Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday Best: Greatest Doctor Who Episodes for Non-Fans

Doctor Who's 11th season will begin airing this fall.  We have a whole new Doctor in Jodie Whittaker.  We also have a brand new showrunner in Chris Chibnall.  This is the second time since the reboot that the show has had such a radical change over, the last time being when David Tennant and showrunner Russel T. Davies left and were replaced with Matt Smith and new showrunner Steven Moffat.

Doctor Who has been on the air in some form on and off again since the 1960's.  This new series has been running since 2005.  As with any long-running series, it can be intimidating to jump in.

So here are the ten best episodes of the rebooted Doctor Who for those who are non-fans and want to get a good sampling of the show.  There may be some better episodes than the ones listed here.  But someone who is curious about the show and wants to get a sampling of what it is like,  I would recommend checking out these 10 episodes.

10.  "The Eleventh Hour" (5x01)

This is the first episode of the 11th Doctor's run.  For those who are brand new to Doctor Who, it provides a much better jumping on point than any previous episode.  The Doctor regenrates and befriends a little Scottish girl named Amelia Pond.  While maintaining the rich history, this episode provides wonderful clean slate to dive in and follow the Time Lord's adventures.

9.  "The Waters of Mars" (Season 4 Special)

This might be one of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who and that is saying a lot.  The 10th Doctor arrives on Mars in the not-too-distant future where a group of human scientists have started the first Martian base.  But they've unfrozen something in the waters that possesses whoever touches the water and turns them into freakish zombies.  It becomes a massive race against time as the crew and the Doctor become outnumbered and run out of places to hide.  The design of the zombies are horrifying and are the stuff of nightmares.  It also finds the Doctor faced with some of his most dire moral dilemma's involving time travel.

8.  "Heaven Sent" (9x11)

The 12th Doctor finds himself alone in a castle on an island in the middle of the ocean.  There is no one there except for a mysterious, slow-walking hooded figure who constantly stalks him.  The place is his own "bespoke prison."  With only a handful of clues, the Doctor has to figure out why he is there and how he could possibly escape.  The last ten minutes of this episode pack an incredible emotional wallop.  As it moved toward its conclusion, my jaw dropped and my heart broke.  A great episode to reveal how the Doctor's mind works, but also how he is almost insanely obsessive.

7. "The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion" (9x07-9x08)

This two-part episode starts off like a conventional adventure.  But the second part contains one of the best moments on the entire series.  The 12th Doctor has both the humans and the shape-shifting Zygon's at a stalemate as they are poised to genocide each other with the press of a button.  What follows is Peter Capaldi at his best and a speech by the Doctor about the nature of war, peace, and forgiveness that reminds you what good writing is like.

6.  "The Fires of Pompeii"  (4x02)

This is the first real adventure of the 10th Doctor and Donna Noble.  Donna is a breath of fresh air.  She has amazing chemistry with the Doctor, but it is in no way romantic.  She is a woman who holds herself as an equal, not a girl who moons over him.  And this connection is forged, literally in fire, as the Doctor realizes his connection to the destruction of Pompeii and its consequences.  We also see why the Doctor needs a human companion to travel with him or else he is lost.

5.  "Midnight" (4x10)

The 10 Doctor is on a train car on a planet with a deadly atmosphere.  The passengers are only on vacation, but something deadly attacks them.  What follows is fear and paranoia.  While there are strong sci-fi elements here, this one is a strong psychological horror episode and the first Doctor Who I ever watched.

4.  "Human Nature/Family of Blood." (3x08-3x09)

The 10th Doctor hides out in early 20th Century Britain and becomes human so as to not be found.  He even has his entire identity changed so that he does not know that he is a time lord.  As the show progresses, his new identity, John Smith, has fallen in love with woman.  But as his hunters begin attacking the populace, John must return to being the Doctor.  One of things that makes this episode stand out is that John sees himself as a person and not simply an identity.  In his mind, he and the Doctor are two different people.  For John to turn into the Doctor, that means that John must die.  Tennant gives a stellar performance that makes us believe that two different people lived in that body.  The episode will pull at your heartstrings.  At the same time, you will know how truly dangerous the Doctor can be.

3.  "The Girl in the Fireplace" (2x04)

This is the Tv Threshold episode; it is the episode you have to watch up to in order to really understand the show.  The 10th Doctor finds himself and his companions on a derelict space ship that has all of these strange doors that lead to 18th century France.  There, the Doctor encounters a girl who sets them on an epic encounter with a terrifying adversary.  It is a touching and tragic tale that will stay with you after it ends.

2.  "Blink" (3x10)

This is an exceptionally good episode for non-fans to watch because the episode has the 10th Doctor as a supporting character.  Sally Sparrow finds herself in a strange and scary adventure involving one of the scariest creatures in Doctor Who history: the Weeping Angels.  Our hero has to solve a strange non-linear puzzle in order to save herself and possibly the world.  But the Weeping Angels are always present and create a fantastic sense of terror throughout the entire episode.

1.  "Silence of the Library/ Forest of the Dead." (4x08-4x09)

Not only is the best episode for non-fans, it is the best episode of the series.  This two-parter introduces us Professor River Song and one of the most consequential relationships in the entire Doctor Who cannon.  It also explains to us why we have a primal fear of the dark: because we are not alone.  The story is an emotional rollercoaster, alternately funny, scary, sad, and heartwarming.  It is everything that a Doctor Who episode can and should do and would serve as a great introduction into this wonderful world of the Doctor.

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