Since its inception in 1963, Doctor Who has become a beloved and iconic science fiction series, captivating audiences with its thrilling adventures, complex characters, and imaginative storytelling.
With the 60th anniversary coming soon, narrowing down the must-watch episodes can be a daunting task.
However, we’ve compiled a list of our 14 favorite stories from the modern era that every Whovian should experience. (Don’t worry, the list of Classic Who adventures is in the works as well.)
This list is in order of our favorites, so skip to first place if you want to watch only the cream of the crop.
Hate our order and/or selections? Leave your version in the comments below!
14. The Girl in the Fireplace (Series 2, Episode 4)
The Girl in the Fireplace is a captivating and essential episode of Doctor Who that combines elements of romance, time travel, and adventure.
Set in 18th-century France, it revolves around the Doctor’s encounter with Madame de Pompadour, a historical figure and an intriguing character.
The Doctor and Historical Figures
The Doctor’s connection with Madame de Pompadour is beautifully developed throughout the episode, demonstrating the show’s ability to delve into the complexities of relationships and emotions.
This storyline adds a layer of depth and heart to the typical sci-fi adventure, making it one of the series’ most emotionally resonant episodes.
The Girl in the Fireplace also seamlessly weaves time travel into its narrative.
Doctor Who and History
The concept of the Doctor encountering different periods in history is one of the show’s defining features, and this episode explores it with finesse.
The intricate connection between the clockwork androids in the spaceship and the titular “fireplace” in Madame de Pompadour’s life creates a sense of temporal wonder and intrigue.
Moreover, the episode is filled with memorable moments, from the Doctor’s arrival through the fireplace to the stunning and suspenseful climax set in the spaceship.
The clockwork androids, with their eerie and relentless pursuit, add an element of danger and suspense that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
Blending the Old with the New
In The Girl in the Fireplace, Doctor Who also showcases its ability to blend historical drama with futuristic technology.
The fusion of 18th-century France and advanced alien technology is visually stunning and adds a unique dimension to the story.
It is a standout example of the show’s versatility, offering a beautiful and emotional tale amidst the sci-fi trappings, and it serves as a testament to the enduring appeal of the Doctor’s adventures through time and space.
13. Midnight (Series 4, Episode 10)
Midnight is often celebrated for its intense psychological thriller elements and its unique narrative structure.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Midnight is its departure from the traditional Doctor Who format.
Unlike many episodes, it takes place almost entirely within a single confined setting, the isolated and claustrophobic environment of a futuristic tour bus on the hostile planet of Midnight.
Suspense and Tension on Midnight
This departure from the norm adds a distinct sense of tension and suspense, as the Doctor and a group of passengers face a mysterious and relentless threat.
The episode’s exploration of fear, paranoia, and human nature is both chilling and thought-provoking.
As the passengers become increasingly paranoid and hostile toward the Doctor, the episode delves into the darker aspects of group psychology.
Fear of the Unknown
The fear of the unknown and the breakdown of trust among the group create a tense and unsettling atmosphere that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
Midnight also emphasizes the Doctor’s vulnerability in a way that few episodes do.
He faces a threat that he cannot fully comprehend, and the episode explores his isolation and helplessness as he fights to understand and combat the mysterious entity.
This vulnerability adds depth to the Doctor’s character and reminds us that even a Time Lord can be pushed to his limits.
Secrets Not Unveiled
Furthermore, Midnight is notable for what it doesn’t reveal.
The true nature of the antagonist remains ambiguous, leaving much to the imagination of the viewer.
This element of uncertainty and the lack of a clear resolution contribute to the episode’s eerie and haunting quality.
Midnight is a masterful exercise in tension and psychological horror that reminds us that Doctor Who can be much more than just time-travel adventures—it can also be a showcase for intense character-driven drama and existential dread.
12. The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary Special)
The Day of the Doctor encapsulates the very essence of Doctor Who in a grand celebration of its 50th anniversary.
There are numerous reasons why this special episode has earned its place as a beloved classic among fans of the series.
The Doctor Meets Himself… Again
First and foremost, The Day of the Doctor brings together multiple incarnations of the Doctor, including David Tennant’s Ten, the Eleventh played by Matt Smith, and even a glimpse of a new War Doctor played by John Hurt.
This rare and momentous occasion is an incredible treat for fans who relish the opportunity to see different Doctors interact.
It’s a true homage to the show’s long history and a celebration of the character’s timeless nature.
The Doctor and the Time War
The episode’s storyline is a complex yet enthralling tale that revolves around the Time War, a pivotal event in the Doctor’s history.
It delves into the character’s inner turmoil, exploring themes of responsibility and the consequences of one’s actions, making it a poignant and thought-provoking narrative.
