The 50 best Doctor Who moments

As Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary, we travel back through space and time to select the 50 greatest moments in the show’s history.

Updated:

An Unearthly Child

Episode 1: 23 November 1963 (serial: 30 November 1963-14 December 1963)

An Unearthly Child (1963)

An Unearthly Child (1963)

The first episode of the first ever Doctor Who serial, An Unearthly Child, ends with a cliff-hanging image of a long shadow cast by an unknown figure who, unseen, has appeared in the same frame as the TARDIS, now standing on a barren, treeless landscape.

This image has become as iconic as the red telephone box and signalled a journey into the unknown world of adventures and suspense which is the stuff of all classic stories.

Waris Hussein

An Unearthly Child

Episode 1: 23 November 1963 (serial: 30 November 1963-14 December 1963)

An Unearthly Child (1963)

An Unearthly Child (1963)

Barbara’s entry into the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) is another first: the first time a person other than the Doctor and Susan steps inside and experiences the surprise and astonishment when the exterior of the Police Phone Box is shown to contain the vast interior of the Time and Space Machine, with its hexagonal control panel.

Waris Hussein

The Daleks

Episode 3: ‘The Escape’, 4 January 1964 (serial: 21  December 1963- 1 February 1964)

The Daleks (1964)

The Daleks (1964)

The third episode of the first adventure to feature the Daleks. At the end of this instalment The Doctor and companion Ian remove one of the Dalek creatures, wrapped in a cloak, from its metallic outer shell and deposit it on the floor.  As our heroes make their escape we pan down to the cloak as it starts to move and a hideous claw emerges. Cue closing music and – for a child of tender years – cue shivers down the spine and that delicious thrill-of-fear that can still be recalled today.

Dick Fiddy

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Episode 1: World’s End, 21 November 1964 (serial:  21 November 1964-26  December 1964)

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964)

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964)

At the end of episode one (World’s End) of this serial, the Doctor and companions flee cyborg zombies (‘Robomen’) in the ruins of future London and run down to Chelsea embankment… whereupon a Dalek emerges from the waters of the Thames. This is the first of many cliffhangers which rely on the audience – and the Doctor – recognising his implacable arch-enemies. It’s also a shocking violation of the familiar setting. In their debut story, the Daleks were confined to a metal city on a distant planet, but now the dread exterminators are here, and they’ve already taken over the planet.

Kim Newman

Dr. Who and the Daleks

UK release: 23 August 1965

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

In Peter Cushing’s first film outing as the Doctor, he and his companions inadvertently travel to a strange planet. Ian (Roy Castle) insists they return home but, itching to explore the floodlit city spied through the branches of the eerie forest in which they landed, the Doctor claims that TARDIS can’t leave without a supply of mercury. Inside the city, they find an impressive control room and wonder what creatures built it. They soon find out, as the camera pulls back to reveal that they are surrounded by Daleks – the first time that the Doctor’s deadliest enemies were seen on a big screen and in their full glory of bright colours and gleaming metal.

Josephine Botting

The Daleks’ Master Plan

Episode 7: The Feast of Steven, 25 December 1965 (serial: 20 November 1965-29 January 1966)

The First Doctor (William Hartnell) breaks the fourth wall in the TARDIS and turns to the camera, wishing “A happy Christmas to all of you at home!” This exuberant moment is typical of early Doctor Who’s fearless nature. 1965 had already brought the bizarre Web Planet, the first pseudo-historical in The Time Meddler and Mission to the Unknown, a one-episode story that didn’t feature the Doctor at all. Why not end one of the show’s most experimental years with the Doctor talking directly to the audience at home?

Marcus Hearn

The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve

Episode 4: Bell of Doom, 26 February 1966 (serial: 5 February 1966-26 February 1966)

The Doctor: “Now they’re all gone. All gone. None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan… Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet. But I can’t. I can’t.”

In the final episode of The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, the Doctor (William Hartnell) argues with Steven (Peter Purves) and is left alone in the TARDIS control room. For the first time since the series began he seems destined to travel without any companions. An appropriate time, therefore, to remind viewers of the central mystery hinted at in the very first episode. 

