Sad news Whovians, David Tennant’s time in Tardis is nearly up and there’s not a damn thing any of us can do about it. Since he took the lead in Russell T. Davies’ masterful revamp of Doctor Who in the series’ second season, he has become the most popular Timelord since Tom Baker vamped around the galaxy back in the 1970s. (FYI- anyone who says that Colin Baker is the greatest Doctor is either related to him or clinically insane). At times mischievous and brooding, Tennant’s Doc is a complicated man who feels every minute of his 903 years weighing on him. Regardless of the episode, he was (nearly always) on the top of his game acting wise. After Tennant leaves — taking Davies with him — the show will be in the capable hands of Steven Moffat, a fan favorite whose scripts have ranked consistently among the show’s best. The jury is still out on how 11th Doctor Matt Smith and his silly Twilight haircut will be received by viewers, but few are optimistic that he can recapture the magic of his predecessor. Rather than prematurely judging Smith, let us instead analyze the wonders that David Tennant brought to the role with this look at his five best (and five worst) Doctor Who outings so far.
Who wrote it? Russell T. Davies. What is it about? This third season episode shows exactly how much the Doctor is still reeling from the loss of Rose Tyler at the end of “Doomsday.” He takes new companion Martha Jones to New Earth, where he and Rose encountered some bitchy cat nurses and the dastardly skin tag known as Cassandra in the previous season. There’s little time for him to dwell on the past when Martha goes missing. Instead, he must unravel the secrets of the mysterious Motorway to save her life. Along the way, he encounters a feline creature that is nearly as cool as the Cat on Red Dwarf and says goodbye to a dying Face of Boe. Why is it so great? First off, anyone who has ever been stuck in a traffic clusterfuck can appreciate what the Doctor is up against in this episode. A solid action/mystery, “Gridlock” succeeds thanks to the little touches. Ardal O’Hanlon (of Father Ted fame) shines in a supporting role as Brannigan, a helpful cat who realizes that the Doctor is a “bit magnificent” as well as insane. In a nod to classic Doctor Who, Davies’ decided to bring back the crab-like Macra to portray the villains of the episode, (spoiler alert) and the farewell of the Face of Boe (who, as it turns out, is likely Captain Jack Harkness himself) is a graceful moment that sets up the season’s final three episodes.
4) Journey’s End
Who wrote it? Russell T. Davies. What is it about? In order to stop Davros and the Daleks from destroying the universe, the Doctor must team up with pretty much every recurring guest star and companion who has appeared since Davies revived Who in 2005. Why is it so great? Davies’ brings together all of the Who regulars as well as cast members from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures to help the Doctor save the day from the increasingly unthreatening Daleks. Yes, the episode is nothing more than a 65-minute fanwank, but even the most cynical of Doctor Who fans (i.e. myself) had a hard time not being thrilled by the sight of the Doctor, Captain Jack, Rose, Martha, Donna, Mickey, Sarah Jane, and Jackie piloting the Tardis together. Elsewhere in the episode, Rose finally got to be with the Doctor, (well, a Doctor anyways) and the insufferable Donna Noble character got her memory wiped. Happy endings all around!
3) The Family of Blood
Who wrote it? Paul Cornell (based on his 1995 Doctor Who novel Human Nature). What is it about? Continuing the events of the previous episode, “Human Nature,” this installment has the Doctor believing that he is an ordinary schoolteacher living in 1913 England. The trouble is that he is actually on the run from a family of evil aliens who have tracked him down. Also, he is in love with Daisy from Spaced. To make matters worse, some damn kid has possession of a fob watch in which the Doctor has hidden his true identity. It’s up to Martha Jones to sort out this mess. Sucks to be her. Why is it so great? When she joined the cast of Doctor Who, Freema Agyeman had the thankless task of replacing fan favorite Rose Tyler. Many fans just wanted to see the Doctor and Rose together, so Agyeman’s excellent work as the strong and independent Martha Jones was never really properly acknowledged. It’s a shame, because other than Captain Jack, she is the most fully realized character to step foot inside of Tennant’s Tardis. Although the acting is excellent all around, this episode truly lets Martha shine. This is also the darkest episode of the series to date. It is genuinely heartbreaking to witness the Doctor experience visions of married bliss that he will never get to realize. As the above clip illustrates, his revenge against the members of the Family of Blood is both cruel and poetic. Let it never be said that the Doc isn’t a classy guy to everyone.
2) The Christmas Invasion
Who wrote it? Russell T. Davies. What is it about? As Rose tries to deal with her confusion over the Doctor’s regeneration, Earth comes under attack from aliens. Again. Will a cup of tea save the day? Will Jackie ever shut up? Does the Doctor really know Arthur Dent? Why is it so great? In his first full appearance as the Doctor, David Tennant instantly owns the character. He establishes the 10th Doctor as a man who doesn’t believe in second chances, as demonstrated when he brings down Prime Minister Harriet Jones with six words (“don’t you think she looks tired?”) after she has Torchwood destroy the retreating Sycorax ship. He’s also whimsical, smart, wears Chuck Taylors and is prone to making Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy references. So why is there any debate over who the greatest Doctor is?
