Monday, October 01, 2012

The Best and Worst of New Who

Each and every one of them are ranked on this page, from the crown jewels (5 jelly babies) to the very good (4 jelly babies) to the decent (3 jelly babies), to the mediocre duds (2 jelly babies) to the absolute stinkers (1 jelly baby). There's a good portion on every step of the ladder, as it turns out. Enjoy the list.

1. Blink. 5+ jelly babies. Yes, it's everyone's favorite, and for good reason. It's completely beyond criticism. I can't even nitpick Murray Gold's scoring, as he gets even that right for a change, hitting every beat perfectly. The weeping angels are brilliant creations, the best aliens of the new era, and definitely the most frightening. Most remarkable is the status this story has achieved despite, or perhaps because of, being Doctor-lite. It's a sign of something special when the Doctor can be sidelined for the better, and of course Sally Sparrow is a fantastic character, possibly the best guest performance of the six seasons. Moffat is at his best playing with time paradoxes in Blink, the highlight of course being the DVD Easter Egg scene, as the Doctor uses a copy of the transcript Lawrence is writing to have a conversation across time, which in fact generates the script. And it takes pure genius to cap it all off with a final scene that has absolutely nothing to do with the story, yet everything, designed to make kids afraid of statues.

2. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. 5 jelly babies. In a way I think of this as my favorite story, since Blink doesn't really count being everyone's favorite. I'll never forget when I first watched the second season DVD set, and this no-holds-barred epic came in the middle, trailing a fantastic werewolf story, a wonderful return of Sarah Jane Smith, a dark fairy-tale, and an amazing reboot of the Cybermen in a parallel Earth. The devil outdid them all in the deepest space where truly no one can hear you scream, stealing shamelessly from Alien, The Abyss, and The Robots of Death, yet never feeling like a cheat. The dread and tension and claustrophobia never let up, with Rose and crew battling Ood on the sanctuary base above, and the Doctor blindly freefalling into Satan's Pit below. We haven't seen the Doctor show down a godlike adversary since he went against Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars and the ancient evil in The Curse of Fenric, and this masterpiece ranks right alongside them. When I finally caught my breath at the end, I remember thinking, "Okay, it's official: we're in a new Golden Age of Doctor Who."

3. Dalek. 5 jelly babies. The story that convinced me of the potentials of the new series is a pure classic. When I'm crying over a Dalek, something unprecedented is going on, and what's mind-numbingly brilliant is the way this episode inverts the legendary Genesis of the Daleks with just as much economy in the span of 45 minutes. The brutally tortured Dalek draws not an ounce of sympathy from the Doctor, who has to be stopped by Rose from blasting it to atoms -- the exact opposite of Sarah who once urged genocide against his pacifism -- all climaxing in a weird "E.T." moment as the creature forms a strange bond with her. If anyone had described the plot to me in advance, I would have dismissed it as a sentimental betrayal of what Doctor Who is about, but Dalek is absolutely transcendent, and the second best Dalek story (after Genesis) in the entire history of the show.

4. Human Nature/Family of Blood. 5 jelly babies. Some consider this the best story, even over Blink, and no surprise. Drama can't go any deeper than making a Time Lord human, taking away his TARDIS, and erasing all memories of his true identity. And it's really a story that only Paul Cornell could pull off so that it plays like something adapted out of high-brow literature. The Doctor makes the sacrifice of becoming human out of kindness (preferring evasion over a grim sentence he's forced to carry out on the aliens in the end), but ends up bringing horror and death to an innocent village. David Tennant gets to show off new acting skills, as he's a completely new character, emotionally vulnerable, and devoid of the flippant sarcasm that defines his role as the Doctor. When the jig is finally up and he refuses to change back into a Time Lord, having fallen in love with a fellow schoolteacher, he delivers a performance so painful, so angry and tearful, that we almost don't want the Doctor back anymore than he does.

5. The Girl in the Fireplace. 5 jelly babies. A creep-show, fairy-tale, and tragedy all in one. It captures the innocence of The Chronicles of Narnia and horror of Pan's Labyrinth to produce something rather unique in Doctor Who, something I wish we'd see more often. Moffat must have had me in mind when writing the spaceship powered by human body parts -- especially the beating heart in the interior smelling like cooking meat -- and the demented robots who believe that a certain woman's are needed just because the ship is named after her. Madame de Pompadour herself is brilliantly scripted, making it easy to accept that she could fall in love with The Doctor she has only known for fleeting moments throughout her life, since he arrives out of nowhere like a mythical protector in times of need. When he comes the final time to find her dead and gone, and her letter waiting, it's truly heartbreaking. This is pure magic, pure storytelling.

6. The Doctor's Wife. 5 jelly babies. Getting Neil Gaiman to write for Doctor Who was a coup, and true to expectations he managed to deliver the most powerful story of the Moffat era. He takes the living essence of the TARDIS, pours it into a human being, gives it voice, and explores its (her) relationship with the Doctor. Idris is a spellbinding character, constantly speaking out of tense as she lives moments of the Doctor's life in non-linear fashion, and insisting on an equal playing field by insisting that it was she in fact who stole him and not the other way around. In a perfectly geeky way, the TARDIS gives the Doctor what no other "woman" can (not even River Song), constant adventure, which he gives her back in turn. When Idris finally has to die and they both start breaking down, I was doing the same. And those aren't even the best parts, which go to Amy and Rory trapped inside the darkened TARDIS robbed of its soul, and tormented by a voice out of hell.

7. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. 5 jelly babies. As a librarian I have to love this one; hell, I dream of planet-sized libraries. The menace is bloody chilling: shadows that kill on contact and strip flesh to the bone, hard to distinguish from the garden variety, and as hard to evade as the weeping angels from Blink. And of course this is where the Doctor first meets River Song, though for her it's their last meeting, and she dies with appropriate tragedy. True, she awakens in the matrix to continue in some sort of metaphysical existence, but at least her demise is permanent on the physical side of things, which is more than can be said for the deaths in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Even if the epilogue waxes schmaltzy, this is Moffat at his best -- the best two-part story he ever wrote, with the first half being a nail-biting horror piece, the second taking us inside the disturbing matrix where Donna is married and has kids and no memory of anything else.

8. Amy's Choice. 5 jelly babies. By far the weirdest story of the new series, an actual nightmare that evokes David Lynch. It finds the Doctor, Amy, and Rory flicking back and forth between two scenarios, one of which they are told is a dream they are sharing, the other reality. To die in the dream will cause them to wake up in reality for good, and to die in reality will cause them to really die; so they must choose wisely. The choice, however, Amy's choice, ultimately boils down to a choice between the Doctor and Rory, and I love the twist that the frozen TARDIS circling a cold star is as much a dream as the idyllic countryside where feeble grandmas are getting whacked by crowbars and thrown off the roofs of houses. The perversity is grand, but at heart the story is ingeniously introspective, a welcome rarity in Doctor Who, and a true work of art.

9. Father's Day. 5 jelly babies. Paul Cornell's tragedy proved at once that tear-jerkers can work outside the cloying sentimentality of Russell Davies' stories. The plot is simple, the resolution predictable, but only in way the tragedy often is; the drama is brilliant, the acting Oscar-worthy. Rose persuades the Doctor to take her back in time to when her father was killed by a motorist, and despite being forbidden to alter the past, she intervenes and saves him anyway, ushering in nothing less than Armageddon. Everywhere on earth people are suddenly assaulted by Reapers (winged creatures resembling Tolkien's Nazgul-steeds), parasites that act like antibodies, destroying everything in wounded time until the paradox is gone. The Doctor nearly disowns and abandons Rose, and it's one of Eccleston's harshest and finest moments. But in the end the Doctor and Rose are closer than before despite (no: because of) their falling out, after the painful lesson that triumph costs.

