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Doctor Who: Thirteenth Doctor Episodes – Ranked

As we approach the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure The Power of the Doctor, I thought I’d revisit all of Jodie Whittaker‘s adventures as the iconic Time Lord. From the streets of 21st century Sheffield to a desolate world in the depths of space, from Daleks to the Pting, this Doctor has starred in some of the most ambitious – and divisive – stories in the show’s nearly 60-year history. I’m sure my opinion on some of these episodes will change over time (I’ve certainly changed my mind on a few based on this rewatch!), but let’s get a shift on and rank all of the Thirteenth Doctor’s adventures, starting off with…

27. Legend of the Sea Devils (2022 Easter Special)

Legend of the Sea Devils is, quite frankly, a mess. The script feels like a first draft, littered with all sorts of narrative inconsistencies and clunky dialogue; for whatever reason it feels as though key scenes are missing (curiously the special underran by over 10 minutes, making it one of the shortest instalments of this entire era), whilst others don’t seem to have been filmed with enough coverage to capture the blocking or key character beats. The Sea Devils still have their ‘classic’ look, but the story doesn’t even attempt to make them sympathetic, which is a huge missed opportunity. One would have thought that after the Sea Devils’ last appearance in 1984’s Warriors of the Deep (the serial used as an example to justify Michael Grade‘s cancellation of Doctor Who at the time), the bar would be set very low for these aquatic creatures’ return, but somehow Legend of the Sea Devils barely manages to scrape above.

26. Orphan 55 (Series 12, Episode 3)

I’m not sure what specifically went wrong with Ed Hime‘s Orphan 55, but much like Legend of the Sea Devils, the episode just doesn’t work. The script is unnecessarily convoluted, the editing is confusing, there’s no sense of pace or atmosphere, none of the twists land, the production values vary between great (the Dreg costumes) to poor (those wigs!) and even some of the performances feel a bit ‘off’. Perhaps one of the more intriguing oddities in the mess that is Orphan 55 is that the Dregs don’t appear on screen with the characters for more than a handful of shots, mostly towards the end of the episode, often featuring in shots that seem to be captured on a different set with no sense of consistency. If nothing else, there’s probably a really interesting making-of documentary to be made about this one.

25. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (Series 11, Episode 10)

On the one hand, I do think that The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos is a bit ‘over-hated’ by Doctor Who fans. On the other, whilst revisiting this adventure, I found myself quite bored throughout most of it. Writer Chris Chibnall has since said that this was a first draft script that made it into production (rumours suggest an entirely different story was envisioned to close Series 11), and quite frankly, it shows. There’s lots of ideas present, but they don’t quite coalesce in the way you’d expect – if the Doctor knows Graham wants to kill Tzim-Sha, why doesn’t she try to keep an eye on him? Tzim-Sha himself is a fairly lacklustre villain anyway, so making him the ‘big bad’ of the series feels like a misstep. Having said all that, I do appreciate a desire for a more ‘low-key’ finale than previous series, instead saving the big returning monster story for the festival special.

24. Kerblam! (Series 11, Episode 7)

Pete McTighe‘s first contribution to the series initially seems like a traditional Doctor Who story: sinister robots, a futuristic setting that parallels the present day and an attempt to make an everyday element threatening (in this case, bubble wrap). While the episode gets off to a solid start, it becomes clear by the end that Kerblam! doesn’t really know what it’s actually about. “The systems aren’t the problem” says the Doctor after discovering that said system murdered someone in an act of revenge and tried to assassinate another. It turns out that the real villain of the story isn’t the automated system, or the managers who take no interest in the wellbeing of their staff, but in a staff member trying to make a demonstration to reduce robotic workers to increase employment prospects in a part of the galaxy in which apparently 90% of people are poor, unemployed and can’t get a job. What seemed pretty tone-deaf in 2018 only feels worse in 2022, and I suspect will continue to age badly for the foreseeable. On the plus side, Lee Mack‘s cameo role is nice.

