"Time-Traveling Celebrations: Ranking the 60 Best Episodes as Doctor Who Turns 60"
Step out from behind the sofa and join in the temporal festivities, as Doctor Who marks its 60th anniversary today. The celebration includes a galaxy of special programming, culminating in three anniversary specials on BBC One, with former showrunner Russell T Davies returning to guide the beloved sci-fi franchise. As anticipation soars, Davies brings back the iconic duo of David Tennant and Catherine Tate for three new adventures before passing the sonic screwdriver to the next Doctor, portrayed by Ncuti Gatwa, in the upcoming festive special.
To honor this milestone, we've delved into the vast expanse of time and space, curating and ranking the 60 best episodes spanning six decades of Doctor Who adventures. Our comprehensive selection traverses the eras of all 13 Doctors, numerous Tardis companions, a myriad of alien threats, and precisely 60 years of captivating storytelling. All these episodes are available for viewing via BBC iPlayer's expansive "Whoniverse" hub, but be warned: it's an experience bigger on the inside than the outside.
From the electrifying "Eve of the Daleks" in 2022 to the groundbreaking "Spearhead from Space" in 1970, each episode holds a unique place in the tapestry of Doctor Who history. As we traverse the list, encountering the likes of David Tennant's romp in "School Reunion" and Jon Pertwee's military intrigue in "The Mind of Evil," we celebrate the rich legacy of this iconic series that has enthralled audiences for six decades. So, grab your sonic screwdriver, set your Tardis coordinates, and join us on this nostalgic journey through time and space.
"Timeless Tales and Alien Adventures: Unearthing Doctor Who's Hidden Classics"
Venture into the whimsical realm of Doctor Who as we rediscover hidden gems from the Time Lord's extensive adventures. Landing in Covent Garden with the Second Doctor, we witness the eerie yet fascinating scenario of Yetis roaming the deserted London Underground, a scenario brought to life in a Troughton classic whose tapes were miraculously rediscovered in 2013.
The psychedelic wonders of "The Mind Robber" (1968) unfold as Patrick Troughton's Tardis crew navigates the Land of Fiction, encountering Rapunzel, Gulliver, Medusa, and even an actual unicorn. A delightful foray into the show's boundary-pushing tendencies, this episode showcases Doctor Who's early experimentation with storytelling.
"The Curse of Peladon" (1972) takes us to a planet torn over joining the Galactic Federation, weaving an elegantly gripping allegory reminiscent of the UK's entry into the EEC—essentially Doctor Who's take on Brexit avant la lettre.
Christopher Eccleston's brief yet superb tenure as the Doctor reaches an emotional crescendo with "Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways" (2005), featuring killer gameshows, Daleks harvesting humans, and a landmark regeneration that packs a serious punch.
"Frontier in Space" (1973) brings Jon Pertwee's Doctor into a sophisticated space opera as the Daleks manipulate the mercenary Master to incite a galactic war. This episode stands out as a childhood favorite of later Doctor, Peter Capaldi.
"Terror of the Zygons" (1975) explores classic Doctor Who territory with the Loch Ness monster, as alien shapeshifters attempt to take over Earth using a giant cyborg sea monster. The gripping narrative exemplifies the show's ability to weave thrilling tales.
"The Lodger" (2010) takes a charming detour into romcom territory as Matt Smith's 11th Doctor moves in with James Corden to investigate a mystery, inadvertently playing matchmaker in the process.
Patrick Troughton's subversive swansong, "The War Games" (1969), unravels an alien plot to kidnap human soldiers from history, creating a galaxy-conquering "super-army." It marks a pivotal moment in the show's evolution.
"The Seeds of Doom" (1976) with Tom Baker sees the Doctor facing ecological threats as plant-based alien creatures threaten Earth. These episodes, each a unique piece of Doctor Who history, invite viewers to explore the rich tapestry of the beloved sci-fi series.
"A Symphony of Scares and Time-Twisting Thrills: Unveiling Doctor Who's Terrifying Classics"
Embark on a chilling journey through the darker corridors of Doctor Who's extensive universe as we delve into spine-tingling narratives that have left an indelible mark on the show's legacy.
In "Seeds of Doom" (1976), Tom Baker's Doctor confronts a gripping riff on B-movie horror, awakening frozen parasitic pods in an Antarctic base, unleashing murderous intent. Baker faces off against plant monsters and a crazed millionaire botanist in a tale that is as atmospheric as it is horrifying.
