Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Why ‘Doctor Who’ Endures (At Least for Me)

Fifty years after a pair of school teachers followed their strange pupil into a blue box in a junkyard, the Doctor is still traveling through time and space, making (and leaving behind) friends and having timey-wimey adventures.

In light of this weekend’s anniversary special you might be moved to wonder why this mad cap sci fi show is still on the air, why its fans are so rabid for more and why it’s still relevant after all these years.

There are a lot of reasons you could point to for the show’s longevity. The mere fact that the concept of regeneration allows the Doctor to be replaced over and over again as actors age and contracts expire, has allowed the to survive where others would fail trying to replace a lead. There’s a nostalgia element to it too, parents introducing kids to something they loved, makings something old new again. There’s also the fact that it’s an institution now, a tradition that just keeps passing down the generations.

But I’d argue that the magic of Doctor Who is summed up in something the 11th Doctor says in “The Eleventh Hour,” the first time Matt Smith takes on the role. Speaking to his new companion he asks: “All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?”

Well, where do you want to start? The answer is, of course, anywhere. Just anywhere. When watching Doctor Who the audience can follow the man from Gallifrey wherever in this vast – and seemingly rule-less – fictional universe that the writers want to take us. And so every story becomes not just another entry in the long history of a time-traveling alien, but also an opportunity to indulge in some childlike wonder and curiosity. You can’t help but ask yourself, what will they think of next?

The first episode of the show I ever saw was actually the series one outing, “The Unquiet Dead,” in which the 9th Doctor and Rose head back to Victorian Cardiff and meet Charles Dickens, and also a bunch of incorporeal aliens who want to use corpses as their new homes.

I distinctly remember saying aloud to my father (who needed no convincing of the show’s worth), “So it’s history and sci fi? Cool!”

And it was cool, gosh darn it.

“The Unquiet Dead” is no poster child for acting or special effects. The ghost/alien/corpse monsters weren’t actually all that scary. But the combination of setting and story was so novel. And it was fun.

Doctor Who isn’t magical because it’s so well plotted or deep or smart or exciting. It often is (and sometimes isn’t) those things, but they’re beside the point.

The part of Doctor Who that I love, that keeps me coming back for more, despite setbacks and frustrations, is that incredible sense of wonder that it brings to every episode. In no other show that I’ve watched has there been this unending possibility to surprise and amaze. In a fictional universe as wide as the universe itself there are no limits on what could happen, who you could meet or where you could go.

Sure, recent adventures in convoluted plotting (see “The Wedding of River Song”) have abused this idea of limitless possibility. Even when anything can happen, it helps when what happens makes some kind of sense.

That’s why some of the Doctor’s best outings, both classic and new, thrive on complexity of concept but simplicity of execution. Take “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from the 1st Doctor’s tenure. The title says it all: the Doctor’s nemeses invade Earth in the future. Or of course, “Blink,” where the high-concept Weeping Angels – arguably the most terrifying monsters in the Whoverse – are deployed in pursuit of a single girl. When they next appear in “Flesh and Stone,” the whole thing is so convoluted the angels aren’t as scary anymore.

Ultimately, the sense of curiosity still pervades even in stories that leave you scratching your head. And if one world or alien or idea doesn’t really click (I’m looking at you, strange absorbing alien from “Love and Monsters”) there’s so much more out there to discover, that the show never has to revisit a failed concept again.

So I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s anniversary special not just because of the throwbacks (believe me, I can’t wait for 10 and 11 to say their respective catchphrases at the same time, something like “Allon-imo!”), but also for everything new that could be stuffed in there. I mean seriously, what is the deal with John Hurt? Well, we’ll all find out tomorrow. But there’s always more to see and know.

And that’s enough to keep the show going for years and years to come.

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On Watching Classic ‘Doctor Who’

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (3)

Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary is drawing closer, and so I have decided to catch up on the 26 seasons and TV movie that make up the world before the Ninth Doctor. I had always meant to do this, but I wanted to start from the very beginning, which is hard to do without spending a lot of money for the DVDs. But at last I was able to borrow/rent/beg for the episodes all the way back to season 1, and have begun my intense journey in the TARDIS.

