Since it’s revival in 2005, Doctor Who has become one of the BBC’s most prominent exports and managed to please long-time fans and newcomers alike. It is a show that has been able to reinvent itself – the modern version of the shows has had two showrunners – three actors playing The Doctor and seven characters as the companion and Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whitaker set to take over the show as showrunner and the title role.
Over the course of 13 years, the show has had ten seasons, a series of specials and amassed 134 episodes. With this amount of content there are of course ups and downs, so let’s look at all the modern Doctor Who seasons from worst to best.
11. Series 8
The eighth season of the modern Doctor Who is easily the worst. This season was Peter Capaldi’s first as the famous Time-Lord, and he was ill-served by the material he was given. The season started off strongly with indie-director Ben Wheatley directing the first two episodes, and there was a level of intrigue with the idea of beings trying to find The Promised Land.
However, the season was bogged down with uninspired elements, and it had two of the worst episodes in the modern show’s canon, “Kill the Moon” and “In the Forest of the Moon.” It was a season made out of apathy.
The worst element of the season was Clara’s role. The season looked more toward Clara’s life on Earth, working as a teacher, forming a relationship with Danny Pink and her students. The show focused on Clara instead of the Doctor, sinking the season because Clara is a boring character. The use of the school setting was a backdoor route to making the Doctor Who spin-off The Class.
10. Series 7
Peter Capaldi had a rough start as the Doctor, and Matt Smith end wasn’t much better. The seventh season was split into two parts, the first focusing on The Doctor’s final adventures with Amy and Rory, the second focusing on who is Clara and why she kept appearing in different periods and dying when the Doctor was around.
The first half was the stronger, having a fun opener with the Doctor having to go into a Dalek insane asylum and the show pulled off a great surprise by introducing Jenna Coleman as Oswin. Amy and Rory’s final moments had plenty of emotion when Rory is trapped time fix time, and Amy sacrifices herself to be with him – a sacrifice that brings the Doctor into a great depression.
This half of the series did have a disappointment with the episode “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” The title suggested a lot of genre fun and had comedic double-act David Mitchell and Robert Webb voice a pair of giant robots. Yet it did not live up to the hype. It was an episode written by new showrunner Chris Chinball.
The second half of the series was when it truly faltered. It was a season bogged down by forgettable episodes like “The Bells of Saint John,” “Cold War,” “Hide” and “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and the Neil Gaiman penned “Nightmare in Silver” is hated by the fandom. The saving grace was “The Name of the Doctor” where Clara goes into the Doctor’s timestream and protects him throughout his many iterations. It could have been a great final episode for Clara, but Steven Moffat is scared to kill off main characters.
One of the significant issues with the series was Clara – she was a boring character. There were two great versions in “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen” – Coleman gave these characters a lot of check and spunk and was intelligent enough to be able to help the Doctor. But the real version of Clara was a bland young woman from modern day Britain.
9. Series 10
Now we have gotten past the two worst series in Doctor Who everything from this point on ranges from good to great. The worst of the best is the most recent season of Doctor Who, Series 10.
Series 10 was the last season to star Peter Capaldi and be produced by Steven Moffatt, but weirdly made as a soft-reboot of the series and act as an entry point for new viewers. The first episode “The Pilot” acted like a pilot episode for a new show and Bill was an audience surrogate. Series 10 did have excellent episodes in the form of “Oxygen” and the season finale had some gutting punching moments, or they would have been if the BBC didn’t reveal them in the trailers. The finale was a great send off for Capaldi as the Doctor as he fought off an army of Cybermen.
Pearl Mackie was a terrific find as Bill, a fun, upbeat presence who acted like a fangirl and was the first lesbian companion. Bill’s presence also allowed for the show to offer some commentary about prejudice. Yet her sexuality was handled maturely, she’s gay, deal with it. It was a shame she only had one season.
However, the series was at times on autopilot, with episodes like “Smile” rehashing ideas from previous seasons.
The Specials as the name says special episodes that were made between Christmas 2008 to the New Year in 2010. These specials were the last episodes to star David Tennant and written by Russell T. Davies. There were four stories (one of them being a two-partner) of various quality, and there were all over 60 minutes instead of the usual 45.
The best special was the horror-themed “The Waters of Mars” with the Doctor on the first human colony on Mars where the astronauts are inflected by a waterborne virus and tests the Doctor because he was interfering with a fixed time event. It was one of the best Doctor Who horror stories, being an exciting, fast-paced episode and the ending gave audiences a hint of what The Doctor could be like if he acted without impunity.
The weakest episode was the forgettable “Planet of the Dead,” whose most prominent feature was the casting of Michelle Ryan as the Doctor’s one-time companion. It was met with average reviews which is a fair summary of an average episode.