The poetic revelation of River Song's true identity takes center stage in "A Good Man Goes to War" (2011), an episode brimming with monsters that explores the consequences when a good man decides to wage war. Matt Smith's Doctor navigates a narrative laden with intrigue and suspense.
Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor grapples with terror in "Horror of Fang Rock" (1977) as he investigates a lighthouse murder on a mist-shrouded island, delivering a traumatically tense and highly atmospheric Edwardian horror.
Christopher Eccleston's Doctor faces a grown-up thriller in "Dalek" (2005), where he encounters the last Dalek in the universe, hidden in an underground bunker. This episode adds depth to Eccleston's portrayal as he reckons with the aftermath of the apocalyptic Time War.
"Stones of Blood" (1978) sees Tom Baker's Doctor confronting ancient stone circles in rural England that serve as prison cells for alien criminals. Mixing folk horror with futurism, this tale unfolds as druid sacrifices awaken the dormant creatures.
In "Image of the Fendahl" (1977), Tom Baker's Doctor embarks on an out-and-out horror story when tests on an ancient skull in Kenya unleash supernatural scariness, leaving viewers with lingering nightmares.
"Carnival of Monsters" (1973) with Jon Pertwee's Doctor shrinks inside a miniscope machine, becoming part of a traveling showman's display alongside other aliens. This ingenious and suspenseful episode serves as a potential satire on reality TV.
"Rosa" (2018) under Jodie Whittaker's Doctor stands out as the best historical episode, transporting audiences to Alabama in 1955 where the Doctor encounters a time-traveling criminal attempting to disrupt the civil rights movement. The episode showcases superb performances, with Vinette Robinson delivering a quietly powerful portrayal of Rosa Parks.
"The Time Warrior" (1973) introduces the Sontarans as Jon Pertwee's Doctor crash-lands in medieval England, forming alliances and engaging in castle sieges and ye olde capers.
David Tennant's Doctor explores the eerie "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead" (2008), where a shadowy library conceals a haunting secret that unfolds in a two-part saga rich with suspense and mystery.
"Temporal Thrills and Cosmic Chills: Navigating the Doctor Who Universe"
Dive into the time-traveling tapestry of Doctor Who with this exploration of vintage Tennant-era episodes, each a captivating blend of tense foreboding and otherworldly suspense.
At number 38, a vintage Tennant-era gem unfolds in a planet-sized library, shrouded in shadows and loaded with a deadly secret that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. In "Planet of Evil" (1975), Tom Baker's Doctor answers a distress call on an unexplored jungle planet, facing a murderous anti-matter monster in a clever and creepy narrative reminiscent of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde meets Predator.
The Tennant era continues its spellbinding run at 37 with "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit" (2006), set on a ship hovering by a black hole. This cushion-clutching story introduces spaghetti-faced aliens, possessed crew members, and a revelation that the villain is none other than the Devil itself.
"The Ark in Space" (1975) secures its spot at 36, a favorite of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. In a far-future scenario, insectoid lifeforms lay eggs inside humans, creating a gripping tale of adult horror that foreshadows the eerie atmosphere of proto-Alien.
"The Doctor's Wife" (2011) at 35 takes a unique turn as Matt Smith's Doctor sees the Tardis's soul transferred into the body of Suranne Jones. This electrifying episode explores the Doctor's relationship with his trusty craft in a way that captivates audiences.
Number 34 brings us "Inferno" (1970), a cautionary alt-history tale inspired by a real-life drilling project. Pertwee's Third Doctor finds himself in a parallel Britain ruled by a fascist regime after toxic green slime is unleashed from the Earth's crust.
"The Robots of Death" (1977) secures its place at 33, offering a stylish nerve-jangler where Agatha Christie meets Isaac Asimov. The crew of a sand-mining spaceship faces slaughter by blank-faced robots in an art deco design with dystopian chills.
"The Eleventh Hour" (2010) lands at 32 as Matt Smith's Doctor makes a wittily eccentric debut. The fairytale-like narrative, complete with fish fingers and custard, introduces Karen Gillan as companion Amy Pond in a giddy ride with cameos from Patrick Moore and Olivia Colman.
