Redbrick’s writers discuss their favourite episodes of the Sci-Fi classic as one era ends and another begins
‘Midnight’ – Lula Izzard
As someone who has rewatched seasons one to four of Doctor Who to the point of knowing multiple episodes off by heart, ‘Midnight’ is an episode I still find genuinely scary to watch.
This episode sees the Doctor (David Tennant) aboard a journey with a group of other passengers which takes a disastrous turn as the vehicle is infiltrated by an inexplicable, seemingly alien threat. It is a fascinating exploration of the human psyche, drawing on our fear of the unknown and portraying our often hostile reaction to strangeness, as well as the consequences of panicking in moments of crisis in a frighteningly realistic way.
When this episode first aired, I found it unsettling to see the Doctor end up in such a vulnerable state, especially as the humans around him begin to endanger, rather than help him. It is interesting that traits such as his extraordinary knowledge and passion for discovery, which distinguish him from humans and are usually some of his strengths, in this episode, are what cause the group to target him.
This episode almost entirely takes place in one setting, with a small cast, and uses minimal special effects, successfully creating a tense and sinister atmosphere through the actors’ performances and the use of sound and music. As the setting resembles an ordinary plane or train rather than a spaceship, it is easy to imagine yourself in a similar situation to that in which the passengers find themselves.
‘The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit’ – Jess Parker
When looking back to David Tenant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor, one of my favourite storylines has to be the two-part plot of ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ from Series Two of Doctor Who’s revival.
The plotline follows the Tenth Doctor and his first companion, Rose (Billie Piper), as they find themselves stranded on Krop Tor: a planet stuck in the orbit of a black hole. The planet hosts a group of scientists who are drilling into the planet’s core, hoping to find out how the planet remains in orbit. The drill stops, and the Beast that lies below the surface slowly begins to take over the base.
‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ provide audiences with an insight into the Tenth Doctor and Rose’s relationship. The episode includes some of the most memorable interactions between the two and shows the depth of the Doctor’s feelings for his companion.
One of the most important aspects of these episodes is the introduction of the Ood. Used by humans as a slave race, these creatures add a level of depth to the story, introducing moral dilemmas on the treatment of alien species by humans in later episodes (such as ‘Planet of the Ood’ in Series Four).
The character of the Beast stands out due to the grand, religious connotations that the episodes point towards. The Beast’s control over Toby (Will Thorp) is terrifying, creating an effectively mysterious and powerful antagonist.
‘The Curse of Fenric’ – Louis Wright
Over the course of 60 years of Doctor Who there has been one omnipresent factor that is consistently in the background but rarely ever brought to the forefront: while the character of The Doctor might be good, they are not necessarily nice. No story exemplifies this greater than Season 26’s ‘The Curse of Fenric’.
Within the story we see the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), who is regarded as the most machiavellian incarnation of the character, go on what can only be accurately described as a warpath. While most stories see the Doctor unwittingly enter a situation where there is some form of evil, ‘The Curse of Fenric’ is the start of a number of Seventh Doctor stories where the Doctor actively seeks out some form of evil to destroy it before it can become a more prominent threat.
Thanks to this, we see a side of the character that is rarely seen in other incarnations – particularly as someone who is in complete and utter control of the situation they are in. Throughout the story, the Doctor is consistently aware of all factors at play, and as the audience, we see the sheer lengths that the Doctor will go as to prevent the rise of evil, particularly in his relationship with his companion, Ace.
This episode is a standout for its exploration of its characters and themes, particularly seeing the true manipulative ability of the Doctor to an extent rarely ever seen in the series.
‘Vincent and the Doctor’ – Nicole Haynes
As a Van Gogh lover, Season 5, Episode 10 ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ marks one of my favourite episodes in the entirety of the series. Despite being a David Tennant kind of girl, I have a soft spot for this episode and its sentimental homage to Vincent Van Gogh.
Written by Richard Curtis, ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ follows the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) travelling back in time to meet Vincent Van Gogh and defeat an invisible monster called the Krafayis. The episode certainly reflects Richard Curtis’ strengths as a writer; he excellently writes Van Gogh as a struggling artist but fails, perhaps, to create an equally great monster.
However, I believe this episode’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses. Tim Curran dynamically portrays Van Gogh, expressing his mental turmoil and failing self-esteem whilst also carrying comedic moments. Furthermore, the relationship between Vincent and Amy provides a heartfelt alternative to the comical moments.
