With the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who coming to a close, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the past seasons of the series to those episodes, either written or produced by the departing show-runner, that made the most lasting impression on me. Here are my Top Five favourite episodes.
5. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances – Written by Steven Moffat
The first Who episode written by Moffat is a must have. It’s a great story on its own, but what makes it better is Christopher Eccleston’s delivery of the dialogue. I’m not a huge fan of the Ninth Doctor, but he is in full sass-mode here. Whenever I watch this episode, I have to turn on the closed captioning so that I don’t miss the excellent one-liners zipping through the scenes.
Moffat seems to have an affinity for turning something seemingly harmless into something terrifying. This time, it’s children. “Are you my mummy?” still sends chills down my spine. And who could forget the gas mask bursting out of Doctor Constantine’s face? That’s the stuff of nightmares.
The best part of the episode is the appearance of Captain Jack Harkness. He’s just such a great character and John Barrowman plays him with perfect aplomb. Male, female, alien, or human – you just can’t help falling for that rapier wit and those charming dimples. Rose Tyler certainly can’t help herself!
The Doctor Dances wraps up the story arc with a heart-warming ending: a child is healed, reuniting with his mother, and for once “everybody lives.”
4. The Pandorica Opens/Big Bang –Written by Steven Moffat
Okay so technically, Big Bang is the one I favour, but I had to include Pandorica Opens because…well…it’s a two episode arc. Pandorica Opens has its charms, to be sure – I mean, who doesn’t love all the callbacks to the previous episodes of the season? And that speech in front of Stonehenge? Matt Smith’s first big one in the titular role is pretty much perfect: So, if you’re sitting up there in your silly little space ships with all your silly little guns, and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way! Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, *and then*, do the smart thing! But I digress…
The thing I love about Big Bang is that it’s really the perfect microcosm of series five up until that point. I love all those callbacks to those first episodes. I also enjoy the more subtle moments – like when it becomes clear just how devoted Rory is to Amy. I mean, we always suspected it, but his actions here really drive the point home. This episode is before he becomes the seasoned time traveller of the later seasons…in Big Bang he is still utterly dumbfounded by these new adventures he seems to find himself on. Yet, he goes along for the ride because it’s with Amy. This is a really Rory-heavy episode…and well…he is my favourite companion…so it gets all the “yesses” from me.
Beyond all the awesome Rory scenes, you get a lot of really great moments: River Song commenting on the swappable heads of the Autons (keeps things fresh), the appearance of Jack Harkness’ Vortex Manipulator, and who could forget the fez? I think my favourite part of the episode is when the Doctor says my favourite quote: “We’re all just stories in the end, make it a good one.” It basically sums up my entire philosophy of life. And hello…Amy brought the Doctor back through WORDS. As a writer, I solidly approve!
3. Vincent and the Doctor – Produced by Steven Moffat
Vincent and the Doctor is the only episode on the list not written by Moffat, but I have to include it because it’s my all-time favourite episode and it did air while Moffat was the show-runner. There are so many amazing things in this episode, I honestly don’t know where to start. First of all, Tony Curran is pitch perfect as the painter, Vincent van Gogh. I mean, really, they couldn’t have cast it better. The opening scene focused on his clear blues eyes is arresting. You can’t help but stop whatever you are doing and just stare at them. Appearance aside, he also perfectly embodies the tortured soul of Van Gogh.
This episode is the one closest to my heart because of the way it tackles the issue of mental health. In addition to my own battle with anxiety, I have many family members who struggle with depression, bi-polar disorder, and post-traumatic stress. Like Van Gogh, my step-father took his own life. For all of the awareness society boasts of physical illnesses, the ones of the mind seem to still be extremely taboo. Here, it’s given the gravity and sensitivity it deserves. While those around Van Gogh mock and misconstrue his illness, the Doctor and Amy Pond see beyond it to the man he really is; the brilliant painter who can “hear the colours.”
Like most other Doctor Who episodes, we get a scary space monster, but this time the monster serves as more of a metaphor…the Krafayis represents the demons that those with depression battle every day.
The end of the episode, when Amy and the Doctor take Van Gogh to the museum to see his exhibit, never fails to move me no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Seeing the lasting legacy of his work didn’t change Van Gogh’s actions in ending his life, but for perhaps the first time in his life, he learned that he was worthy of love and admiration. His parting remark is one that really drives home who the Time Lord is: “You’re the first doctor to make an actual difference.”
2. Blink – Written by Steven Moffat
Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and for God’s sake man, don’t blink! Yeah, yeah, it’s an obvious choice for any Whovian, but it’s for good reason. Blink is, arguably, one of the best episodes of the new era. Which is kind of ironic because the Doctor is hardly in it at all!
In this third series episode, Moffat gives us one of the scariest villains of all, the weeping angels. Sure they look harmless enough, beautiful even, but they are deadly. Vicious. They basically let you “live to death”…which doesn’t sound so bad until you see what happens to Billy Shipton and Kathy Nightingale. All they had going on in their life, gone in the blink of an eye. It’s really an interesting conundrum, though, because both Billy Shipton and Kathy Nightingale had fulfilling lives after they had been zapped back to the past. So was it bad they were victims of the angels, after all? That’s what makes this episode so great…Nothing is quite as it seems and there isn’t a clear cut answer.
The angels are my favourite “villains” in the Who-niverse, so Blink definitely makes this list. As an added bonus, in one of the scenes, you can see a sticker for Cunard’s White Star Line on Larry Nightingale’s notebook. An excellent “Easter Egg” for a Titanic obsessive like myself.
1. A Christmas Carol – Written by Moffat
Okay, okay, I know I said that Vincent and the Doctor was my all-time favourite episode, but…A Christmas Carol is right up there with it. I would call it a solid tie. This twist on the classic Charles Dickens story is perfect. Standing in for Scrooge is Kazran Sardick, a man who is just as miserable and miserly as old Ebenezer…but he wasn’t always that way…or was he? Through the power of wibbly-wobbly time travel, Kazran gets a second chance to become the person he was always meant to be.
For a Harry Potter fan like me, it was wonderful to see Michael Gambon in a role utterly removed from the Potterverse. While he may not have been in Dumbledore’s flowing robes, there was still a bit of the wizard lurking beneath – because Gambon has magic. Yes, yes he does. Matt Smith is at his best here. He’s fun and goofy…the babysitter you always wish you had. Yet, there is a darkness to him. He knows the regret you live with when you make the wrong choice, and he’s damned if he’ll let Kazran make the same mistakes. The icing on this beautiful Christmas cookie is singer, Katherine Jenkins. Seriously, how gorgeous is her voice? It’s sweet and pure, adding just the perfect touch to an already ethereal atmosphere.
The thing I like most about A Christmas Carol is that the Doctor is actually unsuccessful at changing Kazran. Rather than making him kinder, the adventures they have only serve to make him bitter. Upon realising his failure, the Doctor brings in the younger version of the man. It is only then when Kazran has his change of heart. It’s an old adage, but it’s true. No one can change Kazran, but himself. Not even the Doctor. Kazran has to desire it.
So there you have it: my Top Five list of favourite Moffat episodes. Do you agree with my list? Which episodes are your favourite? As a bonus, I’m including my husband’s favourite Moffat episodes. You can find them below!
Kyle’s Top Five:
5. A Christmas Carol
4. The Big Bang (Eleventh Doctor)
3. Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary Episode)
2. The Husbands of River Song (Twelfth Doctor Christmas Special)
1. Girl in the Fireplace (Tenth Doctor)