On June 18, 2005, the first season (or “series,” if you want to be properly British about it) of the modern relaunch of Doctor Who came to a close with “Parting of the Ways.” The episode marked the departure of Christopher Eccleston from the iconic role and the very first appearance of David Tennant as the newly regenerated Tenth Doctor. (Or Eleventh, or… well how do we even count them anymore?) To mark this fifteenth anniversary of Tennant’s Who debut, several Nerdist writers decided to share our favorite stories of his popular run, and why they matter to us.
“The Girl in the Fireplace”
My favorite episodes of Doctor Who are: the ones that make creative use of time travel as a plot device, the ones that explore unique and interesting worlds, the ones that utilize legitimately scary aliens or monsters, and the ones that really push at your emotional limits. “The Girl in the Fireplace” stands out for me because it accomplishes all of these. The clockwork robots with their painted French aristocracy masks are terrifying while also scratching that itch for steampunk fandom, holding me off from purchasing a tiny, bespectacled top hat.
The time warp portals serve as an early peek into the “Timey Wimey” nature of time—built upon in the next season’s “Blink”—and set up the destiny of Madam du Pompadore at the episode’s end. As an added bonus, “Fireplace” serves as one of the few adventures where Mickey gets bumped up from the earthbound (ex-) boyfriend into full-fledged, traveling-in-the-TARDIS companion. On top of all of that, Tennant’s Doctor leaps through a mirror on a horse, like the swashbuckling hero icing on the creepy, heartbreaking cake.
“The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit”
In this two-parter from David Tennant’s first season, the Doctor and Rose Tyler end up trapped on a base along with its human crew, who are exploring the blackhole they’re orbiting. But strange things start to happen as they drill further into the crust of the planet to find the source of the gravity funnel that’s keeping it stable. This marks the first time we’re introduced to the Ood, the obedient, peaceful race whom the humans make subservient and whom the Beast trapped within in the core possesses. There’s plenty for Doctor/Rose shippers to swoon over, as they discuss how being stranded together forever (with a mortgage payment even!) might not be so bad.
The episode deals with some major existential questions, as the Beast claims to be what some people on Earth would call the devil. It’s a solid story all around, boasting a strong guest cast and compelling mystery, but it’s the climax that seals it for me. As the Doctor contemplates whether destroying the creature (who he has determined to be a fraud) will mean sacrificing Rose, he proves to the Beast that its power pales in comparison to hers. “I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods, and out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing, just one thing…I believe in her.”
“The Shakespeare Code”
Doctor Who sings to my heart when its adventures center on historical figures. Given that, the third series episode “The Shakespeare Code” remains my favorite Tenth Doctor episode. He and Martha travel to 1599 in her first trip in the TARDIS; they meet William Shakespeare and go to the Globe Theatre. Poppets, aliens (Carrionites) using word-based science, decadent sets and costumes, plus the introduction of Queen Elizabeth I and her mistrust of the Doctor—it’s a powerhouse episode. In some moments, Martha schools Shakespeare about what women are capable of—particularly Black women. It’s her first journey through time and space, and she’s already fierce and formidable. And it’s just the beginning for her and the Doctor.
For an episode written at the eleventh hour when another fell through, “Midnight” might well be the best, darkest, and most emblematic episode of the David Tennant era. Without Donna to buffer him, the Tenth Doctor shows all of his sides, from the boyishly exuberant to the exceedingly pompous. We never know what the creature is or what it wants, but we know how easily it can wear down a group of people. Fear through paranoia, distrust, and scapegoating. It was a ferocious episode in 2008 and it’s just as upsetting today. And Tennant shows the full range of his acting ability, to devastating results.
“The Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End”
This two-part season finale is the Whoniverse’s version of Avengers: Endgame. I love how it includes all of Ten’s companions and friends—Martha, Rose, Jackie, Mickey, Jack, Sarah Jane, Harriet Jones, and Donna—for an epic adventure to save a couple dozen planets. “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End” tie together the arcs, themes, and breadcrumbs scattered from Doctor Who’s previous three seasons, as well as giving fans a fun Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures crossover.
There’s a lot of unexpected plot twists and strong character moments for all as The Doctor reckons with his influence on others. It sets the Tenth Doctor up for his final episodes as Russell T. Davies finished the first chapter on the revived series. I will never get over Donna’s heartbreaking ending, but the scene where everyone celebrates and pilots the TARDIS together is still one of my favorite Who moments of all time.
Honorable Mention: “Time Crash”
Filmed for the Children in Need special in 2007, “Time Crash” features the meeting of Tennant’s Doctor and (his future father-in-law) Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor. Though not an official part of the season, the short explains the reason the Titanic was able to collide with the TARDIS at the end of “Last of the Time Lords” following the departure of Martha Jones. Seeing Tennant, a lifelong Doctor Who fanboy himself, gush over meeting one of his heroes but also his own character’s past self, is just utterly charming and delightful. Though he’s in character as the Doctor, when Tennant states to Davison, “You were my Doctor,” it feels very much like he’s speaking as himself.
Featured Image: BBC