Marcus Hearn

The Gunfighters

Episode 1: A Holiday for the Doctor, 30 April 1966 (serial: 30 April 1966-21 May 1966)

The Gunfighters (1966)

The Gunfighters (1966)

When experimenting with ways of telling stories, Doctor Who ranged fully across time and space – historical serials encompassed drama (The Aztecs, The Massacre of St Bartholomew), swashbuckling adventure (The Smugglers, The Highlanders) and black farce (The Romans). This was a stab at a western, adopting the High Noon device of a song (‘The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’, music by Tristram Cary, lyrics by Donald Cotton, sung by Lynda Baron) to set the scene, advance the plot and pass flippant comment on many deaths. Disliked by many (including the cast), it’s catchy, clever and unique in the series’ history.

Kim Newman

The Tenth Planet

Episode 4: 29 October 1966 (serial: 8-29 October 1966)

The Tenth Planet (1966)

The Tenth Planet (1966)

The last episode of the first Cyberman story is sadly one of those still missing but we do still have a few precious seconds from the climax when an ailing Doctor collapses on the TARDIS floor and unexpectedly changes into a different man. It was the first regeneration, though it wouldn’t be called that until 1974. From this point on, the programme would be bigger than its leading man and a decision made simply to overcome a practical problem (the BBC wanted the programme to continue but William Hartnell wanted to leave) ensured that it would still be on our screens 50 years later.

Kevin Lyons

The Power of the Daleks

Episode 4: 26 November 1966 (serial: 5 November 1966-10 December 1966)

Having been destroyed so many times, how do the Daleks keep coming back? Well, in this story they were breeding. Quite how is probably best not imagined – one hopes it was a laboratory process, like cloning. What we did see, though, was their amorphous ‘bodies’ being lowered into the familiar Dalek machines on a kind of production line. Unfortunately, the story is one of the missing ones, so this impactful sequence may not have been exactly as it lives in the memory, though it certainly made a big impression at the time.

Steve Bryant

The Macra Terror

Episode 2: 18 March 1967 (serial: 11 March-1 April 1967)

The Macra Terror (1967)

The Macra Terror (1967)

The controller of a space colony is only ever seen on a telescreen, reassuring citizens that everything is perfect… but the illusion slips when the idealised still image of the confident controller is replaced by a live feed of the haggard, terrified real official, who tries to soothe the audience but fails to convince. A monster crab-claw reaches into the frame and snips at him. Stills and surviving footage suggest the Macra, the monster crabs really running the colony, were immobile, not terribly effective props but in black and white and flickering memory, this shock moment was among the scariest scenes of the 1960s.

Kim Newman

The Evil of the Daleks

Episode 7: 1 July 1967 (serial: 20 May 67-1 July 1967)

Alas, only one episode of what was once voted by fans as the best ever Doctor Who adventure has survived – the rest is a treasured memory. The story goes to the heart of the difference between the Daleks and humanity, as Patrick Troughton’s Doctor distils the “human factor” and implants it in a number of Daleks, knowing the chaos that will follow. Top moment: given an order by a superior, one of the “humanised” Daleks replies with a simple “why?”, rather than “I obey”. Try saying it in a Dalek voice – it sounds wonderful!

Steve Bryant

The Tomb of the Cybermen

Episode 2: 9 September 1967 (serial: 2 September 1967-23 September 1967)

The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)

The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)

The sinister Klieg awakens the Cybermen from their icy tombs believing he can control them. Metallic claws cut through the seal as the Cybermen emerge from their pods. Climbing down from row upon row of icy cocoons, the machine monsters emerge and converge towards one particular pod. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop music to accompany this near-wordless sequence is as unnerving, jarring, relentless as the Cybermen. For, once roused, the Cybermen are nobody’s slaves. The reawakened Cyber Controller intones at the end: “You belong to us. You shall be like us.”

Ayesha Khan

The Web of Fear

Episode 1: 3 February 1968 (3 February 1968-9 March 1968)

The Web of Fear (1968)

The Web of Fear (1968)

How did you traumatise a seven-year-old in 1968? Put on an oversized fur coat and jump out of a cupboard pretending to be a yeti. When the yetis returned in this adventure set in the London underground, the first sight was enough to send me shrieking behind the sofa as my beloved Jamie was caught up in another encounter with these robotic monsters. This episode also introduced Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, but it’s the sense of menace and fear engendered by these creatures that stays with me to this day.