So far I’ve got through talking about Susan Foreman’s tenure in the TARDIS. It seemed like a good stopping point in my binge, including the entire first season (minus missing serial Marco Polo), and the first two serials of the second season. Thematically, it also is a good swath of shows, not just because it’s all of Susan, but because the Doctor starts to become the Doctor we know and love, and a lot of that has to do with him shutting the TARDIS door in Susan’s face. 

Where we start with the Doctor can be jarring to a viewer who started with Eccleston, not just because the original show in black-and-white. William Hartnell’s Doctor is old, curmudgeon-y, and at times pretty clueless, as opposed to the young, charming, and nearly omnipotent Doctor I was used to. In the very first episode, after teachers Barbara and Ian force their way into the TARDIS, he outright kidnaps them so they won’t tell 1963 England about his time machine. He also doesn’t seem to know how to pilot the TARDIS very well (read: even less well than now) and embarks on a random journey with Susan, Barbara, and Ian with the pretense of trying to get Barbara and Ian home. It’s not adventure for the sake of adventure, and he’s not the great saver of worlds. As the group travels the Doctor helps people, sure, but it starts out only as a consequence of his own self-interest. Constantly they are separated from the TARDIS and the action of the plot is only driven by their desire to get back to it. He’s a lost man with a beat up car trying to get home, fixing a few flat tires along the way.

I think there were several turning points along the way that started to shape the Doctor into a more heroic figure. The first, of course, was the original appearance of the Daleks, in the second serial. Even though in that episode, the Doctor is still acting out of self-interest, the creation of an arch-nemesis for him allows him to be heroic later on. The second moment, which may seem minor, occurs in the partially missing serial “The Reign of Terror,” set in the most dangerous time of the French Revolution. The Doctor is separated from his companions and must attempt to rescue them, something he’s done before, but in order to do so he buys the regalia of a government official, which includes a many-feathered hat, and walks into a prison like he owns the place. That confidence and swagger (and inherent silliness) was something I identified with as being very Doctor-ish.

The most important moments, of course, came in Susan’s last serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” After landing in the 22nd Century and discovering the Daleks have become the totalitarian rulers of the planet, the Doctor isn’t just trying to get back to his ship anymore. When the Daleks say they are the masters of the Earth he replies, “Not for long.” And then with the help of his companions he blows the Daleks to pieces and returns the Earth to the humans. Only then does he leave.

But not before he leaves his granddaughter behind. Now the companion situation is odd in these first few serials. The Doctor, not as powerful as usual, often is playing second fiddle to the dashing Ian Chesterton, who knows a lot about combat for a high school science teacher. Barbara plays mother most of the time, taking care of many of the people they meet and constantly offering to cook (well, it was the 60s…). The Doctor’s role is often cerebral, needing to defend Ian from a murder charge on one alien planet or prove that someone was poisoning the water on another. This leaves Susan, despite being an alien like the Doctor with telepathic powers (the words “Time Lord” have yet to be spoken), with little to do except scream, cry, be kidnapped, and watch as the stronger characters save the day. She is often ill and often utterly useless, except maybe as a plot driver when she needs to be saved.

She is different from most other companions in that she is not the audience surrogate here. That’s Ian and Barbara. Susan is just as alien as the Doctor. She also has a long-standing relationship with the Doctor that is defined as familial, so the relationship doesn’t really change. The core principle is that they take care of each other, and that they don’t belong anywhere.

So when Susan finds a place where she can belong (otherwise known as a suitable husband, weren’t the 60s great?) the Doctor chooses to leave her behind instead of allowing her to make that choice herself. He literally slams the door in her face, locking her out of the TARDIS and promising to return some day (with the later Doctor’s reputation on that front, I’m going to say no, he’s not coming back for her).

It’s significant for a number of reasons. It’s the first casting change, of the many, many rotating companions and Doctors to come. It’s the first time the Doctor abandons a companion, which he’ll do many more times. Susan becomes the first in a long string of people left behind by the Doctor, some screwed up as he’ll say later, and some not. Although, it seems a little harsh to leave Susan on a war-torn Earth with a man she’s just met and only one shoe (her other broke and the Doctor took it inside the TARDIS to fix, and so when he leaves, she’s literally only got one shoe on). Well, I hear that there are a lot of job opportunities in the post-apocalypse.

But the Doctor’s moving on with one less companion, and possibly, a more heroic sensibility.