10. The Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel. 5 jelly babies. Of the thirteen stories I consider crown jewels, this one tends to surprise people, but frankly I think it's about as strong as Father's Day to which it serves as a sort of sequel. Not only is this the best Cybermen story of all time (though let's face it, they were never used very well in the classic period), it's before even that a parallel-Earth story, like the Pertwee classic Inferno, in which all bets are off as we get to see familiar faces die (Jackie), others beat hasty retreats when confronted with "relatives" they never knew (Pete), and then a major character from our world choose exile when he finally realizes his girlfriend will always choose the Doctor over him (Mickey). Much as I loathed Mickey up to this point, I had to admit this story justified his existence, and his farewell to Rose was really moving. As for the Cybermen, the Davros-type genius who creates them is a ranting megalomaniac and alone worth the price of admission.

11. Fires of Pompeii. 5 jelly babies. The most ambitious historical of the new series achieves greatness with everything -- drama, comedy, horror, tragedy, time paradoxes, and not a minute of screen time wasted. It tackles the dilemma of whether or not history should be altered to save lives, and the Doctor's struggle to pull the lever recalls Tom Baker's agony over whether or not to change history by committing genocide on the Daleks. The Sibylline Sisterhood is another throw-back to the Hinchcliffe era (The Brain of Morbius), and half of the fourth-season's special effects budget seems to have gone into creating the Pyrovile (stone-magma creatures resembling Balrogs) which the priestesses are hideously transforming into. That the Doctor is the one to blow up Vesuvius and murder thousands is genius, and if you aren't weeping with Donna at the end you're made of stone yourself.

12. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone. 5 jelly babies. This two-parter is to Blink as Aliens is to Alien: bigger, longer, more; not quite as perfect but still excellent. The weeping angels are back in droves, faced off by an army of priestly soldiers who aren't nearly as equipped as they think. Like Ripley, the Doctor understands the menace better than anyone, though not always quite enough, and the angels have some alarming new tricks, like breaking peoples' heads open in order to reanimate their consciousness. In terms of suspense, I hadn't been kept on the edge of my seat so much since the Ood closed in on the space crew back in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit; and as in that story the body count is high. Amy is in deep trouble, and when on death's door she cries out in a pitifully broken voice, "I'm scared, Doctor," I love our hero's callous retort: "Of course you're scared, you're dying, shut up." Amusingly, when all is said and done, she wants to jump in the sack and fuck his brains out in one of the best epilogues of the new series.

13. The Angels Take Manhattan. 5 jelly babies. And here is Blink 3, like Alien 3 noirish to the core, with a prison environment, and ending in the death of the famously loved heroine. The premise is one of the ghastliest seen in the entire new series: the weeping angels are using Manhattan as a human farm, sending victims back in time over and over again to feed their existence. It's nice to see them doing this again instead of breaking open heads, and there are even infant angels on display, not to mention a Statue of Liberty incarnation which looks like hell come to earth (it scared the shit out of me at first). The graveyard epilogue -- which turns out to be not an epilogue after all, but a stunning negation of Amy and Rory's escape -- approaches the tear-jerk factor of Doomsday: as Rose was stranded in another dimension against her will, Amy decides to be stranded in the past against the Doctor's. It's the perfectly tragic end for Amy Pond, who was the best companion since Rose.

14. Midnight. 4 ½ jelly babies. The best thing Russell Davies ever wrote is by his own admission a low-budget afterthought, asking what would happen if Voyage of the Damned were turned on its head. If the garishly bombastic Christmas special was about feel-good togetherness and people bringing out the best in each other when united against an outside threat, Midnight is about the beast inside everyone bringing out the worst. With the claustrophobic intensity of United 93 and rapid dialogue-fire of Twelve Angry Men, the story succeeds by undercutting the Doctor's hero qualities as he's left at the mercy of an hysterical mob. Opposite Voyage, where his is melodramatic speech about a being a Time Lord makes the ship's passengers obey him without question, now it's precisely his arrogant superiority that shoots him in the ass. The tension and yelling reach a horrifying crescendo as the passengers try to kill him and he's unable to save the day. That's something unique in the Tennant years, and this is a uniquely strong story for Russell Davies.

15. A Christmas Carol. 4 ½ jelly babies. I never wanted to see Christmas specials again after the stream of Davies-fiascos, convinced that The Christmas Invasion was a one-off exception. Not only did Moffat prove me wrong, he did even better with a brilliant spin on Dickens. The sets and lighting with purplish-black hues set a perfect tone, haunting yet mystical, and Michael Gambon as the tormented Scrooge character is as evil as greed gets. And I love how the Doctor is so unethically manipulative in trying to save his ugly soul. It reminds of the Seventh Doctor who tried to save as many lives as possible in carrying out his vendetta against Fenric: there's no reason why he couldn't simply have taken the flask he trapped Fenric in and dumped it in a black hole like he once did with the Fendahl-skull. Ditto here: there's no reason he couldn't have gone back in time to prevent the Starliner from taking off in the first place instead of jumping through hoops to rewrite a man's life on the slim hope that he'll change his mind. Part of me that thinks the Doctor is getting off on using people as pawns, rewriting their lives -- as the Scrooge character rightly charges -- "to suit himself". Brilliant.

16. The Unquiet Dead. 4 ½ jelly babies. A superb gothic story harking back to the Hinchcliffe era, and the first episode that showed promise with the new series. Doctor Who is almost always in top form with period pieces like this one, and Charles Dickens is used splendidly, as a skeptic who becomes more open-minded about ghostly matters on account of his dealings with the Doctor. Of course, the undead corpses stalking Cardiff aren't really undead, but animated by gaseous aliens from another dimension, as they want to reclaim every corpse on earth for bodily existence. The best part is that the Doctor actually aids them in their morbid goal out of pity (after all, human corpses are just corpses), not realizing the aliens' real goal goal to dominate planet earth once they acquire physical existence. The Doctor is amusingly incompetent in this story, and it's up to Dickens to save the day.

17. Tooth and Claw. 4 ½ jelly babies. The second best thing Russell Davies ever wrote is something I still have a hard time believing, as it shows none of his bad traits at all. It's as if he donned the professional writer's cap to prove he could match the previous season's Unquiet Dead, and that's exactly what happened. I'd always wanted to see a werewolf story in Doctor Who, and you can't do better for setting than the Scottish highlands. Queen Victoria is one of the best guest performances of the new series, and the ninja monks are a big bonus too. The monks' agenda is to get the Queen bitten so they can rule the British empire through her, though it's never quite clear whether they're worshipping the werewolf or using it for their own ends. The ending is priceless, when the Queen rewards the Doctor with a knighthood, and then promptly banishes him, "not amused" by his heathen nature.

18. Vincent and the Doctor. 4 ½ jelly babies. This one is as good as the previous two and by far the most emotional. By portraying Vincent Van Gogh as a tormented genius who sees things others are blind to, the story is able to explore artistic insight on both literal and metaphysical levels. It represents the final year of Van Gogh's life quite well, recreating various sites painted by the artist, the paintings themselves in arresting color, and his disturbing fits of manic depression. The theme of vision permeates almost every frame, and on the literal level this plays out in the attack of the Krafayis, an invisible giant bird-reptile that Vincent fends off entertainingly with long wooden poles and armchairs, while the Doctor gets slammed against walls by its tail. On the deeper level, Van Gogh sees things in nature's midst and people's souls. And of course, the ending hits hard: the Doctor brings Vincent to a museum in the present, where the artist breaks down in front of his paintings that are now famous.