Pam Rostron

The Mind Robber

Episode 2: 21 September 1968 (serial: 14 September-12 October 1968)

The Mind Robber (1968)

The Mind Robber (1968)

With actor Fraser Hines struck down by chicken pox, companion Jamie was unable to appear in episode two so the production team were forced to work around his absence. In doing so they created one of 60s Doctor Who’s most indelible images. Trapped in a strange land of fantasy, The Doctor and Zoe find that Jamie has been  transformed into a cardboard cut-out with a blank face. The Doctor now has to reconstruct his face like a jigsaw puzzle using printed facial features. But he gets it wrong and Jamie is no longer the man we thought he was…

Kevin Lyons

The Mind Robber

Episode 5: 12 October 1968 (serial: 14 September-12 October 1968)

The Mind Robber (1968)

The Mind Robber (1968)

In the Land of Fiction, the Doctor and the Master of the Realm battle each other by proxy, narrating and changing the story that is unfolding on television, summoning heroes and villains from fable and literature – D’Artagnan, Cyrano, Blackbeard, Medusa, Sir Lancelot, the minotaur – in one of the first great fictional crossover elimination contests. The fact that three of the fictional characters are real people made famous by fiction suggests that sometimes the myth can supplant the reality. An audacious sequence in one of the strangest, most compelling, unusual serials the show has ever attempted, and influential on many subsequent fantasies.

Kim Newman

The Invasion

Episode 6: 7 December 1968 (serial: 2 November-21 December 1968)

The Invasion (1968)

The Invasion (1968)

After five episodes of lurking about in the sewers of London, the Cybermen finally launch their invasion by triggering a telepathic signal that renders the population unconscious. Noisily throwing open manhole covers, the invaders take to the streets and, with the opposition neutralised, they have no trouble overrunning the city. The shot of the silver giants marching down the steps near St Paul’s Cathedral – brief though it may be – is as iconic as 60s Doctor Who got and is one of those images that even non-fans will be familiar with.

Kevin Lyons

Spearhead from Space

Episode 4: 24 January 1970 (serial: 3 January 1970-24 January 1970)

Spearhead from Space (1970)

Spearhead from Space (1970)

What child will ever forget that moment from Jon Pertwee’s first adventure when the shop dummies came alive and broke out of a shopping centre? We knew they were Autons, but to see them leaving plinths, smashing windows, and flipping their fingers to reveal deadly weapons was a classic Who moment. The programme was often at its best when the familiar hid a deadly terror, and no one could blame any children who refused to go shopping after this episode. Mannequins are scary.

Pam Rostron

Inferno

Episode 6: 13 June 1970 (serial: 9 May-20 June 1970)

Inferno (1970)

Inferno (1970)

At the end of part six of this seven-episode serial, the whole world is destroyed when a drilling project unlooses the planet’s core and triggers a vast explosion. Despite the Doctor’s best efforts, the supporting cast (and the entire population of Earth) die in screaming agony under a tide of molten lava. Of course, it’s not our Earth but a fascist parallel world – where the Doctor’s regular allies are incarnated as barking militarists – and the hero gets back to his usual universe in time to avert similar catastrophe. Just about the bleakest moment in all Doctor Who.

Kim Newman

Terror of the Autons

Part 4: 23 January 1971 (serial: 2–23 January 1971)

Terror of the Autons (1971)

Terror of the Autons (1971)

The Master’s first story found him teaming up with the Nestene for a second attempted invasion of Earth using their Auton replicas. But this time they’ve come armed with more than a few shop window dummies – one of their new weapons is a plastic daffodil, thousands of which are being distributed across the country. This apparently innocuous object reveals its true colours when one of them sprays a thin film over Jo Grant’s mouth threatening to asphyxiate her. Before this, plastic flowers were just a bit tacky. Afterwards, you’d never look at them the same way again.