The show’s ability to balance complex concepts with action and adventure is on full display here.
The Doctors Combine Humor and Drama
The Day of the Doctor masterfully combines humor, emotion, and high-stakes drama, demonstrating the show’s versatility.
Moments of levity, such as the interactions between the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, are skillfully woven into the narrative, ensuring that the episode remains engaging and entertaining.
The special also revisits iconic elements of the series, from the return of the Zygons to the TARDIS‘s cameo appearance in the form of “the moment.”
Nostalgic Roots of Doctor Who
These nostalgic nods to the show’s history enhance the experience for longtime fans, while remaining accessible to new viewers.
It’s a perfect blend of fan service, character exploration, and epic storytelling, marking a monumental moment in the show’s history.
Whovians of all stripes will find something to love in this special episode that beautifully captures the essence of Doctor Who.
11. The End of the World (Series 1, Episode 2)
First and foremost, the episode’s title encapsulates one of the central themes of Doctor Who: exploring the end of things.
In this case, it’s the end of Earth’s natural life cycle, as it’s about to be consumed by the expanding sun.
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
The concept of witnessing the demise of Earth in the distant future is both poignant and awe-inspiring, exemplifying the show’s ability to delve into complex and thought-provoking scenarios.
The End of the World serves as a visually stunning showcase of the show’s production values.
The alien delegates on the space station, each representing a different species, are wonderfully designed, showcasing the creativity of the show’s production team.
Future of the Earth
The episode offers viewers a glimpse into a future filled with advanced technology, exotic species, and dazzling visuals, creating a truly immersive and captivating experience.
Moreover, this episode is a crucial entry point for newcomers, as it provides an introduction to the Doctor and his TARDIS and explains the concept of time travel in a straightforward manner.
It serves as an accessible starting point for those unfamiliar with the series, offering an explanation of the Doctor’s role as a Time Lord and a brief overview of his mission to explore time and space.
The Future of Humanity?
The character of Cassandra, a sentient piece of skin stretched on a frame, adds a unique and memorable element to the episode.
Cassandra’s vanity and selfishness serve as a compelling counterpoint to the Doctor’s compassion and sense of responsibility.
Her inclusion highlights the show’s capacity to explore diverse characters and complex moral dilemmas.
The End of the World is must-watch due to its exploration of profound themes, its breathtaking visual design, its accessibility to newcomers, and its introduction of fascinating characters.
It exemplifies the show’s ability to blend science fiction with emotional depth and to transport viewers to distant futures, making it an essential installment in the Doctor’s timeless journey through time and space.
10. The Eleventh Hour (Series 5, Episode 1)
The Eleventh Hour serves as a magnificent episode, marking the debut of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Steven Moffat as the showrunner.
There are several compelling reasons why this episode is considered a must-watch for both seasoned Whovians and newcomers to the series.
New, New, New Doctor
First and foremost, The Eleventh Hour represents a fresh start for the show.
It’s a brilliant jumping-on point for new viewers, offering an introduction to the Doctor, his TARDIS, and the concept of time and space travel.
The episode takes the audience on a journey of discovery, echoing the Doctor’s own sense of regeneration and renewal, making it a perfect entry for those who want to explore Doctor Who without the need to delve into the show’s extensive lore.
Matt Smith Enters the TARDIS
Matt Smith’s debut as the Eleventh Doctor is a revelation. His youthful exuberance, quirky charm, and endearing quirks make him an instantly lovable and captivating incarnation of the Time Lord.
The Eleventh Hour allows Smith to shine and sets the tone for his era, showcasing his ability to convey the Doctor’s complexities, from his childlike enthusiasm to his profound wisdom.
The episode also features an intriguing and fast-paced plot.
The Doctor Saves the Earth… Again
The Doctor’s quest to save the Earth from an alien invasion is filled with suspense, mystery, and moments of genuine humor.
Amelia Pond, the young girl who befriends the Doctor, is a charming and relatable character, and her bond with the Time Lord adds depth to the story.
Setting the Scene for the Entire Series
The clever use of the crack in Amelia’s wall as a recurring motif adds a layer of intrigue that connects this episode to larger series arcs.
Furthermore, The Eleventh Hour is visually stunning, with impressive special effects and a memorable set piece involving the Atraxi, an alien race overseeing Earth.
It’s a showcase of the show’s ability to deliver cinematic quality within the television format.
9. The Waters of Mars (Special)
The Waters of Mars is a must-watch episode of Doctor Who for several compelling reasons, including its high-stakes narrative, deep character development, and exploration of themes related to power and hubris.
One of the standout aspects of The Waters of Mars is its intense and suspenseful storyline.
