Ranking the 10 New Who seasons (or ‘series’ here in the UK) is difficult, particularly because there is no ‘right’ answer. Each and every series has its good episodes and bad episodes, and there is no universally accepted ranking of the series that will please everybody. As such, this list will be my opinion only, and will (for the sake of simplicity), include both the 2010 specials and the 2013 specials as separate entries. Be sure not to take this list too seriously, after all, it is only one writer’s view, and I’d love to read your version of this list in the comments below, and I’ll try and make this list as unpredictable as possible.
13: Series 7
Okay, well perhaps this was a bit predictable.
Series 7 only makes the bottom because its unlike any other series of NewWho, in that there are hardly any truly memorable episodes. I genuinely struggled to remember them all, and that’s probably something to do with the terrible formatting of this series. From what I remember, the best episode in the series is probably Cold War, with A Town Called Mercy and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship in close second. And that’s really about it for good episodes – Series 7 has such godawful episodes as Asylum of the Daleks, The Power of Three and The Name of the Doctor, a finale that achieved nothing and, according to some, throws the entire canonicity of the Classic series into doubt. So yeah, Series 7 misses badly.
12: Series 6
Again, I struggled to put Series 6 anywhere but here because even though it has three of my favourite episodes of all time (The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex,) the split into two parts really damages Series 6. Despite having what is arguably one of the biggest ‘reveals’ in recent Doctor Who history, Series 6’s truncated nature makes this seem undeserved and could have benefited from more build-up. The stories are messy, there’s too much focus on Doctor Who ‘going American’ and Night Terrors is not scary regardless of what anyone says. Plus, there isn’t a single dedicated Dalek episode, and the only Cyberman episode it gets is Closing Time. The less said about that the better.
11: Series 11
Despite the storm surrounding the casting of the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker’s first series as the Thirteenth Doctor was underwhelming. A lack of returning monsters, no clear character arc or development, a lack of a strong series arc in general, and a few too many lacklustre episodes meant that Series 11 felt less like a reboot of the show and more like a high-budget yet poorly-made fan production. The fault doesn’t lie with Jodie Whittaker, who is sharing the limelight with three other companions (an arrangement that rarely went well in Classic Who) and each companion has the potential to be great in their own right – there just isn’t enough time with 10 episodes of 50 minutes each. In my opinion, the best thing Series 11 has going for it is Resolution, but that’s only because its a Dalek story.
10: 2013 Specials
Almost forgot about these, didn’t you?
Technically this hardly counts as a series since it’s barely 3 episodes, but the 2013 specials are packaged differently from Series 7 by the BBC and as such as considered a separate entity. This is very convenient for me because it means I can distinguish between these episodes that are, for the most part, decent episodes in their own right, from the shambles that was Series 7.
That being said, the 2013 specials are only really higher than Series 7 because of the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and the 8-minute long minisode Night of the Doctor starring Paul McGann as his first on-screen reprisal of the role of the Eight Doctor since 1996. Unfortunately, this series is dragged down by the confusing mess that is The Time of the Doctor, which offers some truly awesome moments but little more other than that in terms of actual plot.
9: Series 2
It is undoubtable that David Tennant’s first series has some fantastic episodes, not least the superlative The Girl in the Fireplace and the chilling two-parter The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. However, this series has an achilles heel – Peter Kay. Love and Monsters stands as one of the worst episodes in Doctor Who history, and despite a recent resurgence of alternative interpretations of the episode that attempt to explain away the goofy comedy and terrible monster design, this episode will always remain one of my least favourite episodes of Doctor Who that, coupled with Fear Her and The Idiot’s Lantern, makes Series 2 one of the lower tier entries in my opinion. I still love Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel though, and if it weren’t for the recent World Enough and Time I’d put them at the top of my best Cyberman stories list…
8: Series 8
Peter Capaldi’s opening series is so close to being fantastic, the only reason why it ranks low on this list is because of one major drawback. Clara. Why on earth Clara didn’t leave after the Name of the Doctor is anybody’s guess, and whilst she is more of a character in this series rather than a plot device, the character she has developed into in this series almost makes me miss the cardboard cutout Clara we got in Series 7. She is bossy, self-righteous and tries too hard to be the Doctor. Is she the worst companion of all time? No. But if it was just this series to go off of, she would be in the top 3 worst companions easily. So despite there being a few true gems in this series, like Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, Into the Dalek and Death in Heaven, the presence of Clara brings the whole series down in my opinion.