19. The Girl Who Waited. 4 jelly babies. This story may wield sentimentality like old-Amy does her sword, but the emotions on display ring true, and it's impossible not to be moved during the scenes between her and Rory. It's completely defined by its title: Amy's tragedy from The Eleventh Hour is repeated, but with infinitely worse results, the simple press of a wrong button costing her half her life. The beauty to this episode is that it does so much with so little; there are no guest characters, just the three regulars; the Two Streams Facility is minimalist as sets get in Doctor Who, but eye-candy just the same with its blinding whiteness and lush topiaries. At heart, the story exposes the Doctor's destructive nature as Amy faithfully waits on him and evolves into a bitter isolated warrior, whom Rory must find the will to kill, and segues neatly into her swan song, The God Complex. Which, incidentally, is just as good...

20. The God Complex. 4 jelly babies. A perfect exit for Amy (even if it's a pseudo-one), not only for trailing her most harrowing experience in The Girl Who Waited, but for crushing her childlike faith in the Doctor. It does this in a tense story about a beast who feeds off corrupted belief in a haunted hotel, where each room contains the worst fears of one individual. Amy faces hers and is liberated, and her farewell at the end is beautiful, and simple like Sarah's in The Hand of Fear. In some ways I think it's as powerful as her real departure in The Angels Take Manhattan. Like Sarah's in the '70s, this one delivers so much in simple gestures and looks that speak volumes. There's a real feel in the closing scene that the Doctor and Amy have have become best friends and find it enormously painful to part company.

21. School Reunion. 4 jelly babies. Speaking of Sarah's departure, let's talk of her return. Three decades later, she's spirited and feisty as ever -- and royally pissed that the Doctor never came back for her, prompting an amusingly jealous bitch-fight with Rose. K-9 is back too and in rusty form. Around the fun nostalgia revolves a plot involving batlike aliens who have taken over a school and are turning children into geniuses to help them solve an equation that unlocks complete control of time and space. A powerful concept like this really deserved more attention than serving as a backdrop to the return of old friends, but this is still a very good story, a special one I hold dear like many fans. The Doctor gets in a particularly compelling moment when he considers using the paradigm to save Gallifrey, and Sarah reminds him that pain and loss are essential in the course of evolution. Their final farewell choked me up as much as back in the '70s when Tom Baker sent her away.

22. Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. 4 jelly babies. For all the garbage Davies cranked out, he went out strong in seasons one and two. This finale is a massive adrenaline rush, a sequel to Dalek (in theme) and The Long Game (in setting), and involves the riotous plot of people trapped in reality television where everything is a game and losers get vaporized. When the Doctor, Rose, and Captain Jack play for their lives they discover the outfit is a front for an impending Dalek invasion of earth. This is what I was waiting for when I finally started watching the new series: the sight of zillions of Daleks (who can levitate and fly now, thanks to CGI) balling "EXTERMINATE!" and other horrible mantras, more fearsome than ever for having found religion. The Dalek God is awesome, as demented and entertaining as Davros, and calls forth obsequious devotion from his subjects who go ape-shit when the Doctor interrupts him ("DO NOT INTERRUPT!"). The climax is both fantastic and awful, the latter for involving the intrusion of Jackie and Mickey with, of all things, a trailer truck.

23. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. 4 jelly babies. This finale is a sequel to The Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel, with Daleks thrown in for good measure, and Rose's swan song to boot. It's a Who-fan's wet dream -- the two most popular villains invading earth, and then fighting each other to see who's best -- and remains an example of fanwank that's actually good, completely unlike The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. The appearance of the Daleks caught me way off-guard, and the cliffhanger is one of the best of all time. And I love the Cult of Skaro: four elite Daleks with actual names, designed to think as the enemy thinks. A great moment is when the Cyberleader proposes an alliance with the Cult, is refused, and demands: "You would destroy five million Cybermen with four Daleks?" To which the response, of course, is that they would destroy five million Cybermen with but a single Dalek, for "this is not a war, this is pest control". As apocalyptic as the previous finale, and just as good, with Rose going out incredibly emotionally, knowing she'll never be able to see the Doctor again.

24. 42. 4 jelly babies. This may be a rip-off of the previous season's Impossible Planet/Satan Pit, but I'm a sucker for spaceship-in-distress stories where sweating crew members fight hopeless odds, race against time, and get picked off one by one. Here the Doctor and his companion appear on a ship which is going to crash into a sun in 42 minutes. Like last time, they get cut off from the TARDIS almost as soon as they step out of it (thus preventing a convenient rescue and escape), and just as before, we get possessed crew members (this time by an angry sun), suffocating claustrophobia, and the Doctor going EVA in the middle of it all. Because the drama unfolds in real time (Doctor Who episodes are 45 minutes long), and punctuated by a nerve-racking countdown, it keeps your blood racing. An awesome episode.

25. Turn Left. 4 jelly babies. Now here's a gem that would positively glow if not weighed down by the baggage of Davies' previous lemons, especially The Runaway Bride and Partners in Crime, and also the gaping plot hole that if the Doctor died at the start of season three, the world would have retroactively ended in 79 AD since he doesn't go back to Pompeii and stop the Pyrovile. But for the most part Davies manages to pull off a compelling time-warp scenario in which Donna replays her life without ever meeting the Doctor, with catastrophic results for the world. There's a lot of good drama here: the Italian family being taken off to a "labor camp" is heartbreaking, as is Donna's life as a refugee. The return of Rose is handled surprisingly well (since she doesn't meet the Doctor, thus remaining true to the season-two finale), and Catherine Tate puts in a hell of a performance as she sacrifices herself to turn left and get the world back on track. Again, if this story weren't saddled with ridiculous spectacles like marshmallow-men invasions (the adipose), it would have been a crown jewel.

26. Utopia. 4 jelly babies. For purposes of this list, I consider the season-three finale to be three separate stories, not only because a new plot launches at the beginning of each (within the overarching thread of the Master), but they end up rating differently as a result. Utopia is unquestionably the best, though as always, Davies' futuristic vision isn't terribly strong. The Futurekind somehow come across as both savage and lame, and the centipede-humanoid assistant is a bit awkward. Penalties also for the return of Captain Jack. But aside from these irritants, this is a dark and compelling look at a dying humanity trillions of years in the future, and its desperate quest to seek out a mythic utopian planet. The plot then suddenly turns into a race against time as the Professor spearheading this mission turns out to be the Master, who shockingly -- even for the Master -- murders his assistant and hijacks the Doctor's TARDIS. It's a great start to a finale, but that greatness unfortunately isn't maintained in the subsequent episodes.

27. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. 4 jelly babies. The season-five finale shows Moffat giving his predecessor the finger whilst feigning homage. The subtext essentially is, if you're going to raise the stakes to extreme heights, Mr. Davies, this is how you do it. And indeed, the crack in Amy's bedroom wall proves to be the most successful seasonal story arc in the new series, and while there are certainly resets to be found here, they're not cheap. They come at a fair price, and there's solid emotional payoff. The Doctor's farewell to Amy as he prepares to sacrifice himself -- "You don't need your imaginary friend anymore" -- got me choked up. Also, the reset carries the unexpected surprise of giving back people we never knew existed, notably Amy's parents, which beautifully accounts for the emptiness of Amy's many-roomed house and why she never talked about a family. Another bonus over Davies: we didn't have to suffer through yet another season of a TARDIS companion weighed down by a dysfunctional family, a formula which by seasons three and four had taken its toll.

28. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. 4 jelly babies. Moffat followed the big bang finale with something just as good, and which smashes the season opener formula to smithereens. For one, it's scary: the Silence are as terrifying as the Autons and Adipose are laughable. Two, it's lengthy, the first two-parter to launch a season. Three, it doesn't find the Doctor fending off an alien invasion, but rather leading a revolution, for the aliens are already well ensconced and in control. Four, no time is wasted bringing out the big guns: the Doctor is killed seven minutes into the story, and while it was a guarantee this would be undone by the end of the season, the message was loud and clear: no messing around. It's only too bad the continuations of this Silence/River Song thread in the mid-season double bill and finale didn't live up to what's established so nail-bitingly here.

29. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. 4 jelly babies. Some consider this Moffat's masterpiece, but I think it's overrated. There's no denying it's very good, but there are things which irk: the "everyone lives" trope, and the dreaded Captain Jack. Yes, the happy ending was copied in the library story, but at least it was only in the matrix, so some semblance of protagonist death was felt. In this story it feels more like a cheat and trivializes the horror, though this isn't a major complaint on my part. Worse is Captain Jack, who is really a Russell Davies character through and through, even if Moffat wrote him, and whose interactions with the Doctor and Rose clash with the story's dark tone. That being said, this has become a classic for obvious reason, with the setting of the London Blitz inspired, where microscopic robots are turning people into zombies made over in the image of gas-masked victims of the war. Everything is gloomy and surreal, from war-torn London, dark alleyways, a smoky nightclub, a creepy hospital, to an old house where starving kids gather for repast. It's incredible cinema.

30. The Shakespeare Code. 4 jelly babies. The mystery of Shakespeare's lost play is finally solved in this historical, where William is being harassed by a trio of witches who use the power of words to unlock space-time boundaries. They need a wordsmith to open a gate for their kind to invade earth, and Love's Labour's Won becomes the medium for that goal. As always, there's science behind the superstition: voodoo dolls are DNA replicators; spells are incanted the same way mathematical computations are intoned in the Tom Baker classic Logopolis. There's also plenty of humor here, with the Doctor citing quotes that Shakespeare hasn't come up with yet, and the climax is hilarious as Shakespeare defeats the witches by using their own weapon against them: pure verse, which burns them like holy water and closes the gate forever. Some of the levity keeps this story from reaching the heights of other gothic historicals, but it's a gem nonetheless.

31. Planet of the Ood. 4 jelly babies. It's not often the Doctor gets political and crushes oppression, but it happens from time to time, especially on alien planets in the future, and Planet of the Ood is in fact the best "revolution" story after Tom Baker's Sun Makers (taxation), E-Space trilogy (servitude and slavery), and Sylvester McCoy's Happiness Patrol (fascism). It's great seeing the Doctor bring management to its knees when provoked, and in this case he clearly feels guilty for having let so many Ood die in his battle against Satan in season two. But what really sets this story above average is the musical climax, which is simply transcendent, and defines the story in a way never seen on the show. I get chills during the last five minutes of this episode, and not from the ice planet.

32. The Eleventh Hour. 3 ½ jelly babies. The next two fall into the category of stories I adore despite myself, where I find myself enjoying the ride even as I'm loathing, conceptually, much of what I'm seeing. There's a term for this, of course, guilty pleasures, and that's what The Eleventh Hour and The Christmas Invasion are. They follow the invasion-of-earth formula that leaves me cold, but they do it so well that they turn out to be splendid introductions to a new Doctor. The Eleventh Hour even copies the plot of Smith and Jones to the point that it has no right to succeed yet does. The real high point is the tempus fugit drama with the seven-year old Amelia Pond, who of course becomes established as the "girl who waited". On whole this one-hour special remains what it is, an invasion-of-earth story in which the Doctor saves the entire planet in the space of twenty minutes, and by (of all things) using a laptop to spread a global virus. But it's an incredibly fun ride, drawing us back for repeated viewings almost against our will.

33. The Christmas Invasion. 3 ½ jelly babies. The first and only good Christmas special written by Russell Davies turns out to be a great introduction to the Tenth Doctor, and as in The Eleventh Hour the invasion-of-earth baggage works for rather than against it, even the offensively ludicrous killer-Christmas trees. The story actually reminds me of Tom Baker's own first entry, Robot, involving a threat in present-day London which calls forth a military response, and his female companion playing a key role "negotiating" with the threat that ultimately needs to be destroyed. The dramatic tension builds well in the first half due to the Doctor being out of commission as he recovers from regenerating, and when he finally emerges from those TARDIS doors, we almost want to clap like little kids. He gets in a good sword fight with the alien-king before banishing his race from earth, and the best scene is his hand getting chopped off then immediately regenerating. And the "Song for Ten" at the end is perfect.

34. The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. 3 jelly babies. Channeling classic Who with a vengeance, this one taps into how everyone remembers the Pertwee era to be, but also the Colin Baker period, with protracted torture scenes and luminescent underground sets; I must confess that Vengeance on Varos was more on my mind than Pertwee's encounter with the Silurians, who this time around look more human than reptilian when their masks come off. That's a compliment, mind you, since I like more about Colin Baker than most, and less about Pertwee than many. The minimalist setting is a welcome reprieve to the urban noise from four seasons of Davies, and as in the Pertwee classic, the story takes a tired cliché and turns it on its head: the alien invaders aren't really aliens but "Earthlians" who have as much claim to the planet as humanity, which is why the Doctor bends over backwards to put them on the same playing field with homo sapiens. A great installment that takes us completely down the season-five rabbit hole.

35. The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. 3 jelly babies. An undervalued story saturated with homage: the isolated monastery setting, an acid-mining operation using slave labor, base-under-siege suspense, and running down corridors. Add to this Tom Baker's shockingly intrusive voice asking after jelly-babies and you've got a classic-Who stew. Especially noteworthy is the dark manipulative side to the Doctor at work before the story even begins, as he acts with a plan up his sleeve instead of blundering blindly into a situation and doing his best to sort it out. When the TARDIS is "caught" in a solar tsunami, it is being hurled deliberately to a time and place that will allow the Doctor to learn how to destroy Amy, whom he suspects is rather less than she seems. That in the process he shows himself to be concerned with fair play to both humans and their dopplegangers does not effect this conclusion; in the end he callously blasts almost-Amy to smithereens. The audience is invited to ask, though few ask it, whether his moral outrage over the murder of another ganger can be taken seriously.

36. The Lazarus Experiment. 3 jelly babies. Another undervalued story that takes the theme of John 11:1-12:11 and fuses it with The Fly: a scientist finds immortality at the price of uncontrollable shapeshifting. Not worth it, if you ask me, but I enjoy the fact that Lazarus can burn the Doctor philosophically; when lectured on what it means to be human (as if the Doctor knows), Lazarus retorts that clinging to life at whatever cost is as human as you can get. The creature that keeps overpowering his human DNA rather puts me in mind of the freaky metamorphosis Noah underwent in the classic Ark in Space. The Lazarus Experiment may not achieve the greatest heights, but it is a fun romp in the purest sense, a quintessential example, actually, that comes to my mind when I think about Doctor Who "romps". It includes all the standard ingredients in a Who story -- creepy monster, high body counts, sci-fi weirdness, and solid philosophical debates with no easy answers.

