19
Jan
2013
Random Pop Culture Top Ten List
Top Ten Post-Revival Episodes of Doctor Who
Sam and Jordan
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) biweekly list in which the Review to be named gang take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi series in television history. To confine ourselves to something slightly more manageable, we decided to look at the best ten episodes since the show's revival in 2005. This was still an incredibly difficult list to write. The show is hard to capture in just ten episodes, and much of its power comes with the slow accumulation of adventures. When you run with The Doctor, after all, it feels like it will never end. So run with us, and look at some of the best hours of television produced by one of the medium's greatest institutions. Geronimo, indeed.

10. "Love and Monsters"

"Turns out I've had the most terrible things happen. And the most brilliant things. And sometimes, well, I can't tell the difference. They're all the same thing. They're... they're just me."-Elton Pope

Some of the best episodes of Doctor Who are ones that play with the show's format, experimenting with the structure inherent to the show to get at larger ideas. One experiment that has given the show some of its greatest episodes is the "Doctor-lite" episode, which the show usually does once a season to allow the production team to shoot two episodes at once. "Love and Monsters" plays with some of the show's biggest themes, dealing with how outsiders must view the Doctor and the age old question of whether the Doctor saves lives, or whether death follows inevitably in his wake. Shot as a mockumentary (with flashbacks interspersed and still filtered through its authorial viewpoint), the episode follows Elton (Marc Warren, who many on this side of the pond may know best as Kalinda's husband and narrative destroyer on The Good Wife, but who is a great actor regardless), a man whose brief encounter with The Doctor in childhood gives way to a lifelong obsession. His curiosity leads to a lot of social alienation, until he falls in with a group dedicated to investing the Doctor and finds a surrogate family, and a love interest in Ursula (Shirley Henderson aka Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter films). Elton's idyllic existence is disrupted when the mysterious Mr. Kennedy (Peter Kay) appears and deputizes the group into a more active search for the Doctor. The closer Elton gets, the more troubled he becomes. "Love and Monsters," is a light, funny episode, complete with an ELO heavy soundtrack and a storytelling gimmick that keeps things brisk and exciting throughout. But what makes it truly great is the gnawing sense, at its core, that the Doctor may be less a force for good than we like to believe.



9. "The Eleventh Hour"

"Amy Pond, there's something you'd better understand about me "˜cause it's important, and one day your life may depend on it: I am definitely a mad man with a box!" -- The Doctor

The premier of Matt Smith's iteration of the Doctor set the tone not only for the fifth series, but for the entire Moffat/Smith era. With "The Eleventh Hour", we are introduced to a Doctor who meets his companion while she's a child, changing the dynamic we normally would get. Now the Doctor is a mythical figure in the eyes of his companion, not just a fun time-travelling alien. In terms of production value, "The Eleventh Hour" marked a quantum leap in the visual quality of the show. But ultimately, it's all about the characters and Moffat does a brilliant job letting us get re-acquainted to the Doctor and introduced to Amy Pond. This sets up a story reminiscent of Peter Pan while still staying in the Doctor Who universe. Moffat wrote a fairly similar story with "The Girl in the Fireplace" as each was about young girls waiting for the Doctor to come back and whisk them away to the stars, but "The Eleventh Hour" needed to pull double-duty as a reintroduction to the show's universe. The monsters in this episode of very forgettable, but the importance lies in the connection between the young Amy Pond and her raggedy Doctor. The Amy-Doctor dynamic is all laid out here, as the fifth season has Amy struggling to reconcile her feelings for her imaginary friend and her boyfriend, Rory. It also sets up the season-long arc of the mysterious crack in her wall. What does it mean and why does it choose Amy's bedroom? Like all companions, they're much more important than they first seem. As far as introductions to the Doctor go, "The Eleventh Hour" is by far the best, giving us an interesting first look at the latest regeneration while providing a fresh take on the faithful companion. Plus we get the culinary masterpiece that is fish fingers and custard.



