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The 10 Best David Tennant Episodes of Doctor Who

To the TARDIS!

Oh David, my Doctor. Here are what we consider to be the best episodes in his illustrious three-season journey.

With Peter Capaldi stepping down and Jodie Whitaker ready to fill the boots of many men before her, why not rank the best episodes of ‘new Who’ (post 2005) by Doctor? (except Eccleston because he had 13 episodes – it would be a short list). David Tennant’s era was when I really started to watch the show as a young teenager, and therefore I will always see him as my Doctor.

Beware – spoilers ahead for seasons 1 to 4. You’ve been warned!

The Christmas Invasion – written by Russell T. Davies

David Tennant’s first episode has a special place in my heart. I remember going to school the Monday after Christopher Eccleston’s last episode and telling a friend how much I already didn’t like David Tennant in his less than a minute on screen. I was young, naive, and we go through it with every Doctor at that age: initial hatred.

To have The Doctor in a coma for most of David’s first episode was a bold move by Russell T. Davies, but it gave space for season one and two companion Rose to deal with the dilemma of a regenerated Doctor. It was important to do this early in new Who to give new viewers a chance to get their head around it. Animosity on this new new Doctor was dispelled the moment David came out of the TARDIS on the Sycorax ship. “Did you miss me?”. He quotes Lion King and dispatches of the Sycorax with a duel – an inconsistently shot and rather stupid duel I concede.

I went back to school the following Monday and pretended I never said I didn’t like David Tennant.

The Satan Pit – written by Matt Jones

The best dilemmas to give The Doctor make him question his own beliefs. At this point The Doctor was over 900, and along comes this menacing beast that makes him question if Satan is real. Here, slave race The Ood are having strange communications coming through their orbs. Eventually, in this second episode of this two-parter we discover it may be Satan. The show doesn’t commit to one or the other, but puts The Doctor in an interesting position.

This giant devilish being thinks they have gotten away with their master plan, and has The Doctor all worked out. This episode also allows Rose to save the day by jettisoning this Satan’s mind (trapped inside an archaeologist) into a black hole. On The Doctor’s way down to face this beast we get a small look into his ideals about Satan and religion in general – something the show rarely tackles.

School Reunion – written by Toby Whithouse

What makes new Who special is how fans of the original series grew up and now watch it with their kids. For those parents, they were reacquainted with Elizabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith in School Reunion – previously in Doctor Who in the 70s. This episode had a dynamic we rarely witness: an older companion comparing their adventures with the contemporary one. Or as Mickey puts it, “The Mrs and the ex. Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare”. What we get though is Rose and Sarah Jane bonding over how inept The Doctor can be.

Parents were able to explain who she was and why she was so important to not just The Doctor, but to the whole show. The popularity of Sarah Jane Smith was substantial enough to get her a spin-off show on CBBC, The Sarah Jane Adventures. The show ran for five seasons until Elizabeth Sladen’s terrible passing in 2011.

Doomsday – written by Russell T. Davies

Doctor Who’s ability to emotionally break Britain on a Saturday night was never more apparent than in Doomsday. This end of season 2 episode was our goodbye to Rose. The first of this two-parter spends a bit too long meandering setting up Torchwood, and the ‘army of ghosts’, but this episode puts that aside and we have an outright war for planet Earth between Daleks and Cybermen. As usual, The Doctor is right in the eye of the storm.

This also signalled the end of a recurring story surrounding alternate universes, and the characters earlier in the season come back for this finale to Rose’s story. The beach at the end, Bad Wolf Bay, will forever be ingrained in the minds of the biggest Doctor Who fans. Rose stayed as most peoples’ favourite companion of new Who until season five.

Human Nature/The Family of Blood – written by Paul Cornell

The premise of this two-parter turns The Doctor human through a chameleon ark to rewrite his biology, in a bid to hide from aliens. In this two-parter, David Tennant plays a human teacher who is quite remarkable, but only through incremental parts of The Doctor left in him. Before changing to human he put his utmost faith in season 3 companion Martha to keep him safe.

The Doctor, John Smith in this two-parter, eventually finds out who he really is and must decide whether to become The Doctor again. The second episode gives John Smith respectable time and touching moments to help overcome this dilemma. The cast are all fab, including Jessica Hynes of Spaced, Harry Lloyd who would appear in the first season of Game of Thrones, and Pip Torrens, later Tommy Lascelles in The Crown. It’s one of the biggest production shifts for the show, and does very well to represent 1913 Britain in a local boarding school for boys.

The Girl in the Fireplace – written by Steven Moffat

Oh look, it’s a Steven Moffat episode! From here on out, expect that. This season 2 episode has some very naff CGI, but this story showcases Madame de Pompadour and The Doctor’s bizarre relationship spread out across her life. A staple of Moffat is his ability to create unsettling and scary monsters, and The Girl in the Fireplace is no exception with the clockwork robots; these monsters had a sinister purpose, but only doing what their software was programmed to do.

We get a rather human moment from The Doctor realising at one stage he’ll have to live a normal human life. Madame de Pompadour herself wanted to see the stars, but unfortunately never got the chance, and the letter she writes The Doctor is crushing. This, as with the rest on this list, are excellent examples of why Moffat taking over from Russell T. Davies at the end of season four was the right choice.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead – written by Steven Moffat

In his recent series of interviews (which I recommend watching as he’s very frank and honest), Steven Moffat described that around the time he started writing this two-parter of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, the BBC and Russell T. Davies were giving him strong signals he’d be taking over as head writer at the end of season four.

So what does Steven Moffat do? Write a new character integral to the future of Doctor Who of course! But in typical Steven “time is my plaything” Moffat fashion this was a character that knew the Doctor more than anyone we’d seen before, but the Doctor had no idea who she was. This was the introduction of Professor Riversong in a library filled with piranha-like shadows – the Vashta Nerada. Still, morbidity was thread throughout this two-parter with technology that allowed the dead’s consciousness to stick around a little while longer.

In the second part, the show goes a step further by having season four companion Donna, played by Catherine Tate, in this bizarre simulation where days pass in seconds. The numbers in The Doctor’s entourage continue to dwindle and we get one of those awesome moments where he gets really angry and turns into a legitimate badass – “look me up”. The Doctor too gets an answer to what kind of person he’d ever give his screwdriver to. Given that we see Riversong’s death here, it adds something extra to her, and she reappears in the show right up until the first Christmas special before season 10.

Blink – written by Steven Moffat

It was always going to be this wasn’t it? When I asked fellow GameSpew colleagues, Blink was always the first they mentioned. This episode is regarded by many Doctor Who fans as the best of new Who. Oddly, this episode doesn’t feature much of the Doctor, but it’s still highly regarded thanks to a witty script by Steven Moffat, future Oscar winner Carey Mulligan (not yet, but she will!), and the scariest villain from the show.

This was Moffat’s first venture into playing with a timeline. Blink gave life to the Weeping Angels – these feed by sending people back in time. That ability allows Sally Sparrow, played by the excellent Carey Mulligan, to talk to her friends who’ve aged decades in a matter of seconds. By this point I was old enough to not be completely terrified by the weeping angels, but they sure are creepy.

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