Kevin Lyons

The Sea Devils

Episode 1: 26 February 1972 (serial: 26 February 1972-1 April 1972)

The Sea Devils (1972)

The Sea Devils (1972)

Imprisoned on Earth, the Doctor’s greatest enemy, the Master, whiles away the hours watching television – and is especially fascinated by the charming little knitted aliens who populate the puppet show The Clangers. “What are you watching?” asks a visitor. “It seems to be a rather interesting extra-terrestrial life form,” the Master answers. The visitor, bewildered, reveals the truth: “Only puppets, you know…for children!” Quietly deflated, and exhaling meaningfully, the Master switches off the set. As charming and charismatic as he is villainous, this superb bit of character comedy reminds us once more how Roger Delgado established the Master as one of the Doctor’s most enduring and entertaining foes.

Vic Pratt

The Three Doctors

Episode 1: 30  December 1973 (serial: 30 December 1972-20 January 1973)

The Three Doctors (1972)

The Three Doctors (1972)

The First Doctor shows the Second and Third Doctor who’s boss. The first three incarnations of the galaxy’s greatest Time Lord, as played by William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee, met just once – in The Three Doctors. The trio’s time together is sadly short – but all the more precious for that. Inside the TARDIS, Doctors two and three – bickering, as usual – are suddenly confronted by Hartnell’s original – a wonderful moment, even if, owing to Hartnell’s frailty and the BBC’s low budget, he appears on a VT insert, awkwardly perched in a strange triangular chair, hazily glimpsed on a monitor. There is a brief pause as he studies his self-important regenerated selves. “A dandy and a clown,” he decides. For once, the other two are lost for words; and we see that time has not withered the original Time Lord.

Vic Pratt

The Green Death

Episode 4: 9 June 1973 (serial: 19 May 73-23 June 1973)

The Green Death (1973)

The Green Death (1973)

A mine near a chemical plant is overrun by seemingly indestructible giant maggots that emit a lethal green slime. All attempts by the Doctor and UNIT to kill them have proved useless. I have always remembered this bittersweet moment, when a bit of serendipity prevents an invasion of giant insects. Jo Grant is assisting Professor Cliff Jones as he analyses slides of toxic green slime when she clumsily spills brown powder over them. Upset, Jo leaves a note and exits unnoticed. Viewing the spoiled slides under the microscope Jones realises he has discovered the cure. He reads Jo’s note… “Gone to get you a maggot.” Oh, no!

Kathleen Luckey

Genesis of the Daleks

Episode 6: 12 April 1975 (serial: 8 March-12 April 1975)

Genesis of the Daleks (1975)

Genesis of the Daleks (1975)

Sent back in history to prevent the creation of the Daleks, the Doctor gets caught up in the war between the Kaleds and the Thals – which Terry Nation first established in the first Dalek serial in 1963 – and meet the Kaled scientist Davros, who has just devised a kind of prosthetic for mutated veterans. As the first Mark Three Travel Device innocently rolls off the production line, the Doctor is terrified to recognise the future bane of the universe. The clever reversal here is that we (and the Doctor) know what a dalek is but Davros is innocent of the horror he is unleashing.

Kim Newman

Pyramids of Mars

Episode 1: 25 October 1975 (serial: 25 October-15 November 1975)

Pyramids of Mars (1975)

Pyramids of Mars (1975)

We’re in a country house, the organ is playing, there are three mummies bandaged from head to toe standing in front of a sarcophagus which suddenly sparks alive in a vortex of multi-coloured fire. Out of this ancient tomb walks a dark figure robed in black. Smoke belches out, the organ music reaches a crescendo and the servant to the magnificent and evil Sutekh has arrived, bringing his gift of death to their human incumbent. I’m five years old, peering through my fingers and from behind the sofa. As the familiar burst of electronic music heralds the start of the end credits, my weekend has just become a whole lot better.

Justin Johnson

The Brain of Morbius

Episode 4: 24 January 1976 (serial: 3 January 1976-24 January 1976)

The Brain of Morbius (1976)

The Brain of Morbius (1976)

Evil Time Lord Morbius, previously thought to have been atomised after trying to lead a rebellion, is discovered alive on the planet Karn. However, it’s only his brain which survives, currently housed in a glass bowl atop a hideous creature created from the body parts of a diverse selection of aliens. Tom Baker’s Doctor challenges Morbius to a mindbending contest, but the Doctor’s mind is not strong enough to defeat him, and it is only the brain case overloading which stops the contest as the Doctor collapses.  Morbius’s combination of frightful-looking creature and apparently superior brainpower made for a particularly nail-biting climax in which it looked like the Doctor had finally met his end.