23. Arachnids in the UK (Series 11, Episode 4)

Arachnids in the UK feels like Series 11’s answer to Aliens of London: a story in which the companions travel home to reconnect with their families, encounter an invasion and at the end decide to continue their travels in the TARDIS. This aspect works quite well, showcasing Graham’s grief and Yaz’s desire for escape from her rather dull home life, and an invasion of giant spiders is perfect nightmare fuel. I can appreciate the B-movie angle with the spiders, but the episode struggles to balance the contrasting tones of a character drama with the silly, comic book reveal that toxic waste cause the spiders to grow large. Worse still, the story can’t come up with a satisfying ending, with the Doctor trapping the spiders in a room to die, and then failing to stop Donald Trump parody Jack Robertson from killing the queen spider. It’s lacklustre to say the least.

22. Ascension of the Cybermen / The Timeless Children (Series 12, Episodes 9 and 10)

The two-part finale to Series 12 is a divisive one, to say the least. I have very mixed feelings with regards to the revelations about the Timeless Child; I like the idea of the Doctor’s origins being a complete mystery (where does that portal go?), although the reveal does lose the Doctor some of their anonymity – rather than just being a Time Lord who saves the universe, they’re now essentially the ‘original’ Time Lord. That being said, the story certainly looks good, I like the more ‘classic’ look for the Cyber Warriors, Jodie Whittaker’s performance is particularly strong, and Sacha Dhawan is able to indulge in some more quiet menace as the Master. The issues are predominantly with the scripts: the Ireland dream is a strong, weird concept, but never feels tied into the main narrative (despite a bit of clunky ADR); there are a number of distracting plot holes (why do 3 Cybermen arrive in two ships?); and it feels as though Ascension of the Cybermen is all set-up, and half of The Timeless Children is a big old exposition dump that alienated non-fans and frustrated diehard fans. Considering the reaction to Hell Bent, you’d think Chris Chibnall would avoid writing a second series finale set mostly on Gallifrey and delving into the Doctor’s backstory – an aspect that always serves to potentially undermine the character and the show.

21. Survivors of the Flux / The Vanquishers (Flux, Chapters 5 and 6)

The two-part finale for the Flux miniseries is talky, messy and clearly overstuffed. Having said that, I can’t help but appreciate what the production team were able to pull-off during a global pandemic. It’s nice to see the Sontarans get the ‘big bad’ finale treatment for once, and their plan to annihilate the Daleks and Cybermen just before the universe ends is brilliantly spiteful. I’m still not sure what the point of the Grand Serpent is, other than to give Line of Duty favourite Craig Parkinson a Doctor Who baddie, and it’s a pity that Swarm and Azure fade into the background after being so threatening in the earlier instalments, but this finale does at least attempt to bring the various strands of Flux together for a satisfying ending, even if it doesn’t quite land.

20. The Halloween Apocalypse (Flux, Chapter 1)

Flux got off to something of a confusing start. I’m not sure if some narrative aspects were left deliberately vague to engage fan response, or simply lost in the various plot strands over the course of the series. The introduction of John Bishop‘s new companion Dan feels as though it should have been the main focus of this opening instalment, but instead we get a bit of everything thrown in for good measure – a narrative approach that works better when binge-watching the series as opposed to viewing week-to-week.

19. The Tsuranga Conundrum (Series 11, Episode 5)

Yes, it’s too talky, and even then the dialogue consists of at least 50% technobabble nonsense. Yes, the sets are a bit generic. Yes, the big ‘saving the ship’ sequence is mostly left to the audience’s imagination, instead of being visualised properly. But this is the episode that gave us the Pting – the best Doctor Who monster in years, the most relatable (it just wants to eat a spaceship, come on) and apparently the most dangerous. Whatever criticisms can be levied at The Tsuranga Conundrum, it did give us the Pting. Also, Ted Lasso‘s Roy Kent cameos.

18. Can You Hear Me? (Series 12, Episode 7)

There’s a heck of a lot to love in Can You Hear Me?: the menacing Zellin, the animated backstory sequence, the more complex themes, the storylines with Yaz, Graham and Ryan…yet the episode as a whole feels unnecessarily convoluted. The sequences in Aleppo are fine, but utterly superfluous, while the reveal of Rakaya is initially interesting before seeming a bit unnecessarily – not helped by a performance that just can’t hope to match-up to the screen presence of Ian Gelder as Zellin. This may be a story that would benefit from a Target novelisation…

17. Praxeus (Series 12, Episode 6)

A great Sea Devil story that doesn’t actually feature the Sea Devils. Revisiting Praxeus in 2022, there’s a real eeriness to the worldwide virus angle that just wasn’t quite as unnerving in February 2020. The story starts off pretty well, and it goes in an interesting direction, but still feels quite cluttered (like many episodes in this era) and doesn’t quite work for me.