8."The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang"

"Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated." -- Amy Pond speaking to Amy Pond

Easily the show's best season finale came with the two-parter "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang". It also turns out to be one of the show's biggest leaps in terms of a solution to a really, really, really big problem. All it takes to save the stars in the sky and, well, everything in existence is to reboot the universe - Big Bang 2. It seems like a leap, but Steven Moffat's first season finale does an excellent job tying up loose ends in an exciting and innovative way. Some of the show's most iconic images from the "New Who" era show up here. The Pandorica itself (a creation of Amy's imagination), Rory makes his first appearance as The Last Centurion and of course, THE FEZ! For how much play this little hat gets, it gets about a minute on screen. We were truly witnessed to greatness there.

It's also a treat to see all of the show's villains come back to make sure the Doctor is the one shoved into the center of the Pandorica. With this episode, Smith gives one of his most powerful performances, as he stares down thousands of his worst villains. Smith truly arrives in a speech he gives to his foes: "If you're sitting up there in your silly little space ships with all your silly little guns, and you've got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who's standing in your way! Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, and then, do the smart thing"¦ Let somebody else try first. "

While the whole "rebooting" the universe may seem a bit of a stretch, Moffat handled it masterfully. He managed to give us a resolution to the Amy-Rory love story and a brilliant bit of timey-wimey play involving Amy as a young girl. From Rory waiting 2000 years while guarding Amy, to River shooting a Dalek square in the face ("It died.") to a moving Pond wedding, "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang" proved to be a perfect capper to an incredibly successful season of Doctor Who.




7. "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances"

"Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!"-The Doctor

"The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances," is probably most famous for introducing Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) to the Doctor Who universe, but it serves a more subtle, and vastly more important purpose in the series canon. When we first meet the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) he is a gruff cynic, a survivor of the multiple genocides that made up the Time War. He is the last of his species, a lonely wanderer doomed to travel time and space with only his memories as his companion. The arc of the revived series first (and Eccleston's only) season sees The Doctor re-embracing humanity and all of the hope and possibilities it entails with the help of his companion, Rose (Billie Piper). This character arc is most gracefully commented on in Steven Moffat's first episode, the two parter, "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances," which finds The Doctor and Rose following a crashing ship through the time vortex and finding themselves in London during the Blitzkrieg, where they come across the rogue Time Agent Harkness, and an incredibly persistent child in a gas mask, asking the innocuous question "Are you my mommy?" What follows is a thrilling and often scary adventure, a rip-roaring race through London to avert the end of humanity. This episode allows The Doctor to put the past even just a little behind him as, in his triumph, he realizes "just this once, everybody lives!" But more importantly, it lets us in on a key part of the enigmatic Doctor's personality. In his own time as showrunner, Steven Moffat has emphasized that "The Doctor lies," and much of Davies tenure dealt with The Doctor as perpetually lonely. But in this two parter, we learn that sometimes, when he can keep the darkness at bay for long enough, The Doctor dances.



6. "Amy's Choice"

Amy: Save him. You save everyone. You always do. That's what you do.
The Doctor: Not always. I'm sorry.
Amy: Then what is the point of you?

Much of the central conflict of season 5 was centered around Amy deciding whether she was in love with her raggedy Doctor or her husband-to-be, Rory. In writer Simon Nye's "Amy's Choice", we get to see Amy's feet pushed to the fire. We open with Amy and Rory enjoying (or at least tolerating) suburban life. We see Rory sporting a sweet ponytail and Amy sporting an equally sweet pregnant belly. Quickly we learn that something isn't quite right. In fact, it's all just a dream. Or is it? This is one of the most sharp-tongued episodes of Matt Smith's run, making it such a shame Nye didn't write any more episodes for the show. It's packed with great one-liners like, "If we're going to die, let's die looking like a Peruvian folk band. " and "Loves a redhead, our naughty Doctor. Has he told you about Elizabeth I? Well, she thought she was the first..." We learn that the nefarious Dream Lord, played with villainous glee by Toby Jones, is out to screw with the trio, making them decide which "reality" is real. This is a perfect example of how the show mixes its sci-fi sensibilities with the character-focus that provides the heart of the show. Ultimately, to no one's surprise, it's in the hands of Amy. It's also in this episode where we see the cracks in the Doctor's gleeful persona. He may not be the happy-go-lucky guy Amy thinks can solve every single problem. What world does she want, what life does she want to live? With whom does she want to live it? In the TARDIS with the Doctor or in the village with ponytail Rory? These questions plus the mysterious connection the Dream Lord has to our favorite Time Lord makes this one of the series' most entertaining installments.