Let’s be Less Rotten: Thoughts on Spoilers

DoctorWhoSpoilers

Author’s Note: In order to write this post I had to include spoilers, which is silly but true (and kind of why I wrote it). I redacted all spoilers. I’ve linked each redaction to something that tells you what plot point I’m referring to. Click at your own risk. The links are, by definition, SPOILERS

I’ve been thinking about spoilers a lot, recently.They’re everywhere. For people writing about entertainment (especially TV these days) it’s rough.Writers try to avoid spoiling people, but sometimes they fail. They add capitalized and bolded SPOILER ALERTS to articles and posts. They try to keep them out of the comments. I’ve seen recaps use a blackout system. I myself have recently discovered the art of [REDACTION].

But sometimes, I think, our collective fear of spoilers can be as harmful as the spoilers themselves. I think we could, perhaps, relax a little. If we change the way we approach spoilers, I think we all might feel a little better.

Spoilers suck and they are everywhere

Okay let’s start by agreeing that spoilers are the worst. They genuinely can take the fun out of entertainment. It might seem trivial, but for certain, some things should stay hidden. There is a certain joy (sometimes followed by unendurable sadness and/or anger) in being surprised by something. Weren’t you genuinely bowled over when (REDACTED) happened in Game of Thrones? Wasn’t it so perfect when they revealed [REDACTED] on Battlestar Galactica? Even for a sitcom like How I Met Your Mother, wasn’t [REDACTED] just crazy? Wouldn’t the experience of watching these shows be cheapened by knowing THE-BIG-THING-THAT-HAPPENED? Yeah it would.

But spoilers are just literally all over the place. I have a friend who, in one night, spoiled [REDACTED] from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and [REDACTED] from  A Song of Ice and Fire  (and consequently, Game of Thrones) for a group. It was an accident. But people still got spoiled. I’m guilty of this too. I tend to just irrationally believe that everyone has watched and read everything I have and only that. What was worse than [REDACTED] in Game of Thrones? [REDACTED] in Angel, or [REDACTED] in The Sopranos or worse still [REDACTED] in Buffy! I tend to accidentally lay land mines in conversations for my friends who don’t watch quite as much TV as I do (read: all my friends).

The internet is way, way worse. Unless you’re planning on avoiding social media and news outlets all together, you best watch your shows live. I mean, the reaction to episode 9 of this season’s Game of Thrones was so prevalent that before we were done reacting to the episode we started reacting to each other’s spoilers. And it’s not just social media. Don’t forget how an actor spoiled the world for Downton Abbey by [REDACTED].

So yeah, spoilers are awful and can be hard to avoid. I’m totally with you on that. But there are ways to make them suck less.

Rosebud is a sled, not a spoiler

I was spoiled for [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and [REDACTED] in Lost by virtue of having been alive while it was on the air, but not watching it until about a year ago. It sucked but it was unavoidable.

A problem I find in spoiler culture is that some moments from TV and film and books have become part of our larger culture, but they’re still taboo to talk about. I want to list things Harry PotterThe Sixth Sense, Twin Peaks and more right now, but I don’t want to spoil any of you. But at the same time, it’s been years.

So there’s got to be a statute of limitations on spoilers.

It can’t just be a number, because the significance of these plot points isn’t just a product of the date they became public. It’s cultural, like I said. Some shows’ plots are more well-known than others. And it’s different for tv than for say, movies or books, because TV by nature tends to have more spoiler opportunities. I feel like, at this point The Sixth Sense should be fair game. It premiered in 1999. But that same year had bits of the third and fourth seasons of Buffy, which are definitely not fair game.

So maybe we can’t make a hard and fast rule, but we can be more understanding. It’ll have to be based on a “feeling” but that’s all we’ve got. Examples: I won’t spoil the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movies, but The Wrath of Khan is on the table. I’ll stay away from 24 but not Friends. Psycho can be discussed but Bates Motel cannot. Are you with me? I hope so.

Regardless, I think we can all agree that Shakespeare’s statute has expired.

If spoilers are bad, surprises have to be good

We all spend a lot of time trying to avoid spoilers and/or griping about how we’ve been spoiled. But then as soon as we see great plots, we start immediately noting how “we knew it all along.”