16. Spyfall (Series 12, Episodes 1 and 2)

Spyfall, Part One makes for a rather overlong set-up, while Part Two almost has a bit too much going on. There are some aspects of the story that either aren’t explained or aren’t explained particularly well. Lenny Henry‘s villain shows promise but gets pushed aside as soon as Sacha Dhawan‘s Master is introduced, and – speaking of the Master – the cliffhanger reveal moment wasn’t surprising on New Year’s Day 2020, and still doesn’t have anywhere near the same magic as the Yana reveal in 2007’s Utopia. The scenes between the Doctor and the Master make for the most engaging in the story, there’s some nice character moments for ‘the fam’, and the Kassavin are conceptually great, but Spyfall as a whole is just a very messy story with some strong concepts.

15. Revolution of the Daleks (2021 New Year’s Special)

There’s a moment in Revolution of the Daleks in which the UK Prime Minister adamantly tells billionaire Jack Robertson that their Dalek defence drones aren’t to be paid for with public money, which is quite possibly the least believable or realistic moment in the entire history of Doctor Who. It’s curious that an episode in which the Daleks take over Downing Street is lacking in political satire – especially given that the two human antagonists are clearly based upon real individuals – but perhaps Revolution is more interested in being a blockbuster adventure, which it manages quite successfully. There’s some really great moments sprinkled throughout, making it a bit of a shame that the special feels so rushed; perhaps a 90-minute slot would have been better, or if it was two, hour-long specials over the festive period (not unlike Spyfall the year before). I really like the defence drone Daleks, Ryan’s exit is nicely handled, and the shot of the Doctor opening the TARDIS to reveal thousands of Daleks swarming around her is sure to be an iconic Who visual for years to come.

14. Once, Upon Time (Flux, Chapter 3)

This surreal, dream-like chapter of Flux may not have been to everyone’s tastes, but made for an interesting way to develop the main characters’ storylines further whilst working within the limitations of the pandemic. Naturally, the most interesting storyline is the one following the Fugitive Doctor apprehending Swarm and Azure on the planet Time, and while I think we should have seen more of Jo Martin reprising her role as her incarnation of the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker brings a very different screen presence to these scenes, which explore some big ideas. Bel’s story allows us to see the after-effects of the Flux event across the universe in a way that we don’t normally see in the show, really helping the build the scale of the narrative. The less said about the “as-yet-unborn child” line, the better.

13. The Ghost Monument (Series 11, Episode 2)

The opening to The Ghost Monument is absolutely fantastic. I love the long tracking shots from director Mark Tonderai, I love the way it feels as though we’re experiencing ‘the fam’s’ first outer space adventure alongside them, I love the tension, I love that we can see the back-half of the ship detach through the small window and I love that for once, Doctor Who looks like a big-budget blockbuster. After that, the rest of the episode just can’t hope to measure up. The pacing becomes too slow, the story feels like a set-up for a later episode that’s never been made, and the reveal of the TARDIS interior is…lacking to say the least. Not a great introduction to possibly my least favourite TARDIS set.

12. The Witchfinders (Series 11, Episode 8)

While it does seem like an obvious idea to have the show’s first female Doctor wrapped up in a witch trial, this is very much a story worth telling. There’s a creepy and unsettling atmosphere to The Witchfinders that works wonderfully, which surprisingly works well with Alan Cumming‘s rather camp performance as King James I. It’s a shame then that the story presumably overran, resulting in some moments feeling rushed, and an ending that just doesn’t quite stick the landing. The introduction of the Morax almost feels like a set-up for a second episode. It is worth mentioning though that Joy Wilkinson‘s Target novelisation of the episode does improve on these faults.

