We have a new Doctor. But with each new Doctor comes the end of an era. And each era comes with incredible episodes. So I compiled a list of my own favorites. And a lot of what’s on here are likely not the ones you were expecting. But these are the 8 stories from the 12th Doctor’s era that made me want to run off on an adventure, take on an army of monsters, or hide behind the couch.
In chronological order:
This is, arguably, the first time we see the real power of this incarnation of the Doctor. And it’s a little…scary. But scary is good in Doctor Who, and this isn’t the only scary story I’ve included on this list even.
It plays on a very common fear that many children have: there’s something under the bed. Even as an adult, and I’ve talked to many people who are the same, I never let my leg or arm hang over the side of the bed. And I sleep on a mattress atop a boxspring atop a bed shaped wood shelf. There couldn’t be anything under the bed. Yet, that’s the rule, you never hang a limb outside the bed. Something will grab you.
The twist ending with the childhood Doctor’s ankle being grabbed by Clara hiding under the bed was brilliant, the episode has some really nice timey-wimeyness, and it creates a lovely creepy atmosphere that sticks with you.
It lost a little favor with me as I was waiting for the episode to be the beginning of a search for Gallifrey story arc that we never got, but if I can keep that out of my mind, this episode, as a single, is a knockout.
Mummy on the Orient Express
It’s trains and the 20’s and a mummy, but also it’s space and time travel with Queen covers, and if that’s not enough for you, then I don’t know what you could possibly want out of life.
Much in the way that I adore “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” this one just ticks all the right boxes. While I wouldn’t put it on the same level as “Listen,” as far as the scares go, I do think it’s got a cracking monster and people keep dying, so there’s a definite threat that will keep you hand-wringing. And the clock (which was an idea apparently added by Moffat, despite the episode being expertly crafted by Jamie Mathieson) was a great touch.
And, oh, how I wish Frank Skinner’s character could have left with the Doctor and Clara at the end. He could have made a great part-time companion. Just popping his head out beneath the TARDIS console, as he did repairs.
The costumes and sets are especially fun in this one. The blend of past and future, or maybe more accurately, the future’s take on the past, is really fun to see in action. Plus, there’s that “are you my mummy” call back.
I’m very much not a Clara fan, but I was delighted by how much this episode delighted me. She’s joined by Rigsy (another great coulda-companioned, written again by Jamie Mathieson), while the Doctor is trapped in a rapidly shrinking TARDIS.
The Doctor is incapacitated for almost the whole of the episode. So Clara has to go do the investigating Doctor-y things with some instruction from the Doctor, while he tries to get the exterior of the TARDIS back to its original size. And Rigsy, who they meet early on in the story, basically has to play companion for them. I admit seeing the roles all switched around is a good bit of fun.
All the while, they’re in danger of these graffiti monsters catching them and turning them two dimensional, while the monsters themselves, become multi-dimensional. This leads to some really interesting shots, forcing director Douglas Mackinnon to get creative.
Of course, what people really remember, and why I love it so, are all the visual gags with the Doctor stuck in the tiny TARDIS, having to spider hand walk it around and everything, which succeeds at being properly funny.
The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar
The two parter nature of series 9 let’s the stories really take their time. Sometimes the stories feel long, but in this case there was enough going on to keep me interested, and it’s one of the better Dalek stories we’ve had in a good long while.
I’d argue we really get Missy, who I LOVE, at her best here. As evil and nasty and dangerous as ever, but absolutely necessary. And she’s not even the bad guy! No! We’ve got to deal with Davros, in the ultimate if-you-could-go-back-in-time-and-kill-Hitler-would-you allegory. Not the first time this was done on the show, but still very effective, with the Doctor forced to face little boy Davros and decide his fate.
The Doctor riding into a medieval arena on a tank, while playing electric guitar is probably the best re-introduction to a character ever (and a great way to signal “this ain’t your series 8 12th Doctor”).
My only disappointment was, when Missy stuffs Clara into the Dalek casing, I thought the narrative was gonna wrap around, so it turned out Clara became Oswin from “Asylum of the Daleks,” which turned out not to be case. But it doesn’t really track when you think about it, and it wasn’t the story being told.
