So every Whovian is marking their calendar with the recent announcement that Sunday October 7 will be the first full episode of Jodie Whitaker as the thirteenth incarnation of everyone’s favourite space-and-time-traveling alien. It is therefore a perfect time to go back to the beginning of this wonderful adventure and the show’s revival in 2005; the actual beginning would be the First Doctor William Hartnell back in 1963 but that’s another post for another time.
The first modern series of Doctor Who introduced viewers to an edgy, post-Time War Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston and fan favourite companion Rose Tyler played by the effervescent Billie Piper. Now there are Whovians who will tell you that you can skip Series 1 which is crazy talk for two reasons: firstly, it sets up many, many things for Series 2 and beyond; and secondly it features a few of the best stories in all of Nu Who. So for today’s list we will be ranking the Ninth Doctor’s ten stories from mess to best, from craptastic to fantastic. With a supernova-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s begin:
#10 The Long Game
Aren’t games usually fun? This episode is not fun. It is actually kind of boring. The Doctor, Rose and new companion Adam Mitchell try to unearth the mystery of Satellite 5. On the positive side the episode has some interesting visuals like the forehead interface and the grotesque Jagrafess. But that’s about it.
The Doctor and Rose don’t do much and instead we spend a lot of time with Adam and his shenanigans. But the character is duller than Judoon wallpaper and while it was somewhat satisfying to see him get his comeuppance it was difficult to care. And Simon Pegg is wasted as the one note baddie The Editor.
#9 Aliens of London/ World War Three
Like your aliens large, slimy and flatulence prone? Well meet the Slitheen family from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius (try saying that five times fast). While the story titles may sound grand and bombastic it is really two episodes of The Doctor and friends discovering the Slitheen and then running away from their ridiculous-looking costumes and awful CGI. The Slitheen come off more comical than scary and worked better on the lighter Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures where they also appeared. Kudos for trying a unique alien design but did they have to look like the unholy spawn of Godzilla and a teletubby? Just sayin’.
Returning to the episodes I must comment on The Doctor’s plan to defeat the greedy alien menace. What was it, I hear you asking? Blow up Ten Downing Street with a missile. That sounds more like the climax of a generic action movie than a cerebral sci fi show like Doctor Who. Better than that Russell T. Davies. Better than that.
The first episode of the revived series starts off very strong. We have Rose and the Doctor running from the extraordinarily creepy Autons, The Doctor bantering with Rose’s mother Jackie, the silliness with the Auton arm and the unraveling of the mystery of the Time Lord. Then Rose’s annoying boyfriend Mickey gets eaten by a trash can and it all goes to crap. Auton Mickey is cartoonish and couldn’t look more like an Auton if he had “I’m an Auton” tattooed across his stupid plastic face.
Then in the final act The Doctor pleads with the Nestene Consciousness and gets captured like a dope and his anti-plastic seized. He ends up having to be rescued by Rose doing her best Jane of the Jungle impression. You could understand the Tenth Doctor being all commiserating with an enemy but this is the same Ninth Doctor who would later let Cassandra O’Brien explode from heat and tried to torture a Dalek to death. Just one of the issues with this uneven episode.
#7 The Unquiet Dead
The Unquiet Dead is an atmospheric ghost story that swaps vengeful spirits with the deceptive gaseous aliens the Gelth. And while the episode does not do anything groundbreaking with the genre it hits all the right notes. The effects of the Gelth look decent and the animated corpses are genuinely unsettling.
Guest stars Alan David and Simon Callow add some energy as the amoral funeral owner Sneed and the skeptical Charles Dickens respectively but Eve Myles (who would return to the franchise as a different but related character in the spin-off Torchwood) stole the show as the mysterious psychic servant Gwyneth and her death scene was touching. Overall a solid episode and a great watch.
#6 Boom Town
This has to be one of the funniest episodes of modern Who, right up there with Partners in Crime (Series 4). We have same great comedic chatter between The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack Harkness and even the usually annoying Mickey/Rickey has some good moments; asking Jack if he is “Captain of the Innuendo Squad” was pretty funny. We also had the episode delving into the disintegrating romance between Mickey and Rose which made for interesting viewing.
But the most heart and the biggest laughs were courtesy of the Doctor and his interactions with (deep breath) Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen who survived the events of World War Three and is now planning to blow up Earth and “surf” home. While in the previous story Annette Badland’s female Slitheen (disguised as human politician Margaret Blaine) only got the chance to sneer and threaten in Boom Town she truly shines. The dark humour and sight gags are a laugh riot and her deep discussions with The Doctor about nature versus nurture and what truly is justice make for a fantastic viewing experience.
