The 50 best Doctor Who episodes of the modern era — ranked
With the new season of Doctor Who premiering Jan. 1, here are the greatest Time Lord adventures of the 21st century.
50. "Boom Town" (2005)
On a layover in Cardiff, Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor captures the Slitheen baddie Margaret (Annette Badland). Threatened with execution, she requests a final meal. The tricky moral questions she presents shade the reboot with invigorating ambiguity.
49. "The Lodger" (2010)
James Corden's Craig gains an eccentric new roommate in Matt Smith's Doctor, who moves into his flat to investigate a mysterious occurrence upstairs. The two actors have amazing chemistry, making this one of the show's funniest episodes.
48. "Demons of the Punjab" (2018)
Yaz convinces Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and the rest of the team to travel back to 1940s India so she can unravel a family mystery. She does not suggest they go back to tangle with alien assassins. But that’s what happens anyway! —Clark Collis
47-46. "World Enough and Time"/"The Doctor Falls" (2017)
The Doctor's attempt to change Missy into a goodie goes horribly wrong when the pair wind up on 400 mile-long spaceship reversing away from a black hole with Bill Potts and Nardole. What ensues in this two-parter? A lot of wonderful stuff, including the return of John Simms' Master and a scene in which Capaldi actually says, "My name is Doctor Who." —Clark Collis
45. "Deep Breath" (2014)
The cinematic season 8 premiere (directed by Kill List filmmaker Ben Wheatley) not only introduces us to Peter Capaldi's bold, aggressive, and mature incarnation of the Doctor, but also fleshed out Clara, who had felt more like a mystery to solve rather than an actual character in her first season.
44. "Fugitive of the Judoon" (2020)
A highpoint of the Jodie Whittaker era so far, this action-packed episode reintroduced John Barrowman’s Jack Harkness after a decade away from the show and revealed that Jo Martin’s Gloucester-dwelling character Ruth Clayton is in fact… The Doctor??? —Clark Collis
43. "The Waters of Mars" (2009)
"The Waters of Mars" offered a real showcase for David Tennant as his Doctor visits a space base on the eve of its destruction. The episode showed us a Time Lord who was conflicted, uncertain, and sometimes just wrong. —Isaac Feldberg
42-41. "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven" (2014)
Has there ever been a character more gleefully unpredictable than Missy? The Time Lady finally reveals herself and the true nature of the “Heaven” setting that had been a recurring motif throughout the season. On top of that, Danny Pink’s soldier character gets his tear-worthy sendoff with a few final acts of live-saving heroism. —Dana Schwartz
40. "Face the Raven" (2015)
No episode captures the best of Jenna Coleman's Clara as well as “Face the Raven,” in which she and the Doctor find a mysterious London street where aliens live in relative peace under the iron fist of Me, AKA Ashildr (Maisie Williams). Clara is impulsive, impetuous, and independent enough to make her own plans, unbeknownst to the Doctor, and then, when those plans unravel and the Raven finally comes, she’s able to face it bravely. This is the ideal Clara: The clever girl who will die because she wanted to save a single friend. —Dana Schwartz
39. "Twice Upon a Time" (2017)
In the 2017 Christmas special, Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, refusing to regenerate, runs into the First incarnation (played by David Bradley), also afraid to move on. The two of them encounter a confused World War I soldier (Mark Gatiss), extracted from time just at the moment of his death. There’s no evil to fight here — instead, “Twice Upon a Time” is a reflection on death and leaving a legacy. Capaldi’s goodbye is as heartfelt and poignant as you’d want and then, to top it all off, we get our first look at the Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. Brilliant!
38. "The Doctor's Wife" (2011)
If these bigger-on-the-inside walls could talk… Written by Neil Gaiman, the TARDIS’s matrix is placed inside a woman’s body (Suranne Jones), which allows the Doctor and his craft to properly speak with each other for the first time. —Tim Leong
37. "Thin Ice" (2017)
Pearl Mackie's companion Bill Potts shines in this 1814-set episode as her relationship with Capaldi’s Doctor hits its stride. The Time Lord answers Bill’s concerns about traveling in history with comedic efficiency: “It’s just time travel. Don’t overthink it.” In ye olde London, Bill and the Doctor discover a massive alien sea creature chained under the ice, being fed the poor because it excretes massively profitable fuel for some smarmy lord. The idea of building a society on the back of a suffering creature has already been done (remember Liz X and the lonely space whale?) but the point of this episode is more Bill coming to terms with the role of being a companion: help the crying children, make witty banter, and, above all, remind the Doctor about the importance of humanity. —Dana Schwartz
36. "Amy's Choice" (2010)
The Eleventh Doctor’s early run often found him competing with Rory Williams for the attention and affection of Amy Pond. Here, Amy is directly forced to choose between them, thanks to the manipulations of a dark dream version of the Doctor (Toby Jones). —Christian Holub
35-34. "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang" (2010)
Whenever people talk about Steven Moffat, the phrase "plot pyrotechnics" usually comes up and is used to describe his tendency to write insanely complex stories. If you want to see the best example of this, look no further than season 5’s two-part finale, which excitingly contorts itself to follow through on the promise of the season premiere and explain several of the season's mysteries (The Pandorica! The cracks in time!). Watching these episodes, it's hard not to marvel at the ingenious structure of the entire season. Plus, we finally got to see Amy and Rory's long-awaited wedding! —Chancellor Agard
33. "Power of Three" (2012)
Every Doctor ever has granted companions an escape from their regular life. What if the equation flipped, and the companions welcomed the Doctor home? That's the twist in this droll outing, with Matt Smith's Time Lord settling in for a long staycation with Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). It's actually the last episode the trio filmed, so "The Power of Three" is a warm valediction for the whole Amy/Rory era.
