Thu
May 16 2013 1:00pm
Our Favorite Eleventh Doctor Episodes of Doctor Who (So Far)

Best Doctor Who episodes Eleventh Doctor

The most recent season of Doctor Who has been one hell of a rollercoaster, dramatic within and without. First it was split in two, then Clara showed up early, then Amy and Rory left, then news about the 50th anniversary started overshadowing the season, then the show’s producer abruptly quit, then the Tenth Doctor came back, then the Ninth Doctor didn’t, then the final episode leaked early....

The quality of the episodes themselves has been markedly variable, as reflected in our own reviews, and it’s getting harder and harder not to feel so down about the show. But Doctor Who is still the best damn sci-fi show on television, so before the season closes we thought we’d get back in the spirit and comment on our favorite Eleventh Doctor episodes from the Moffat era.

 

Best Doctor Who episodes Eleventh Doctor

Ryan Britt: “The Lodger” & “Closing Time”

My close friends and readers of Tor.com know I’m something of a fickle Doctor Who fan. I either find myself being a total apologist for the show, or more recently, a hipster hater. (Which at least comes with the privilege of $1 IPAs at Mission Dolores before their weekly shuffleboard tournament.)

I do miss David Tennant and it has taken me probably longer than it should to warm to Matt Smith. Smith may be a better comic actor than Tennant, though, and I love funny! To that point, some of my favorite Doctor Who episodes have always been the funniest, which is why I absolutely love both episodes with James Corden’s Craig: “The Lodger,” and “Closing Time.”

Written by Gareth Roberts, “The Lodger” originally saw life as a short comic strip, which featured Mickey Smith and the Tenth Doctor. (Famously, Moffat’s “Blink” also began life as a comic adventure featuring a different Doctor than the aired version.) Both of these episodes operate on a low-stakes “maybe there are aliens in your neighborhood” principle, which helps humanize and undercut some of the more preposterous Doctor Who baggage. The big epic Doctor Who episodes can be fun, but juxtaposing a centuries-old badass like the Doctor into a boring domestic situation is automatically comic gold. Whether he’s just impolitely dominating everyone at football or working (somewhat incompentently) at the mall, the idea that a seemingly weird (but human-looking) guy is actually there to save the entire planet from your living room or local dressing room is awesome.

Further, I don’t mind Amy and Rory at all, but I sort of love Craig and Sophie (Daisy Haggard) more. There’s real pain when he just takes off at the end of “Closing Time,” leaving Craig’s place for the big stakes stuff. You really get the sense Craig is an actual person, a real character with a life on Earth who’s life was changed for the better by the Doctor. This doesn’t mean the Doctor isn’t SUPER annoying when he shows up, sending Craig on super inconvenient adventures. But the image of a pudgy guy with a baby strapped to his chest running to help save the universe is awesome. And that’s what good Doctor Who is all about: regular people getting empowered to do battle with monsters, aliens, and stuff that goes bump in the night.

 

 

Best Doctor Who episodes Eleventh Doctor

Emily Asher-Perrin: “Vampires of Venice”

This episode is simple, clever and absolutely hilarious, which is always how Who operates at its best. If you can say that your episode involves the Doctor jumping out of a bachelor party cake and flashing a library card as credentials, you’ve already knocked it out of the park. But the emotional moments of this episode resonate beautifully as well—Rory Williams has the distinction of being the first companion to truly call the Doctor out on his bullshit, taking him to task for making people want to impress him and therefore endangering their lives. The defeating of the villain is really a sidenote to this tale, one that sees Rory on the outside looking in as Amy and the Doctor jump around in frenzied excitement over alien vampires. It’s the beginning of building the trio into a team, a great historical period, and features some measured posturing against the queen mother where the Doctor is concerned. A romp, but a meaningful one.