“The Next Doctor” did tease audiences with what a David Morrissey could have been like and “The End of Time” brought back John Simm as The Master and the Time Lords as a whole. Tennant was given a long goodbye as he revisits all his companions before his regeneration which was made into an epic moment.
7. Series 9
After the poor showing that was Series 8, Doctor Who needed a big comeback – especially to save Peter Capaldi’s run as the Doctor. Fortunately, Series 9 was able to do this, bringing the focus back on the Doctor and allowed Capaldi to shine as an actor – he had an impassioned anti-war speech in “The Zygon Inversion.”
The series brought in Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams for a role as Ashildr/Me, a young woman from a Viking village who The Doctor curses with immorality. Williams appeared in four episodes, and her character had some powerhouse moments like at the ending of “The Girl Who Died” and the reveal that her children died during the Black Death.
The series strongest episode was “Heaven Sent” and it is one of the best modern Doctor Who has produced. It was an ambitious and creative episode showing the various versions of Doctor living the same scenario over-and-over again. Capaldi had to act around as he fought for survival, tried to figure out a message and overcome his grief. The montage when the Doctor utters “The Sheppard Boy” poem was Doctor Who at its finest.
The series still had some problems. The series opener was overly complicated and needed an encyclopedic knowledge of Doctor Who lore to understand it at times and the episode “Sleep No More” had a good concept but hampered by revealing that the monsters were made out of eye gunk. The worst aspect of the series was the series finale “Hell Bent” because it undercut Clara’s death and The Doctor’s fight to get revenge. Moffat didn’t have to gut to keep a companion dead.
6. Series 1
Back in 2005 the return of Doctor Who was seen as a big risk – the 1996 TV film was a flop, and the BBC was hesitant at bringing back the show. It was a big budget update of a show that was known for cheap costumes and special effects and came from a man who was a big fan of the original series.
The aim of the new series was to introduce the Doctor to new audiences while still honoring the continuity of the classic era. The first season manages to walk this delicate tightrope by having the Time War – an event that gave the modern series a clean break but still in the same continuity. Classic villains were introduced, and the modern series gave longtime fans some Easter Eggs. The first episode, “Rose” was told through the new companion’s eye so acts as the new audience members’ surrogate.
The first series gave us classic episodes like “Dalek” which shows how threatening one Dalek could be and revealed The Doctor’s pain, and the two-parter “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances,” was one of the great horror themed episodes – it scared my cats. But there were some clunkers in the form of “Aliens of London”/”World War Three” which was too reliant on juvenile humor believing this was what the show needed to do to appeal to kids. Like many first seasons of a show Doctor Who was finding its feet.
Christopher Eccleston was solid in his only season as The Doctor, but he was stronger in the dramatic moments than the comedic ones. Fans would have wanted at least one more season with Eccleston. The show helped turn Billie Piper from teen pop star to a popular actress in the UK, and John Barrowman’s Captain Jack was an entertaining character.
5. Series 6
Series 6 was Steven Moffat’s second season as showrunner and the first of two that had a mid-season break. It is also his second best season.
Series 6 big storyline involved the Doctor being killed by the Impossible Astronaut and figuring out River Song’s real identity. Moffat also created his second monster, The Silence, suited aliens whose people forget their existence when they look away and have been secretly controlling the human race. The name even changed the meaning of the arc in the previous season.
“A Good Man Goes to War” was a big, bombastic episode where the Doctor and his allies fight an army of cleric soldiers and headless monks and Moffat was able to turn his fan theory that people that The Doctor was given his name by the people he saved into official canon. Episodes like “The Doctor’s Wife” and “The Girl Who Waited” were underrated stories.
However, the series does suffer from some bad episodes. The episode “Let’s Kill Hitler” was a huge disappointment because it was meant to be the first time River met The Doctor and ended in a hokey way because she gave up all her regeneration energy to save him. The pirate-themed “The Curse of the Black Spot” was the definition of a filler episode and was utterly forgettable.
4. Series 3
The third season of modern Doctor Who marked a changing of the guard, the first time they changed the companion with Freema Agyeman playing Dr. Martha Jones. Series 3 was a season of two halves, the first being pretty weak while the second half was much more ambitious and creative.
The first half of the season’s episodes were a mix of forgettable to maligned. Episodes like “The Lazarus Experiment” and “42” are particularly criticized by fans. After “42” the season saw a massive improvement. The most famous and celebrated episode was “Blink” – one of the best-written episodes and introduced The Weeping Angels. The season has a three-part finale which saw The Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack Harkness going to the end of the universe and seeing the return of The Doctor’s nemesis, The Master. It was a varied finale, but the resolution was incredibly cheesy.