5. "Vincent and the Doctor"

"Well... um... big question, but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived."-The Curator (Bill Nighy)

Another mainstay of the series is "The Doctor meets [insert historical personage here]." Its the nature of a show about time travel to trade in notable guest stars from throughout history, and though Doctor Who's history with the practice is a mixed bag, it has produced plenty of notable examples. Perhaps the best is "Vincent and the Doctor," which has a museum-visiting Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy discoverign a quirk in a Van Gogh painting that sends them racing off to find the tortured painter and save him from an extraterrestrial threat. When they meet Vincent (Tony Curran), he is a failure, laughed at by the town, struggling with his madness, and trying to trade one of his paintings for a single drink. Van Gogh never realized the worth of his work, and the episode cannily plays with the idea that Amy and The Doctor understand how important each of his paintings are while Vincent just finds it odd and bemusing that they might want to preserve any of his work. The trio battles a Krafayis, which only Vincent can see, and in a touching coda that remains one of the series most moving moments, The Doctor and Amy take Vincent on a trip in the TARDIS, to the modern day Musee d'Orsay, where they ask the docent (Bill Nighy) to explain in one hundred words or less what made Van Gogh important. Watching one of history's greatest artist's listen to his own legacy laid out, and seeing the profound effect it has on Van Gogh is enough to bring tears to anyone's eyes. Even more tragic, though, is the discovery that Van Gogh's demons still overtook him, and that in the case of his death, time cannot be rewritten, and history is fated inextricably to lose one of its most brilliant minds in a tragedy that came decades too soon.

4. "The Girl in the Fireplace"

"You alright?" "I'm always alright."-Rose and The Doctor

One of Steven Moffat's great strengths as a Doctor Who writer and showrunner is his ability to recast The Doctor as a fairy tale figure and to play with the tropes of that genre in his episodes. This tendency first manifested in the first great episode of the revival, "The Girl in the Fireplace." The Doctor (David Tennant), Rose, and Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) arrive on an abandoned space ship, and are further confused to find an eighteenth century fireplace there. Looking into the fireplace, The Doctor sees a young girl living in 1727 France. The Doctor passes through the fireplace and into the girl's room, where he saves her from a clockwork man in period clothing and a jester's mask. Passing back through the fireplace again, The Doctor finds months have passed; soon, the Doctor arrives to find the girl has grown to become Madame de Pompadour (Sophia Myles), the mistress to Louis XV. The episode's central mystery--who are these clockwork men, how did they open a time window to eighteenth century France, and why do they relentlessly pursue Madame de Pompadour, is a good one, and includes some stunning moments (like The Doctor riding a horse across the spaceship to come crashing through a window in France centuries earlier), but the episode's real heft comes from the relationship between Pompadour and The Doctor, who fall in love over time. Their pairing isn't meant to be, and Pompadour dies before her "lonely angel" can return to whisk her away to see the stars. When asked, The Doctor assures Rose, "I'm alright. I'm always alright." But we know, now, that this is not the case. The Doctor lies, The Doctor dances, and The Doctor loves, but that love never plays out as he might hope. For whatever else he may do, The Doctor also, eventually, loses everything.



3. "The Doctor's Wife"

"What do you call me? Sexy." - Idris

To nobody's surprise, there seems to be about a 100% overlap of Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman fans. With news that the legendary fantasy author was going to pen an episode of Doctor Who, millions of universes began to sing (likely something along the Ood's Song). With basically impossible to reach expectations, Gaiman delivered one of the most memorable episodes of Doctor Who with "The Doctor's Wife". Like most choices for this list, there was a sense of discovery in this episode - a discovery that there are brand new depths to be reached with a 50-year-old television show. Gaiman took on one of the show's most famous, yet unsung characters - the TARDIS. After landing on a "planet" (which turns out to be a sentient being) its twisted landlords with a penchant for scrapping Time Lords for parts, sucks the essence out of the famous ship and places it in a girl. Gaiman's ability to actually anthropomorphize a ship is a crowning achievement, not just for Doctor Who, but for sci-fi. Could anyone do this with the Millennium Falcon? USS Enterprise? Probably not. What Gaiman gives us is Idris, brilliantly played by Surrane Jones, an equally brilliant and confused woman who finally gives the iconic ship a voice. Gaiman doesn't waste an opportunity to play with canon and dig to deeper depths of not only the TARDIS, but also the Doctor. After 50 years of thinking we knew the story of the Doctor and his ship we learn a different side of things when Idris explains, "I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough." Leave it to Gaiman to produce an episode with a dark slant while shedding light on a relationship between a Time Lord and his TARDIS.