Best Doctor Who episodes Eleventh Doctor

“Amy’s Choice”

To begin with, there is no real villain in this episode, which is always an exciting story choice. We do, however, get a glimpse of just how dangerous the Doctor’s dark side can be—while we had seen his proper rage come to the forefront during Davies’ era, we had never been subjected to how insidious and deceitful that aspect of the Doctor was, nor how it could endanger the lives of his companions. The episode is sharp in how it effectively shows Rory and Amy’s domestic bliss as a little too blissful (read: boring), a very realistic fear for a couple just about to be married. But more importantly, everything that this episode accomplishes is in the title; with the Doctor powerless, for the first time ever, he truly puts the most important choice into a companion’s hands. He lets Amy decide how they go out even though that decision could kill them, and acknowledges that the choice should be hers after what she’s suffered. It’s a real growing up moment for the both of them, and one of the aspects to their relationship that made Amy a very special companion.

Best Doctor Who episodes Eleventh Doctor

“The God Complex”

A perfect example of misunderstood alien life being made out as the baddie, one of the best sort of dilemmas Who provides. It’s particularly satisfying when the Doctor himself misreads a situation, proving that 1000+ years of travel in time and space should never give you right to presume anything. While the plot takes place in a hotel-looking space, it is effectively a “several people stuck in a room” sort of plot, and the extra characters the tale provides are all incredibly interesting in their own right, which is essential in those stories. But most importantly, the episode still manages to move forward Amy’s emotional arc, examining her attachment to the Doctor, and just how deeply it has damaged her. (One of the more fascinating aspects of Amy’s tenure as a companion is how her connection to the Doctor may have actually done her more harm than good, which is rare for the people who fill those running shoes.) The Doctor’s decision to ask her to let go of him is one of Eleven’s more heroic moments.

 

Best Doctor Who episodes Eleventh Doctor

Chris Lough: “A Christmas Carol” and “The Snowmen”

It’s downright criminal how good these episodes are. Steven Moffat is often at his best when he’s not feeling compelled to write towards a larger story arc and these two Christmas episodes, especially “A Christmas Carol,” come off as stories that the writer felt a personal desire to tell. That care comes through in the weight that he gives to the characters in these episodes. Former showrunner Russell T. Davies also did his best work under the same kind of focus. (“Turn Left” is a total mess of a plot, but it comes off brilliantly because of the care RTD took with Donna’s story.) But Steven Moffat is possibly the most clever plotter the show has ever had, and when he really cares about a story he’s able to merge the horrifying, the daffy, and the dramatic into a single story that is greater than the sum of its parts. When that happens, it’s utter magic. This is how good Doctor Who can be. This is how good it should be. This is how good ALL television should be. So when the show achieves this kind of transcendence it's difficult to watch it come down from that.

Best Doctor Who episodes Eleventh Doctor

“Hide”

I got the same feeling from this recent season’s episode “Hide” and although the episodes following it have been entertaining, none have quite reached the zenith that this one did.

I also adore it for being an episode that’s simply impossible to explain, much like the show itself. You just have to watch it, which makes it an experience.

 

We could go on! “The Girl Who Waited” was definitely on this list, but we didn't get enough time to write it up. What are your favorite Eleventh Doctor stories?


Emily Asher-Perrin once popped out of a wedding cake but can't remember how she got in there in the first place. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com and solely responsible for the slow degradation of Doctor Who. (Sorry, guys.)

Chris Lough is the Production Manager at Tor.com and remembers every black day he ever stopped you, Ryan.

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18 comments
R O T
1. rogerothornhill
This is one case in which the conventional wisdom is spot-on: Moffat is nowhere near as good a showrunner as he is a writer. You've named a lot of the high points (many of them central to Amy's arc), but I will admit to fondly rewatching the bookends of several of these series: "The Big Bang," "The Bells of St. John," and--yes I'll say it proudly, ridicule be damned--"The Wedding of River Song." I love the giddiness of these episodes, the canthispossiblyallwork quality, which I think may be coming in "Name of the Doctor" and the 50th special as well. Davies' finales were more satisfying because they were neater, but I like Moffat's insanity.
R O T
2. rogerothornhill
As to Tennant vs. Smith, Tennant is a more stable character, Tennant is more crushable, Tennant is more lovable. Smith, on the other hand, makes some decisions with line readings and business that show a much more thoughtful level of acting. "Bells of St. John" had a number of these: the praying hands when he arrived at Clara's door straight from the monastery, the way he and Coleman played the "snogbox" scene at the end of the episode (which was probably nowhere near as good on the page). Tennant is more easily recognizable as the Doctor--especially since I love Peter Davison too-- but almost every week Smith's performance makes me wish I had seen some of his 2000s stagework. He is a much more interesting actor.
Bridget Smith
3. BridgetSmith
I'm a huge fan of "Vincent and the Doctor." Partly this is because Van Gogh is my favorite painter (though that might reveal how inexpert my views of art are), and I loved how the episode used his aesthetic. But it's also that the whole episode is a meditation on being alone: being the last of your kind, or just being so different from everyone around you that it's hard to make a connection. The Doctor is so good at making friends, and Matt Smith plays him so giddily, that we can forget how alone he really is. I liked that this episode shows us that through his fondness for a stranger and his empathy for a monster, rather than through a battle with the Daleks as it usually is.