37. The End of the World. 3 jelly babies. For all my Davies bashing, I'm fond of the following three stories which I affectionately call the New Earth Trilogy. They're silly in the way only Davies can be, but oddly enjoyable, and form a nice arc across the beginnings of the first three seasons. The End of the World sees the destruction of our planet in the year 5 billion, under an apocalyptic solar expansion. Rich aliens gather to watch the event on an observation platform, and the drama becomes an action mystery when someone starts killing the others for greed. Notable are the Face of Boe, and the bitchy Cassandra -- the mutilated flat mass of skin who represents the last surviving human being -- who appear again later in the trilogy.

38. New Earth. 3 jelly babies. There's something soothing about the first few minutes of this story, as we see the Tenth Doctor settle into his role by reliving his first "date" with Rose in the far future, this time 5 billion 23, where New Earth has replaced the old. Suspense is carried on two subplots, the first involving human clones stuffed into cells like lab rats and subjected to hideous experiments, the second seeing the return of the bitchy Cassandra (the flat mass of skin resembling a vertical trampoline) who will stop at nothing to take over a real human body. The humanoid cats are used effectively, as they honestly believe their hideous experiments justify the hospital they run, in which a cure can be offered for every known disease. Comedic, pedestrian, but quite fun -- and Cassandra's death is unexpectedly moving for such a hateful character.

39. Gridlock. 3 jelly babies. The third part of the New Earth Trilogy is loved by many fans -- far more than it deserves. Its premise is the most ludicrous of all the stories on this list: a perpetual traffic jam in an undercity, where it takes six years to travel ten miles, the air pollution suffocates you, and snapping Macras wait to tear apart your car if you're lucky enough to get promoted to the fast-lane. It's up to the Doctor to liberate the underworld, which he does with flair, leaping from car to car like a neo-James Bond, and eventually finding the means to open the surface of the city. It's a fun bit of nonsense that works despite itself, but I certainly can't join the enthusiasts who (astonishingly) consider Gridlock a crown jewel. It's as good as The End of the World and New Earth, frankly, amounting to a fun ride, nothing more.

40. The Waters of Mars. 3 jelly babies. The "special year" between seasons four and five is a year I wish I could pretend never existed, for there was nothing special about the stinkers Davies was rolling out before Moffat took charge. Except for Waters of Mars, that is, which is actually quite good. It works on two levels, the first completely successfully, the second not so much, so it ends up feeling like the proverbial less than the sum of its parts. The straightforward level offers plenty of horrific entertainment, as crew members on Mars are being infected by water that turns them into alien zombies. The other level attempts to explore the Doctor's dark side as he violates the laws of time. The problem is that his crime doesn't seem particularly reprehensible, not least because there's no convincing reason why the deaths of this particular crew on Mars are unalterable "fixed points" in time. A textbook example of shooting too high and missing, but a very creepy and enjoyable story nonetheless.

41. Vampires of Venice. 3 jelly babies. For a gothic historical this one is substandard, but it manages to hold its head above water, and that's no mean feat given the subject matter; it takes courage these days to play the vampire card. The aristocratic Dracula model has been way overused, and the bubblegum teen version is offensive beyond words. Vampires, in my opinion, should be brutally savage (e.g. From Dusk Till Dawn, 30 Days of Night), but the problem is that the R-rated breed isn't suitable for a family program. State of Decay actually did astonishingly well by the aristocratic model, and The Curse of Fenric even better with sea vampires that were products of human evolution caused by pollution. Venice goes a more radical route, with vampires that aren't really vampires, but rather alien fish monsters who want to drag Venice under water and call it home. It works pretty well, though a part of me wishes the myth wasn't stripped away to this extent. Still, I applaud the originality.

42. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. 3 jelly babies. This is a romp on par with Vampires of Venice, leveling so much wild silliness from a deadly earnest foe. In both stories, the Doctor's moral compass is called into question: in the case of Signora Calvierri, he's responsible for the extinction of her species ("as much as the Time Lords", she accuses); and in the case of Solomon, he murders him as payback for the death of the Silurians. But the dinosaurs take center stage, are an utter delight, almost Jurassic Park worthy even, and an atonement for the Pertwee classic which had such bad special effects that they weren't even charming by old-fashioned standards.

43. Night Terrors. 3 jelly babies. Think The Girl in the Fireplace meets Fear Her: monsters in the closet, worlds behind portals. And it just so happens you could add the ratings of those stories (5 and 1) and divide by 2 to get the score for this one. It's an effective nightmare of giant dolls, and while some critics complain about poor special effects, that's much the point, meshing with a child's rough, haunted perspective. The major weakness (which prevents a solid rating of 4 from me) is the melodramatic climax which sees the destruction of the doll world through the father's love and final acceptance of George. Part of me likes this, but the other part says this kind of device has been used too often for the show's good. Though to be fair, this story can get away with it much better than The Lodger and Closing Time on grounds of its premise. Bedroom nightmares easily feed into themes of childhood trauma and parental neglect, and what child underneath it all doesn't simply crave love?

44. Victory of the Daleks. 3 jelly babies. This one is often deemed mediocre at best. In my view, it's a fun World War II piece that sees Britain training an army of Daleks to be thrown against the Third Reich, and a great homage to Power of the Daleks, which similarly involved the hate-mongers feigning servility to humankind whilst really working against them. The sight of them gliding around Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms, carrying files on their sink plungers and bleating out subservient inquiries like, "WOULD YOU CARE FOR SOME TEA?", are hilarious, and unlike many, I'm fond of the rainbow-colored reboot, which is fitting for Moffat's fairy-tale epoch. There's also the ridiculous but entertaining Star-Wars-like battle between the Spitfires and Dalek ship. More of a let-down is the way the Doctor and Amy neutralize the bomb-android by putting it in touch with his most affecting memories as a human being, inaugurating the "triumph of love" theme that would come to plague Moffat's tenure.

45. The Sound of Drums. 3 jelly babies. The middle chapter of the Master finale is good, but not nearly as good as Utopia, and the biggest problem is that John Simm is a rather embarrassing Master. Unlike Derek Jacobi who was flawless in the role, Simm hams it up like a comic book villain. He's admittedly amusing at times, my favorite point being when he mockingly pantomimes zipping his lips for the American president, but his general flair for giving victims two thumbs up, reveling in pop music, and gurning like an oaf are painful to watch. Stronger is the general plot of his takeover of England and the ensuing political clash when America comes to chastise him, and there's a lot of good suspense when the Doctor and Martha are on the run being chased by his cronies.

46. The Wedding of River Song. 3 jelly babies. Somewhere in season six Moffat exhausted his genius. The thread launched in a fantastic season-opener, and continued in a mid-season disaster, landed results somewhere in-between, and confirmed not only that he never really had a plan with River Song, but that he was getting buried under the onus of his own cleverness. The Wedding of River Song is a decent story on its own right, but as a finale doesn't go out strong as it should. The major disappointment is River Song herself, who turns out to be the Doctor's assassin at Lake Silencio, yet this turns out a cheat, because she shoots him against her will, at the Doctor's command so that time can resume its course. River, in other words, wants desperately to save the Doctor, not destroy him, at the expense of everyone else in the universe locked in a moment of time. That doesn't make her dark, just astronomically selfish, and frankly unbelievable. There are certainly things to admire in this story, not least the horrifying Silence, and the way all of time and history blends together, but The Big Bang this isn't.

47. The Beast Below. 3 jelly babies. This story works on two levels, one as a political fable about society kept in ignorance, albeit democratically by their own choice, and two as a metaphorical commentary on the Doctor's nature. The "Last of the Starwhales" allows Amy to understand the Doctor better, and more polysemously, than previous companions, and on top of that she gets to save the day, as the Doctor is caught up in helpless fury as he works to kill the poor whale on humanity's behalf. At this point in the series we hadn't seen Time Lord fallibility like this since the Ninth Doctor, and it's seriously refreshing. Minus points, however, for the Smilers, which are scary in the first five minutes, but never end up killing anyone and are way too easily disposed of by Her Majesty, the cavalierly pistol-slinging Liz Ten. On whole, an impressive attempt at something new, but it could have been much better.