7: 2010 Specials
David Tennant’s final run of episodes barely stands as a series in its own right, but unlike the 2013 specials that are boxed separately from Series 7 (despite only having a whopping 2 and a half episodes), the 2010 specials were all we got from Doctor Who in 2010, since Series 4 ended with Tennant still in the role and yet it would still be 5 more episodes before he regenerates and Matt Smith takes over for Series 5. Because it was to be Tennant’s final run and the writers believed we needed something a bit more ‘epic’, we ended up with a run of episodes that are comparable in many ways to Marmite – you either love them or you hate them. This is perfectly demonstrated by fan reaction to The End of Time, with both parts seeming too drawn out and overblown, and yet this series also gives us The Waters of Mars, one of the best horror episodes in recent memory. Also, “I don’t want to go?” will forever remain the most unlikeable ‘last words’ for a Doctor incarnation since the Sixth Doctor’s “Carrot Juice”.
6: Series 9
As we get closer to the top spot it is hard to actually rank the top 5 or 6 in any order, since I love most of the new series of Doctor Who so much. However, Series 9 is certainly placed here as the official ‘least favourite of my favourite Doctor Who series’. Series 9 has some amazing episodes, and the fact that most of them are two-parters helps enormously – in fact, I would argue that there is no single two-part episode in this series that is anything less than good overall. However, an aspect of this series that falls flat is that a lot of the opening halves of the two-part episodes are a lot worse than their conclusions. The Magician’s Apprentice, The Girl Who Died and The Zygon Invasion are all vastly inferior to their concluding episodes in a strange inversion of the norm for Doctor Who two-parters. The one obvious exception to this rule is the masterpiece that is Heaven Sent, arguably the greatest episode of Doctor Who of all time, being followed by the poorly-received Hell Bent. Overall, Series 9 should have been a strong middle-act for the Twelfth Doctor’s era, but was bogged down by Clara’s fake-out death and the infamous Sleep No More.
5: Series 4
I like Series 4 a lot, which is why it makes high on this list, but apparently I don’t like Series 4 as much as most other people seem to like Series 4. It constantly makes the top spot of fan polls on favourite series, and for good reason: It is the final proper series of the Tenth Doctor, who to a lot of people is the best Doctor of the decade, or even of all time. Also, Series 4 has Donna, who is one of my personal favourite companions, and yet Series 4 doesn’t make any higher on this list for me because it also represents what some have dubbed ‘the beginning of the end for Doctor Who’, and a lot of people seem to think that Series 4 is ‘as good as it gets’. These people often also seem to be the same sort of people who would tell you to ‘skip nine’, and that the classic series is ‘boring and doesn’t matter anyway’. So to those people I say, Series 4 is good, yes, but its not that good. Planet of the Ood and Midnight aside, it’s arguably quite mediocre, and if it weren’t for the duo of the Doctor and Donna, it wouldn’t poll anywhere nearly as high. Sorry.
4: Series 1
Speaking of Nine, Christopher Eccleston’s only series to date as the Ninth Doctor brought back Doctor Who in a big way, and set up the show to be one of the most popular BBC shows of the decade. With explosive epics like World War Three and The Parting of the Ways coupled with some great psychological horror in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances its hard not to love this series, even if it did have three episodes dedicated to farting green aliens. Also, it has Dalek. That alone is enough to propel this series to the top 4. The only downside to this entire series for me is the unnecessary kiss at the end of the finale, which I have spent the rest of my life attempting to unsee. And no, I’m not talking about when Captain Jack kisses the Doctor. You know the bit I’m talking about. “Come here… I think you need a Doctor.” Curse you, Russell.