2. "Blink"

"Don't Blink. Blink and you're dead. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't Blink. Good Luck."-The Doctor

The all-time best of the Doctor-lite episodes, "Blink" centers on Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan), a modern day girl who becomes involved in a deeply spooky mystery when she finds a message from The Doctor (David Tennant) warning her to beware of Weeping Angels. When she returns the next day to investigate, her friend disappears at the same time as a man claiming to be that friend's grandson arrives with a letter from her. Sally ends up investigating further and discovering a message from The Doctor, stuck without his TARDIS in 1969 and in need of her help to get it back. Her foes, The Weeping Angels, are the scariest and most menacing villains in the entire Doctor Who canon, appearing for the first time here. The Angels are "quantum locked," turning to stone whenever someone is looking at them. But look away for even a second, take your eyes off them or even blink, and they will attack. Brilliantly inventive, expertly paced, and really, really scary, "Blink is a perfect distillation of everything the series can do. And its all of those things with almost no screen time for the titular character.



1. "Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead"

"You and me, time and space...You watch us run." -- River Song

Considering he wasn't yet Doctor Who's show-runner, Steven Moffat's season 4 two-parter, "Silence in the Library/"Forest of the Dead", was an act of transferring control. Yes, a more obvious passing of the torch came in David Tennant's finale as he regenerated into Matt Smith's Doctor, but "Silence" was a statement that the future of the series had true vision. Moffat found a way to play with time that felt fresh in a series that was mostly devoted to the fun of time travel while it wasn't busy fighting monsters.

Taking place in an abandoned library, the Doctor and Donna face-off against faceless, shapeless shadows that consume anyone in their wake - the Vashta Nerada. Complicating matters, there's a framing device where the library appears to be all a part of a young girl's imagination. What unfolds over these ninety minutes provides some of the series' best use of suspense and some of its most upsetting scenes, as characters are not killed with the blast of a gun, but fade away while repeating their last, frightened words.
But what separates this episode from all of the others that present an interesting monster like in "Blink", or take us to dark depths like "The Empty Child" is the series' best introduction to a character. Archeologist Dr. River Song is introduced with her famed "Hello Sweetie", a line the viewer won't be able to really appreciate until they travel through time with the Doctor. We don't know anything about her"¦ just like the Doctor. Throughout the episode we learn that she knows the Doctor and the two have been on adventures of great importance, but she can't share (Spoilers!) so they still come to pass as they should. Shockingly, the episode ends with River sacrificing her own life for the man she loves.

It's impossible to capture that feeling of watching an episode of television for the first time - the surprise, the emotion and narrative immediacy are usually gone on a re-watch. But with "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead," Steven Moffat crafted an episode that is not only worthy of a re-watch because of a twisted story of the Vashta Nerada or Donna's struggle to escape a Matrix-esque fantasy, but there are new depths to dive into as we learn more and more about the Doctor and River's relationship as the series continues. Watching the Doctor and River's marital bickering ("If he dies, I'll kill him!") and the pain of River having to see the man she loves for the last time carries new weight after seeing their adventures together in later episodes. In their last argument, River is trying to convince the Doctor to let her take his place to die. She says, "If you die here, it will mean I never met you!" He pleads with a line that would be repeated often: "Time can be rewritten." In a final attempt to save the man she loves, River puts her foot down for good, "Not those times. Not one line. Don't you dare." On first viewing, this is a painful goodbye to a new friend. On subsequent viewings, it's a victory. She's not only saved the Doctor, she's saved the future of Doctor Who.



Read more Random Pop Culture Top Ten Lists here

Send us your ideas for future installments of Random Pop Culture Top Ten Lists on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here), or shoot us an e-mail at reviewtobenamed@gmail.com.
Tags:
comments powered by Disqus