Pam Rostron

The Horror of Fang Rock

Episode 3: 17 September 1977 (serial: 3 September 1977-24 September 1977)

The Horror of Fang Rock (1977)

The Horror of Fang Rock (1977)

Strong-willed, capable, “primitive” by Time Lord standards but quick to learn, Leela was never the companion to run away, screaming helplessly, when she could get an attack in first. Leela has good moments throughout The Horror of Fang Rock as she takes on both a green blob of a menace and the irritating survivors of a yacht stricken near the Fang Rock lighthouse. Adelaide, in particular, unhelpfully screams a lot; Leela appears to channel the wishes of the audience by giving her a slap.

Ayesha Khan

City of Death

Episode 1: 29 September 1979 (serial: 29 September 1979-20 October 1979)

City of Death (1979)

City of Death (1979)

Opening with the hideous, one-eyed Scaroth in his space craft blasting off from an alien planet, City of Death cuts to – beautiful blossom. The Doctor and Romana are in Paris. What follows is one of the best-ever Doctor Who stories. Co-written by Douglas Adams, the script has wit, charm, comedy and horror in equal measure. The Noel Coward-like dialogue between the Doctor and Romana as they discuss the marvels of Paris plays out like a verbal time-waltz.

Ayesha Khan

Earthshock

Episode 4: 16 March 1982 (serial: 9 March 1982-17 March 1982)

Earthshock (1982)

Earthshock (1982)

A moment marking the death of a young companion. The Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa are prisoners of the Cybermen on the TARDIS. The Cybermen have programmed a space freighter to collide with Earth and Adric is on board with the crew. Adric is determined to crack the codes to regain control of the freighter and remains on board as the crew leave by an escape pod. An attempt to crack the final code is thwarted by a remaining Cyberman. Adric stands and accepts his fate. The explosion is observed from the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor in shock as the end credits roll in silence.

Kathleen Luckey

The Caves of Androzani

Episode 4: 16 March 1984 (serial: 8 March 1984-16 March 1984)

The Caves of Androzani (1984)

The Caves of Androzani (1984)

The best moments have Sharaz Jek in them – the villain in search of beauty. Hideously scarred, crazed and vengeful, in a story full of grotesques, Sharaz Jek holds a particular fascination and, like all good villains, has all the best lines. Courtesy of Robert Holmes’s script this almost Jacobean story has, apart from the Doctor and Peri, few characters with any redeeming features. However, with Sharaz Jek, there is an added pathos with his isolation finding an outlet in an attraction to Peri. As the spiralling conflict between Sharaz Jek and Morgus plays itself out to its inevitable conclusion, Sharaz Jek’s lines are a howl into the abyss.

Ayesha Khan

The Twin Dilemma

Episode 1: 22 March 1984 (serial: 22 March 1984-30 March 1984)

The Twin Dilemma (1984)

The Twin Dilemma (1984)

Shaky and unstable after a somewhat difficult regeneration, the Sixth Doctor – in a fit of seeming madness – decides his assistant, Peri, is an alien spy, and tries to throttle her. This spine-tingling moment suggested a previously hidden sinister dimension to the Doctor, and hinted that new excitement, surprises, black comedy, and narrative darkness lay ahead. Sadly, inconsistent scripts muddled the Doctor’s dark dimension, but this early moment remains a chilling reminder of the brilliant Colin Baker’s unrealised potential, and must surely have lingered in the memories of those who engineered 2005’s Who reboot.