3: Series 3
So at number 3 we have Series 3, which also seems to be a divisive series among fans. On the one hand, people who love Martha argue that this series didn’t do her justice, and the constant pining for Rose that dominates the Doctor’s character for most of this series is a major drawback on it for me, and is what prevents this series from reaching the top spot. However, the best episodes in this series, Family of Blood/Human Nature, focus almost entirely on Martha and how she deals with situations without the Doctor, which obviously sets her up for her departure at the end of the series, making Martha the only New Who companion to leave the Doctor on her own terms. No tears, no sudden death, no potentially problematic forced mind-erasure, just a simple “See ya Doctor”. Also, this series has Blink, which has become hugely overrated but is still a fantastic episode. It’s just a shame that the finale was so… wacky.
2: Series 10
Peter Capaldi’s final series of Doctor Who is, undoubtedly, one of the best of the New Series. Bill and the Doctor have a relationship unlike anything we’ve seen in New Who before, which mirrors the Grandfather/Granddaughter relationship that the original pairing of the First Doctor and Susan obviously had, and yet it also has an element of a Teacher/Student dynamic, which makes Bill akin to a new Ace, thus elevating her into the pantheon of my top 3 favourite companions, at least. Also, Series 10 sees the return of John Simm as the Master, with arguably his best performance as the character to date, there’s the redemption arc for Missy that truly brings the character full circle, a great Dalek cameo in the first episode, and the return of the Mondasian Cybermen. And that’s not even scratching the surface of some of the episodes. Extremis, Oxygen, The Eaters of Light, World Enough and Time, The Doctor Falls, and even Knock Knock all rank as some of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who of all time. And, at last, after trying for what must be over 10 years, we finally get a half-decent, dare I say ‘good’ episode written by Mark Gatiss with The Empress of Mars. Bravo.
1: Series 5
And so, we reach the top spot, and it was difficult to decide what to place here, since I could just as easily have argued the case for any of the past 3 or 4 entries being number one themselves. However, I have to put Series 5 in the top spot due to what it represents, how it performs as a standalone series, and how it contributed to keeping Doctor Who stable in what was, all things considered, a very unstable time for the show.
Series 5 successfully pulled off the transition from Russel T. Davies to Steven Moffat, and replaced David Tennant with Matt Smith. Although this wasn’t the first time the Doctor had changed actors in New Who, this was the first radical shift in the show’s identity post-2005. And despite all the naysayers claiming that Doctor Who would die with Tennant’s departure, Series 5 went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed series of Doctor Who, with fantastic episodes such as Amy’s Choice, Vincent and the Doctor and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. The opener, The Eleventh Hour, stands to this day as one of the best opening episodes for a new Doctor in the history of the show, beaten only by Troughton’s The Power of the Daleks. And the finale represents a significant shift from the Davies-style ‘epic finale’ to a more reserved and simple setup of the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River being chased around a museum by a Dalek with the fate of the universe at stake. It screams Classic Who in so many ways.
And despite what they would later become, the trio of the Doctor, Amy and Rory stands at its strongest in this series. Series 5 predates the sickening soap-opera antics of Series 6 and 7 and we get the trio’s dynamic in its purest form, with Matt Smith playing a fantastic Doctor with his ability to appear ancient and otherworldly despite being only 26 at the time. Amy is a fantastic companion in this series, and arguably overall if we ignore Series 7. But the best thing about Series 5 by far is the character development of Rory, which is handled far better than Russel’s take on Mickey Smith in my opinion, since in the space on one series we see Rory go from a timid, nervous nurse to a strong and capable member of the TARDIS team who makes a huge sacrifice in the name of love and gets the girl in the end as icing on the cake. Aww.
Do you agree with this list?
Probably not, I’d wager. But regardless, be sure to leave your thoughts on this list (and perhaps your own version of this ranking) in the comments, It’s always interesting to read about why people love or hate particular Doctors, Seasons or Episodes, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you favourite or least favourite series of Doctor Who is.