32. "Tooth and Claw" (2006)
Ninja monks! Werewolves! Gothic castles! Doctor Who went full penny dreadful in this macabre Tennant-era highlight, which finds the Doctor and Rose helping Queen Victoria (a stately Pauline Collins) evade monastic fanatics and their pet lycanthrope. —Isaac Feldberg
31. "School Reunion" (2006)
Old Who and New Who collide! Many companions who leave the TARDIS are essentially never heard from again, which makes the Doctor’s emotional reunion with Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) such a delightful contrast in this episode. —Christian Holub
30. "Last Christmas" (2014)
In what may well be the scariest and the Christmas-iest special Christmas episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor and Clara team with Santa Claus (Nick Frost) to tackle Alien-style monsters called "Dream Crabs" in a scientific base at the North Pole. —Clark Collis
29. "The Time of the Doctor" (2013)
Matt Smith's final outing as the Time Lord was a triumphant and poignant book-end to the fairy-tale journey that began in "The Eleventh Hour." What better way to end the Eleventh Doctor's run than with an episode that reflects on the purpose and grace of change and moving forward.
28. "The Girl Who Waited" (2011)
After landing on a vacation destination Amy is separated from the group. Rory and the Doctor finally rescue her, but not until 36 years later in her timeline, which makes her angry and untrusting. Talk about wait and seethe. —Tim Leong
27. "42" (2007)
One of the darker outings to feature Freema Agyeman's underrated companion Martha, “42” (so named as a Douglas Adams allusion and because it unfolds in real-time) is tight, economical Who in which the Doctor must fight a murderous, possession-happy sun (you read that correctly). —Isaac Feldberg
26-25. "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" (2007)
A perfectly self-contained pair of episodes and maybe a top contender for the best introduction to Who for a non-Whovian, this episode features the Doctor transforming into the all-too-human John Smith, a schoolteacher at a boy’s school in the months before World War I. Poor Martha must watch while the Doctor, convinced he’s a human with vivid dreams of a daring adventurer, falls in love with another woman. And poor John Smith, must sacrifice himself to become someone extraordinary. —Dana Schwartz
24. "The Christmas Invasion" (2005)
David Tennant's newly-regenerated Doctor spends most of this Christmas special asleep, but when he finally wakes up to defeat an alien invasion in a borrowed bathrobe, it’s an exhilarating introduction. “The Christmas Invasion” follows the Doctor as he tries to figure out just what sort of man he is, and the result is a Time Lord who’s silly, kind, ruthless, and absolutely delightful. —Devan Coggan
23. "Rose" (2005)
The first new Who of the modern era found time to reintroduce the Doctor (hard-bitten Christopher Eccleston), flesh out Rose (Billie Piper), and make a compelling argument for the series’ regeneration. As the Ninth Doctor would say: “Fantastic!” —Isaac Feldberg
22. "A Good Man Goes to War" (2011)
“Demons run when a good man goes to war…” This mid-series finale is notable not only for the introduction of Madame Vastra and her human wife, Jenny, but also for the final revelation about River Song’s true identity. In an episode where many questions are answered (and of course, many are raised), the show still manages to pack an emotional punch. —Dana Schwartz
21. "The Day of the Doctor" (2013)
The show's 50th anniversary special could be accused of fan-service (Billie Piper! Queen Elizabeth I! Tom Baker!) but it’s still a delightful romp through everything that makes Doctor Who great. Come for two Doctors comparing the size of their… sonic screwdrivers, stay for the first glimpse of Peter Capaldi’s attack eyebrows. —Dana Schwartz
20-19. "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" (2008)
A crossover between Doctor Who, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Chronicles, this season 4 two-parter was a truly epic affair; however, what stands out amid all of the action is the tragic and heartbreaking end of Catherine Tate's Donna Noble. —Chancellor Agard
18. "Listen" (2014)
Doctor Who specializes in taking universal fears and twisting them into something strange and contemplative, and few episodes do that better than Listen. What starts as a single question from the Doctor — why do we all have nightmares about something hiding under the bed? — soon devolves into chilling, timey-wimey adventure, giving new insight into the Doctor’s past and the very concept of fear itself.