The best example of this that I can think of occurred during season six of the new Doctor Who. At the midseason finale, we finally discovered [REDACTED]. I personally thought it was a big deal. A pretty huge deal. If I recall correctly I had to get up off my bed where I was watching it and run around just to get my adrenaline out. 

But some decided to rain on my parade. “It was so obvious,” they’d say, or “I can’t believe you didn’t see that coming,” as if I am quite the idiot for being shocked by something that was designed to shock me. For the record this twist isn’t foreshadowed very much in the show. There are subtle hints. When you rewatch you’ll think to yourself, “oh, that’s what that was about.” But I really doubt very many people “totally knew that was going to happen.”

People talk about a twist or surprise or reveal afterwards with such negativity. And yeah, sometimes they are super disappointing, like [REDACTED], another instance from Doctor Who. But sometimes moments are so good and so genuinely surprising, they remind us why we hate spoilers in the first place. Trying to make yourself seem clever afterwards by claiming to have “called it” cheapens the surprise.

Follow the signs

I’m behind on Mad Men right now. And as a result, I’ve been steering clear of twitter Sundays at 9pm. I’ve been careful when looking on entertainment news sites. I scroll past anything I see with “Mad Men” or “Draper” in the headline. I’m keeping myself spoiler-free.

You can too! Yeah I get it, sometimes you just want to go on facebook without being accidentally spoiled. But be smart. If you’re a fan who’s missing an episode for some reason or who regularly watches the next day, stay off  dangerous sites until you’ve seen the episode. If you live on the West Coast wait to go on twitter until the episode airs for you. Talk about it with people who live there too. Don’t yell at the East coasters who tweeted to each other three hours ago. Be smart about it, and you won’t need to rage-tweet until you actually watch the episode and find out who died. Then you rage tweet at the show-runner.

It’s all about the journey

Above all we need to remember that spoilers are a fact of life in the internet age, and they’re not going away anytime soon. I’ve been spoiled for lots of shows. Lost, like I mentioned before but also, BuffyAngelMad MenThe SopranosPsychThe West Wing, How I Met Your Mother and probably a bunch more I can’t remember specifically. But I still love all of those shows. Yeah I knew that someone was going to die or a couple was going to get together or an identity was going to be revealed or any number of other plot points, but I still was enthralled watching all these things happen. I still got emotional and involved.

Having read A Song of Ice and Fire is arguably one giant Game of Thrones spoiler. But I still watch the show. Because knowing how it ends doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the ride on the way there.

So let’s be smart about spoilers. And then we can get back to what’s really important: watching way too much TV.

The Best 24 Hours of TV (Part 2)

Today I continue the list I started of the best hours of TV. Like 24-13, this list only includes hour-long series from the last twenty years or so, and only shows I’ve watched (again, sorry about the lack of The Wire). Again, spoilers for all these shows up the the episode listed. So if you’re not caught up skip down.

12. “Blink” Doctor Who, Series 3 Episode 11

It’s a bit of a shame that the only episode of Doctor Who to make my list doesn’t really feature much of the Doctor, but that’s part of the reason this episode is so compelling. Following Sally Sparrow (an early-career Carey Mulligan!) as she interacts with vestiges the Doctor has left behind after being trapped in 1969, the episode uses time travel in a truly unique way. It’s an episode longtime fans and neophytes can enjoy equally, as the audience is reintroduced to the Doctor along with Sally. Steven Moffat is at his best here, before he became showrunner, telling a story about some truly terrifying monsters who can only move when they aren’t seen. He taps into one of our fundamental fears: you must look at the thing that wants to kill you, stare at it unblinkingly, or it will get you. I’d recommend not watching this episode too close to bedtime.

11. “Q&A” Homeland, Season 2 Episode 5

It’s hard not to watch this episode from Homeland’s second season and say to yourself, “damn, this is good television.” That’s certainly what I said to myself as I watched Carrie systematically break Brody down in the interrogation room, all pretentions, secrets, and distractions gone. The sometimes absurd nature of the show is gone. The extraneous teenagers are gone. The exotic settings and characters are gone. It’s just the two of them there, in that room. Claire Danes and Damien Lewis are those characters. They own this episode. And they will take your breath away.

