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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top 5 Episodes of Doctor Who - Kyle's Picks

Doctor Who turns 50 this week! This is an unprecedented anniversary for a serialized television program, not to mention a Science Fiction one at that!

Once relegated to late night PBS broadcasts, usually starring Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee, Doctor Who has undergone a full revival that's been swelling ever since the debut of the new series in 2005 on the BBC. As a matter of fact, the series is now more popular than ever, particularly in the United States where it's spawned a new wave of "Anglophilia" that has led to the popularity of programs like Sherlock and Downton Abbey.

This week, in celebration of Saturday's massive 50th Anniversary Special, we're taking a look back at our favorite individual episodes of the new series. Hannah, Harper and myself all have our own lists, but we can only pick five! Whichever will we choose? Here's mine...(side-note, we're counting two-parters as one full story)

Human Nature/The Family of Blood
Paul Cornell is a big Doctor Who fan, maybe the biggest I can imagine. The man has written books on the history of the series and has contributed his script-writing expertise to some spectacular audio plays featuring the character ("Seasons of Fear" being my favorite), and in Doctor Who's first revived season he wrote the excellent "Father's Day", which is arguably my favorite episode featuring Christopher Eccleston's ninth iteration of The Doctor. His return to the character is even better, in the two-parter Human Nature/The Family of Blood: David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, in order to escape from the eponymous "Family", turns himself human with no memory of his time-lord past. He wakes up as a boarding school teacher around the time of the Second Boer War, with only his companion Martha (disguised as a maid) knowing the truth. He eventually falls in love with the school's nurse (played by Jessica Hynes), and when the truth is outed due to the "Family" and Marta both attempting to restore the Doctor's memories/Time Lord energy, we get one of the best performances of David Tennant's turn in the role. It's a two-parter that tops many favorite episode lists for a reason. Plus, Tennant's chemistry with Hynes is spectacular.

Russell T. Davies, in his time as showrunner of the series, never wrote many spectacular episodes himself. His work tended to veer between "Each End of the World scenario is bigger than the last" or utter schmaltz. That's why, when this little Twilight Zone-riff aired, it was surprising to many that Davies had such a story in him. It's a pretty basic plot, The Doctor goes for a shuttle ride (this time companion-less) to see the Sapphire Falls of the planet Midnight, which stops unexpectedly. After the shuttle drops its shields momentarily per The Doctor's guidance in order to check the engines, things are back to normal...except something snuck in during that shield drop. After one of the crew members becomes possessed by this unseen creature, "Midnight" becomes a tale of terror and desperation, all within the confines of the tried and true "bottle episode" format. The level of psychological horror, and the claustrophobic atmosphere, were a wonderful change of pace for the generally "running around in corridors" vibe of the show and the script is one that finally backs up Davies' general assertion that "on the whole, humanity is pretty terrible".

A Christmas Carol
Every year, Doctor Who has a Christmas special. They're usually family friendly affairs that don't carry much in the way of stakes, and are sometimes (such as in the case of "Voyage of the Damned") amongst the worst offerings of the show. This is not the case with Steven Moffat's first-go at a Christmas story after taking over the reins of the series. In a unique spin on the classic Dickens tale that utilizes Michael Gambon as an Ebeneezer Scrooge-type foil and The Doctor is the impetus for this character's interactions with the various "ghosts". Much as Moffat's run so wonderfully has used time travel as a device that his stories have turned upon, A Christmas Carol may be where this is at its most effective. There are so many moments during the course of the special's events where I exclaimed out loud: "oh, that's really clever". Plus, by the conclusion, you get to see Gambon riding a sleigh being pulled by flying sharks! It's a can't miss all around.

The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon
My second two-parter on the list is Moffat's Season Six premiere, which debuted one of his most complex arcs dealing with the apparent death of The Doctor and the origins of River Song, a romantic partner experiencing her relationship with The Doctor in reverse (his first meeting with her was her last, etc...). Not only that, but in keeping with the series rising popularity in the States, this two-parter featured the first time that they ever filmed an episode in the U.S. Within these episodes, viewers were also introduced to one of my two favorite Moffat-era concepts, The Silence. The idea that you'll only remember an alien threat when you're looking at them is the height of creepiness and is maybe one of the best uses of mind-trickery that the writer has ever employed. This story also features a great supporting turn by Mark Shepard, a mainstay in cult-level sci-fi, as a late 60's era CIA agent. It's The Doctor meeting Richard Nixon, what more could you want?

The Name of the Doctor
Here's my other favorite concept in the series thus far: "The Impossible Girl" aka Clara played by Jenna Louise Coleman, the Doctor's new companion in this most recent series/season of the show. Throughout this set of episodes, The Doctor had been running into this same young woman, time and time again in different eras, until he finally convinces a present day incarnation to join him in the TARDIS. It is with "The Name of the Doctor" that we finally get answers as to what caused this, as well as some deeper secrets that are unearthed that viewers did not expect related to The Doctor himself. It's probably also the only time I was able to really buy into Matt Smith and Alex Kingston's chemistry, which has always felt a little off to me except for how masterfully it's played here. Not only is "The Name of The Doctor" one of most satisfying finales of the entire series, but it also sets itself as a prequel to what is sure to be a very excited 50th Anniversary Special. At the conclusion of the episode, it was one of those instances where Hannah and I both had to rewatch the end just because our jaws had hit the floor. It's rare that a season finale has me that desperate to find out what will happen next, but nonetheless, here we are.

And those are my Top 5 New-Who Episodes, there's a number of great ones I left off that I'm sure Hannah and Harper will touch on tomorrow and Thursday. 

Coming tomorrow...Hannah's Top 5 List! Stay tuned!
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