48. The Curse of the Black Spot. 3 jelly babies. For reasons that escape me, this story is panned as one of the worst of the new series, but it's enjoyable enough as long as you don't expect too much out of it. On the plus side, it's a base under siege drama calling to mind a classic like The Horror of Fang Rock and harkens back to the Hinchcliffe era in terms of style, as a period piece with a distinct gothic horror feel. It then shifts in emphasis and tone to become a rather banal morality lesson, with the villain turning from a murderous pirate to a responsible father in the blink of an eye. The hyperspace punchline is reminiscent of Stones of Blood (the best installment in the Key to Time classic), where things get less mythic and more sci-fic: the Siren is really an automated physician that whisks people off at the first sign of injury in order to heal them. The story feels a bit disjointed, but it certainly has features that on whole make it fun.

49. A Town Called Mercy. 3 jelly babies. As in The Beast Below and Curse of the Black Spot, the menace here is really benign at heart, which somewhat kills the drama, but like Beast Below compensates with intriguing questions about the Doctor's pacifism and moral compass. It uses a wild west setting to good effect, and is about what war brings out in even the best of people. The cyborg is a piece of work, like something out of The Terminator universe, and his overt murderous instincts run parallel to the Doctor's repressed ones even as he spouts a pacifism he increasingly has a hard time maintaining. The sacrifice of Kahler-Jex is a little to neat and tidy, and somewhat hard to buy, but on whole the story works good as a morality fable in a fun outlaw setting.

50. Love and Monsters. 2 ½ jelly babies. Of all the stories in the new series, this is one I still can't get closure on. On first viewing I loathed it, indeed felt punched in the gut after a stellar run of season-two stories culminating in the mind-blowing Impossible Planet/Satan Pit. Subsequent viewings helped, though not as much as I hoped. For to this day I really want to love Love and Monsters. I adore the concept of Doctor-lite episodes, and I admire what this story tries to do. It portrays the Doctor from the perspective of an innocent bystander who only briefly gets involved with him, thus appearing different from the hero we're used to following with our God's-eye view, someone who leaves chaos and pain in his wake. It also takes an affectionate swipe at nerdy Doctor Who fans with the LINDA group, and for all my Davies-bashing I applaud the way he can make us laugh at ourselves. The problem is that the story falls flat with way too much slapstick comedy, and crumbles under a ridiculous creature -- the green fat man in a thong. Thus my rating of 2 ½, straddling the mediocre with (what I want to be) the worthy.

51. The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe. 2 ½ jelly babies. Like Love and Monsters this is a story I have tried so fervently to like, even knowing it deserves trashing. It looks gorgeous and spins off a great classic; by rights this should have been another Christmas Carol, but Moffat has forsaken subdued artistry, not to mention tragedy, in favor of cheap kiddie tales, with the outrageous (but unfortunately predictable) ending of the mother using her emotional pain as a beacon to call back the father from death. If A Christmas Carol was written for sincere Doctor Who fans, this story was tailored for the everyday kid tuning into any Christmas special on TV. Still, I have to applaud the beautiful aesthetics -- the wintry forests and the tree house -- and the idea of the tree souls had great potential if delivering somewhat hollow results.

52. The Unicorn and the Wasp. 2 jelly babies. I went into this one thinking I'd love it, as it promises so much with an inspired setting and a fun murder mystery. It's refreshingly unusual for Doctor Who in that there's no threat to humanity, just the mystery -- a bizarrely comedic Clue game involving an alien. But it makes no sense whatsoever and delivers the non-sequitur reveal of a huge alien wasp that assumes human form at will, and which for demented reasons thinks Agatha's mysteries are the way the world really works, and so kills people in caricature of them (i.e. wielding a ridiculous lead pipe instead of just stinging the poor sap to death). This being Doctor Who, there has to be an alien element, but there's no internal logic leading to how the mystery is solved. It's a true shame, since the guest playing Agatha Christie does a good job; if she'd been only been given a half-decent script, this could have been a great story.

53. The Long Game. 2 jelly babies. This one is marred by an incredibly lazy vision, tacky set designs, and supporting characters we couldn't care a whit about. The setting of the orbital broadcasting platform in the year 200,000 doesn't feel very futuristic, human society hasn't evolved much, and the premise of people being dominated by the media network, while having potential, is exploited in a lame plot. On the plus side, the alien lording himself over humanity is enjoyable, and what occurs on Floor 500 yields some admittedly tense moments involving frozen corpses. But ultimately, the revelation that everyone is living in a nasty dictatorship where a blob-alien controls all flow of information just isn't felt in any real way. Davies evidently wanted to satirize media propaganda and the climate of fear, but boredom is what comes through for the most part, and the biggest crime is that Simon Pegg's talents playing the diabolical Editor are rather wasted in a bland script.

54. The Idiot's Lantern. 2 jelly babies. I never liked the concept of possessed TV sets (hated Poltergeist and The Ring), so this one didn't have much of a chance with me. It's about an alien who has escaped execution on the home planet by transforming itself into pure energy, and has come to earth to reconstitute itself. To do this it needs massive amounts of human energy, which it gets from the people of London via their televisions. The setting of 1953 is almost pointless -- though the crowning of Queen Elizabeth provides the excuse for everyone turning on their TV's at once -- there's really no feeling of period at all, and it could have easily taken place in the present. And the point of peoples' faces vanishing is never explained, nor for that matter how they manage to breathe in their state of takeover. A mediocre story in every way leaving much to be desired.

55. Asylum of the Daleks. 2 jelly babies. This was supposed to be a return to form for the Daleks (meaning they were supposed to be scary again), but it amounts to little more than Russell Davies grandiosity around a problematic plot. Except that Moffat wrote it, so there are some redeeming qualities -- but not many. Every kind of Dalek ever seen in Doctor Who is on display, as they enlist the Doctor's aid for a problem that frankly shouldn't be too difficult for them to solve. Ironically, the story is brought down by what should have been its elevating point, the character of Oswin, who fails to elicit sympathy as the made-over Dalek because she's so bloody annoying: like all of Moffat's latter-day women (River Song, Liz Ten, etc.), she's smug, flirty, and overconfident, so unlike the rich characters of Nancy, Madame de Pompadour, and Sally Sparrow from his early scripts. This story shoots way too high and falls short.

56. The Last of the Time Lords. 2 jelly babies. After the excellent Utopia and decent Sound of Drums, Davies veers off into unacceptable melodrama, heavy-handed Christian allegory, and a cheap reset. The Master deserved to go out better than this, though the final moment between him and the Doctor -- who begs him to regenerate and "not leave him alone" -- is admittedly moving, and encapsulates an entire history of these adversaries being addicted to each other even in despite. But the Doctor being angelically restored to life by having the world's population think of him is something not even Davies usually pulls out of his ass, though unfortunately this story is where the real rot sets in, and foreshadows worse gimmicks to come in season four.

57. The Doctor's Daughter. 2 jelly babies. Susan's mother unveiled at last? Not hardly. "Jenny", spawned from the Doctor's tissue sample in mere seconds, is more Little Miss Rambo than Time Lord, born to kick ass in a war against the alien Hath. On an underground planet in the distant future, people have been fighting these Hath for "generations", which it turns out means for a single week, since twenty generations are born daily from their progenation machines. Under the delusion they need to combat aliens who usurped power from them in decades past, they imprison the Doctor and Donna as pacifist invaders. The story's center of gravity is the relationship between Jenny and the Doctor, but it isn't at all impressive, and the emotional climax of her dying in his arms is robbed by a last minute return to life and zipping off like a comic hero. Really.