The Doctor Arrives on Mars
The Doctor’s arrival on Mars in the year 2059 coincides with a base under siege by a mysterious and deadly waterborne creature.
The episode is rife with tension and terror as the Doctor and the base’s crew attempt to unravel the mystery and protect themselves from the relentless threat.
Danger on the Red Planet
It keeps viewers on the edge of their seats with a sense of impending danger and impending doom, making it a thrilling and immersive experience.
The episode also serves as a significant turning point for the Tenth Doctor, portrayed by David Tennant.
The Time Lord Victorious
As the Doctor grapples with his own sense of power and responsibility, the narrative explores the consequences of his actions and the ethical dilemmas that come with his time-traveling abilities.
This character development adds depth to the Doctor’s journey and showcases the show’s ability to delve into the complex emotions and moral quandaries that define the character.
Challenging the Doctor’s Authority
Moreover, The Waters of Mars introduces Adelaide Brooke, a strong and compelling character who challenges the Doctor’s actions and decisions.
Her confrontation with the Doctor over his interference in a fixed point in time is a powerful and emotionally charged moment, highlighting the show’s ability to create dynamic and thought-provoking interactions between characters.
It’s a prime example of the show’s ability to blend thrilling science fiction with emotionally resonant storytelling, making it an essential entry in the series for both longtime fans and newcomers.
8. The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion (Series 9, Episodes 7 and 8)
The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion are a two-part story that is often hailed as a must-watch for its exceptional storytelling, thought-provoking themes, and powerful character development.
The episodes delve into complex and timely themes, particularly the issues of identity, fear, and the consequences of intolerance.
Zygons Just Want to Have Fun
The Zygons’ desire to live among humans, sometimes taking on their identities, serves as a compelling allegory for immigration and cultural integration.
The narrative challenges viewers to consider the fear and mistrust that can arise when different groups attempt to coexist, making it a socially relevant and thought-provoking storyline.
The Zygons themselves are a memorable and enigmatic alien species with shape-shifting abilities, which adds an element of suspense and tension to the plot.
The uncertainty of not knowing who is a Zygon and who is human creates an atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust, making these episodes thrilling and engaging.
The Doctor as Peacemaker
Moreover, the Doctor’s role as a mediator and peacemaker takes center stage in this story.
His efforts to prevent a devastating war between humans and Zygons highlight the moral complexities of his character.
It emphasizes the Doctor’s unwavering belief in finding non-violent solutions and his commitment to fostering coexistence.
It’s a powerful reminder of the show’s central themes of hope and compassion.
The standout moment in The Zygon Inversion is the powerful speech delivered by the Doctor.
Capaldi’s Defining Moment
Peter Capaldi’s impassioned monologue about the importance of peace and the consequences of war is a defining moment of his tenure as the Doctor.
It’s a moving and memorable scene that resonates with viewers, showcasing the Doctor’s deep-seated commitment to empathy and understanding.
7. Dalek (Series 1, Episode 6)
First and foremost, Dalek marks the triumphant return of the Daleks, the Doctor’s arch-nemeses.
This episode rekindles the sense of fear and dread associated with these merciless, genocidal machines.
Fear and Loathing… and Daleks in Utah
The Daleks’ ability to stir emotions of fear and loathing in viewers is a testament to their enduring status as one of the most iconic villains in the sci-fi genre.
The episode masterfully juxtaposes the Doctor’s moral compass with the ruthless and unfeeling nature of the Dalek.
This clash of values adds a layer of complexity and depth to the narrative as the Doctor confronts the creature responsible for so much destruction and chaos.
Blurring the Lines Between Good and Evil
Dalek forces the Doctor and the audience to reevaluate their perceptions of morality and the blurred lines between good and evil.
Moreover, Dalek highlights the vulnerability of the Doctor.
The emotional range displayed by Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, from anger to sympathy, showcases his acting prowess.
The episode challenges the Doctor’s resolve and exposes his inner turmoil, making it a pivotal moment in the character’s journey.
Rose Tyler, Peacemaker
The episode is also a masterclass in character-driven storytelling.
Rose Tyler’s interactions with the imprisoned Dalek bring out her compassion and the complexity of her relationship with the Doctor.
Her refusal to accept the Doctor’s seemingly heartless stance and her determination to find a peaceful solution add a profound emotional layer to the narrative.
6. The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Series 5, Episodes 12 and 13)
The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang are two interconnected episodes that stand out due to their epic scope, intricate storytelling, and the way they bring together various elements from the series’ history.
One of the most compelling aspects of these episodes is their epic, time-twisting narrative.