The Woman Who Lived
If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you’ve probably pegged that I’m a Maisie Williams fan. So I was a little let down by “The Girl Who Died,” which both introduced her character and was written, in part, by Jamie Mathieson, who had never let me down before.
“The Woman Who Lived” really stands on it’s own. Though it’s set up as part 2, really it’s not connected to any of the episodes. Considering how important Williams’ character becomes, I’d have been curious to see “Girl” sprinkled in earlier in the season and “Woman” later. Anyway, point is, the episodes are totally different, and I love what they did with Williams in “The Woman Who Lived,” riding in like she’s Adam Ant in a music video.
It feels like a good old-fashioned “let’s go on an adventure” episode, the likes of which we hadn’t had in awhile, with Ashildr as the unmanageable companion. But there were also some real issues that went along with her immortality that were touched on.
Ashildr really gets a chance to arc in this episode, more than any of her others, and the Doctor gets the chance to make some puns, and they play just lovely opposite each other. The setting, the tone, the atmosphere, I just want to crawl into this episode and play awhile.
In which we are introduced to the infectiously enthusiastic Bill. If you don’t like her, put this post aside a moment, you seem to have misplaced your soul somewhere. She was the right companion at the right time.
Clara knew as much about the Doctor as anyone. Bill knew nothing about him. After two and a half seasons with the girl who had literally wandered around in the Doctor’s time stream, your zeal may start to waver. Seeing the 12th Doctor from a new perspective gave us yet another re-introduction. The 12th works as a professor at a university, giving him a place to show off, while keeping him grounded.
The student/teacher relationship that the two quickly form, while it was done with the 7th Doctor and Ace in the classic series, wasn’t something that the show had done anything with since it’s reboot. It works really well in contemporary times.
“The Pilot” is fast paced and has enough intrigue to keep you interested without making you want to claw your ears off with frustration. And we’re given the thread of Heather, who, while I wish she was further established over the series, is important in the finale.
We get to visit regency era London, play at a carnival atop a frozen lake, and watch the Doctor punch a racist in the face! All in the course of a single episode! Bill’s excitement at her first real outing in the past is a big part of what makes this episode so joyous.
The Doctor is really in his element here, getting to show off his historical knowledge, while also having to use his detective skills. He eventually learns the “monster” is not so monstrous and gives it its freedom. Again, we’ve seen similar stories on the show before, but the execution of this one maybe works best of all. The Doctor even manages to set up some street urchins with a pretty hefty fund.
I love all the costumes in this episode. Obviously the main costumes that the Doctor and Bill wear throughout, but also the regency-era scuba gear they need when they go under the ice. It has an air of steampunk about it.
There’s also a lot of fun with the sonic screwdriver, which, now that it’s a screwdriver again, I found very enjoyable. Admittedly, it’s very sciency-wiency, but in a very entertaining and true to form science-fantasy way.
This is the other spookier episode on the list. Space suits that can control you, blind you, or kill you is properly chilling. It makes for the Doctor doing some really top-notch bluffing. Evil suits not enough? He may just blow himself up!
It’s a space set episode, which we hadn’t had in awhile and I think it was a nice place to slot it in. As much as I love the show jumping around in history, it’s cool to have these more science fiction feeling episodes in the middle of it, all technology gone wrong and evil corporations and running out of oxygen in space. The idea of oxygen, something so basic to human survival, being considered a commodity is the stuff of great dystopia.
This episode employs the stranded without the TARDIS situation. It’s the perfect set-up for a Monster in the House style story. The Doctor without his TARDIS is always a heartbreaking thing, and whenever they’re reunited, it feels like a huge triumph.
The episode opens with the Doctor saying “space, the final frontier,” and even I, who am not much of a trekkie, felt a little trill in my heart at the idea that the Doctor is a part of the same geeky fandoms that the fans are.
That’s my list! Bracing myself for the hate at not including “Heaven Sent,” but the truth of the matter is it just isn’t one of my favorites and it’s my list. So there. But really Peter Capaldi was magnificent, and it breaks my heart that he’s no longer the Doctor. Now I just have to wait for Jodie Whittaker to mend it.