17-16. "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" (2008)
Some of the best Doctor Who episodes are twists on the haunted-house format, like this thrilling two-parter about shadowy monsters who are literally shadows. But who can forget the introduction of River Song (Alex Kingston), the Doctor's great love: Their four-dimensional relationship begins (and ends?) here. —Darren Franich
15-14. "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" (2006)
A grand old space opera: A station by a black hole, the eerie introduction of the alien Ood, and the slow-burning revelation that the bad guy this go-round is the Devil Itself. —Darren Franich
13. "Midnight" (2008)
A genuinely chilling bottle episode, with Tennant's Doctor trapped on a tourist shuttle while visiting the titular planet. It's a classic locked-room mystery, with a science fiction twist: Murder on the Orient Express meets John Carpenter's The Thing. —Darren Franich
12. "Turn Left" (2008)
What if one seemingly inconsequential action alters the trajectory of not just one day, one life, one family, but also the country, the planet, and the universe? Donna Noble is forced to watch exactly that when she’s tricked into creating a world without the Doctor. —Tim Leong
11. "Vincent and the Doctor" (2010)
Written by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), "Vincent and the Doctor" follows the Time Lord and Amy as they travel to 1890 to save Vincent van Gogh from a monster. Sure, the actual monster, a Krafayis that was stranded on our planet, works better as a metaphor for depression than as an actual, you know, threat. But the episode's heart, unabashed sentimentality, and tribute-paying to the famed painter more than makes up for that. —Chancellor Agard
10-9. "Hell Bent"/"Heaven Sent" (2015)
The Doctor is coming home… and he’s taking the long way round. The season 9 two-part finale finds the Time Lord grappling with Clara’s death and slowly making his way back to Gallifrey — by spending more than a billion years in a puzzle box castle designed from his own nightmares. Plot-wise, it’s one of the most meticulously crafted and innovative storylines the show has ever attempted, but more importantly, it’s a showcase for Peter Capaldi and everything he brings to the Doctor. —Devan Coggan
8-7. "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" (2005)
This early two-parter is simply unforgettable, from the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) to the creepy refrain of “Are you my Mummy?” The result set the tone for just how good the new version of the series could be. And when so much of the Doctor’s life is marked by tragedy and loss, it’s pure joy to hear Christopher Eccleston's Time Lord declare, “Just this once, everybody lives!” —Devan Coggan
6-5. "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday" (2006)
Who at its most epic, this finale sent the Tenth Doctor and Rose into battle against Cybermen and Daleks. The pair triumph, but at a steep cost; they’re trapped in separate universes. “I’m burning up a sun just to say goodbye” is surely one of the most heartbreaking lines in the show's history. —Isaac Feldberg
4. "Dalek" (2005)
Eccleston's Doctor was the last survivor of an apocalyptic Time War. Or so he thought. This freakily moving bunker thriller reintroduces the franchise's most famous monster, as the Doctor and Rose unexpectedly come across the last surviving Dalek in the cosmos. —Darren Franich
3. "The Eleventh Hour" (2010)
Matt Smith made his eccentric debut as the Eleventh Doctor in the Steven Moffat-penned season 5 premiere, which also introduced Karen Gillan as the instantly lovable companion Amy Pond. Smith and Killan's chemistry is off the charts from the moment they cross paths, and "The Eleventh Hour" boasts the same things that made so many of Moffat's previous episodes great: a fairy-tale like tone and confident, clever plotting.
2. "The Girl in the Fireplace" (2006)
The episode’s initial concept is fascinating enough (there’s a spaceship that’s trying to repair itself with human parts), but it soon reveals itself to be something more: Part chilling body horror, part historical romp, and part meditation on Doctor Who itself. As Sophia Myles' Madame de Pompadour puts it, the Doctor is “a lonely angel” — always there to come to the rescue but never staying long enough to form any meaningful connection. It’s an episode that examines what it means to be the Doctor...and what it costs.
1. "Blink" (2007)
One of the most famous episodes in Doctor Who history barely features the Doctor at all. In fact, the main character of "Blink" is not even a companion but a non-regular character played by a phenomenal and very young Carey Mulligan. The episode feels more like a gothic horror flick than a sci-fi adventure. But really, “Blink” is a captivating deep-dive into the show’s most enduring themes: the mercurial nature of time and the creeping dread that something that seems ordinary — like an angel statue — can turn out to be utterly terrifying. —Devan Coggan