#5 Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
While preparing this list this two-part story moved from number two down to its present position because after rewatching it did not hold up as well as I remembered. The first part Bad Wolf has some good dark humour with its send up of television shows; think Black Mirror but a few shades lighter. Bad Wolf is entertaining but falls somewhat flat and drags down the overall story.
The episode leads to the discovery of the hidden Dalek fleet and The Parting of the Ways goes off in a completely different direction with the humans last stand against the overpowered Daleks. The out manned and out gunned humans, led heroically by Captain Jack, are desperate, Rose is desperate to get back to The Doctor and The Doctor is desperate to destroy the Daleks. It’s a lot of desperation and the episode is very down beat. The Bad Wolf reveal, however, was skillfully done and one of the best twists of the franchise. And The Doctor’s final goodbye is one of the most emotional regeneration scenes in the franchise.
#4 Father’s Day
Rose travels back in time to the moment of her father Pete’s death. She intervenes and saves his life and the paradox releases the people-erasing, and very cool looking, Reapers. This episode tackles the nagging question of why The Doctor can’t just go back in time with the TARDIS and stops bad things from happening.
Shaun Dingwall gives a strong performance as Pete Tyler and has truly beautiful moments with Piper’s Rose. The scene where he figures out Rose is his future daughter and she in response calls him “Daddy” is not tear jerking, it is tear yanking! And there is a tension that builds up throughout the episode and up to the satisfying climax of Pete’s sacrifice. Somebody give me a tissue!
#3 The End of the World
There are just some episodes where everything works; The End of the World is one of those episodes. The Doctor and Rose’s visit to Platform One in the year 5,000,000,000 to view the destruction of Planet Earth features an assortment of wonderful aliens (including the first appearance of The Face of Boe and the Forest of Cheem), spectacular effects, hilariously anachronistic music, some genuine danger and an intriguing mystery.
And last “human” Cassandra O’Brien made for one of the most delightfully wicked villains in all of Whodom. She was so good they just had to bring her back in the next series, though sans pancake face. Can we get someone to moisturise her please? She’s starting to crack again.
The Daleks are The Doctor’s oldest and greatest enemies and have featured in various stories with multiple Doctors in both Classic and Nu Who. But like a blinding x-ray laser Dalek (the episode, not the species) really stands out among them all and did something few stories could accomplish – made one of the old pepper pots truly terrifying. Seeing The Dalek almost wipe out the entire facility and nearly kill Rose is chilling and the mutant’s struggle with his own existence was really well done. The parallels with The Doctor as the last of their species (or so they thought) made for some deep and resonant storytelling.
In response to the unstoppable menace The Doctor fully embraces his dark side and wants nothing more than to wipe The Dalek off the face of the Earth. As mentioned above he almost tortures the thing to death. Could you imagine Matt Smith’s Doctor doing that? But this is the Ninth Doctor and Christopher Eccleston gives one of his best performances. Dalek (again the episode, not the species) EXTERMINATES almost all of the competition but it is not our number one.
#1 The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Ask almost any Whovian “Are you my mummy?” and they know exactly what you are talking about. For that, dear reader, is the enduring legacy of this simply masterful two-parter by writer and future showrunner Steven Moffat. Just everything is so brilliantly done. The Empty Child and his converts remain one of the scariest “monsters” in the franchise’s 50+ years and is as spine tingling now as 13 years ago.
The episode introduced beloved character Captain Jack Harkness (who would go on to lead his own spin off Torchwood) and through him John Barrowman infuses the proceedings with so much charm, energy, wit and flirting. Lots of flirting, His unspoken love triangle with Rose and The Doctor adds some levity to the episode which at times fully embraced dark, sci fi horror. The Ninth Doctor really uses that big brain of his to figure out the mystery of The Empty Child and the resolution is as satisfying as a two-day Doctor Who binge session. And I do hope this list has inspired to go back and binge Series 1. Definitely don’t skip Nine.
So that’s my ranking. What’s your favourite Ninth Doctor story? To end this article I present this tribute in song to Eccleston’s incarnation of The Doctor. Do enjoy.
Ballad for the Ninth Doctor (To the tune of “Candle in the Wind”)
And it seems to me, you lived your life
Like the TARDIS in the time vortex
Never knowing, where to turn to
When the Daleks attacked
And I would have liked to have known you
For more than one series
Your regeneration burned out long before
Your legend ever ceased