Number 31 unfolds in "Turn Left" (2008) with David Tennant's Doctor, exploring the consequences of seemingly minor decisions altering the trajectory of the entire universe. A sci-fi Sliding Doors scenario unfolds as characters die, Earth becomes a military dystopia, and the stars go out.
The list concludes with "World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls" (2017) at 30, featuring Peter Capaldi's Doctor in a cosmic finale that promises to leave audiences on the edge of their seats.
"Timeless Farewells and Intergalactic Thrills: Doctor Who's Unforgettable Moments"
In the annals of Doctor Who, the 29th entry stands as a poignant farewell for Peter Capaldi, who seemed destined to embody the role of the Doctor. His swansong intertwines the origins of the Cybermen with the tragic transformation of companion Bill Potts, a meeting of the Master with his Missy incarnation, and a bonus cameo by the First Doctor. Haunting, epic, and emotional, it serves as a fitting conclusion to Capaldi's tenure.
Venturing back to 1964, "The Aztecs" at number 29, featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor, stands out as one of the early stories delving into the morality of time travel and the implications of altering history. Landing in 15th-century Mexico, the Tardis team grapples with the dilemma of interfering with the Aztecs' cultural practices.
Jodie Whittaker takes the spotlight in "The Power of The Doctor" (2022) at 28, delivering an unexpectedly emotional thrill ride. The episode features five previous Doctors and a host of former companions joining forces to combat an unholy alliance of the Master, Cybermen, and Daleks. Amidst the chaos, a disco-dancing Rasputin and a regeneration twist add a unique flavor to this thrilling adventure.
At 27, Jon Pertwee's Doctor takes center stage in "The Green Death" (1973), an ahead-of-its-time eco-horror tale known for its giant maggots, Pertwee's Doctor donning a milkman disguise, and the heartbreaking departure of the popular companion Katy.
Christopher Eccleston's debut in "Rose" (2005) secures the 26th spot, catapulting the show into the 21st century and establishing Nu-Who. The episode features Billie Piper's character being rescued from murderous Auton mannequins, with Eccleston's Doctor humorously explaining the presence of a northern accent by stating, "Lots of planets have a north."
"The Brain of Morbius" (1976) with Tom Baker at 25 offers a Frankenstein-flavored gothic horror, as a surgeon harvests corpses to construct a new body for a Time Lord war criminal's mind. Controversial at the time, it faced criticism from campaigner Mary Whitehouse for its perceived dark content.
David Tennant's Doctor takes the stage at 24 with "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End" (2008), an epic crossover story that sees characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures joining forces to defeat the Daleks. The episode culminates in a poignant farewell to companion Donna, played by Catherine Tate.
Sylvester McCoy's Doctor shines in "The Curse of Fenric" (1989) at 23, presenting a gripping tale that blends historical elements with supernatural intrigue. As the Doctor faces off against ancient evil, the narrative weaves a complex web of challenges and dilemmas, showcasing the depth and complexity of the show's storytelling.
"Diving into Timeless Adventures: Doctor Who's Unforgettable Episodes"
The rare entry on our list hails from McCoy's Seventh Doctor era, and "The Curse of Fenric" (1989) at number 22 stands as a sophisticated masterpiece. This intricate story weaves aquatic vampires, Norse gods, and Second World War code-breaking into a thought-provoking treatise on the futility of war. Nicholas Parsons delivers a standout performance as a vicar grappling with the loss of faith, adding depth to an already compelling narrative.
The 50th-anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor" (2013), takes the 21st spot, delivering a blockbusting homage to Doctor Who history. David Tennant and Matt Smith join forces, Billie Piper makes a triumphant return, Zygons reappear, Joanna Page portrays Queen Elizabeth I, John Hurt debuts as the secret incarnation The War Doctor, Tom Baker makes a cameo, and Peter Capaldi's iconic "attack eyebrows" make their debut. It's a whirlwind celebration that pays tribute to the show's rich legacy.
Peter Davison's Doctor takes center stage in "Earthshock" (1982) at number 21, marking the surprise return of the Cybermen after seven years off our screens. The metallic monsters plot to wipe out Earth with a bomb aboard a deep space freighter, delivering a standout story that includes dinosaurs, props scavenged from Alien, and one of the most shocking endings in Doctor Who history.
"Midnight" (2008) with David Tennant at 20 unfolds as a claustrophobic frightener, trapping the Doctor aboard a tourist shuttle with an unseen monster outside. The locked-room mystery turns truly scary as passenger Lesley Sharp is possessed, mimicking everyone's words in a chilling display.
