TV discussion

Doctor Who: Ranking the Steven Moffat Episodes

As the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who comes to an end this Christmas with the final appearance of Peter Capaldi in the lead role, there’s no denying that Moffat has crafted the series into its own animal under his leadership, distinctly different to the Russel T. Davies run that came before. With Chris Chibnal about to take over as showrunner, now is a good time to rank Moffat’s episodes.

37. Last Christmas

Doctor Who Christmas specials are always something of a hit or miss, and are usually some of the weakest episodes. Last Christmas sees The Doctor and Clara stuck inside a dream world with Santa fighting alien facehugger like creatures in the Arctic. A very disjointed and mismatched episode that fails to really add anything to the franchise.

36. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

In this Christmas special The Doctor helps a family during World War 2 deal with the loss of their father. Whilst the emotional heart of the episode is enjoyable, and has a sweet conclusion, the inclusion of a Christmas present that acts as a doorway to another planet, living wood people, and deforestation drags the episode down a lot.

35. The Girl Who Died

Having Game of Thrones‘s Masie Williams appear in Doctor Who was a big deal, and something fans were looking forward to, unfortunately, a bland story about alien vikings led to her first of four appearances in the show being lacklustre and somewhat boring.

34. The Caretaker

Watching The Doctor pretend to be a normal person isn’t as good as the writers seem to think, having had the character do so several times in the revived series with ever decreasing results. Here, The Doctor infiltrates Coalhill School as the new caretaker in order to track down an alien threat. The interactions between The Doctor and the staff and students aren’t particularly funny, and the alien is quite boring and forgettable.

33. The Husband of River Song

The 2015 Christmas special is, like many others, fairly disjointed, mixing some very silly comedy and some more heartfelt character moments. The villain of the episode is too ridiculous to be anything other than bad, but the episode does give some great additions to the River Song story, as well as introducing Matt Lucas’ Nardole to the series.

32. The Zygon Inversion

The final part of a two-part story of Zygons on Earth beginning a terrorist war with humanity, the story lacked a lot of charm and wow factor that it needed to make it truly great. Thankfully, the second episode (the only one of the two penned by Moffat) included a truly brilliant scene in which The Doctor has the two sides facing off against each other ready to press a doomsday button and gives one of the best speeches he’s ever had about war, loss, and the pain of performing genocidal acts. This moment helps to elevate the episode, though can’t quite save it from being mundane.

31. Hell Bent

The Doctor returns to Gallifrey, takes over the planet without firing a single shot, and saves Clara from the timestream moments before her death. Whilst there are some moments in this episode that should feel grand and epic the undoing of Clara’s death is a big let down. With the series apparently unwilling to ever actually kill a companion (Donna forgetting her time with The Doctor, and Amy and Rory getting to live long and fulfilled lives in the past) it feels like there are very little stakes in travelling with The Doctor.

30. The Pilot

The Pilot introduced Bill Potts to the series, and established a number of plot threads that would go on to be important in the final episodes of Capaldi’s last season. The episode also featured the first overtly lesbian relationship in the series. A solid episode that reintroduced audiences to the world of Doctor Who as it follows Bill through her discovery of The Doctor.

29. The Snowmen

Nothing screams Christmas quite like a snowy Victorian tale, so a Christmas special set in the past, involving sentient killer snowmen, the Paternoster Gang, and a huge mystery around The Doctor’s upcoming companion Clara make this one of the best Christmas specials yet.

28. Asylum of the Daleks

The first episode of the seventh season, and Matt Smiths last, Asylum of the Daleks managed to bring the Tardis team back together, offer an interesting adventure filled with easter eggs and nods to the classic series, as well as beginning the mystery around Clara Oswald. Whilst the adventure through a planet of insane Daleks proved interesting and even frightening at times, the emotional drama between Amy and Rory gave the episode something extra.

27. The Angels Take Manhattan

The final appearances of Amy and Rory, The Angels Take Manhattan pitted the Tardis crew against the Weeping Angels in a story of love and loss that not only showed how great Amy and Rory are as characters, but how strong their love for each other is. Featuring Weeping Angel babies, some brilliant action sequences, a chilling musical score, the return of River Song, and a conclusion that breaks the heart, the only thing that lets the episode down is the inclusion of a giant Weeping Angel.

26. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

The first episodes Moffat wrote for the series, this two parter gave us some truly memorable moments, such as a gasmasked child asking ‘Are you my mummy?’, and introduced fan favourite Captain Jack. Christopher Eccleston is great in these episodes, and brings some great life to Moffats script in what has become a top episode for many viewers.

