Many fans, myself included, felt that Doctor Who fell off in terms of quality under the direction of showrunner Chris Chibnall, who was in charge of the show during the 13th Doctor’s reign from 2018 to 2022. Aside from a massive, controversial retcon that revealed the Doctor’s past to be more vast than previously thought, the overarching plot stagnated, and although there were plenty of hits, there were a fair share of misses as well.
After a somewhat disappointing final episode, however, we want to focus on the hits, ranking the 10 absolute best adventures from Jodie Whittaker’s time as The Doctor. We’ll be counting any two-part adventures as one entry, but not the massive six-part story that made up the entirety of the 13th Doctor’s third full season.
10. “Revolution of the Daleks” (2021 New Year’s Special)
Given how often these monsters are used in Doctor Who, it’s hard to make a Dalek episode that feels original. Although this one is uncannily similar to 2010’s episode, “Victory of the Daleks” (which also features the prime minister teaming up with the daleks, where as one would expect, things went similarly poorly), it doesn’t diminish the quality of “Revolution” in its own right.
The New Year’s special also features the full return of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a Doctor Who staple along the likes of River Song (Alex Kingston) in terms of companions who can show up at any time and always be welcomed. The episode is a fun Dalek-fighting adventure with plenty of surprises and explosions, and it’s a fine ending to the reign of the “fam,” with it being the last episode featuring Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole)—aside from a brief appearance in “The Power of the Doctor” from the former.
9. “Ascension of the Cybermen” and “The Timeless Children” (Season 12, Episodes 9 & 10)
The two-part Season 12 finale was controversial, but at the very least it promised to move Doctor Who’s plot in any direction, which can’t be said about many of the 13th Doctor’s previous episodes. The first episode is an adrenaline-fueled battle with a new type of Cyberman, Ashad (Patrick O’Kane), whose conversion was only half-complete and thus shows half a human face.
It’s the second part, however, that really kicks things into high gear. We travel back to Gallifrey, home of the Doctor’s race, the Time Lords, only to learn from the Master (Sacha Dhawan) that the Doctor created the Time Lords, and that she had many more regenerations before what we know as the “first” Doctor. Some call it a retcon, some call it a bold step forward for the series, but it raises questions that we still don’t have the answers to, and that we hope returning showrunner Russell T. Davies will address instead of just forgetting about it.
8. “Demons of the Punjab” (Season 11, Episode 6)
A positive trend that Doctor Who got back in the habit of doing during Seasons 11 and 12 was doing more historical episodes, harkening back to classic Doctor Who where the series was supposed to be educational. Although light on sci-fi elements, “Demons of the Punjab” is an excellent exploration of a time period that is often overlooked during history class: the partition of India.
The episode also gives Yaz (Mandip Gill) more backstory, as she interacts with her grandmother when she was young and about to be married in 1947 to a Hindu man, despite her and her family being Muslim. This creates a nice “Romeo and Juliet” storyline that ends similarly tragically, but is fitting given the violent historical event that takes place during the episodes. There are also some aliens that show up, but they don’t do much aside from fill Doctor Who’s quota of at least some aliens per episode.
7. “Resolution” (2019 New Year’s Special)
The first episode of a new Doctor facing off against Daleks is always a big occasion, and this one felt even more momentous since the previous season had featured all-original monsters for the Doctor and team TARDIS to fight. It’s also one of the creepier Dalek episodes, as the creature escapes from its shell and latches onto a human, possessing her and causing mayhem.
Aside from the dramatic confrontation between the Dalek and the Doctor, the episode also features Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega), Ryan’s estranged father, which provides plenty of drama as the two hash out their issues with one another.
6. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (Season 11, Episode 1)
The first episode fully featuring the 13th Doctor, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” kicks off Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration in style. Along with the introductions of Graham, Ryan and Yaz, the episode features a metal sequence in which the Doctor creates her own sonic screwdriver, and features the death of Graham and Ryan’s family member, Grace (Sharon D. Clarke), which they grieve over the remainder of their time on the series.
5. “Rosa” (Season 11, Episode 3)
Another historical episode, “Rosa” examines both historical, modern and theoretical future racism by taking the Doctor and the fam to 1955 Alabama, where Rosa Parks (here played by Vinette Robinson) made her historic decision not to give up her seat on a bus to a white person, as an act of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement. Co-written by Malorie Blackman, who often uses science fiction to comment on social issues, the episode is a powerful examination of racism during all time periods, while introducing an all-too-believable antagonist as a time-traveling racist attempting to stop Parks’ act of defiance.
4. “Fugitive of the Judoon” (Season 12, Episode 5)
A precursor to Season 12’s finale, “Fugitive of the Judoon” introduces Jo Martin as the “Fugitive Doctor,” who initially is unaware of her identity as a Doctor preceding who we knew as the First Doctor due to her locking her memories away. Also featuring the silly Rino-shaped Judoon and the first appearance back from Jack Harkness, the entire episode is a blast from start to finish, with the reveal of the new Doctor at the end being a huge shock after a season and a half of no meaningful plot developments.
3. “Spyfall” (Season 12, Episodes 1 & 2)
Doctor Who’s take on James Bond, the two-part special features the Doctor and fam dressing up for the part and obtaining cool gadgets from MI6 in order to take on the alien threat of the week. However, things get ratcheted up a notch when the agent known as O reveals himself to be a new regeneration of the Master, the Doctor’s only surviving fellow Time Lord and sworn nemesis.
Dhawan’s Master steals every scene he’s in, and the dynamic between him and Whittaker is perfect. Add to this the revelation that Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords, has been destroyed, and we have an episode that’s exciting and fresh the entire way through.
2. “Eve of the Daleks” (2022 New Year’s Special)
One of Jodie Whittaker’s final episodes is also one of her best, thanks to the lower stakes and fun time-travel shenanigans. The Doctor, Yaz and short-lived companion Dan Lewis (John Bishop) find themselves inside a storage facility plagued not just by Daleks, but a time loop that causes the Daleks to kill them over and over again until the team finds a way to best them.
There aren’t any huge story revelations or plot twists, but the episode does more with less, telling a fun and funny story with a fun time loop twist that makes the entire episode feel like a puzzle that needs to be solved.
1. “Village of the Angels” (Season 13, Episode 4)
It may be a surprise to have the top-ranked episode of the 13th Doctor’s era be from its worst season, but that’s just the power of the Weeping Angels. Despite being part of the six-part “Flux” story, this one is mostly self-contained, taking place within a small town haunted by the terrifying Weeping Angels (angelic statues that come alive when not observed), sending its victims back in time.
The entire episode is intense the whole way through, with the final sequence of the Doctor turning into a Weeping Angel being actively terrifying. The Weeping Angels are perhaps some of Doctor Who’s best, scariest monsters, and at least for one episode, they save what was otherwise a mostly convoluted and uninteresting season with the best episode of the 13th Doctor’s entire run.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and Looper. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.
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