The Cybermen take the spotlight again in "The Invasion" (1968) at 19, marking one of the best Cybermen stories. A megalomaniac electronics tycoon allies with the silvery soldiers to take control of Earth, showcasing all-action sequences, atmospheric storytelling, and introducing Unit, the alien-fighting military taskforce.
David Tennant's era delivers one of the most heartbreaking episodes in Doctor Who history at 18 with "Army of Ghosts/Doomsday" (2006). The narrative begins with "ghosts" appearing across Earth, leading to a Cybermen vs. Daleks war and tragically trapping the Doctor and beloved companion Rose Tyler in separate universes.
"City of Death" (1979) at 17, co-written by Douglas Adams, presents an audacious Parisian adventure featuring an art heist across time, multiple Mona Lisas, Leonardo da Vinci, and a scenery-chewing alien villain. The tongue-in-cheek tone adds irresistible charm to this memorable episode.
Sylvester McCoy's Doctor takes the stage in "Remembrance of the Daleks" (1988) at 16, offering a thrilling tale that explores the ongoing conflict between the Doctor and the Daleks. As the Doctor navigates a dangerous game, this episode leaves a lasting impact on the Daleks' narrative within the Doctor Who universe.
"Galactic Intrigues and Emotional Depths: Doctor Who's Riveting Episodes"
Sylvester McCoy's Doctor takes center stage in the fan-pleasing episode "Remembrance of the Daleks" (1988) at number 15, penned by novelist Ben Aaronovitch. Packed with thrills, spills, and in-jokes, McCoy's Doctor lures the Daleks to Earth for his manipulative purposes, satirizing racism, introducing the "Special Weapons Dalek," and injecting a dose of magical mystery into the franchise, revitalizing its allure. McCoy's tenure from 1987 to 1989 shines brightly in this captivating installment.
"Heaven Sent" (2015) at 15 unfolds as a one-man play magnetically performed by Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor. Trapped in an endless, empty castle and pursued by a cloaked monster, the true nature of his imprisonment is gradually revealed in this beautifully crafted puzzle box of an episode.
Matt Smith's Doctor takes an emotionally charged turn in "Vincent and the Doctor" (2010) at 14. Written by Richard Curtis, this deeply moving historical episode sees Smith's Doctor assisting struggling artist Vincent van Gogh in tracking down an invisible monster that only he can see. A nuanced metaphor for mental health, the episode concludes with a gut-wrenching and gorgeous gallery ending.
"The Deadly Assassin" (1976) at 13 features Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor in a conspiracy thriller inspired by The Manchurian Candidate. Returning to Gallifrey, the Doctor is framed for the murder of the president, unraveling a dark web of Time Lord intrigue and showcasing a "mind matrix" that proves to be ahead of its time.
Christopher Eccleston's Doctor faces chilling encounters in "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" (2005) at 12. Set in Blitz-era London, the episode introduces the haunting question, "Are you my mummy?" as the Doctor is pursued by a ghostly boy in a gas mask. With the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness and a rare happy ending, the episode remains deeply memorable.
Jon Pertwee's Doctor embarks on a cinematic sea-faring adventure in "The Sea Devils" (1972) at 11, battling marine monsters and his old foe, The Master. With speedboats, hovercrafts, and submarines, Pertwee's Doctor exudes a Bond-esque charm despite the Tardis being stuck on Earth.
"Listen" (2014) at 10, featuring Peter Capaldi's Doctor, explores the spine-tingling concept of something hiding under your bed. Steven Moffat's script turns this simple idea into a moving meditation on childhood, memory, and the nature of fear, delivering superb psychological horror.
Jon Pertwee's Doctor takes the 9th spot with "The Dæmons" (1971), presenting a captivating tale filled with occult rituals and ancient forces. As the Doctor confronts ancient evils in a small English village, the episode showcases Pertwee's charm and charisma, making it a standout installment in the Doctor Who universe.
"Folk-Horror Marvels and Timeless Beginnings: Doctor Who's Top Episodes"
In the realm of folk-horror, Pertwee's Doctor shines in "The Dæmons" (1971) at number 8, offering one of the best examples in Doctor Who history. Drawing inspiration from Wicker Man-style pagan activity in the village of Devil's End, the Master's summoning of an ancient horned alien adds an entertainingly scary twist, notably featuring a killer gargoyle that heightens the suspense.