25. The Magicians Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar

This two-part season opener saw the return of Michelle Gomez’s Missy as she teams up with Clara to find The Doctor, who has gone on something of a bender as he prepares for his death. With the return of the Daleks, their creator Davros, and the planet Skaro, the episodes deal with the sins of the Doctor’s past. The inclusion of Missy helps to add some extra fun in these episodes, and the positive reaction to her teaming up with The Doctor may have led to her story arc in season ten.

24. Into The Dalek

The Daleks have become an icon of Doctor Who, and have been included in almost every single series of the show since they first appeared, as such it can sometimes be hard for the series to make them new an interesting. Into the Dalek managed that by shrinking down The Doctor and a group of soldiers and sending them inside a Dalek, giving us a look at the creatures that we’ve never had before.

23. Deep Breath

Regeneration episodes can be hard to get right, The Doctor usually spends some time asleep, then acts really weird until he can figure out who he is now. The first half of Capaldi’s first adventure is very much like this, with him acting much more like a madman than the Doctor. Thanks to a good ending, and some great scenes with the Paternoster Gang the episode ends up being quite good.

22. Dark Water/Death in Heaven

The conclusion to Capaldi’s first series as The Doctor, the two-part finale brought back the Cybermen, gave a tragic end to Clara and Danny’s story, and reintroduced The Master to the series as the insane Missy. Whilst the introduction of Missy divided fans, she would go on to be one of the best enemies the series has given us, and her first outing here showcases just how crazy and evil she can be.

21. Let’s Kill Hitler

The title alone gets this episode points, as the Tardis crew end up in Nazi Germany, dealing with Hitler, a mechanical assassin, and a murderous River Song. The revelation that River spent years as Amy and Rory’s childhood friend before she regenerated into the River we know was a surprise reveal, one that added further confusion to her complex timeline. The episode managed to not only include some ridiculously fun moments, but packed in an emotional conclusion as River goes against her programming to save the man she would go on to marry.

20. The Bells of Saint John

The first introduction of the real Clara Oswald, this episode is packed full of run and over the top action sequences, such as a jumbo jet crash and riding a scooter up the side of The Shard. A great episode that would go on to set the tone for The Doctor’s future adventures with his new companion.

19. Time Heist

Everyone loves a good heist movie. So when the series can condense one down into 45 minutes, include The Doctor and a cast of interesting and diverse sci-fi characters the series is giving us one of the best standalone experiences it can.

18. The Girl in the Fireplace

Another episode that has gone on to become a fan favourite, this episode saw David Tennant’s Doctor travelling from a spaceship in the future to 18th century France, where he intersects the life of Madame de Popadour, and has to save her from sinister clockwork men who want her organs in order to repair their ship.

17. The Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead

The episodes that introduced River Song to the Doctor Who universe. Whilst this episode would pack in a lot of content, microscopic creatures that live in shadows and eat flesh, and a virtual reality world that Donna becomes trapped in, it’s the story of River and The Doctor that makes this episode stand out. Upon first viewing it may not seem like much, but after seeing the rest of Rivers story her sacrifice to save her husband, who doesn’t even know who she is here, is utterly heartbreaking.

16. The Day of the Doctor

The 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who had a lot to live up to, and mostly manages to do so, with Matt Smith and David Tennant’s Doctors teaming up with The War Doctor, played by the Oscar nominated actor John Hurt. Whilst the episode managed to pack a lot into its run time, the inclusion of too much fan service, such as the inclusion of Billie Piper and Tom Baker, did let it down somewhat.

15. The Time of The Doctor

The final story featuring Matt Smith, The Time of The Doctor sees The Doctor living hundreds of years on the planet Trenzalore defending the citizens from thousands of his foes. The episode packs in action and spectacle, but also gives a satisfying emotional conclusion to Smiths time on the show.

14. Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

The first story to feature the Weeping Angels since their introduction in the acclaimed Blink, this two-part story had a lot to live up to. Thanks to the inclusion of River Song, some great guest actors, and some extremely creepy horror moments this two parter became the Aliens to Blink’s Alien, and gave us one of the best horror stories Doctor Who has produced.

13. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

The season finale to Smith’s first year as The Doctor, the first part managed to include several iconic villains such as Daleks, Cybermen, and Autons, whilst the second part opted for a smaller character focused story. Whilst the two parts could have felt somewhat disjointed, they work together well to showcase not just The Doctor, but Amy, Rory, and River too.

