Doctor Who – Ranking the NuWho Finales

Due to the change in the format of Doctor Who between the Classic Series and NuWho, a lot more emphasis is placed on the ‘Series Finale’, i.e. the final episode of a series, usually a two-parter, that often involves big shakeups or changes in the status quo for the show. These include, but are not limited to: regenerations, the death or departure of the current companion, big plot reveals or appearances by well-known recurring villains. Since these episodes are so important to their respective seasons, it seems only fair to rank these episodes against each other to see which is the best. It must be noted that I am ranking these episodes based on their quality but also their effectiveness at tying up the plot elements of the series they conclude, so it may not simply be the case of the better episodes being higher. So, to begin:

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10 – Hell Bent

Perhaps a predictable choice as there is no shortage of hate for this episode within the fandom, Hell Bent is a classic example of wasted potential. Regardless of any personal feelings towards the episode (which I actually feel is a lot better than many give it credit for) Hell Bent comes bottom of this list because it fails almost all of its tasks to round off Series 9. What was the Hybrid? Hell Bent tries to give us an answer – but ultimately it boils down to Moffat using the Hybrid as a buzzword throughout the series to make people think there was an arc, only for the curtain to be pulled back at the end to reveal… nothing. This episode is also hurt by its context – following on from the mighty Heaven Sent, Hell Bent just seems weak by comparison and lacks the emotional impact that the previous story had. Not only that, but Hell Bent also includes some highly questionable writing decisions – why bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey if by this point he doesn’t even seem to care about it? Why waste the amazing departure of Clara in Face the Raven only for her to come back to life here? Why have the Doctor shoot a man in cold blood, even if by this point he has gone insane? Clearly, Hell Bent raises more questions than it answers, which is never a good thing for a finale.

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9 – Journey’s End

Speaking of wasted potential, here is another classic example of a finale episode that is vastly inferior to its predecessor. Unlike Hell Bent, Journey’s End is actually praised by the majority of the fanbase (probably because it is a Tennant episode) but what most people fail to realise is that the episode didn’t deliver anywhere near what the fanbase deserved, and we know this because the previous episode, The Stolen Earth, was basically perfect. I mentioned in my How to Fix article on this finale that one of the main reasons why Journey’s End seems lackluster is that it takes what The Stolen Earth set up and throws it all away – All of the cliffhangers that were set up are resolved almost immediately with little effort, The Daleks were a real threat in The Stolen Earth but by Journey’s End they are reduced to being spun around like malfunctioning dodgems, and Davros lacks all the subtlety to his character that Russell had written in The Stolen Earth, instead appearing as a ranting raving lunatic who cackles like Emperor Palpatine. Another major thing that hurts this episode is all the stakes from the previous one are gone. Did anyone actually think the Doctor would regenerate, or that the TARDIS would be destroyed? Of course not. And to top it all off, the Tenth Doctor shows his true colours by using his mind powers to wipe Donna’s memory against her will, even though she had his intelligence and so should have been able to make the decision to live or die herself. Overall, Journey’s End disgraces the Daleks, Davros, the Doctor and the show all in one, but it definitely gains points for having the most returning companions in a single episode, including Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Captain Jack, as well as crossing over into the spinoff shows The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.

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8 – The Wedding of River Song

It has to be said that, for all this episode’s faults, it does actually deliver a plot resolution that was satisfying and added to River’s arc. Since we had already found out in A Good Man Goes To War that River was Amy and Rory’s child, it was unexpected that we would get another big reveal about her character so soon, but the reveal that she is the Doctor’s wife rounded off an arc that had been started all the way back in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. In typical fashion for Eleventh Doctor finales, the entire episode takes place in a strange alternate universe, but this doesn’t necessarily hurt the episode in any way as it allows for some really interesting and satisfying concepts to play out – for one, Amy brutally murders Madame Kovarian, a villain I despised, so that definitely works in this episode’s favor – also, the idea of Amy and Rory falling in love even when they have only just met seems strange at first but actually works really well in the episode. Overall, whilst not a particularly strong episode, The Wedding of River Song definitely delivers as a finale, although it is not among the best.