1) Blink Who wrote it? The always wonderful Steven Moffat. What is it about? While taking photographs in a run-down house, new character Sally Sparrow encounters some creepy ass angel statues that move around when not observed by the human eye. With the assistance of some DVD easter eggs featuring the Doctor, she attempts to keep the Weeping Angels from taking control of the Tardis or sending her back in time using their magical temporal shifting powers. Neat!
Why is it so great? Oddly enough, the best Doctor Who episode of the David Tennant era is one he’s hardly in. A “Doctor Lite” episode that won multiple BAFTAs and a Hugo Award, “Blink” is an eerie thriller that almost seems like the pilot for a spin-off series — or a companion trial run at the very least. Carey Mulligan’s performance as Sally Sparrow is so strong that rumors persist that Moffat will be utilizing her when he takes over the show next year. If true, that would soften the blow of Matt Smith’s douchey hairdo a bit.
Hit the jump for a look at David Tennant’s worst Doctor Who adventures.
5) The Next Doctor
Who wrote it? Russell T. Davies. What is it about? The Doctor travels to 1851 London at Christmastime and encounters a man who seems to be a future version of himself. Eventually, a gigantic Cyberman begins stomping on the city. This isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds. There’s some lovey dovey family stuff thrown in there too. Yawnsville. Why is it so bad? Maybe it’s because David Morrissey’s Doctor isn’t a very involving character (nor is the hammy lady who teams up with the Cybermen for no good reason) but everything about this episode feels like paint-by-numbers Doctor Who. Even Tennant’s usual exuberance rings false. Perhaps he thought having people in bear costumes running around with Cybermen masks on was stupid too. The clip featured above highlights the CyberKing’s destructive jaunt through merry old Londontown. Usually, giant robots smashing things equals 100% awesome. But it doesn’t here and that makes me question everything I believe in. Thanks a heap, Doctor Who.
4) The Fires of Pompeii
Who wrote it? James Moran. What is it about? The Doctor and Donna arrive in Pompeii just as Mount Vesuvius is about to erupt. Antics ensue. Donna tells it like it T-I-S and the Doctor uncharacteristically buckles like a belt to make her happy. Boo! Why is it so bad? In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier there was originally going to be a rock creature that Kirk fought. The idea was nixed for budgetary reasons but it still sounds neat, right? Enter the Pyroville, magma-infused monsters who use witches to convert people to join their stone legions. They’re really great…and they also deserve to be in a better episode. Like “The Shakespeare Code” before it, this adventure manages to make a fascinating period in history dull. It also was met with ire from fans who refused to believe that the Doctor would willingly interfere with established events and save a family fated to die at the insistence of a companion. Others just wanted to see Donna turned into a rock herself. Not the worst idea, come to think of it…
3) Fear Her
Who wrote it? Matthew Graham. What is it about? Arriving in London for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics, the Doctor and Rose discover that a girl is imprisoning people in her drawings. That’s basically it. Why is it so bad? The first (and so far only) Doctor Who installment written by Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes co-creator Matthew Graham, “Fear Her” is a disappointing effort that tries to capture the moody atmospherics of a Twilight Zone episode. Too bad that murderous scribbles are more funny than frightening. To see how entertaining this could have been by adding some crude sound effects, be sure to watch the clip above.
2) Partners in Crime
Who wrote it? Russell T. Davies. What is it about? While investigating a suspicious pharmaceutical company that has created a miracle diet drug, the Doctor reunites with Donna Noble. Why is it so bad? Too much “aren’t we clever?” humor (see the above clip) not enough interesting storytelling. There’s also no decent reason to bring Donna back aboard the Tardis other than the fact that she is portrayed by popular British TV star Catherine Tate. The Adipose sure were cute though! Ugh. Fuck this episode.
1) The Last of the Timelords
Who wrote it? Russell T. Davies. What is it about? With the Doctor incapacitated by The Master, Martha Jones must somehow stop the evil Timelord from destroying the Earth and rescue her loved ones–all of whom are really annoying.
Why is it so bad? Outside of the Star Wars prequels, I can’t think of a contemporary sci-fi property that has as much contempt for its audience as this episode. Aged and caged by The Master, an appallingly bad CGI version of the Doctor is rendered useless while Martha travels the world–instructed to “spread the word so that everyone would know about the Doctor.” So ultimately, Earth is saved thanks to a one-woman street team. Martha’s word of mouth campaign and some ill-defined telepathic mumbo jumbo allow the now Christ-like Doctor to regain his strength. Quicker than you can say “contrivance,” the Master is killed by his wife, his ravaging on Earth is undone and only those who were aboard UNIT’s Valiant ship are the only ones who retain any memory of his horrific actions. Convenient. For a guy who spent a good chunk of time telling people how sorry he was, the least the Doctor could do would be to apologize for this joyless episode.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.