10. “The Wheel” Mad Men, Season 1 Episode 13

“Good luck at your other meetings,” Duck Phillips says to Kodak after Don’s intense presentation of his campaign for their new slide projector. Really, Matthew Weiner is saying to the audience, “good luck watching any other TV show after seeing this.” Mad Men started off its first season a little shaky, with a great concept but so-so execution. Quickly it morphed into the best show on television (at that moment) and culminated in this astounding season 1 finale. A lot happens and a lot is wrapped up, but the episode is really about those minutes with Kodak and Don. Don’s pitch with photos from his own Potemkin life with Betty was so convincing he even sold himself on this life a little bit. And so he rushes home to what he imagines will be a glorious welcome, but in reality, is the emptiness he has enshrouded himself in.

9. “Two Cathedrals” The West Wing, Season 2 Episode 22

After Aaron Sorkin ripped out our souls by killing Mrs. Landingham (the late-great Kathryn Joosten) in the penultimate episode of season 2, he delivered this force-of-nature episode to close out the year. If The West Wing was about bringing a microscope to the often faceless government and humanizing a figure as distant as the president, it never does it better than in this episode. It’s actually perfect, from the flashbacks to President Bartlett’s youth with his father to the scene in the National Cathedral with the cigarette to the moment a rain-soaked Bartlett decides to run for a second term by putting his hands in his pockets and smiling. Yeah he has Multiple Sclerosis and yeah, he lied about it and yeah, it’s going to be hard but he’s going to run again. And we’re going to run to season three with him.

8. “33” Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Episode 1

Not exactly a series premiere, in that it is preceded by a miniseries that introduced the setting and characters, but “33” does start the show by establishing the tone and pace of the Battlestar Galactica to come. That tone is dark and that pace is very, very fast. In the episode the remains of humanity in the Colonial fleet must jump through space every 33 minutes lest the Cylons find them.  When they realize the Cylons are tracking one particular ship, Adama and Roslin order it destroyed, even though it may be carrying humans. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of. But the world is basically over and you know what they say about desperate times. The always amazing Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell are particularly brilliant in this exceedingly well-written episode, which tells us the one thing Battlestar Galactica is about more than anything else: survival.

7. “College” The Sopranos Season 1 Episode 5

Tony Soprano has been described as TV’s first great anti-hero, and it’s this episode where that status is cemented. While taking Meadow on a college tour Tony spots an old wiseguy in witness protection. In a very literal show of his personality, he spends half his time tracking down and killing the snitch and half the time being a father who encourages Meadow’s denial of his real profession. This is where you learn to love and hate Tony with some consistency. He’s never going to be just a good or just a bad guy. Yeah he killed a federally-protected man with his bare hands, but he also really loves his daughter. It’s this cognitive dissonance that keeps you coming back to The Sopranos.

6. “Blackwater” Game of Thrones, Season 2 Episode 9

Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire are gifted with one episode per season written by the big man himself, George RR Martin. In season 2 he took on an episode which I consider to be the most ambitious hour of television ever. Take a battle the scale of any one battle from The Lord of the Rings or Braveheart or any other cinematic epic, add a big old green explosion, lots of exposition, and no real hero or villain, and do it all in one hour on a television budget. The result was the best any fan of the show or the book series could have hoped for, something epic and intimate all at once. The stakes were high, the writing was tight and urgent, and the usual disparate locations and characters were abandoned for an hour focused just on King’s Landing. When people talk about TV being the “new cinema,” they’re talking about episodes like this.

5 & 4. “Pilot Parts 1 and 2” Lost, Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2

Lots of fans will point to season 4’s The Constant as the best episode of Lost and one of the best episodes of all time, but although the hour devoted to Desmond and Penny is beautiful and sad, it does not compare to the brilliance of the pilot. The two-hour pilot is so well-written and executed, establishing the rules of the show without relying too much on exposition or becoming too complicated for a viewer. They’ve crashed, and there’s something weird about this island, and not in a predictable way at all (how many of you were able to guess that there would be a polar bear in the South Pacific?). The flashbacks in the entire series may have been slightly uneven, but in the pilot they are pitch-perfect, leading up to the reveal at the end of the episode that the seemingly-innocent Kate (Evangeline Lilly) was the one wearing the handcuffs all along. Whatever your feelings about the series as a whole, its hard to deny these episodes place as one of the best episodes of all time, and perhaps the greatest pilot ever.

