‘Doctor Who:’ Russell T. Davies’ Best Episodes, Ranked
Are you as excited as we are for Russell T. Davies’ return?
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In the latest Whoniverse news to break the internet, it was announced that in celebration of its sixtieth anniversary, Doctor Who will be bringing back a fan-favorite, the original NuWho showrunner who introduced Doctor Who to a new era, Russell T. Davies. Davies is known for reviving the landmark British science fiction series in 2009 following its cancellation in 1989. During his time as Doctor Who’s showrunner, Davies gifted us with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and first Doctor of the NuWho era, and David Tennant, one of, if not the most, beloved Doctors of all time. In celebration of Davies’ impending return, we’ve ranked what we consider to be Davies’ best episodes during his four-season run.
Note: For those of you who are already fuming at the absence of “Blink,” this list is limited to episodes that Davies wrote, not episodes that simply fall under his tenure as showrunner.
10. Series 4 – “Partners in Crime”
Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is one of Doctor Who’s most beloved companions, and it’s not hard to see why. Donna is boisterous and outspoken — a feisty spitfire who has no qualms with making her opinions known, especially to the Doctor. Donna’s introduction is a welcome pivot to a purely platonic relationship between the Doctor and his companion. After Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), a third companion with romantic attraction to the Doctor would have quickly gotten stale. As Donna scoffs in deep offense, “You’re not matin’ with me, Sunshine!” after unloading all of her many, many suitcases — including a hat box —, it is clear that this dynamic will be unlike any other that came before it. The scene in “Partners in Crime” where Donna and the Doctor spot each other through the windows at Adipose Headquarters is one of the best moments in Donna’s arc and is the perfect snapshot of Donna and the Doctor’s dynamic as a comedic power duo whose chemistry is off the charts.
9. Series 1 – “Rose”
The one that started it all, “Rose” kicked off the long-awaited revival of Doctor Who in 2005, introducing Davies as NuWho’s first showrunner and Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. One of the most overlooked Doctors in the NuWho universe, Eccleston bursts onto the scene with an iconic leather jacket and an infectious smile. “Rose,” or, the attack of the plastic mannequins, may feature one of Doctor Who’s lamest and corniest villains, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most sensational episodes in the history of Doctor Who. From Eccleston’s comedic zing to the introduction of the fan favorite Rose Tyler, “Rose” hooked both old and new fans back into the beloved sci-fi series.
8. Series 1 – “Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of Ways” is a perfect example of an RTD trademark where the sprinkling of a season-long mystery (“Bad Wolf”) culminates into an epic conclusion. Rose absorbs the power of the time vortex itself and successfully (at least, for the time being) defeats the Daleks, cementing Rose as much more than just a love interest, but a hero who will stop at nothing to save others. The Doctor and Rose’s kiss in “The Parting of Ways” also confirmed the Doctor as a viable romantic lead, a creative decision that continued throughout RTD’s run. “The Parting of Ways” also marked the end of Eccleston’s short, but brilliant run as the Doctor. His regeneration (“You were fantastic, absolutely brilliant. And you know what? So was I!”) feels like the perfect send-off not just to the Ninth Doctor, but to Eccleston himself.
7. Series 3 – “Utopia/The Sound of the Drums/The Last of the Time Lords”
The one that introduced us to the brilliant John Simm, the Series 3 three-part finale is one of the best examples of Davies’ trademark epic conclusions. The final three episodes of Season 3 are action-packed as the Doctor, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), and Martha face the return of the Master, the Doctor’s oldest friend, as well as his oldest enemy. The relationship between the Doctor and the Master is one of most rich, complex dynamics in the history of Doctor Who, and “The Sound of the Drums/The Last of the Time Lords” brings that relationship to the forefront with brilliant performances by both David Tennant and John Simms. Watching the Doctor hold a dying Master in his arms, begging him to regenerate, is one of the most beautiful scenes between the former friends that NuWho has to offer.
6. Series 2 – “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”
Season 2’s two-part finale brought us the epic clash of the Cybermen and the Daleks, but most importantly, the poignant departure of Rose Tyler, the first companion in the NuWho universe who captured the hearts of the Doctor and Whovians alike. Piper and Tennant’s performance in those final moments on the shores of “Bad Wolf Bay” is so genuine and moving, it has gone down as one of the most heartbreaking scenes of RTD’s run. This parting in particular shows just how human this incarnation of the Doctor truly is in comparison to his earlier regenerations. The Doctor, who is literally burning up a sun just to say goodbye to Rose, doesn’t let himself fall apart until he is back in the safety of the TARDIS, tears running down his face. Tennant’s delivery of “Quite right, too” after Rose tells him she loves him, seems like the Doctor’s way of telling her, in his own way, that he loves her, too. As Tennant has said about Rose’s departure:
Well, he was devastated. I think Rose had helped him reform himself. I think Rose had influenced who he became when he regenerated into me. I think her influence was very formative for the Doctor, having come out of this terrible war and all of these extraordinarily awful things that he’d been to and been borne witness to. And that she helped him recover, helped him become the man that he re-found. . . . to lose Rose — the woman who’d helped him rebuild who he was, and the woman he almost dared to fall in love with, I think — was devastating for him, and took him a long time to get over. And maybe he never did. He was certainly never quite over it while he was me.