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7 – The Name of the Doctor

With the 50th Anniversary on the horizon, The Name of the Doctor had more to do than other NuWho finales – it had to not only conclude the Series in a way that was satisfying, but it also had the task of setting up The Day of the Doctor, which was no small feat. Overall, it succeeds at both tasks in some ways, as it does provide a conclusive answer to who Clara Oswald is an why she is important, whilst also giving us a great reveal of the War Doctor, which came as a huge surprise. Not only that, but it even manages to set up the Doctor’s regeneration in The Time of the Doctor by giving us a look at the planet ‘Trenzalore’, alleged to be the Doctor’s grave. The Name of the Doctor also brought back the Great Intelligence, a relatively minor Second Doctor enemy who (for some reason) got special attention as a returning villain in the Eleventh Doctor’s era despite Moffat claiming that ‘forgettable’ villains like the Rani don’t deserve a comeback. Seriously, Moffat? But I digress – The Name of the Doctor, like The Wedding of River Song, is definitely not one of my favourite episodes of NuWho, but as a finale it serves its purpose whilst also setting up the 50th Anniversary special effectively.

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6 – Last of the Time Lords

This episode can be summed up in one word – strange. Concluding the three-part ‘Master Trilogy’ containing Utopia and The Sound of Drums, Last of the Time Lords does a great job of showing just how much of a threat the Master can be when he puts his mind to conquering the world. For all the faults in the characterisation of the ‘Saxon’ Master that is not consistent with his appearance in the Classic Series, he is a formidable foe in this episode and the stakes are really high, and the twist at the end and how the Master achieves his ‘victory’ came as a genuine surprise to a lot of fans who expected the character to pull a classic ‘I’ll get you next time’ and somehow escape. Whilst the ‘time-reversal’ technique is about as sloppy as the writing gets on Doctor Who, in this episode it is somewhat justified and set up from the very beginning, making it forgivable – although the final scenes that cross Return of the Jedi with Flash Gordon have not aged well at all, particularly given the Master’s lackluster return in The End of Time. One of the best things about Last of the Time Lords is Martha, who really shines in this episode, proving her worth as a companion and essentially saving the Doctor, her family, the planet and all of human history, as well as being the only Tennant-era companion to depart the show with a shred of dignity.

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5 – Doomsday

Children of the nation were ecstatic at the prospect of an episode featuring a war between the Daleks and the Cybermen in the run-up to this episode, and generally on that front it didn’t disappoint – Doomsday delivers quite an action-packed episode considering the BBC budget, and the episode delivers a heavy-hitting emotional ending that keeps Tennant fans weeping to this very day. The only thing that brings Doomsday down is the sloppy focus – the episode had so much going on: Torchwood, the Cult of Skaro, Cybermen, Jackie and Pete’s relationship and Mickey and Jake coming back – all whilst trying to deliver the Doctor and Rose’s final adventure together. Overall, though, the stakes are high throughout, there are some great scenes with the Daleks and the Cybermen, and as finales go, Doomsday‘s ‘companion departure’ scene is both brutal and beautiful at once. Highlights of this episode are definitely the brief but intense battles between the various factions at play in the story, and the reveal of the Genesis Ark as a dimensionally transcendental prison that spews millions of Daleks across the nation definitely stands as one of the greatest Dalek moments of all time.

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4 – The Big Bang

The first finale of Steven Moffat’s run as showrunner gave the fanbase an insight into how his methods of conclude a series vastly differed from that of Russell T. Davies – who preferred to conclude his seasons with a bombastic action-packed finale – in that The Big Bang is a far more low-key and personal episode that any NuWho finale we had seen prior. In sharp contrast with the armies of Daleks, Toclafane and Cybermen we had seen in Russell’s tenure, this episode contains only one Dalek, and a classic runaround in a deserted museum that just so happens to be on the cusp of the end of the universe. The relationship between River and the Doctor is explored a little more (without giving too much away) and Rory gets to stay as an Auton for a day, giving him an awesome character-defining moment as he saves Amy and Amelia from the Stone Dalek with his hand-blaster. In keeping with the theme of the universe collapsing in on itself, The Bing Bang has some quite spooky moments in it to, and some that leave an eerie feeling that something is wrong – particularly the distinctive “You know there’s no such thing as stars”. This finale ties the arc of Series 5 together wonderfully, and the inclusion of the scene in which the Doctor speaks to Amy on the Byzantium (that had appeared in the episode Flesh and Stone, albeit out of context) proves that Moffat does understand the concept of a flowchart of events, who would have thought?