I also really love "The Lodger," though, and "The Eleventh Hour" is such a delightful introduction to these characters, and "A Christmas Carol" gets bonus points for being the episode my dad watched (and loved) with me.
Zorila Desufnoc Eht
4. AlirozTheConfused
Smith is a more interesting actor, but I don't like the eleventh doctor all that much; Smith is doing a very good job of playing the kind of person I really don't like (flirtatious, snarky, larger-than-life, a showman).

I mean, yes, the doctor should be loudly dressed and should be at least somewhat obnoxious, but I don't think any other doctor gave off such the air of a preformer wanting to be the center of attention.

Tennant had a lot of time to become the Doctor and had been wanting to do it his whole life; and, really, he simply was The Doctor, with no trace of self-awareness or any sense of a man pretending to be something else.
Michael Poteet
5. MikePoteet
It's probably a cliche, but my favorite Eleventh Doctor story is still "The Eleventh Hour." I'd never really watched the show before giving it a try that weekend, thanks to BBC America's relentless marketing campaign; and I fell in love with the Doctor, Amy, and the whole premise right away. I find it hard to pick from the series five episodes; overall, it is the single most consistently compelling, entertaining, and moving story arc I've ever seen on TV, bar none. Another highlight, though, would have to be "The Big Bang." I will forever remember Amy roaring at the reception, in a pitch-perfect character note, "Raggedy man, I remember you... and you are late for my wedding!"

I felt series six was only about half-good, and I am not going to bother buying series seven for my home library - what a disappointment. But I'd choose "The Girl Who Waited" (of course) as my favorite of series six, and "The Crimson Horror" as my favorite from this half-season ("Asylum of the Daleks" from last).
B R Sanders
6. B R Sanders
no love for The Beast Below? Am I alone on that one? I love that episode to pieces--it is so slowly and staunchly horrifying that I just love it.
B R Sanders
7. bryan rasmussen
I love Tennant, but there is absolutely nothing off about him. He is simply the coolest person in the room, the smartest, the funniest, the best looking even.

Matt Smith often seems alien.

Of course the writing also seems to take this ability of Smith's into account, for example the football game in the Lodger where he mistakes a plan to destroy opponents in football as a threat of violence, which I have a hard time seeing Tennant pulling off.
B R Sanders
8. JCHicks
"The Girl Who Waited" and "The Big Bang" are two of my favorites but for different reasons. I love the poignancy of "The Girl Who Waited," and my heart goes out to old Amy every time. "The Big Bang" is the Eleventh Doctor in peak form, at his whackiest and most brilliant.
B R Sanders
9. Natenanimous
I like a lot of Matt Smith's episodes, but going through in (approximate) chronological order to pick out my favorites ...

The Eleventh Hour - A fantastic introduction to the Eleventh Doctor and to Amy Pond.

Vincent and the Doctor - Very touching, to the point where I don't even care about the silly monster of the week.

The Lodger - Solid fun from beginning to end.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang - I might have only gone with the latter of those, but I have an abiding love for the Doctor's speech to his enemies in the first one, and in his description of what the Pandorica was supposed to hold, and how that was obviously a description of himself from a certain outside point of view. The second was a satisfying resolution to the season arc, and just a plain great episode.