58. A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler. 2 jelly babies. Or when Moffat dropped the ball. After a disappointing non-drama at Demon's Run, things don't get any better in Nazi Germany. In fact, half of me thinks this mid-season mess was secretly penned by Russell Davies. The not-war completely fails the first title's promise, with armies allowing the Doctor to grandstand on stage without even shooting him. The non-sequitur of Hitler being squirreled away in a cupboard and completely ignored just adds insult to injury. But worst is the non-payoff of River Song, who was supposed to evolve in an increasingly evil direction, but here just does things for no reason -- hating the Doctor one moment, inexplicably deciding she loves him the next, and in a matter of moments, presto, learning to fly the TARDIS. There is no story here, and we're light years away from the brilliance and tragedy that ended Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and promised more of the same. The headless monks and the Teselecta are admittedly enjoyable, but they're just window dressing.

59. Aliens of London/World War III. 2 jelly babies. This one wins the award for most appalling opening to any Doctor Who story, which in fact has nothing to do with the story at hand, just a soap-opera throwaway as Rose's mother shrieks lines in a voice that makes me want to kick her face in. When we finally get to the story, it's yet another in a long line of Davies' invasion-of-earth cheese fests, and it doesn't help that things don't get any scarier than humanoid pigs and lame Slitheen. There's one thing, however, that keeps this story out of the rock-bottom category, and that's the dominating theme of flatulence. This is an exceedingly guilty pleasure on my part, but farting aliens entertain me on the basest possible level, especially the fat woman played by Annette Badland, whose gleeful facial expressions as she continually breaks wind have me laughing so hard my stomach hurts.

60. The Sontaran Stratagem/Poison Sky. 2 jelly babies. Sontarans who chant hakas like football jocks aren't any more compelling than farting aliens, and even less entertaining. The story isn't even redeemed by UNIT, as the military outfit isn't the same without the Brigadier we knew and loved. And it certainly isn't helped by Martha, who for crying out loud just left at the end of season three. This is yet another substandard invasion-of-earth plot in which Sontarans are using human agents to release poison gas into the atmosphere. Expectations were high for a Sontaran return in the new series, but this story laughs at our expectations and gives us the finger. I did like the Doctor's passing remark about working for UNIT "back in the 70s...or was it the 80's?", a nod to the unresolved contradictions in the classic chronology. But boobytrapped automobiles don't do it for me.

61. Rose. 2 jelly babies. And now for the trio of stories that barely hold their noses above the stinker category, and that's me being generous. Their sole value lies in introducing a new companion, but like the two above, they follow the tiresome invasion-of-earth formula that Davies adores so much but is unable to do anything decent with. In the case of Rose, we meet not only her but the Ninth Doctor through her eyes, as London (wait for it) is being taken over by an army of mannequins. We haven't seen the Autons since the Pertwee era and for damn good reason: they're lame. It's hard to be intimidated by an army of plastic. But the Nestene Consciousness (the animated vat of living plastic controlling the rest in London) is admittedly on the impressive side these days, bolstered by CGI. We also get a lot of Rose's irritating mother, which unfortunately foreshadows things to come.

62. Smith and Jones. 2 jelly babies. Or when grandma puts on vampiric airs, and makes us cringe in embarrassment rather than fear. The plot involves rhino-headed aliens invading a hospital in order to ferret out a stowaway alien for execution. To do this they teleport the hospital to the moon to prevent interference from earthly powers, and the stowaway turns out to be the aforementioned grandma. Amidst all this rubbish we are introduced to Martha, who turns out to be a decent enough companion though the least compelling to date in the new series. She's basically an educated Rose, developing a crush on the Doctor which is thoroughly unrequited on account of his pining for Rose. As such, Martha never becomes as distinctive on her own right as Rose, Donna, and Amy.

63. Partners in Crime. 2 jelly babies. Last and certainly least is this appalling joke, Doctor Who meets Pokemon, or the invasion of the marshmallows, take your pick. Actually these menaces are pieces of human fat, and the plot admittedly leans toward the amusing: a company in present-day Britain is selling diet pills which make body fat come alive, break off in chunks, and kill the host. Bonus points go to the way Davies milks so much fun out of obesity, but let's face it, this is really dumbing down to an all-time low. On the bright side, Donna turns out to be more than the screeching fishwife we saw in The Runaway Bride and a worthy companion, more subdued and genuinely funny, though of course nowhere near as good as Rose or Amy.

64. Boom Town. 1 jelly baby. Seasons one, two, five, and six share the weird commonality of a penultimate stinker, and the cynic in me sees a strategy at work: to make the finale shine brightly as possible. In the case of Boom Town, it's a chance for Davies to revisit farting aliens, but not even the juvenile flatulence is enough to entertain me this go around. The story is a complete waste of time, involving the Doctor pondering the ethics of doing humanity a favor by deporting the last Slitheen to its home planet where the death penalty awaits it. And we get plenty of soap opera between Rose and Mickey too. It also explores the question of whether people commit crimes as a result of nature or nurture, leaning toward the latter, but neither convincingly nor profoundly regardless of what side you happen to fall on.

65. Fear Her. 1 jelly baby. The great thing about Doctor Who is that it's a children's program without ever feeling like one -- until you watch a story like this. It plays like goddamn Sesame Street, so much that I felt slapped in the face when I watched it. The plot of children vanishing out of thin air on account of a girl controlled by an alien intelligence is promising, but when it boils down to capturing them on paper by (yes) drawing them in her bedroom, we've jumped the shark. Add to this that the intelligence doesn't mean any harm, just wants a lot of company, that kills the menace factor even more. Fear her? The only thing to fear is the appalling script.

66. The Lodger. 1 jelly baby. I annoyed people when I declared two years ago that I would sooner eat my own feces than watch The Lodger again anytime soon, and rest assured it hasn't aged any better since. I've heard it claimed ad nauseum that the story works wonders for the Eleventh Doctor like Human Nature/Family of Blood did for the Tenth, but that's rubbish. Tennant's story was harrowing: the Doctor had literally become human, truncated and trapped by love, unable to save people as they died around him. Smith's story is a mockery: the Doctor plays at being human in a ludicrous parody. Just because comparisons and contrasts can be drawn, it doesn't mean one is as good as the other. In fact, the appropriate contrast is simple: The Lodger is crap as Human Nature/Family of Blood is classic.

67. Closing Time. 1 jelly baby. As if The Lodger weren't bad enough, its sequel is even worse. With Closing Time we can again slide into comparisons, this time with Journey's End, which was not only atrocious, but went out of its way to be atrocious with non-payoffs and outright betrayals. This story isn't quite as vindictive, aiming instead for the preposterous: Craig, on the verge of being made into a Cyber Controller, hears his infant son crying at a distance, and his paternal love swells to such epic proportions that the influx of emotion causes the Cybermen's heads to explode along with their ship. Not only is this the same kind of ridiculous ending as The Lodger's, it's worse for making horses' asses out of the Cybermen.

68. The Power of Three. 1 jelly baby. Like the above four, this is another lame penultimate attempt to make the (mid-season) finale look all the more stunning. In comic books, stories like these would be considered the trivial happenings "in-between the panels" that no one wants to read about. Here we have a bunch of small cubes dropping all over the planet, eventually stopping people's hearts all at once, and the cheap resolution feels like a deus-ex-machina out of the Davies era. If the story spent less time overkilling Amy and Rory's conflict over traveling with the Doctor (the issue has been obsessed long enough by this point), perhaps the story could have been polished up to make some bit of sense. It will be a long time, if ever, that I'll watch this one again.