11. Eve of the Daleks (2022 New Year’s Special)

Eve of the Daleks is a fun, self-contained festive adventure for the series which could have probably done with a sharper script, but was reportedly conceived in 24 hours according to strict production limitations. With that in mind, it’s surprising that Chris Chibnall wrote one of his best scripts for the programme. The time-loop idea is ingenious (it’s incredible that we hadn’t had a proper time-loop episode before this), Aisling Bea and Mrs. Doyle – I mean, Pauline McLynn – are lots of fun, and for once the Daleks actually get to kill the Doctor!

10. Fugitive of the Judoon (Series 12, Episode 5)

There was a unique quality to Fugitive of the Judoon when it aired. I wasn’t able to watch it live, had heard there was a shocking twist, and found myself wrapped up in the suspense of what exactly was going on. I assumed whilst watching that Captain Jack’s long-awaited return was said twist (which was much more exciting before…), but the ‘Ruth’ reveal is still one of the finest revelations in the show’s long history, punctuated by some of composer Segun Akinola‘s best work on the series. Jo Martin became instantly iconic, the Judoon were handled wonderfully (menacing and funny) and there’s a unique feeling to the episode that doesn’t dissipate upon rewatches. In theory, Fugitive should be higher on this list, and yet it feels like a set-up without a clear pay-off. Once, Upon Time adds more intrigue, but the series’ reluctance to explore the Fugitive Doctor further feels like a missed opportunity. I’m all for ambiguity, but we desperately needed a sequel to allow Jo Martin a chance to truly shine, and we never got it.

9. The Woman Who Fell to Earth (Series 11, Episode 1)

Jodie Whittaker‘s debut as the Thirteenth Doctor was a refreshing back-to-basics story after six series of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi‘s incarnations. Its slow-burn approach works better on a first viewing, but there’s still an awful lot to appreciate in here – even if it may not live up to the likes of The Eleventh Hour. I always find the first episode for each Doctor to be the most interesting, mostly to see the actor and creative team finding their feet whilst refiguring what the show will be. Tzim-Sha may not be the most exciting adversary, but makes for a solid first baddie for the new Doctor to face off against, while Grace’s death makes for a welcome reminder of the dangers of travelling with the Doctor after so many years of resurrected companions.

8. Resolution (2019 New Year’s Day Special)

This first festive adventure for the Thirteenth Doctor and her ‘fam’ is a solid, blockbuster special that makes for a pretty strong ending to the programme’s eleventh series. Very much a story of two halves: Resolution sees companion Ryan confront his dad (resulting in Tosin Cole‘s best performance), as well as archaeologist Lin (GhostsCharlotte Ritchie, also fantastic) getting possessed by a Reconnaissance Dalek and causing mayhem. It’s the first time that it feels as though Jodie Whittaker‘s Doctor gets a proper villain to face off against, providing a sense of threat to this adventure that, it’s fair to say the series prior had been lacking in places. Initially I wasn’t a huge fan of the Recon Daleks’ ‘junkyard chique’ look, but it has grown on me sense, while Segun Akinola‘s Dalek theme is excellent.

7. Rosa (Series 11, Episode 3)

I’m aware that many fans would put Rosa much higher on this list, and with good reason, but for me this episode doesn’t quite manage to hit the mark. Krasko is a rather lacklustre antagonist, without much of a screen presence, some of the direction and editing can feel a bit off at points (a scene in which the Doctor throws Krasko’s suitcase at him is quite sloppily put together) and the choice of music at the end feels a bit anachronistic with the setting. That being said, Rosa is still a very strong episode of Doctor Who, and very much a modern version of an early 60’s ‘pure historical’ adventure, sans aliens. Vinette Robinson‘s guest performance as Rosa Parks is brilliantly understated.

6. War of the Sontarans (Flux, Chapter 2)

In contrast with Rosa, War of the Sontarans is a historical adventure with more than a touch of sci-fi to it. It’s great to see the Sontarans finally return as main antagonists, while their redesign is far superior to the blue rubber armour look of the previous iteration. It’s beautifully shot, with a surprisingly well-handled battle sequence, and the ‘tempura’ gag gets me every time. While Dan may not have had too much focus or development in Flux, John Bishop is still incredibly endearing and I love his little side-quest in this chapter. Jodie Whittaker‘s Doctor is often at her best when she’s on her own in a situation with no easy outcome, and this episode really does prove that.

