are from the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.

  4. Rudi Azank

    Great selection! Tennant’s run has my favorite stories — I love the Girl in the Fireplace as well.
    School Reunion is a perfect tie in with the old traditions of the series universe. Fun read!

    • Jordan

      Thanks. The Girl in the Fireplace is quite a popular one, so you are definitely not alone!

  5. Love that School Reunion (and Sarah Jane!) get recognition here. Doomsday is an incredible episode and I’m glad it gets the top spot. Father’s Day was also a really special one.

  6. David Mancini

    Doomsday is probably the best episode of a tv show I have ever seen. Fantastic episode.

  7. Helen Parshall

    Such a brilliant list and god do I feel you on some of the episodes that you listed as disliking. School Reunion is one I revisit again and again when in need of a dose of doctor who.

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