3. “Objects in Space” Firefly, Season 1 Episode 14

This episode is one of the most poetic and philosophical things you’ll ever see on a TV series. The last episode produced before Firefly was cancelled, “Objects in Space” is wonderfully weird and trippy but also dark and pondering. Whedon really gets down to the very soul of his characters in the context of action. Using a bounty hunter named Jubal Early searching the ship for fugitive River, Whedon exposes each character’s greatest weakness, fear and insecurity by having Early systematically take each of them down. While some confrontations are physical, his interaction with Kaylee is brutally psychological. River is only able to defeat Early by mounting a similar psychological attack, momentarily convincing him that she has spiritually joined with Serenity and eventually tricking him into being pushed into space by Mal. The final words of the episode, as Early floats through space into oblivion, are especially haunting: “Well…here I am.”

2. “The Suitcase” Mad Men Season 4 Episode 7

Mad Men is great because it combines a shared history (the 60s) with a workplace that tends to reveal things about its broken characters, and a particularly compelling anti-hero. This episode is the pinnacle of all of those things. The history is the Ali vs. Liston fight, the Samsonite campaign reveals a lot about Peggy, and Don is at his most “hero” (as in, not the terrible person he normally is) when dealing with the death of Anna Draper, the only person who ever knew him. The relationship of these two characters is what Mad Men is all about in the end, and this episode highlights their lives in a profound way. It’s not just that Peggy doesn’t think Don appreciates her. It’s not just that Don doesn’t think Peggy is good enough. It’s so, so much more. Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss are undeniably fantastic in the episode, the best of the series by far. When it focuses on these two essential characters, the show is creating something incredibly captivating. Basically, anytime Don and Peggy are in a room together talking, Mad Men shines.

1. “The Body” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5 episode 16

Here it is, in my opinion, the best episode of television ever. I wish it wasn’t so far in Buffy’s run so that people who have never seen the show could just watch it right now. It’s the saddest, most gut-wrenching hour you’ll spend watching TV, and the realest, even though it takes place in a supernatural world. Buffy’s mom, the immeasurable Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), an incredible mother to Buffy and surrogate to her friends, has died of a brain aneurism. Separate from the world of vampires and demons she is used to, Buffy must deal with this real and horrible loss, and so must her sister and her friends. The show, normally bouncing to the tune of an action score, lacks music for the entire hour, pounding the sound of every sob and angry word into the ears of the viewer. This episode is Joss Whedon’s true masterpiece. It’s impeccable in every way. Seven people must deal with loss, and so must everyone who watches.

So there it is, the best day of television you could watch. Let me know if you think I’m right or out of my mind.

Matt Smith to Exit Doctor Who: Top 11 Episodes of the 11th Doctor

This evening the BBC reported that Matt Smith will officially be leaving Doctor Who after the 2013 Christmas Special. While sad for diehard 11 fans out there (like me!) it’s not entirely unexpected. Smith has had the title role since the fifth series premiered in 2010, with three companions (four if you count River) and a lot of declarations about how cool things are. David Tennant was around for approximately the same amount of time and companions.

It’s too soon to speculate about the 12th Doctor (younger or older? what’s John Hurt got to do with it anyway? will he FINALLY be ginger?) so instead let’s celebrate Smith’s glorious, bow-tie-wearing tenure in the TARDIS. (Spoilers for all of Matt Smith’s seasons, including the most recent episodes)

11. “The Snowmen” 

In a much different Christmas Special than normal, we get to see how 11 dealt with losing companions, something that 10 went through too many times. Always a moody guy, 11 sets up an official pouting station in Victorian England to deal with the loss of Amy and Rory to the Weeping Angels. Of course, he’s roused by a fresh face and a fresh mystery, the second iteration of Clara and the return of the Great Intelligence. As far as plot goes, it’s not my favorite episode and it’s certainly the least Christmas-y Christmas special, but Clara gave Smith’s Doctor new life and new purpose, and helped him and the show bounce back without the Ponds.