12. A Christmas Carol

So far, still the best Christmas special the show has given us, this story sees The Doctor taking inspiration from Charles Dickens to help change a horrible old man into a good person in order to get him to save hundreds of lives. Packed full of fun, as well as a truly wonderful and heartbreaking love story, this episode showcases just what the franchise can do in a one-off special if it puts the effort in.

11. The Beast Below

The first adventure with Matt Smith’s Doctor following his regeneration, the story begins feeling very much like a Russel T. Davies story, with a silly concept and wacky monsters, but quickly shifts to a much deeper story that puts The Doctor in a horrible moral dilemma. The first episode that really showed that Moffat’s run on the series would be very different to the previous four seasons, it helped set the tone for things to come.

10. The Eleventh Hour

One of the best regeneration stories the series has done, The Eleventh Hour sees a freshly regenerated Matt Smith having to save the world from destruction with only 20 minutes to do so, without the Tardis, and with no Sonic Screwdriver. A great adventure story that showcased how fun and smart the new Doctor would be, as well as giving a great introduction to Amy Pond.

9. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

The introduction of The Silence, one of the creepiest and most interesting group of villains in the show, this episode set up a massive mystery that would unfold across the rest of the series (and Smith’s entire run). Shifting the production to America, the episode managed to have a scope and grandeur that many episodes lacked, and the addition of geek favourite Mark Shepherd to the cast topped of the experience.

8. The Wedding of River Song

In a lot of ways, the conclusion to the story began in The Impossible Astronaut, this episode brought the story of The Silence to a conclusion, as well as finally marrying River Song and The Doctor. With a story that really makes the most of time travel, some scary moments, and one of the best scenes in the series, this episode is a great series finale.

7. The Night of the Doctor

Only seven minutes long, this mini episode led into the events of the 50th anniversary, and brought back Paul McGann to play The Doctor one last time. Showing a small piece of the Time War, and the regeneration of the 8th Doctor into the War Doctor, this short piece manages to pack so many great moments in.

6. Listen

Moffat has managed to come up with some great concepts for monsters, like the Weeping Angels who are statues when you look at them, or The Silence who you immediately forget when not looking at them, and Listen adds to these great concepts with a monster designed with perfect camouflage. What makes this episode particular great, however, is that we never really get an answer to if these monsters exist. Are the events of this episode filled with monsters, or just spooky coincidences? The lack of answers make this scarier.

5. A Good Man Goes To War

With Amy Pond taken prisoner by The Doctor’s enemies he gathers together an army of allies from across time and space in order to save his friend and defeat an army without firing a single shot. Showcasing how amazing and bad arse The Doctor can be when he need to, this episode also packed huge plot revelations with the reveal of River Songs true identity, as well as introducing the Paternoster Gang for the first time.

4. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls

The final episodes of Capaldi’s time as The Doctor, this story brings together Missy and The Master, as well as the return of the original Cybermen as it tells the story of not just their creation, but the defeat of The Doctor. With both The Master and Missy suffering fatal wounds, the beginning of The Doctor’s regeneration, and the death of Bill, these episodes manage to be hugely bleak. A brave choice to end the series on such a down note, but one that works brilliantly.

3. The Name of The Doctor

The final episode before the 50th anniversary, this episode not only acts as a better celebration of the franchise than the actual anniversary episode, but showcases just how great an actor Matt Smith is. Finally answering the mystery of who Clara Oswald is, featuring every single Doctor, and the return of both River Song and the Paternoster Gang, this episode is a true celebration of Doctor Who at its best.

2. Blink

The episode that introduced the Weeping Angels to the franchise, and made people pay attention to Moffat’s writing, this is still the best episode featuring the Weeping Angels. With The Doctor barely appearing in this story, it takes full advantage of following a regular person within the Doctor Who universe, and packs in the scares.

1. Heaven Sent

The only episode in the who franchise to only feature The Doctor, Heaven sent sees him trapped within a hellish clockwork prison, chased by a corpse-like monster that wants to kill him, following the death of Clara. Over the course of the episode we discover that The Doctor has been trapped within this prison for billions of years, living the same few days over and over again, dying each time. The refusal to give in, the determination to break his way out and save his friend, even if it takes all eternity punching a diamond wall shows how strong the character is, and the final moments when you realise that he’s been letting himself suffer and die again and again just so he can escape is chilling and shocking. A true showcase of how amazing the character really is.

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