Vic Pratt

Remembrance of the Daleks

Episode 1: 5 October 1988 (serial: 5-26 October 1988)

Remembrance of the Daleks (1988)

Remembrance of the Daleks (1988)

We take flying Daleks for granted today but in 1988 lazy comedians could still crack feeble gags about escaping them by simply running up the stairs. All that changed when, at the end of episode one, the Seventh Doctor flees a Dalek newly materialised in a school basement, stumbles and turns to find it hovering up the stairs towards him. This capacity for flight was hinted at three years earlier in Revelation of the Daleks but that looked rather like a badly done visual effect. Here was definite proof – not even stairs were going to save you now…

Kevin Lyons

Doctor Who: the TV film

27 May 1996 (UK broadcast 15 days after its Canadian debut airing)

Doctor Who (TV film, 2006)

Doctor Who (TV film, 2006)

Forget the jazzed-up opening music, revamped TARDIS and heightened production values, the adventure begins with an unforgettable moment. There is the Seventh Doctor, alive and well, reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and listening to a melancholic jazz song on an old gramophone. Often cited as one of the confusing sidebars that baffled new viewers and contributed towards the failure of the film to kickstart a revival, it was – for those more familiar with the show – a fitting coda to Sylvester McCoy’s interpretation.

Dick Fiddy

Rose

26 March 2005

Rose (2005)

Rose (2005)

“Lots of planets have a North!” exclaims The Doctor as Rose Tyler tries to figure out who he is, where he’s from and what exactly is going on. Elsewhere in this episode, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor explains his frustrations with the human race and how he can feel the world turning, but in this indignant moment of humour amid chaos, the new series announced its arrival and an avuncular Northern Doctor in a leather jacket ushered in a new era.

Lisa Kerrigan

Dalek

30 April 2005

Dalek (2005)

Dalek (2005)

The Doctor: “I watched it happen. I made it happen!” 

Locked in an underground museum with Henry Van Statten’s prize exhibit, the Doctor realises that the captive ‘Metaltron’ is actually a battle-damaged Dalek – the lone survivor of the species following the cataclysmic war with the Time Lords. The terrified and furious Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) tells the disbelieving creature that he wiped out the entire Dalek race. In the space of one sequence the Doctor reveals a disturbing side of his character, we learn more about his mysterious past and the Daleks are finally reinstated as a credible threat.

Marcus Hearn

The Empty Child

21 May 2005

The Empty Child (2005)

The Empty Child (2005)

It’s 1941 and the height of the Blitz. A strange child in a gasmask is wandering the streets of London searching for his mummy and the Doctor has found a hospital full of apparently dead patients with gasmasks fused to their faces. Elderly Dr Constantine (Richard Wilson) has seen every person within the hospital’s walls transformed into one of these strange, zombified beings. As he’s telling the Doctor what he’s seen he begins to choke, and slowly transforms into one of the creatures before our horrified eyes. Truly one of the most terrifying Doctor Who moments ever.

Pam Rostron

School Reunion

29 April 2006

School Reunion (2006)

School Reunion (2006)

The episode where one of Doctor Who’s best companions, Sarah Jane Smith returns. The story, set in a school beset by aliens, seems secondary to the reunion between the Doctor and Sarah Jane. The look on the Doctor’s face when he encounters her for the first time and she fails to recognise him has all the warmth of reunion shared with a part of the past, once lost. However, it’s the end that provides the episode’s bittersweet moment. After having spent so long waiting for the Doctor to return and given the chance to rejoin him in the TARDIS, Sarah Jane declines, asking him, this time, to say “goodbye”. 

Ayesha Khan

The Girl in the Fireplace

6 May 2006

The Girl in the Fireplace (2006)

The Girl in the Fireplace (2006)

The Doctor finally defeats the clockwork androids and saves Madame de Pompadour but to do so he has had to break the last portal, severing the link back to the TARDIS and trapping himself in 18th-century France – seemingly forever. It would take a clockwork heart not to be moved by the scene where the two of them contemplate the future over a glass of wine. The Doctor tries to be upbeat about sharing the “slow path” but Madame de Pompadour’s melancholy tells a different story; she knows, just like we always know, that The Doctor must continue his travels.