The highlight of this episode has to be its triumphant ending. Bill Nighy, playing an art curator, delivers a monologue describing Van Gogh as an artist, whilst Vincent overhears him do so. Nighy and Curran showcase their tremendous skills as actors and the scene is enough to bring viewers to tears.
Vincent is overwhelmed by the accolades he hears, returning back to the past with a poignantly hopeful perspective. Despite Vincent’s tragic end, his experiences with the Doctor and Amy amount to a positive effect; the final shot of ‘Sunflowers’ is now inscribed with the acknowledgement: ‘For Amy’.
‘Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead’ – Emily Wallace
‘Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead’ follows the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) as they investigate The Library. Here, they run into a group of archaeologists led by River Song (Alex Kingston), who appears to know everything about the Doctor, yet he has never met her before. They soon discover The Library is home to the Vashta Nerada, creatures living in the shadows, and these begin to target the group one by one.
Sometimes, the most effective threats in a Doctor Who episode are the monsters that are left to the audience’s imagination, and this is the case with the Vashta Nerada. Eerie tension is built up each time we see a character marked with two shadows; from then, it is only a matter of time before they are consumed until only a skeleton remains. This is made more haunting by the repetition of phrases such as the iconic ‘Who turned out the lights?’ leaving you unsure if each victim is alive or dead.
This two-parter serves as a brilliant introduction to River Song, setting up the mystery of how she becomes such an important person to the Doctor, while showcasing that their future story will be bittersweet. ‘Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead’ has all the components of a quintessential Doctor Who episode – creepy monsters, emotional stakes, and a well-crafted storyline – and it is a two-parter that will stick with you.
‘Spyfall Parts One and Two’ – Erin Perry
‘Spyfall Parts One and Two’ kick the Thirteenth Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) second series off in bombastic fashion, leading her and the audience through a quintessential Doctor Who adventure.
Throughout, we meet friends and foes, plus an old face who blurs that line completely. The reveal at the end of Part One that the sweet ‘O’ (Sacha Dhawan) is in fact the Master, miraculously back from the dead (again), is the main reason why I adore ‘Spyfall’. His comeback commences delicious sparring between the Doctor and her ‘Best Enemy’, toeing the line between love and hate that perfectly encapsulates their ancient relationship. Plus, any episode of Doctor Who that makes me physically leap from my seat in shock, and leaves that shock permeating long after the end credits, earns its place amongst my favourites.
Doctor Who shines when the unusual dynamic between the human companion and the Time Lord is considered. ‘Spyfall’ provides much-needed development for Yaz (Mandip Gill), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) as they realise, despite months of travelling with the Doctor, she remains a total mystery to them. While their eventual questioning elicits very little from the guarded Doctor, what is left unsaid, particularly concerning the newly destroyed Gallifrey and the threat of the Master sets up a season’s worth of questions for the companions and audiences alike.
Of course, the Thirteenth Doctor’s era has divided fans, but as someone who enjoyed it immensely, ‘Spyfall’ is an epic, time and space-spanning event that provides two hours of thrilling entertainment.
‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ – Alex Taylor
‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ has always been one of my very favourite episodes of Doctor Who. Written by Steven Moffatt, and with a combination of body horror, a whimsical encounter with a needy horse, and a tragic love story, the episode showcases the depth, variety, and emotional potential of the programme. The setting of eighteenth-century France creates a grounded and sentimental tone, especially when emphasised alongside the episode’s parallel environment of the futuristic spaceship (which is more typical of the series).
The episode’s romantic overtones are personally refreshing, however typically polarising, a symptom of Russell T Davies’ era as showrunner. Alongside this, Murray Gold’s musical composition of aching violins only adds to the deeply emotional territory of the episode, and aids in the transition of events from playful and adventurous, to romantic, to desperately sad. The episode is one of the many humanising and romantic storylines that literally and figuratively place the character on a white horse. This time opposite Madame De Pompadour (Sophia Myles) – an equally brave, intelligent, and extremely three-dimensional character – whose depth surpasses the constraints of her limited screen time.
Announced by the intimidating tick-tock of their clockwork mechanisms, the episode also boasts potentially the most beautiful character design from the entire franchise, with the ‘Clockwork Droids’, which not only have a foot in both the past and the present but are glamorously Renaissance in style. Ultimately what more could you want than big guns, masked balls, monsters under the bed, and a romantic tragedy?
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