5. Series 4 – “Midnight”
While it hints at what is to come (“He will knock four times”), “Midnight” is in large part a stand-alone Doctor Who adventure. The Tenth Doctor in particular never ceases to be amazed by the human race, so what makes “Midnight” pack such a powerful punch is that the Doctor is confronted with human nature at its weakest and most vulnerable, plagued by selfishness and mob mentality in the face of fear. “Midnight” is a one-shot adventure that also speaks volumes about the Doctor’s contradictory nature as a Time Lord with a natural passion for discovery: even in the most dire and dangerous situations, the Doctor has “a certain glee” in his eyes because, at the end of the day, his love for saving the day doesn’t quite stamp out his love for what is fascinating and brand new.
4. Series 4 – “Turn Left”
“Turn Left” may be a Doctor-light episode, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best in Davies’ run. A lead-up to the devastating final episode of Season 4 (see below: “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”), “Turn Left” shows how one simple decision changed Donna Noble’s life forever and sealed her destiny as the most important woman in the whole of creation. “Turn Left” serves as a testimony to Catherine Tate’s extraordinary performance as Donna Noble. It is one of the few episodes where the absence of the Doctor is hardly felt because of Tate’s magnetism as Donna, the woman who changed the universe.
3. The Specials – “The End of Time Part I and II”
“The End of Time” marked the end of RTD’s Doctor Who run, and in many ways, it feels like a send-off to Davies just as much as it is to Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. “The End of Time” is a beautiful conclusion to Davies’ run, which is largely viewed as the Tennant era of Who, despite the fact that Eccleston was Davies’ first Doctor. So, we wouldn’t expect anything less than something big. The return of the Time Lords and the rebirth of the Master sets the scene for an epic conclusion, but what makes “The End of Time” so spectacular is what is now iconic: the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration. It’s nearly impossible to think of the Tenth Doctor without thinking of the heartbreaking final words of the most human Doctor: “I don’t want to go.”
2. Series 4 – “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”
Season 4’s finale is an ode to everything Davies accomplished during his tenure as the first showrunner of the Doctor Who revival. “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End” is the Avengers of the NuWho universe — an epic crossover event that brings together major past and present characters (Donna, Rose, Martha, Captain Jack, Mickey (Noel Clarke), Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri)) as well as Davies’ Doctor Who partner shows, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures in a monumental face-off against the Daleks. It also brought about the highly anticipated return of Rose Tyler, which had been teased throughout the season.
What makes this two-part finale most memorable, however, is the conclusion of Donna’s arc as the Doctor’s companion. Donna’s fate is arguably the most devastating out of all of the Doctor’s companions. Donna, the self-proclaimed unimportant woman who becomes the most important person in the universe for one brief, pivotal moment in time, suffers a fate perhaps worse than death as her brain is wiped, erasing every memory of what makes her truly extraordinary. “The Stolen Earth/The Journey’s End” shows what inevitably happens to those whom the Doctor cares about the most.
1. The Specials – “The Waters of Mars”
One of the reasons the Tenth Doctor was so well-received is because he was one of the most human regenerations. He was magnetic and eccentric, as we’ve all come to expect from the Doctor, no matter which reincarnation, but he was also immensely flawed in a way that only the human race could rival. He could be selfish and ruthless, and there is no better example than in “The Waters of Mars.” Alone and desperate to escape what must be his regeneration — or as this version of the Doctor views it, his death — the Doctor lets his emotions rule him as he does what no one should have the power to do: take the laws of time into his own hands. In a moment that anticipates the Doctor’s devastated outburst at Wilfred (Bernard Cribbins) in the conclusion of “The End of Time,” (“Look at you, not even remotely important, but me? I could do so much more.”), the Doctor congratulates himself for saving someone truly important, not one of the “little people.” The Doctor we’ve come to know (think “Midnight”) wouldn’t consider anyone too unimportant to save, so this line is particularly jarring as we see what the Doctor could become at his darkest hour if he didn’t have someone to pull him back. In “The Waters of Mars,” the Doctor is fighting what must be, and this time, he goes too far.
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