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3 – Death In Heaven

As far as episodes ending on both a reveal and a cliffhangar are concerned, few beat the conclusion to the Series 8 penultimate episode, Dark Water. Thankfully, the finale Death In Heaven follows up on the fantastic reveal that Missy is the Master with an action-packed finale that would have brought a tear to Russell’s eye. Moffat proves he can write a wonderful Doctor-Master dynamic as Twelve and Missy work wonderfully together, and this episode also provides a satisfying conclusion to the ‘Welcome to Heaven’ arc that had permeated throughout the series. Not only that, but the episode actually follows through with the death of Danny Pink in the previous episode, going so far as to convert him into a Cyberman and providing some really heavy-hitting emotional moments as he battles with his intense shock and horror of being dead while Clara desperately tries to save him. This episode proved quite controversial at the time due to the dark tone and horror themes threaded throughout, but in hindsight this only adds to the episode’s shock factor and emotional weight. Overall, Death In Heaven showcases some of the best that the Moffat era has to offer, and is certainly in the top 3 finales of NuWho.

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2 – The Parting of the Ways

The original NuWho finale, The Parting of the Ways established several important factors that would become staples of most NuWho finales in the future, and yet it still ranks higher than its immediate successors simply because of the masterful ways in which it depicts the final moments of the Ninth Doctor’s life. The final battle in the Game Station remains one of the best plot devices for a finale of all time – each scene builds the tension higher and higher as the Dalek army slowly crushes all resistance and closes in on the Doctor as he is forced to make some heartbreaking choices to save both the Earth and his companion Rose. One of the highlights of this episode is the Emperor Dalek, now completely insane and convinced that he is a God, as he rants and raves with his deep, guttural take on the standard Dalek voice (that makes it clear Nicholas Briggs had a blast recording), gloating at the horrendous acts he has committed. Christopher Eccleston’s time as the Doctor was short-lived but he manages to leave his mark on the show’s history here more than anywhere, as his defining character moment at the climax of the episode proves just how much the Doctor has learned since the Time War and shows that he is no longer the vicious warrior that the Time War forced him to become. Any doubt that the public had about a new series of Doctor Who were swept away once and for all after The Parting of the Ways, and Tennant’s cheeky grin as the closing theme’s howls drew the episode to a close left audiences wanting more. So the question remains – what NuWho finale could beat this?

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1 – The Doctor Falls

From the first NuWho finale to the most recent, the obvious choice for number one is The Doctor Falls. Jam-packed with just the right amounts of action, heart, fanservice, emotion, terror and hope, this finale had a tough job following on from the equally legendary World Enough and Time, and yet The Doctor Falls met expectations (and in some ways surpassed them) giving fans a finale that helped catapult Series 10 to the top of many ‘Best Series’ lists. For a start, this episode is the first televised Multi-Master story,  and although Big Finish had done a Multi-Master audio in 2016, the chemistry between Simm and Gomez gives this story the edge – the entire arc of Missy’s story as well as the Master’s arc in NuWho in general culminates in this episode, and it does not disappoint. Secondly, this episode is perhaps one of the most emotional yet – everything from Missy’s demise, Nardole’s departure, the Twelfth Doctor’s death and, of course, the aftereffects of Bill’s traumatic Cyber-conversion in the previous episode all coalesce to make this finale arguably the most heavy-hitting. The only factor in The Doctor Falls that brings it down is Heather’s seemingly random appearance at the end – many fans have compared Bill’s ultimate fate with that of Clara’s from Hell Bent, and although the circumstances are similar, Bill’s situation was set up in advance and seems far more warranted, as Bill was definitely a more likeable character and deserved a happy ending, at least in my opinion. The highlight of the episode, by far, is Capaldi’s speech on kindness – not only does this speech conclude his arc as the Doctor as he finally understands what kind of man he is and what his place in the universe is far, but it also links this finale all the way back to The Parting of the Ways whilst also defining the character of the Doctor overall in an impactful speech that will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest Doctor Who moments of all time. Ultimately, The Doctor Falls concluded Series 10 on a high note, proving that Moffat can write a consistent two-part finale once again, has some of the best performances in Doctor Who, and delivers the fantastic finale that Series 10 deserved.

So that concludes our list ranking the NuWho finales. Do you agree with this list? What was your favourite NuWho finale? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and if you enjoyed be sure to leave a like, or follow Sacred Icon either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Thanks for reading!

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Author: Cameron Walker

Writer, Painter, Dalek collector, Walker, General Idealist but Political Realist, Fan of Doctor Who, Star Wars, Halo, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Ghost in the Shell, among other things. All Doctor Who discussion particularly welcome, but be warned, I am a huge nerd.

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