10. “Let’s Kill Hitler”

Season 6 may have had its ups and downs but after the big reveal in “A Good Man Goes to War” everything was brought back down to Earth in this episode. It closed the book on River Song’s origin story, and on one of the biggest time travel paradoxes/cliches we’ve got (if we’ve got time travel why don’t we just go kill Hitler before he killed everyone else?). Best moment of the episode was when, weak and potentially dying, the Doctor appears leaning against the TARDIS in a white tie tuxedo and a top hat and says, oh so casually, “Doctor Who?”. How is that not cool?

9. “Asylum of the Daleks”

This episode would be higher on the list if Amy and Rory’s “divorce” sub-plot didn’t feel so contrived and useless, given that they’re back together and happy as clams in the next episode. But other than the Ponds, there’s great stuff happening here between the Doctor and the first iteration of his future companion, Clara, known here as Oswin Oswald. After spending the episode thinking she’s a human shipwrecked on the dangerous planet, only to find out she’s actually a mind trapped in the skeleton of a Dalek, the Doctor gets to question his own view of the world in the final scene with her. Are Daleks really all evil? The result is pretty sad, of course, when we learn they’re not, as Oswin kills herself to save the Doctor and the Ponds. The most heartbreaking moment of the episode, though, is when the Doctor realizes what Oswin is. “It’s a dream, Oswin. You dreamed it for yourself because the truth was too terrible,” he tells her, talking about her fantasy, souffles and all. It’s chilling.

8. “Cold War”

Certainly one of the best episodes of season 7 and indeed, one of the better episodes of Moffat’s tenure, “Cold War” takes the Doctor and his brand new companion to the not-too-distant-past, a Soviet submarine in 1983. It comes as close to a “bottle episode” as Doctor Who possibly can, forcing all the action into a confined space that ends up being scarier than a lot of the fantastical planets the series has traveled to. It’s another instance where the power of words over weapons is emphasized, a lot like the season 5 two-parter “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood,” which is a big part of 11’s strategy. The supporting players are great, and the Ice Warrior is a interesting villain that doesn’t end up being as cartoonish as others. Plus there are many opportunities for Smith to turn around and utter an ominous phrase right into the camera. “He’s got nothing left to lose.” It could be so cheesy but somehow it’s not.

7. “The Beast Below”

Where Tennant was sappy, Smith was angry. Instead of the endless refrain of “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” that plagued the end of Tennant’s time in the TARDIS, Smith’s Doctor seemed genuinely angered by most of the injustices and horrors he sees in the universe. “The Beast Below” was his first real outing, and immediately showed how different this man was from 10. When faced with the choice to kill the star whale or everyone on the ship, he doesn’t apologize to the people or the animal. He gets really, really mad. “Nobody human has anything to say to me today!” Ouch. This is only the tip of the angry Doctor iceberg.

6. “A Christmas Carol”

As beloved as the Ponds were, 11 often shined when he was separated from the couple, like in his first Christmas Special, when the Doctor must teach a curmudgeon how to love to save a space ship crashing towards a distant planet (it totally makes sense). Smith is also brilliant with kids, which was evidenced in all his interactions with the young Amelia Pond, and he and the young Kazran have too much fun fishing and running from sharks that swim in the air. A lot like “The Girl in the Fireplace” episode that Moffat wrote while Tennant was still in the TARDIS, the Doctor pops in and out of someone’s life over the year’s, becoming a huge influence while not actually spending that much time doing it. And of course, he married Marilyn Monroe.

5. “The Time of the Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”

A two-parter that sees 11 go against the Weeping Angels for the first time, the monsters that 10 battled in season 3’s brilliant “Blink.” Also the first appearance of River Song in 11’s time, and whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your feelings toward the character. The episodes have some genuinely scary moments (how creepy was it when Amy counted backwards to her death?) and some pretty epic moments as well. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you there’s one thing you never put in a trap? If you’re smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap.” “And what would that be, sir?” Oh Angel Bob, you’re really quite thick.

4. “Nightmare in Silver”

Neil Gaiman is really good at writing for the weird and fast-paced 11th Doctor. In his second outing as a writer for the show, he puts 11 in his element in a multitude of ways: there are children for him to frighten, confuse, and save, he’s in a setting that seems okay on the surface but has a deep ominous feeling underneath, the setting is also full of lots of literal stuff to climb on and build with and blow up, he’s separate from his companion, and he’s interacting with mainly one character, and there’s a great deal of wit being traded back and forth. All of this made for an episode that could hardly have been acted by anyone except Matt Smith, especially when the cyber “Mr. Clever” is in his mind and Smith trades back and forth acting each. Quite an exercise.

