The Steven Moffat Era's Best Doctor Who Episodes

The Steven Moffat Era's Best Doctor Who Episodes ...

Steven Moffat would not have been as successful a Doctor Who showrunner as Russell T. Davies in 2005. The two are quite different writers, with Moffat simultaneously introverted and romantic in comparison to Davies' passionate tenures underlying cynicism. The former was much better suited to introducing the show to a wider audience, and the latter was much easier to interrogate the shows tropes and characters (much easier to do if you are going second).

Moffats' time on the show is in direct contact with Doctor Who's entire history, asking fundamental questions about the characters' identities, ethics, and flaws, going back to the characters' beginnings (near the beginning and end of his first incarnation) and asserting the importance of fear as a motivator (which definitely clicks if you go back and watch the Hartnell stories with that in mind).

In the Moffat era, children and childhood became important on a larger scale. The program intended to frighten children would feature them more often, and consider their viewpoint. However, it would also occasionally kill them, and was more obsessed with monsters than copyable behaviors, more about nightmares than the playground.

All of which makes the two different Moffat periods, with differing approaches for the 11th and 12th Doctors, seem like chin-stroking cleverness exercises rather than just entertaining telly. Anyone who remembers Coupling will find Moffat deploying similarly non-linear narratives, constraints, and high concepts to his time as Doctor Who showrunner.

10.Robot of Sherwood (Series 8, Episode 3, 2014)

Mark Gatiss' script is by Paul Murphy and is directed by Paul Gatiss.

Without the broadcast context of a new Doctor, a promise of darker stories, and scenes of beheading being deleted due to real-life murders, Robot of Sherwood is a lot less pressure on Peter Capaldi to shift his abrasive portrayal of the character to a larger and more light-hearted setting.

The most popular Doctor Who episodes, those that are well-known in fan polls and articles like this, are the more serious ones. However, within Caves of Androzani and Genesis of the Daleks are moments of comedy (perhaps pitch-black comedy, but nonetheless) to provide a bit of contrast.

This is a flexible show that requires its viewers to accept different rules for the different kinds of stories it tells, and to dismiss it as frivolous is doing a disservice to the need for lighter stories and indeed frivolity in general.

9.The Eleventh Hour (Series 5, Episode 1, 2010)

Steven Moffat's script is directed by Adam Smith.

The pressure on this story was enormous. Russell T. Davies had taken Doctor Who to great heights and cultural saturation. David Tennants Tenth Doctor had become the first incarnation to challenge Tom Bakers Fourth as the visual shorthand for the character. There was talk, however brief, at the BBC of simply ending the program once Tennant left, which was nixed by Davies.

Matt Smith has talked about his anxieties about taking over as Tennant in the streets. Moffat, always self-deprecating but evidently capable of neuroses (see: everything he's ever written) was apparently unaware of the mention of cancellation but still under pressure (until The Day of the Doctor, he considered this to be the most difficult script to write).

The episode progresses toward establishing the fairy tale (which, being mostly stories of terror and death set in heightened versions of reality, suit Doctor Who very nicely) of Amelia Pond and her Raggedy Doctor, and an increased focus on seeing the Doctor through children's eyes. Smith, while doing the same thing, is a young/old show that reeks of confidence.

Netflix may, but no one else would.

Warners may be a good fit.

8.Thin Ice (Series 10, Episode 3, 2017)

Sarah Dollard is the writer and director of The View.

Sarah Dollard is a master at constructing procedural scenes against an unusual backdrop, stories that may fade out in lesser hands, but this one maintains its charm throughout.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Peter Capaldi stated that he wants to see William Hartnell's strangeness and magic (or, more specifically, Hartnell's impact on a young Capaldi watching on dark winter nights), but his Doctor had settled down into a more pleasant person (as did Hartnell's Doctor over the course of the first season). So when we see new companion Bill ask him if he has ever killed someone before, and both fail.

Dollards' script makes the Doctor's words separate from his actions, forming Moffats' assumption that the Doctor is a person that the person desires but often fails to be. So we have the scene of the Doctor punching Sutcliffe immediately preceding by the Doctor declaring that Passion fights but reason wins. It's an incredible moment of hypocrisy in terms of characterisation and racists being struck in the face.

With the Return of the First Doctor, you can see the development of the character and its origins as well.

Three episodes in, Bill is engulfed in the Doctor's way of thinking. This is an unusual twist on the usual preservation of history approach. Bill soon begins to understand ethical choices the way the Doctor does in Series 8.

Mummy on the Orient Express (Series 8, Episode 8, 2014)

Jamie Mathieson's script is directed by Paul Wilmshurst.

The first half of Series 8 isn't terrible (Robot of Sherwood and Listen are highlights), but it's this story that really sees the Twelfth Doctor begin to develop. The Doctor and Clara finally sit down to talk about his morality, and immediately the show feels freer, no longer weighed down by the Doctor's abrasive personality and apparent coldness.

The fact that Jamie Mathieson writes the show as though he owns it is a testament to the fact that he cares about the cannon fodder, and the fact that the Doctor is urging him to narrate his own death for the reason he has no time, and then Clara lying to Maisie despite the Doctor's coldness. It's a rapid series of character moments, with the quality to suggest it's going to be great.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (Series 5, Episodes 12 and 13, 2010)

Steven Moffat's script is directed by Toby Haynes.

