Season 11 of Doctor Who may have just come to a close – until New Year’s when we meet up with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor again – but I’ve decided to take a look further back at her predecessor’s run. Peter Capaldi‘s era is often largely overlooked, in my opinion, in favor of other eras (which, being a fifty year old pop culture phenomenon, I guess that happens every now and then), which I find a shame because it was absolutely spectacular.
So, I decided to pin down my top six episodes, and share them all with you. It was a tough call – I got caught with indecision quite a lot – because there are so many great episodes to choose from. They’re in no particular order, because there’s no way I’d be able to order these, and there’s lots of episodes I adore but were left on the cutting room floor, but these are six of my favorite episodes….
1 – “Robot of Sherwood” (Mark Gatiss)
I adore “Robot of Sherwood” for various reasons, but particularly because it is such a feel good episode. It’s light, it’ll make you laugh so hard you’ll fall over. I could be having a rotten day, but as soon as I turn this episode on, the world is right again.
The episode follows the Doctor and Clara as they land in Sherwood Forest looking for Clara’s childhood hero, Robin Hood. The Doctor is absolutely certain that Robin Hood is nothing more than a mere story, and spends the entire episode attempting to prove his theory – despite Robin being a living, breathing person right in front of him.
The episode always leaves me in stitches, and for good reason. The humor is on point, and there’s so many great scenes that are either excellent from a thematic, or characterization perspective. And it gave me what is perhaps one of my favorite quotes ever:
History is a burden, stories can make us fly.
2 – “The Husbands of River Song” (Steven Moffat)
Another episode that always cheers me up, “The Husbands of River Song” is an absolute delight – especially if you happen to ship the Doctor and River. It follows the Doctor as he’s reunited with his wife, but there’s a little catch: River doesn’t realize it’s him, because she’s met all 12 of his previous incarnations, so she thinks there aren’t any more.
The story balances humor and bittersweet quite well. It’s the Doctor and River’s final adventure together, before she meets her fate in the Library when the Doctor first meets her. It has a lot of heart, especially as the Doctor – possibly for the first time in their relationship – starts to see “the damage” River warns Amy to hide from him in “The Angels Take Manhattan”. We see the escapades River gets into, and we learn that underneath all her bravado and wit, River doesn’t really think the Doctor loves her quite as much as she loves him. (Like father like daughter, I suppose, since Amy and Rory had a similar sentiment, eventually lampshaded in “Asylum of the Daleks”).
It has an absolutely beautiful ending, and reminds us that happily ever afters aren’t always forever – so long as they live happily, together, no matter the time, then it is a happy ending.
3 – “Flatline“ (Jamie Mathieson)
I love this episode for so many reasons; it’s a little quirky, a bit spooky – and it has a focus on Clara as she steps into the Doctor’s role to solve a bewildering mystery when the TARDIS shrinks, leaving the Doctor trapped inside. Like the TARDIS, this episode is bigger on the inside. It starts sunny and bright, but quickly becomes dark and scary.
Although companions stepping in to fill the role of the Doctor isn’t unusual, this episode is still special in this regard; not only does it utilize a great trope in a fun way, it lampshades Clara’s farewell (wherein she arguably became the Doctor) and gave us a tantalizing tease as to what Doctor Who would be like with a female Doctor. Moreover, the episode is just fun, with an interesting set of monsters, a wonderful premise – and an Addams Family reference. Seriously, how much cooler can an episode get?
4 – “Heaven Sent” (Steven Moffat)
I largely debated adding this episode to my ever growing list of “this episode gives me a lot of thoughts but I can’t vocalize them so I guess I’m stuck in a perpetual state of mentally screaming about them” and not including it on this list, but that – frankly – would be an insult.
This episode is so delightfully haunting. It’s grief-ridden, it’s dark, it’s painful to watch. I sobbed my way through my first viewing of it, and for good reason. The script is, well, heaven sent, and the direction? Incredible. Peter Capaldi’s performance in this episode is something else – the man has rocked every single episode he’s been in and then some, but his performance in “Heaven Sent” is just….showstopping.
I won’t lie, it’s been several years since this episode aired, and I still find myself thinking about it whenever Doctor Who comes up in a conversation. Needless to say, it left an impression on me.
5 – “The Doctor Falls” (Steven Moffat)
One thing I’ve come to learn over the years, is that when it comes to finales, Moffat knows how to write a smasher of one, and series ten’s finale is no exception. Two Masters? Check. Insurmountable odds? Check. Happy ending? Also check.
Maybe “happy ending” is a bit of a stretch, but considering how dark the two part finale is (Bill is shot at the start of the first part leaving a gaping – and incredibly gruesome – hole in her chest, then converted into a Cyberman; and the Doctor is on the edge of death, but refuses to regenerate) I’d say that a bittersweet ending is better than nothing.
This episode completely blew me away; it’s quieter than previous finales. Character arc and emotion run at the forefront, and we see the Doctor at their most bravest – and it’s completely heart wrenching watching as the Doctor and Bill take one final stand, to try and save a handful of people, from thousands of Cybermen.
It’s a masterpiece, for sure, and speaking of masterpieces…
6 – “Twice Upon A Time“ (Steven Moffat)
This episode is perhaps the most bittersweet for me; it’s the end of my favorite era of the show, the episode where my favorite Doctor takes a bow, and it has so many call backs.
This episode doesn’t dwell much on its Christmas setting, instead – once more – focuses on character. We’re given a stark contrast between the First Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor; they’re the same man, perhaps, but it’s clear how much the Doctor has grown and evolved in the last fifty some odd years.
In the end I think this episode ties together the themes that were so profound in the Moffat era in a neat bow. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful farewell stories I’ve seen, I know that, because not only does it remind us of the era we’ve grown to love, it does more than that: it gives us hope for the future. And that’s everything.