It’s been 10 years since David Tennant took on the role of the legendary Time Lord known as the Doctor in the rebooted series run of the sci-fi classic Doctor Who. Since he gave us the greatest doctor of the new series (and in my mind, probably around equal pegging with Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor for the greatest Doctor of them all) and since ABC has just finished screening re-runs of his “Tennancy”, I thought I’d break from my usual serious tone of blog topics and indulge in a Top Ten list of what I regard as his greatest stories as the Doctor. So here they are, counting down from 10 to 1.
Honourable mentions: The Next Doctor; Planet of the Ood; Fires of Pompeii; Gridlock; Lazarus Experiment.
10. Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel
Good story with a classic monster/robot/villain, a parallel universe and a mad genius. The Cybermen were formidable and good at terrorising people and Lumic worked as an evil visionary/inventor with a fatal weakness. Tennant was a little bit James Bond too, while his allies were a bit Scooby Doo.
9. Girl in the Fireplace
I didn’t really take to the clockwork droid monsters (although their masquerade outfits were kind of cool), but Madame du Pompadour worked as a historical character really well, as did 18th century Versailles as a setting for the story. It was an effective time-travelling story with a truly tragic ending. Tennant was able to play the romantic lead in a memorable way and save the day – the horse-riding scene being a memorable one.
8. End of Time
I must admit upfront that End of Time lacks in several areas, which is why it is not higher on the list. I haven’t particularly found the new series’ take on the Master as compelling a character as he was in the classic series. As a result, I found some of the way the story played out to be lacklustre. However, there are a few things that gain it a place in the top ten. The opening is both sad and amusing as the Doctor has “gone troppo” as a way of coping with his impending death. His relationship to the Ood and particularly Ood Sigma make nice bookends to the story. The Woman in White is a genuine mystery to this day that keeps fans debating over her identity. Wilfred’s character and his relationship to the Doctor is genuinely engaging and he plays an important role in the finale. But of course, what really makes this story is the climax. The return of the Time Lords is an epic story component and everything from the trigger-tension of the climactic scene, to the moment that guarantees the Doctor’s death, to the farewell tour and the regeneration scene is, well…Brilliant, I suppose.
7. Voyage of the Damned
I quite enjoyed this special I think because of the special guest actors and the ending. Clive Swift, of Keeping Up Appearances fame was splendid as Max Copper, the tour-guide of Earth and made some genuinely funny remarks about Earthling customs to the tourists who wouldn’t have known any better. Kylie Minogue also did a good job as Astrid and her ending was a tragic experience for the Doctor. Was good to see an Aussie companion (albeit briefly) alongside the Doctor for the first time since Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka during the Fifth Doctor’s run. Added comedic tension with the need to avert a collision with Buckingham Palace during the climax. Oh and Banakavalata!
6. The Doctor’s Daughter
There are probably reasons not to like this story, but I quite enjoy it. The Doctor’s emotional journey of involuntarily progenating a pretty soldier clone who he initially regards with some disdain but eventually finds a special place for in his heart was compelling. Good character exploration with the pain of the Doctor’s past and his own soldier-like ways. Jenny’s character will always be part of the Tenth Doctor’s legacy and has probably kicked loads of alien butt somewhere out there in the obscure portions of the universe – or at least in numerous fanfic spin-offs. Nice problem-solving skills from Donna too!
5. Sontaran Strategem/Poison Sky
Ok, top 5 now – serious end of town. The Sontaran story saw the welcome return of Martha Jones and featured some really cool features. The ATMOS devices played on our worst fears about the unforeseen dangers of adopting universal technology. Luke Rattigan was compelling as a socially-inept, bratty, lonely genius and had a noteworthy character trajectory. UNIT was at their bumbling, useless-without-the-Doctor, best. Clone Martha was an interesting approach. But what really made it was that this was the revived Sontarans at their best – trying to turn Earth into a clone colony, then threatening it with complete obliteration. They were fearsome, if not moronic compared to the Doctor (yet still able to successfully deceive intelligent humans with ease) and we were introduced to the hypnotic Sontaran-haka. Sontar-Ha! Sontar-Ha!
4. The Christmas Invasion
Though this post-regeneration Christmas special was kind of Doctor-lite, right upto when it counted – the plot worked as a grand entrance for Tennant to make his full debut. The almost frenetic, fresh-faced Doctor immediately began to project himself into what would become the iconic portrayal of the character for this generation. He was funny, erratic and, as it turns out, a superb swordsman. I liked the contrast of mercy and the dark, vengeful side that were on display in his interactions with both the Sycorax and then the memorable Harriet Jones. Humourous Lion King quotations and regenerative party tricks.
3. School Reunion
School Reunion is easily my favourite normal, stand alone episode of the Tennancy. Why? Well it saw the return of classic companion Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 and featured some touching moments between her and the Doctor, as well as some petty jealousy between Sarah and new companion Rose Tyler. While the Krillitane weren’t that fantastic in and of themselves, Anthony Head (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) was absolutely brilliant as their ringleader. He played the villain so well and the way in which the plot was set up to tempt the Doctor with an absolute kind of power was really enjoyable to watch. The climactic exchange between K-9 and Head was hilariously fantastic: “You BAD Dog” “Affirmative.” When the episode couldn’t have gotten any better, it also won points from me for included an 80s rock classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” during the diner scene.
2. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
Daleks vs. Cybermen. Enough said. The two most recurrent and indomitable enemy races to the Doctor clash in their respective attempts to conquer the Earth – and while so much more could have been done with such a scenario, it was still a wonderful piece of sci-fi history. The initial exchange between the Cybermen and the Daleks is undoubtedly one of the best dialogues (and subsequent laser fights) in Doctor Who history.
“This is not war – this is pest control.” The tragic ending was also very well done as a way of bringing the relationship of the Doctor and Rose Tyler to a sad, sad end. Catherine Tate’s random appearance, followed by a series of “What”s from Tennant is a humourous juxtaposition that might have dried a few tears.
1. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
The only thing better than a Dalek story is a Dalek story with Davros at the helm. In the series 4 finale we were deliciously granted a picture of a “Dalek Empire at the full height of its powers” with their creator hatching a plot to destroy reality itself. It doesn’t get much more epic than that, until you realise that the Doctor is going to be reunited with almost every conceivable companion he’s had during his tenure as they work together to try to save the world.
Top that off with the Doctor apparently finally experiencing Extermination, before partially regenerating and keeping his appearance and personality the same. Then we see his most recent companion apparently dying, before experiencing a human-Time Lord metacrisis which results in her hybridising into “the Doctor Donna”, while creating a second (albeit part-human) version of the Doctor. Everything about the ending is just superb – even though there is much tragedy for the Tenth to endure along the way. Tennant pulls it off so well and his performance in this story epitomises why he’s the greatest Doctor of this generation.