3. “The Lodger”

One of the best parts of Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor was how alien he was. Tennant and Eccleston never seemed out of place in London but Smith was a guy you could believe wasn’t from this planet. That was never on display better than in this season 5 episode, where, stranded without his companion or his TARDIS, he answers an ad to be a regular roommate. Bonus: Before picking up acting Smith was on his way to being a professional soccer player, until an injury forced him out of the sport, which leads to his excellent scene where he shows up Craig on the field. Good thing Stephen Moffat found a way to incorporate Smith’s skills into the show. 12 probably won’t be as good an athlete.

2. “The Doctor’s Wife”

Did I mention that Neil Gaiman is really good at writing for the 11th Doctor? Because he’s really, really good. In a similar set up to “Nightmare in Silver,” the Doctor is separate from his companions, in an ominous world with lots of stuff, and interacting mainly with one character. The brilliant bit is that character is Miss Sexy herself, the TARDIS shuttled into a human body. There are a million wonderful moments in the episode, from Amy and Rory’s terror filled run through the halls of the TARDIS to the small clue about the season’s arc (“the only water in the forest is the river), but the greatness is in all of the Doctor’s interactions with the personification of his trusty spaceship. It’s not just awesome for the Doctor and the fans, it’s pretty hilarious. “Did you wish, really hard?” Amy asks. No but maybe some fan did.

1. “The Eleventh Hour”

Where it all began. Later in his run Smith’s Doctor would have to contend with the long and complicated story arcs that Moffat was implementing, and suffered because of it, especially in season 6. But at his very opening moments when the audience was forced to meet the 11th Doctor without the help of a known companion, Smith was at his absolute best. Everything that came to define his era was started in this brilliant season opener, still my favorite episode of the entire series. His mile-a-minute speaking pace, the girl who waited, the bow tie, the green sonic, the new TARDIS, “Geronimo” and of course, “Bow ties are cool.” What moment was better than when, after calling the Atraxi back to Earth to scold them for threatening to blow up the planet, he says, as images of the past ten men to hold the title scroll by, “Hello, I’m the Doctor. Basically, run.” It will be hard to top an introduction like that for the next guy.

New Doctor Who Series 7 Trailer

Don’t blink or you’ll miss all of the images and clips packed into the second official trailer for Doctor Who’s seventh series. We’ve got daleks and daleks galore, also weeping angels, dinosaurs, very British robots, on the villain side, and the Ponds, River Song, and of course the Doctor himself as our heroes.

The title of the first episode of the series “Asylum of the Daleks” and Steven Moffat’s comic con revelation that there would be “more daleks than you’ve ever seen in one place” had me quite worried about this first half of series 7 (the 2012 half will have five episodes and a Christmas special, and then it will return in 2013 with the 50th anniversary celebration). I love Who but the daleks are not my favorite of the villains, and I feel that the rebooted show works much better when it uses new monsters, as opposed to rehashing the dated ones. The trailer has alleviated my fears somewhat. I liked what the show did last series in the penultimate episode, “Closing Time,” where revamped cybermen terrorized a department store. In that instance the cybermen stayed relatively hidden for most of the episode, and refrained from incessant repetitions of their “Delete Delete!” catchphrase. Hopefully something similar will be done here with the daleks, who you’ll notice are no longer in the technicolor they transformed into in series 5.

The show is continuing its streak of location shooting and its move to incorporate more of the US. Look out for a wild west themed episode and an episode shot in New York City (you can catch a glimpse of the Brits in Times Square in the trailer).

Also look out for the official exit of the Ponds, two of the most beloved companions of recent years. Moffat has confirmed their last episode will be this fall’s episode 5, although he’s keeping mum about the reason for their exit. Next year the Doctor will return with a new companion, played by British newcomer Jenna-Louise Coleman. Details about this new character are also being kept top secret, although we should probably expect a large and complex backstory, knowing Moffat.

The start date is still not official, although at comic con the BBC said the series would be starting “this summer” and the new trailer has now pushed that back to “this fall.” Check out the trailer below and make your own judgments about the long-awaited season!