5. The Haunting of Villa Diodati (Series 12, Episode 8)

It’s rare for Doctor Who to tackle a historical topic which I, as a viewer, actually know quite a bit about, so I was very intrigued to see the series tackle the night at Villa Diodati in which Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein – and also led John Polidori to write The Vampyre, a precursor to Dracula which the episode overlooks entirely. The characterisation of the five historical supporting players have definitely been reworked to better suit a Doctor Who story and target audience, but what really stands out in this episode is the atmosphere. The candlelit sets, the eerie score, the performances from all the cast all culminating in the reveal of the Lone Cyberman, Ashad: arguably the scariest Cyberman in the series to date. If there’s a key issue with Haunting, it’s that the following two-part finale didn’t end the storyline on a high, but viewed as a standalone, there’s a lot to love here.

4. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror (Series 12, Episode 4)

Goran Višnjić as Nikola Tesla delivers one of the best guest performances in the entire history of Doctor Who; he’s utterly brilliant in the role, and has terrific on-screen chemistry with Jodie Whittaker. With that out of the way, it’s fair to say that Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is the sort of solid Doctor Who adventure that just works, without the need for an overcomplicated plot or contrived character drama. The parallels between the Doctor and Tesla may seem a little heavy-handed to some: the discussions between each character’s companions, the similarities between Edison and the Skithra and their joy at discovering new alien technology, but I think this aspect works in the story’s favour. If there’s one glaring issue, it’s with the bizarre cut from the Doctor, Tesla and Ms Skerritt from the Niagra Falls facility to a train – it feels as though there’s a scene missing.

3. It Takes You Away (Series 11, Episode 9)

If you haven’t revisited It Takes You Away for a while, I’d highly recommend it. This is the sort of episode that gets better on each viewing: a story which sets itself up with one premise before revealing that it’s actually about something else entirely. This inevitably makes the rewatches more impactful as you start to see that the main narrative of It Takes You Away isn’t about a monster in the woods but about humanity’s intense desire for love – even if it means deciding between one loved one and another. This isn’t to say that the episode is just an emotional gut-punch; the sequences in the Antizone are eerie and darkly funny (including Kevin Eldon as the creepy Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs), while the conclusion sees the main antagonist take the form of a frog on a chair – in what feels like a tribute to the late, great Douglas Adams. Perhaps It Takes You Away isn’t as emotional as it could have been, and it’s certainly an episode that could have easily expanded into a two-parter, but it’s one I find myself enjoying more on each subsequent rewatch.

2. Village of the Angels (Flux, Chapter 4)

The Weeping Angels have definitely lost a lot of their presence after so many appearances. One of the worst things a writer can do with a monster is include it in a throwaway cameo, and the Angels have fallen victim to that far too often, even though their episodes as ‘main’ threats are usually very good. Enter Village of the Angels, which definitely isn’t Blink, but is a close second, and a reminder of how effective these monsters can be. There’s something terrifying about how relentless they are in Village, constantly shrouded in darkness. The sequence near the end of the statues clawing their way through the tunnel is the stuff of nightmares, especially when followed with that cliff-hanger (let’s not mention the mid-credits scene which spoils the mood somewhat). It’s not reinventing the wheel necessarily, but Village of the Angels is a slick, spooky adventure that reminds us how scary these lonely assassins can be.

1. Demons of the Punjab (Series 11, Episode 6)

Demons of the Punjab feels like a perfect distillation of what showrunner Chris Chibnall was trying to do with Series 11. It’s historical adventure focused on a part of history that’s rarely if ever taught in schools, with an emphasis on complex character drama, and a narrative that has something to say about our present day. Sure, it is slightly disappointing to have yet another adventure in this series in which the aliens aren’t the antagonists, and the Demons of the Punjab aren’t literal demons, but Vinay Patel‘s script is an emotive tale of hatred and loss, punctuated by a reminder that love may not conquer all, but is the only way to combat the darkness in the world. Aside from some occasionally stilted performances, Demons of the Punjab is a heartfelt adventure that’s well worth revisiting.

Doctor Who: Series 1-13 are available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.

You can also read Matt’s reviews of each episode as part of our Doctor Who series blog.


One thought on “Doctor Who: Thirteenth Doctor Episodes – Ranked

  1. Pingback: First look and Trailer: Doctor Who returns for a Centenary special with very special guests! | critical popcorn

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