[Updated with Season 9 episodes]
And we’re back for more fun with numbers as I continue ranking every modern Doctor Who episode from worst to best. I scraped the bottom of the barrel last week, so now we move on to the middling episodes. That sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? Even though I’m being critical here and these are very flawed doses of the Doctor, they’re perfectly entertaining ways to indulge in 45-minute breaks from the world, but maybe only if you’ve grown tired of re-watching the best episodes too many times. I’d still take any of these over much else we find on television these days.
Now remember – Spoilers!
“Are These Good Episodes?”
#85 The Bells of St. John: The introduction of the “real” Clara (Clara Prime?) includes great bits, including nice scenes with the Doctor and his soon-to-be-companion plus a brief trip aboard a crashing plane. The sexism with the monks isn’t so great, nor is the idea of presenting Clara as a mystery to be solved rather than a fully formed character in her own right. And the plot about people getting trapped in wi-fi is pretty basic.
#84 The Name of the Doctor: Some cool ideas, like the Doctor visiting his own grave (the one place a time-traveler is never supposed to go—aside from pretty much anywhere in his or her own past, right?) and some incredibly poor payoff—namely, learning that Clara’s many lives existed just to keep the Doctor safe. The story feels like it needed more fleshing out for everything to work properly. Great final scene with River, though, that addresses the troubling end of “Forest of the Dead,” even if it doesn’t fix it.
#83 Gridlock: I have a heck of a time buying the premise that people would spend years in traffic traveling meters per day. A little more world-building could have clarified why they’re desperate enough to resort to travel that’s slower than walking. But the ending is wonderful, especially when the Doctor tells Martha about Gallifrey. And it is fun watching the Doctor jumping from car to car while trying not to choke on exhaust.
#82 The Long Game: Mostly notable for the Doctor’s no-nonsense treatment of almost-companion Adam, who does something really foolish. And I suppose the future world we see here foreshadows the season finale better than any of those cryptic “Bad Wolf” messages ever did.
#81 The Next Doctor: The title’s a cheat, one that feels more like a marketing gimmick given David Tennant’s impending finale, but David Morrissey is entertaining as a not-really-Doctor. The rest is pretty generic Cybermen stuff—even with a giant Cyberman? Yeah, still feels generic somehow.
#80 Closing Time: The Doctor talks baby? No. That’s just too much. I get that it’s aiming to be a light-hearted, fun romp, and it does have its moments, but no to the baby talk.
#79 The Snowmen: Some fantastic visuals and a thoroughly mediocre story in which we realize snowmen just aren’t scary, no matter how sharp their teeth are. Clara dies again and love saves the day again. Even the voice of Sir Ian McKellan himself adds little to the proceedings. But the staircase leading up to a TARDIS in the clouds is beautiful.
#78 Sleep No More: The only self-contained episode in Season 9 never reaches a proper resolution. It introduces the fascinating sci-fi concept of technology that can eliminate the need for most sleep and thereby increase productivity, but then the episode decides it would rather play around with generic monsters composed of eye dust. Clever use of the found footage trope gives the story a distinctive look and feel, but the cliffhanger ending prevents it from becoming anything more than an interesting gimmick.
#77 The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood: Inter-species peace talks don’t make the most compelling drama, it turns out. The end with Rory dying and getting erased from history, however, is much more gripping.
#76 The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar: Season 9 gets off to a decent start, but it carries over the chief flaws of the previous few seasons— an over-reverence for the Doctor and prioritization of what’s cool over what makes sense (why is there a cup of tea on the Daleks’ homeworld?). The inclusion of Missy—the most entertaining incarnation of the Master—elevates the story. She and Clara make an exceptionally fun duo.
#75 Cold War: Feels like an inferior version of “Dalek,” but with a Martian Ice Warrior substituting for the Dalek. Cold War paranoia and strong guest stars add something different, though.