Day of the Moon - Even though this particular season story arc didn't work out as well as the one in season five, I still liked this episode. Bearded Doctor, dealing with the Silence, hints of things to come, the Doctor making a dark choice in how to stop his enemies. This season arc ended up being a bit too much, but at this point, for me, it was at just the right balance between full and too-full, and had a lot of promise.

The Doctor's Wife - What is there to say? Just lovely.

A Good Man Goes to War - You can maybe point to this as the episode where the season arc goes over the rails, but I still loved it. The Doctor was angry, and it was scary. Plus, it was the introduction of Jenny, Vastra, and Strax.

The Girl Who Waited - A smart, sad episode.

Closing Time - Stormageddon!

The Bells of St. John - Matt Smith does some great work here.

Hide - I fell in love with the secondary characters, though I think the ending maybe went on a step too long.

And of course, A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas special yet, hands down, just a wonderful hour of television. The Snowmen was also very good, though it had some bumps around the ending. I don't know what happened to The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, but it paled in comparison to those other two.
Alan Brown
10. AlanBrown
A lot of my favorites have already been mentioned. Big Bang, along with Lodger and Closing Time, for slapstick fun. Vincent for the sentimentality. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship for, well, dinosaurs. Asylum of the Daleks for spookiness.
But I have a very special soft spot for Victory of the Daleks (which I know is not a popular choice as a favorite). Churchill allies himself with the Daleks, which echoes the moral ambiguity of an alliance with Stalin against Hitler. A new breed of Daleks so nasty that they kill off the older models. The Daleks defeat the Doctor, who lets them go to save Earth, but then attempt a double-cross, which fails because the artificial human they create has a little too much humanity. An episode full of great performances, and great moments. But mostly great because of the Spitfires! In! Space! "Danny Boy to the Doctor!" Which, for someone who grew up building plastic models of half the aircraft that flew in WWII, was a high point that hit the mark dead center.
B R Sanders
11. TheDoctor
Vincent and the Doctor is my favorite of the Smith era. It makes me cry every time. Amy + The Doctor and no Rory helps, for sure.
Matt Stoumbaugh
12. LazerWulf
From Series 5: The Eleventh Hour, Vincent and the Doctor, and The Lodger

From Series 6: The Doctor's Wife and Closing Time

From Series 7a: Assylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhatten

From Series 7b: Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, though I haven't had a chance to see Nightmare in Silver yet
B R Sanders
13. Iris M.
Vincent and the Doctor!
B R Sanders
14. Ed Carter
no spoilers... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAgh! BEST END OF SEASON EVER!
Katie Pi
15. Darth_Katie
I thought The Impossible Astronaut and the Day of the Moon were excellent. And the Doctor's Wife!! Possible my favorite episode of Dcotor Who EVER.
Cameron Tucker
16. Loialson
Did anyone else notice that Craig was uploaded to the Cloud in Bells of St. Johns?

Yup look for him in the bottom right corner after Clara gets uploaded. And we have no clue if he was downloaded to his body like Clara, or if he was gone too long and perished ;( !
B R Sanders
17. Twilight
I've grown to really like Matt Smith as the doctor. However, I've generally hated his tenure due to the generally horrible directing and/or scripts. Doctor's Wife was the only truly bright spot so far. I'd love to see what Smith could do with the show if they replaced Moffat with someone else (better). Putting Moffat in charge of the show is the worst decision they've made since the relaunch (which is somewhat surpring as he does an excellent job with Sherlock).
B R Sanders
18. tmdndow
I was a Tennant fan, even loved the "ecc"...When you lose a doctor, you have to embrace the new one, ya got to. I missed Ecc, and especially Tennant, but Matt Smith put some youthful life into the role, and the writing of the companions being the main plot line is EPIC! Finally, the doctor is the storyteller. I love all the doctors, and cant WAIT for Capaldi. I hope the Doc is terrifying and somewhat mean. My fav episode is the two parter "wedding". I watched "pompeii" the other day, and love how Amy, Tennant, and Capaldi are in the episode, I hope they touch on that in new season.

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