69. The Runaway Bride. 1 jelly baby. After the near unassailable season two (the best of the new series, in my opinion), and Rose's wonderful closure, we get kicked in the teeth with this dross. It dumps a screeching bride inside the TARDIS and a pantload of nonsense that's supposed to serve as a Christmas special, but the only thing special is the all-time low for Doctor Who, as it's the worst story of the new series up to this point. (The Dalek double-bill in Manhattan would soon rectify this.) Our bride has been infected with a strange energy (that whisked her to the TARDIS) as part of an alien plan to take over earth, and that's only the start of the silliness. But the really bad news (at the time, anyway) is that this foreshadows Donna's return in season four as a regular TARDIS companion. Merry goddamn Christmas.

70. The Voyage of the Damned. 1 jelly baby. Damned in every sense, this Christmas special offends like The Runaway Bride but twice as garishly. The Doctor finds himself on a floating spaceship, caught between corporate greed, sabotage, and robotic angels armed with killer halos. It sounds impressive but it's entirely not: there's comedy in every line, but nothing funny; noise and action in every other sequence, but no excitement. It's a sign of how bad a story is when the body count is so commendably high (as in classic Who) but you just don't care about who dies. Ironically, we have this episode to thank for Midnight, the inverse story in which Davies wrote this one all over again but did everything right for a change. Was he making fun of himself and produced a work of art by accident?

71. The Next Doctor. 1 jelly baby. The Cyberking may be badass, but this story is still a steaming pile of manure. Just as the Daleks were used abominably in the season-four finale (on which see the very bottom of this list), the Cybermen are abused in a horrendous follow-up, as if Davies were determined to ruin every single aspect of Doctor Who before turning the reins over to Moffat. Let alone that it makes no sense that the Cybermen are able to unleash their own King Kong when they've been stuck in the Void. That's a triviality compared to the preposterous handling of the story's deeper theme about loss and what happens to the mind when it tries to cope with it. Applied to a traumatized guy who thinks he's the Doctor (with his own sonic screwdriver and all) just doesn't work, and indeed "The Next Doctor" served purely as a cheap ploy at the time to make viewers think that Tennant's regeneration would happen in this story.

72. Planet of the Dead. 1 jelly baby. Aside from the superficial Easter trappings, there's nothing special about this episode, not even in the awful way that most specials end up falling into the stinker category. It feels about as important as the routine season openers under Davies (Rose, Smith and Jones, Partners In Crime), pedestrian in the extreme, only in this case the mediocrity isn't even redeemed by the introduction of a new companion. The Doctor takes a bus ride and gets mired on an arid planet, and like in Midnight gets stuck with a handful of cranky passengers desperate to get back home. But if Midnight overturned Voyage of the Damned with brutal intensity, Planet of the Dead returned us to go-nowhere territory, and I rank it among the stinkers because it's so thoroughly devoid of any real purpose, indeed the most inconsequential story of the new series.

73. The End of Time. 1 jelly baby. I don't even like talking about this one. David Tennant did such a great job as Doctor Who and deserved better than an excremental swan song that not only brings back a comic-book Master, but also resurrects the Time Lords in a cheap plot, while making sure to plumb the worst aspects of kitchen-sink opera with Donna and her family. Payoffs are abysmal and the trappings are as bad as they get in a Davies script, from a medical fix-it machine, to silly cactus-people, to the Master flying with his bare hands, to a climax which can barely be called that -- just the three leads talking to each other in a ballroom. Things get even worse in the long and saccharine denouement, as the Doctor revisits all his previous companions before he regenerates, and while Davies is obviously trying to honor Tennant, the result is way too self-indulgent. It's a horrible end to his era, but everything I expected.

74. Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks. 1 jelly baby. A truly terrible story, not even helped by the inspired setting of New York in the Great Depression. The Cult of Skaro -- four elite Daleks introduced at the end of season two, designed to think like the enemy -- had incredible potential, but the idea of them trying to evolve into humanoid form was doomed from the start. Dalek Sec looks and sounds ridiculous. When Daleks evolve into something less fearsome instead of more, there's a big problem, and I was applauding when the compassionate Sec finally got exterminated by his mutinous colleagues. He was enough to turn me into a trigger-happy Dalek myself. On top of the horrendous use of the Doctor's arch-enemies is the atrocious overacting from the guest stars. They're the worst performances of the new series, and the ending which finds the stage dancer willing to live out her life with her fiancee who has been transformed into a pig-mutant doesn't play authentically at all. This story is painful to watch in every frame.

75. The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. 0 jelly babies. I reserve a rating of 0 to something so bad that it's not only awful but goes out of its way to be awful, as if -- and please excuse this, but there's no polite way of conveying -- the writer is trying to shit down our throats. And make no mistake, it's one defecation after another: a bogus regeneration, Donna's non-death, and to top it all off (I still can't believe Davies did this) a duplicate Doctor to give Rose her dream-lover after all. There's not even a body count; the Daleks don't kill anyone (except for the resurrecting Captain Jack, which doesn't count). Honestly, if Russell Davies is going to trap the Doctor's best companion in a parallel universe and say she'll never see the Doctor again, he should have the balls to follow through with that. If he sets us up with repeated predictions about another companion dying, he should bloody well deliver on that promise. Does he think we're all five-year olds who can't handle good storytelling? Classic Who never copped out in so many ways; never pulled punches with body counts; never betrayed the audience so aggressively in every other frame. But even for the new series, this is a new abyss, and poor Davros for getting saddled with the worst story since the show began in 1963.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

Well, whose head needs examining is a matter of opinion, of course, but I offer a number of specific disagreements to get started.

I'd demote from your best:
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (at most a 3)
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (4)
The Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel (3 1/2)
In their place I would promote to top spots:
Midnight
The Shakespeare Code
Turn Left (apart from the beetle)

Others I would rate more highly than you are
The Next Doctor (at least a 3)
The Runaway Bride (at least a 3, but to annoy you I'd be prepared to consider a 4)
and, well, pretty much all your stinkers really, except Boom Town.
In particular I really also liked Planet of the Dead. I suspect that all of those have quite an English sensibility.

7/03/2010  
Blogger theoncominghope said...

Wow! I totally respect the time that went into thinking about this! Naturally, we don't agree on everything, but I'm with you on the crown jewels (apart from Father's Day, which I actually consider one of the worst)

8/08/2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ones with a 4/5 rating I thought were terrible:
Father's day (should get a 1, simplistic plot, rubbish monsters)
Midnight (should get a 1, this is a secne that would have been good if it only lasted about 2 minutes, but dragging it on for an hour is just boring. Plus, there is no devolpment of what the monster is and where it comes from)
Planet of the Ood (should get a 2, just cheesy and a bit rubbish IMO)
Ones with a 0/1/2 rating I thought were brilliant:
Journey's End (should get a 4.5, maybe 5, best version of davros I've ever seen, the mechanics of the reality bomb are well thought out, Harriet Jones was epic, 4 possible endings rather than one, explores how the companions don't know much about each other, hopefully that is enough to convince you)
I also get the impression you don't like comics much. Why?
Good job on the rest, though.

9/30/2012  
Blogger Jorge Maseda said...

Awesome article, great job!

2/14/2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do not you rate the rest of the seventh season? I'd really like to see your analysis.

1/07/2014  

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