Gosta Johansson

Doomsday 

8 July 2006

Doomsday (2006)

Doomsday (2006)

The Daleks meet the Cybermen for the first time and those two prime exemplars of emotionless evil display all-too-human traits as they trade insults. There’s disdain (“This is not war – this is pest control”), sarcasm (Dalek: “Daleks have no concept of elegance”, Cyberman: “This is obvious”), bravado (“You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?”,  “We would destroy the Cybermen with ONE Dalek”), even an attempt at humour (Dalek: “You are superior in only one respect”, Cyberman: “What is that?”, Dalek: “You are better at dying”). Maybe not for the purists, but the dialogue is priceless.

Steve Bryant

Doomsday

8 July 2006

Doomsday (2006)

Doomsday (2006)

The Daleks and Cybermen have been vanquished, the Earth has been saved again but Rose is stranded in a parallel universe. Using a breach between the worlds to appear as a ghostly image on a beach in Norway, The Doctor visits her for one last goodbye. Rose tearfully tells him she loves him and, as The Doctor seems to be about to reciprocate, the breach collapses and his love is left forever unstated. Although the moment has been diminished since by Rose repeatedly finding a way back to the programme, when The Doctor was left alone in the TARDIS at the climax of Doomsday he wasn’t the only one in tears.

Kevin Lyons

Blink

9 June 2007

Blink (2007)

Blink (2007)

An episode without very much Doctor, Blink introduces the most frightening monsters of New Who – the Weeping Angels, who transport their victims through time with a single touch. Our heroine Sally Sparrow (played by Carey Mulligan) loses her best friend in a deserted old house and then finds solemn statues of angels with their faces covered. Sally takes a key from the hand of one of the statues and, in a single shivery moment, another statue changes position behind her back. Both terrifying and tragic, the angels are a reminder that time creeps up on all of us…

Lisa Kerrigan

Utopia

16 June 2007

Utopia (2007)

Utopia (2007)

The Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack are propelled to the end of time, where they meet Professor Yana, an elderly gentleman working on a makeshift rocket to send the survivors of the human race to ‘Utopia’ to escape the vampiric ‘Future Kind’. But the Professor’s work is disrupted by the persistent sound of drumming in his head and when he shows Martha his fob watch, identical to the Doctor’s, she realises he’s not what he seems. But it’s too late, the words ‘TARDIS’ and ‘regeneration’ have awakened his memory and, as realisation dawns, he faces the camera, uttering menacingly “I am the Master”.

Josephine Botting

The Fires of Pompeii

12 April 2008

The Fires of Pompeii (2008)

The Fires of Pompeii (2008)

The Doctor: “Can’t you understand? If I could go back and save them, then I would. But I can’t. I can never go back.”

Donna: “Just someone. Please. Not the whole town. Just save someone.”

As Pompeii is threatened by the erupting Mount Vesuvius a poignant exchange takes place between the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) in the TARDIS control room. The Doctor claims he cannot interfere, but the tearful Donna persuades him to reconsider. This scene reminds us that one of the roles of the companion is to humanise the emotionally detached Doctor.

Marcus Hearn

Silence in the Library

31 May 2008

Silence in the Library (2008)

Silence in the Library (2008)

Spoilers! A library the size of a planet and a vision of heaven as a data store both feature in this two-part story, which introduces Professor River Song to The Doctor for the first time. River excitedly checks her diary to see when they last met but she is devastated as she realises that, despite all the adventures she has had with him in her timeline, The Doctor doesn’t yet know her. The crestfallen look on her face seems to recognise that a relationship which spans time and space can begin and end in the same moment.

Lisa Kerrigan

Journey’s End

5 July 2008

Journey's End (2008)

Journey's End (2008)

Davros: “The Doctor. The man who keeps running, never looking back, because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.”

The final confrontation between the Doctor and Davros – recorded in just one take with actors David Tennant and Julian Bleach – bravely acknowledges the sometimes tragic consequences of travelling with the Doctor. In 21st-century Doctor Who a trip in the TARDIS empowers previously ineffectual characters like Rose (Billie Piper) and Mickey (Noel Clarke), but ultimately transforms them into aggressive, gun-toting warriors.

Marcus Hearn

The Time of Angels

24 April 2010

The Time of Angels (2010)

The Time of Angels (2010)

For almost 50 years viewers had been as familiar with the peculiar sound of the TARDIS as they were with its eccentric appearance and, if they’d thought about it at all, they just presumed it was the ship’s engines. However, in The Time of Angels we finally learnt from River Song what that unearthly sound really is – The Doctor has been driving it with the brakes on. Quite rightly, when she fixes it he puts them back on again because, after all, “it’s a brilliant noise. I love that noise!”