The first episode is a wild ride: the whole series emerges to point us towards a base-under-siege that leads to the cliffhanger: the escalating stakes of a series finale brought to an end with the entire universe blowing up. This is obviously significant, but the best part is when you realize something's wrong (around the point where Amy doesn't remember Rory), and everything that's been set up is rendered enormously hubristic.

The second episode of Moffats two-part finales is a rugpull, moving in a different direction from the first. If you dont manage to reorient yourself the first time round, the second episode of Moffats two-part finales are a great incentive for repeat viewings.

Amid the fairy tale payoff, in which Amy summons the Doctor out of pure conviction the kind she had as a child, we have the quietly revolutionary notion of a companion marrying off and not having to leave the TARDIS. Only took 47 years.

5.Heaven Sent/Hell Bent (Series 9, Episodes 11 and 12, 2015)

Steven Moffat's novel is directed by Rachel Talalay.

Latest TV reviews

Review of The Great Wave from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 4

Ballet Review of The Handmaids Tale Season 5 Episode 2

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Episode 5 Review Mean, Green, and Straight Poured Into These Jeans

Heaven Sent is, of course, a tour de force of constraint as creativity and one of the finest performances in the lead role. The Doctor finds himself trapped in the changing and shifting corridors and gardens of a castle stuck on an island, pursued by a hooded figure who brings death to his attention (dear God, the way Capaldis speaks when he says All you need for energy is to burn) only to discover himself on Gallifrey, a planet he last saw saved in The

The Doctor's heroics in Heaven Sent is marginally appreciated, yet its a more melancholic, downbeat episode that lacks the triumphant crescendo of its counterpart: if the Doctor does such a thing as to save Clara, and that he would destroy his house out of an unambiguous sense of duty, maybe this isn't something we should just praise in the least.

Clara does not die. The Doctors intention would not have worked, but it's Clara's persistence on her death and on her right to choose what happens to her that allows her to depart in her own TARDIS at the end.

It's easy to see why it's so divided opinion; it's slow, dialogue is intense, light on action, showing the Doctor at his worst and actively questioning the previous episode's heroism is what makes the program so popular. It improves on every viewing.

The Doctor's Day (50th Anniversary Special, 2013)

Steven Moffat's script is directed by Nick Hurran.

Given that the previous series had suffered a bit of a stalemate, like Series 7, which was dragged down by a couple of poor installments, and Steven Berkoff's allegedly ruined The Power of Three's conclusion, there was a lot of excitement about this special. Certainly few people were expecting a chart-breaking drama, and Steven Moffat certainly wasnt one.

Serendipity struck in the creation of the War Doctor, who embodied the original run, but who likewise eased the need to include previous Doctors. Where this story would be used to build the Doctors' relationship with Missy in Series 10 is where it would go further, as would the Doctors' interaction with Bill about the Master in World Enough and Time.

3.A Christmas Carol (Christmas Special, 2010)

Steven Moffat's script is directed by Toby Haynes.

It's the best Christmas special, isn't it? Romantic and melancholy and resonant with its halfway out of the dark motif. It manages to incorporate flying sharks into a Dickens A Christmas Carol with your actual Michael Gambon as Scrooge without it appearing too much: Douglas Adams brought something completely useless to Doctor Who. He gave the impression that Doctor Who would be a better-known character if he were to write it.

Moffat and Russell T. Davies demonstrates what Doctor Who would look like if it were written by a genius: a flying shark in a Dickens adaptation. Rather, Doctor Who should be collaborating on ideas as often as it can, and certainly he seems to waste ideas on a grace note or background detail, or you may spend every single episode he writes waiting for a sex comedy that might have been written out of the second draft of a Carry On film, nevertheless.

2.Flatline (Series 8, Episode 9, 2014)

Jamie Mathieson's story is directed by Douglas Mackinnon.

Mummy on the Orient Express was an excellent high concept episode that was realised at an appropriate level of creativity, but Mathieson is at an even higher level here, combining strong characterisation with an eye for the medium: visuals that few other shows can match, from the horrifying (the human nervous system on the wall, the juddering march of the boneless creatures) to the enthralling (the Doctors hand scutting out of the tiny TARDIS doors like Thing from The Addam

Clara emerges with newfound confidence, echoing Roses' brief turn as the Doctor-figure in Turn Left, and Capaldis Doctor lightening up both things that would be built upon in the following series, but this time while a tense, inventive story unfolds. Mathieson would go on to become an established part of the writing team over the next few series.

The Doctor Falls/World Enough (Series 10, Episodes 11 and 12, 2017)

Steven Moffat's poetry is directed by Rachel Talalay.

Den of Geek is a fan of this film in previous ranking articles. It's fair to say that Moffats are more inward-looking, criticizing and playing with the Doctor's tropes rather than blockbuster, tell-your-friends, watercooler-moment television. But when the universe is at stake, it's about the Doctor and Bill, who are attempting to save a few people from the oncoming Cybermen.

We sometimes rate Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways highly. Both stories have a sense of completeness for their Doctors, a sense that this is their logical conclusion. For the Ninth it is having their morality be rewarded, as it influences Rose to save him, and it means he never has to commit another double genocide. Only him and Bill will have the opportunity to make some time for a small number of people with the knowledge that his friendship to his best friend has failed.

The scale is perfectly pitched and resolves the character arc in an amazing satisfying way. Unlike Closing Time, most people avoid blowing them up with love.

Read about our celebration of the finest Russell T. Davies-era stories here.