David Tennant's Doctor navigates the complexities of love and war in "Human Nature/The Family of Blood" (2007) at 8, delivering an exciting and poignant tale. Forced to alter his biology and become human temporarily, Tennant's Doctor falls in love with Jessica Hynes's Joan Redfern while facing intergalactic hunters and living scarecrows, creating a compelling narrative.
"The Pyramids of Mars" (1975) at number 7 unfolds as a gothic horror masterpiece with Tom Baker's Doctor and companion Sarah Jane pitted against the terrifying Ancient Egyptian death-god Sutekh and his army of robot mummies. This classic episode showcases the show's ability to craft chilling narratives with memorable villains.
Despite dated Chinese stereotyping, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (1977) at 6 stands as a Sherlock Holmes-style romp and a bona fide classic. Tom Baker's Doctor takes on futuristic supervillains, giant sewer rats, and a terrifying killer doll in Victorian London, offering an unforgettable adventure.
David Tennant's Doctor explores the realm of romance in "The Girl in the Fireplace" (2006) at 5, drawing inspiration from The Time Traveler's Wife. As the Doctor battles clockwork androids in 18th-century Versailles, a poignant love story unfolds with the famed French courtesan Madame de Pompadour, delivering a tender and thoughtful episode.
"At the genesis of it all," "An Unearthly Child" (1963) at 4 marks the landmark episode where Doctor Who began. William Hartnell's Doctor, residing in an East End scrapyard in a police box time machine, kidnaps two worried teachers and embarks on a journey lost in the Stone Age. Incredibly bold for its time, this episode kickstarted one of the greatest TV franchises.
Tom Baker's Doctor grapples with moral dilemmas in "Genesis of the Daleks" (1975) at 3, offering a knotty origin story for the Doctor's arch foes. Introducing Davros, the power-crazed scientist who created the Daleks, the episode raises philosophical questions about the Doctor's actions, culminating in the memorable "Have I the right?" soliloquy.
Peter Davison's Doctor faces his ultimate challenge in "The Caves of Androzani" (1984) at 2. This iconic episode delivers a gripping narrative as the Doctor confronts deadly foes and makes sacrifices, showcasing the depth and complexity of the character.
These episodes stand as testament to Doctor Who's enduring ability to captivate audiences with a diverse range of compelling narratives and characters.
"Regeneration Brilliance and Blink's Bewitching Horror: Doctor Who's Pinnacle Episodes"
Claiming the coveted top spot, "The Caves of Androzani" (1984) is hailed as the greatest regeneration episode and a favorite among hardcore fans. With the offer of David Bowie for the role of the masked villain Sharaz Jek, a drug trafficker at war with a betraying mining mogul, the episode is violent, riveting, and a stellar send-off for the Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison. Actor Davison himself acknowledged the exceptional quality of the story, expressing that if all episodes were of this caliber, he would have considered staying for an additional series or two.
In the coveted first position is "Blink" (2007), featuring David Tennant's Doctor. This Doctor-lite episode, crafted on a tight schedule and a shoestring budget, defied expectations with its exceptional quality. Fueled by a standout performance from the luminous Carey Mulligan, a stellar script by Steven Moffat, and the introduction of the iconic Weeping Angels, the episode is hailed as the best ever. A small yet perfectly formed horror film, "Blink" taps into primal fears with deadly statues that approach when unobserved. Its poignant exploration of aging adds a slyly affecting layer to the narrative, making it a standout masterpiece in Doctor Who history.
These pinnacle episodes, spanning the rich history of Doctor Who, showcase the series' ability to deliver compelling narratives, iconic characters, and moments that resonate with both casual viewers and dedicated fans alike.
In conclusion, Doctor Who's journey through time and space has left an indelible mark on television history, and these pinnacle episodes stand as a testament to its enduring brilliance. From the intense regeneration drama of "The Caves of Androzani" to the chilling allure of "Blink," each episode represents a unique facet of the show's storytelling prowess. The Doctor's transformations, moral quandaries, and encounters with iconic villains have woven a rich tapestry that continues to captivate audiences. As the series embarks on its 60th anniversary specials, these episodes serve as a reminder of the show's ability to combine imagination, emotion, and suspense, ensuring its place as a beloved and timeless cultural phenomenon.