#74 A Town Called Mercy: An alien who has done terrible things and is now trying to do good in the Wild West would’ve been a solid story for the post-Time War 9th Doctor, but the normally kinder 11 seems out of character here.
#73 The Lazarus Experiment: Decent but unremarkable tale about a desire for youth turning a guy into a monster. Not the subtlest story, but there’s some entertaining action.
#72 The Husbands of River Song: It starts off a bit too silly, which is excusable in its role as a Christmas special. As an episode of Doctor Who, however, it comes dangerously close to riding off the rails until, in the last 15 minutes or so, the wacky antics give way to an emotionally satisfying conclusion to River Song’s story. Granted, this is her third or fourth “ending” at this point, but it’s also her best ending.
#71 The Rings of Akhaten: I like the wild assortment of aliens. Don’t like feelings and sentimentality saving the day yet again (even if it’s a great monologue for 11). And the Doctor stalking Clara’s timeline is a wee bit creepy.
#70 Partners in Crime: It’s cute, with the Doctor and Donna investigating the same scheme as they keep missing each other by thismuch. Donna improves considerably from her debut, but she’s still got a ways to go.
#68 The Aliens of London/World War Three: Loses many points for the flatulent aliens. Otherwise, it’s solid kid-friendly adventure about an alien invasion.
#67 The Time of the Doctor: An incredibly frustrating regeneration story with some nice moments here and there. Okay, the big thing that bugs me—we’re only just now learning that he’s on his last life? And it gets resolved that quickly? Think about all the dramatic tension that could have resulted from having a Doctor who knew he was on his last life and we knew it for three or so seasons. Capaldi’s Doctor would’ve been great as that: “I’m the Doctor, and I’m at the end of my long life.” Missed opportunity!
#66 A Good Man Goes to War: Cool set pieces in a messy plot. The River Song storyline begins going off the rails here. It’s not yet a disaster, but the train wreck becomes inevitable as we start seeing how orchestrated River’s life has been.
#65 Nightmare in Silver: Not even the great Neil Gaiman was immune to Series 7’s mediocrity. Some cool ideas and sets—gotta love the super-speed Cybermen—but it doesn’t quite come together. Maybe my expectations were too high. (I’d still be thrilled to get another Gaiman episode, though.)
#64 Night Terrors: By this point, the theme song for the Matt Smith era should’ve been “All You Need Is Love.” Love magically saves the day, and a boy’s fear can somehow summon the Doctor. Creepy dolls chasing Amy and Rory through a doll house is a fun idea, though.
#63 The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion: The two-part running time feels slightly too long. Clara getting somehow trapped in her own head a second time in less than a year is one time too many. And the anti-war message is a tad too preachy…until the end. The Doctor’s speech at the climax is extraordinary, and it needed this particular Doctor (an older face combined with the acting chops of Peter Capaldi) to make it resonate.
#62 Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel: I may be in the minority, but I actually like that ominous Cybermen music cue. This two-parter is almost there, but the modern Cybermen feel more like Dalek knockoffs somehow. Probably the “Delete!” catchphrase.
#60 The End of the World: A mix of elements that feel like they belong in a kiddie show (the too-colorful aliens) as well as truly serious themes (Rose watches her planet blow up, and we learn the Doctor is the last of his kind). The series was still finding its feet in this second episode, but there’s some good stuff within.
#59 Robot of Sherwood: So Robin Hood was an actual person who acted like a parody of Robin Hood, and thus a legend was born. It’s either really stupid or really fun, and it probably depends on my mood on whatever particular day I watch.
#58 Boom Town: A Slitheen is back and much more tolerable this time. A perfectly fine episode that’s not particularly memorable, except for 9’s dinner with the lone Slitheen.
#57 Asylum of the Daleks: The Amy/Rory schism comes out of nowhere, and consequently, the two of them patching things up is the most painful this couple has ever been to watch. A world of crazy Daleks is a brilliant idea, but the execution doesn’t live up to it. I really liked the proto-Clara we meet, though.
Next week: “These Episodes Are Cool”