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The Five Best Stand-Alone Episodes of Doctor Who

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | September 1, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | September 1, 2009 |

Not as a writer, but as a reader of Pajiba, one of the greatest discoveries this site has ever brought to me was both “Doctor Who,” and “Torchwood.” Neither is a show I would’ve ever discovered on my own. Up until a couple of months ago, I was highly dubious of the value of “Doctor Who,” which I thought was a hard-core genre show for the geekiest of sci-fi geeks, and I’d never even heard of “Torchwood” before. No amount of plot descriptions or four-star reviews elsewhere probably would’ve persuaded me to see either. However, in reading over Steven Lloyd Wilson’s reviews of both series, and especially “Doctor Who,” a lot of the thematic elements he described resonated with me. It wasn’t just a sci-fi show, according to Steven, it was a series about love and heartbreak and loneliness, about coming of age, about humanity and about loss.

On August 1st, based on Steven’s outstanding reviews, I decided to give it a try. I was wary at first; the initial episodes felt a little cheesy, particularly for someone who is used to seeing sci-fi movies and television shows built with huge budgets. But Christopher Eccleston and, a little later, Billie Piper, won me over. I started gobbling up episodes. I became addicted. I wanted more. I immersed myself in that world. I picked up “Torchwood” just to prolong the high. I’d watch an episode first thing in the morning, and last thing before bed. I became a David Tennant convert. I fell in love with Rose Tyler. I adored Martha Jones. Captain Jack Harkness charmed me. Donna Noble irritated the hell out of me and then, miraculously, she too won me over. I kind of hated “Torchwood” for a while, but it slowly grew on me, too, until — thanks to “Children of Earth” — I held it with nearly the same esteem as I did The Doctor.

Thirty days later, I finished all 89 episodes of both series, culminating with the unbelievably powerful, ridiculously awesome five-part “Children of the Earth.” And what did I do the second the credits rolled, despite the extremely late hour? I read Steven’s review of “Children of Earth,” and then re-read all of his series reviews, as well as all the comments on the site, hoping to find crumbs of something I might have missed. I’ve become one of those people. I adore David Tennant, John Barrowman is my new man crush, and Billie Piper makes my heart melt. And I already hate the new Doctor (coming soon!), which I believe is par for the course until he proves why I shouldn’t.

And to think, I owe probably the single-greatest television viewing month of my life to a series of Pajiba reviews I had, initially, very little interest in reading. And if any of you “Doctor Who” skeptics who clicked on this managed to read this far, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. It is to sci-fi shows what “The Wire” is to cop shows, what “West Wing” is to political dramas, and what “Deadwood” is to Westerns. And I say that as someone who really doesn’t like to own up to his inner geek. Watch three episodes; it will own you after that, as many of the readers here can attest. I can’t believe these series haven’t been a bigger part of this site up until now.

Anyway, though I know that Steven sort of has territorial domain over “Doctor Who” on this site, I felt, after spending an entire month on the two series, that at least a seriously random list should come out of it (it also gives me a chance to voice this love letter to those reviews). So, without further ado, here are the Five Best Stand-Alone Episodes of “Doctor Who” (21st Century Edition). I’m excluding the serial episodes (two-parters and finales), on account of the fact that the season enders would dominate (though, for the record, “Doomsday” would top the list of all episodes).

5. “Turn Left” (Series 4, Episode 11)

Episode Description: Whilst attending a carnival on the Chino-planet of Shan Shen, Donna is cajoled into having her fortune read, where her past is carefully examined. With the Doctor missing, Donna must work with Rose, a traveller from a parallel universe, to prevent darkness encompassing the whole of the universe.

4. “42” (Series 3, Episode 7)

Episode Description: The Doctor arrives on board SS Pentallian, which is on a collision course with the Sun. Members of the crew are being possessed, and Martha gets stuck in a pod which will be catapulted into the Sun. The Doctor has only minutes to save her and the entire crew.

3. “Father’s Day” (Series 1, Episode 8)

Episode Description: Rose requests a trip back to the day her father, Pete Tyler, died. Reluctantly, the Doctor agrees, but he realises he has made a mistake, when Rose saves Pete from being run over by a car. This has now changed the timeline, and Reapers are transposing themselves all over the Universe. However, this time, the Doctor doesn’t have a plan.

2. “The Girl in the Fireplace” (Series 2, Episode 4)

Episode Description: Clockwork Droids Madame de Pompadour finds the court at Versailles under attack from sinister clockwork droids. Her only hope of salvation lies with the man who has haunted her dreams since childhood - a mysterious stranger known only as the Doctor. Can a broken clock summon the Lord of Time?

1. “Blink” (Series 3, Episode 10)

Episode Description: The Doctor is lost in time and within the walls of an old, abandoned house, a mystery is afoot and the Weeping Angels await.


Also, if you’re a fan or not, and if you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Steven’s series:

“Doctor Who” Series One
“Doctor Who” Series Two
“Doctor Who” Series Three
“Doctor Who” Series Four

“Torchwood” Series One
“Torchwood” Series Two

“Torchwood” “Children of Earth”

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.