Kevin Lyons

The Doctor’s Wife

14 May 2011

Suranne Jones literally inhabits the matrix of the TARDIS to beautiful, mischievous effect. The Neil Gaiman story has enough moments to delight, from the return of the Ood, to the physical patchworks that are Auntie and Uncle, but it is Jones’s Idris/TARDIS who steals the whole episode – the TARDIS is brought to life and is even better than could have been imagined. Looking like an eccentric ingénue who has seen better days, the TARDIS is finally able to talk to the Doctor and the relationship is, as hinted at by the episode title, one of flirtation and affection, at times contrary but ultimately patient, warm and good-humoured; travelling companions through life, space and time. Their goodbye at the end is as simple as it is poignant. 

Ayesha Khan

The Wedding of River Song

1 October 2011

The Wedding of River Song (2011)

The Wedding of River Song (2011)

I cried real tears when the Doctor gets a phone call to say his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has passed away. This mirrored the real death of Nicholas Courtney, the actor who played the beloved Brig. Matt Smith handles the moment brilliantly. His ebullient Doctor is stopped in his tracks, suddenly shaken by sorrow. His grief bears witness to the continuity of a single mind across the regenerations. Doctor Who is more like a family than a TV programme, with fans, actors, writers and production teams, past and present, all forever intertwined.

Frank Skinner

The Rings of Akhaten

6 April 2013

The Rings of Akhaten (2012)

The Rings of Akhaten (2012)

“We don’t walk away”, the Doctor tells Clara as they prepare to confront a vampiric creature which feeds on stories and memories. But they find that the hideous beast is merely there to awaken a much more dangerous enemy: a planet-sized flaming parasite god. Confronting it, the Doctor offers up his own 900 years of memories: “I hope you’ve got a big appetite” he shouts, a tear running down his cheek. But it isn’t enough, so Clara comes to his aid, sacrificing her most precious possession – the leaf which brought her parents together. As it gorges on the infinity of what might have been, the skull-like apparition implodes. 

Josephine Botting

The Night of the Doctor

14 November 2013

“I’m a Doctor… but probably not the one you were expecting”. He definitely wasn’t The Doctor we were expecting and that made the moment of Paul McGann’s reappearance as the Eighth Doctor even more special. In a mini episode which brings together old and new manifestations of the Whoniverse, the chance to see McGann’s Doctor in action after a 17-year absence was an unanticipated thrill and showed that, after 50 years, Doctor Who still has the capacity to generate (and regenerate) surprises.

Lisa Kerrigan

Contributors

Josephine Botting is a curator at the BFI National Archive.

Steve Bryant is senior curator (television) at the BFI National Archive.

Dick Fiddy is consultant TV programmer at BFI Southbank and has been a Doctor Who fan since day one. He has a soft spot for all the Doctors but if pushed will admit that ‘his Doctor’ was Tom Baker.

Marcus Hearn is the author of the official 50th anniversary book Doctor Who: The Vault. 

Waris Hussein is the director of the first ever Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child.

Gosta Johansson is a curator at the BFI National Archive.

Justin Johnson works for the BFI and has co-curated this year’s popular BFI Doctor Who 50 season. He has also been hosting events at the BBC 50th anniversary celebrations at London’s Excel.

Lisa Kerrigan is a curator at the BFI National Archive.

Ayesha Khan is an information specialist in the BFI’s Collections and Information department.

Kathleen Luckey is a curator at the BFI National Archive.

Kevin Lyons works as documentation editor at the BFI and also edits the website The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television.

Kim Newman is a novelist and critic; his fiction includes the novella Doctor Who: Time and Relative and his non-fiction includes BFI TV Classics Doctor Who. The first episode of Doctor Who he saw was World’s End, episode one of The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964).

Vic Pratt is a curator at the BFI National Archive.

Pam Rostron is a curator at the BFI National Archive.

Frank Skinner is an award-winning comedian, writer and presenter.

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