The two-parter “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” was a strong entry showing what The Doctor could be like if he could live a normal life because his fob watch turned his biology into a human. Martha and eventually The Doctor had to face a creepy set of aliens who have overtaken human bodies who are after The Doctor.
The biggest shame of the season was losing Agyeman after one season, but she did get to return in the fourth and in Torchwood.
The season gave actors like Andrew Garfield, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Carey Mulligan early roles.
3. Series 2
The second season of modern Doctor Who was when the show was finding its stride. David Tennant had taken over the role as The Doctor, and he was the complete package – he was funny and witty, had moments of darkness and could give an epic speech. He is my favorite actor in the role.
The series had some great episodes like “Rise of the Cybermen”/”The Age of Steel,” a two-partner that reintroduced a classic villain, “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” where the Doctor got to battle Satan and the finale gave audiences a war between Daleks and Cybermen. Fans of the classic era were given a blast from the past with “School Reunion,” bringing back the former companion Sarah Jane Smith and had one of the darkest moments in Doctor Who history where alien eats a child.
However, the season has two black stops – “Love & Monsters” and “Fear Her.” “Fear Her” was a filler episode – made on a low budget since most of the episode takes place on a housing estate. The biggest issue was it became outdated very quickly – the episode was set in 2012 just before the London Olympics. The episode started with a stupid joke where the recent X-Factor winner, Shayne Ward, was advertising his greatest hits – he wasn’t known outside the UK, and most people now would have either forgotten him or didn’t know who he is. The Olympics also played a part in the narrative – an event that was only six years away when the episode was first broadcasted.
“Love & Monsters” was for a long time considered one of the worst episodes in the show’s run. It had a solid concept – looking at the people who had come into contact with the Doctor and attempted to find him but devolves into stupidity when they gave up on their mission and formed a band. The episode was mandated to star a monster created by a child who won a competition and the episode shows by shoehorning the creature. The worst moment was when the episode ends with an oral sex joke.
However, the good outweighs the bad.
2. Series 4
The fourth Season of Doctor Who was Russell T. Davies’ last full season as showrunner and he certainly went out with a bang, giving us his best offering. The season has the best long-running arc in Davies’ run, the threat of coming darkness and has the most consistent collection of episodes during the Davies era. It was a season that reintroduced classic villains like the Sontarans and the Doctor’s nemesis Davros, creator of the Daleks.
Highlights included the two-parter “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” which introduced the world to the River Song, “Midnight” a taut bottle episode where the Doctor and a group of passengers are trapped in the middle of crystal planet and my personal favorite “Turn Left.” “Turn Left” was a Donna focused episode where she makes a decision different which has a huge knock-on effect. It was an unusual and ambitious episode.
“The Doctor’s Daughter” is often considered the worst episode in the series and some have called it one of the worst episodes in Doctor Who’s modern era. This is a harsh reaction because it was a perfectly serviceable episode and the worst this season had to offer was something being less memorable.
The finale, “The Stolen Planet”/”Journey’s End” did come across like fan fiction – it saw the return of many of the characters in the Davies era – created a second Doctor so that Rose could live with him in a parallel universe and the Donna becoming the ‘Doctor Donna.’ This was where the season was at its weakest.
I went into Season 4 with a lot of hesitation because of the return of Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Donna had an irritating introduction, and Tate was famous at the time for her self-titled sketch show that relied on lowest-common-dominator humor. But give credit where credit’s due because Donna grew as a character, Tate showed she was more than a comedic actress, and she was the only female companion in the Davies era who didn’t feel attached to the Doctor romantically or sexually.
1. Series 5
Topping this list is Doctor Who‘s fifth season. The fifth season marked a fresh start for the show, Steven Moffat took over as the showrunner having been seen as the best Doctor Who writer – he had episodes like “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances, “Blink” and “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” to his name. The fifth season took a big risk casting then unknowns Matt Smith and Karen Gillan as The Doctor and his companion.
What makes Series 5 the best modern Doctor Who season is it has the best running plotline and is one of the most consistent seasons. The running plotline involved the coming silence, a mystery threat that left cracks throughout the universe and anything that’s sucked in is erased completely – no one remembers their existences.
The season has some great episodes like “The Eleventh Hour,” “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” and the highly emotional “Vincent and the Doctor.” The season also has the best Doctor Who finale in the modern run with a triumphant feel to it. There were a couple of clunkers, “Victory of the Daleks” was made to sell toys and “The Vampires of Venice” was forgettable but they are far from the show being at its worst.
Smith and Gillan were great finds for the show. Smith took on the impossible challenge of following up David Tennant as the Doctor, making the role his own and got to give some beautiful speeches while Gillan was funny and dramatic and suffering from sadness but not knowing why. Both have become big stars because of the show and found successful afterward.