Reappearance of Old Foes
The Pandorica Opens begins with a series of seemingly unrelated events, from the reappearance of the Pandorica to the reemergence of various enemies, including Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the Doctor is at the center of a grand, timey-wimey puzzle.
The Big Bang cleverly resolves this intricate web of paradoxes and time loops, delivering a satisfying and emotionally resonant conclusion.
These episodes showcase the show’s capacity for intricate, multi-layered storytelling that rewards attentive viewers.
The episodes also serve as a love letter to the show’s rich history and continuity.
The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang feature numerous nods to previous episodes, companions, and classic monsters, making them a delightful treat for longtime fans.
The way the show weaves together these elements to form a cohesive narrative is a testament to its storytelling prowess.
The Doctor and His Companion
Moreover, these episodes further explore the relationship between the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond played by Karen Gillan, highlighting their profound bond.
Amy’s belief in the Doctor, even when he is erased from existence, and her role in the resolution of the storyline emphasize the importance of companions in the Doctor’s journey.
They encapsulate the essence of the series, delivering a compelling, timey-wimey story that explores the enduring themes of friendship, hope, and the resilience of the Doctor and his companions.
5. Heaven Sent (Series 9, Episode 11)
Heaven Sent is a tour de force for Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor.
This episode puts the Doctor in an extraordinary and solitary position, challenging his resourcefulness and determination.
Capaldi delivers a remarkable performance, showcasing the Doctor’s emotional depth and resilience in the face of unimaginable adversity.
The episode’s unique narrative structure is a standout feature.
It places the Doctor in a mysterious castle filled with terrifying creatures and forces him to confront his past, his fears, and his identity.
As he navigates this confounding puzzle, the audience is taken on a journey of discovery, uncovering the layers of the Doctor’s character and his emotional turmoil.
The Mood is Immaculate
Heaven Sent masterfully combines elements of science fiction, horror, and psychological thriller.
The eerie and unsettling atmosphere of the castle, the ominous Veil pursuing the Doctor, and the revelation of the Hybrid prophecy all contribute to a sense of impending doom and mystery.
The episode keeps viewers engaged and on the edge of their seats, as the Doctor’s desperate struggle for survival unfolds.
The episode also delves into complex philosophical and existential themes.
It explores the Doctor’s unwavering determination and his ability to endure pain and suffering in pursuit of his goals.
It questions the nature of identity, memory, and time, leaving viewers with a profound sense of introspection and contemplation.
4. Vincent and the Doctor (Series 5, Episode 10)
Vincent and the Doctor is lauded for its poignant exploration of art, mental health, and the profound impact of the Doctor on history.
This emotionally charged story offers several compelling reasons why it continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Whovians.
A Portrait of van Gogh
One of the episode’s most outstanding features is its sensitive portrayal of Vincent van Gogh, the legendary Dutch painter.
Vincent and the Doctor delves into van Gogh’s tumultuous life, highlighting his struggles with mental health and the profound loneliness he experienced.
The Doctor and Amy’s decision to reach out to van Gogh and invite him on an adventure is a touching and empathetic gesture that underscores the show’s central themes of compassion and hope.
The episode reminds us that even small acts of kindness can make a world of difference in someone’s life.
More Than Just Sci-Fi
The way Vincent and the Doctor interweaves science fiction with historical drama is truly exceptional.
The mysterious and invisible creature haunting van Gogh’s paintings adds an element of otherworldly intrigue while serving as a metaphor for his inner demons.
This balance between science fiction and emotional depth is a hallmark of the show’s storytelling prowess.
Art & Emotions
Furthermore, the episode celebrates the power of art as a medium for conveying complex emotions.
The sequence in the Musée d’Orsay, where the Doctor and Amy show van Gogh how much he is appreciated in the future, is a beautiful and moving moment that highlights the transformative nature of art.
It emphasizes the idea that art can change lives and connect people across time and space.
A Must See
Vincent and the Doctor is a testament to the show’s ability to tackle profound themes with grace and sensitivity.
It’s a masterful blend of science fiction and human drama, showcasing the Doctor’s capacity to make a difference beyond defeating monsters.
It’s a deeply moving and thought-provoking episode that invites viewers to reflect on the impact of their actions and the power of art to inspire change.
3. Blink (Series 3, Episode 10)
Blink is often hailed as one of the finest episodes in the modern era of Doctor Who, and there are several compelling reasons why it is considered a must-watch for both die-hard Whovians and newcomers to the series.
First and foremost, Blink offers a unique perspective on time travel.
The episode introduces the Weeping Angels, enigmatic and malevolent creatures that feed on the potential time energy of their victims by sending them back in time.
This inversion of the Doctor’s usual time-traveling escapades creates an atmosphere of suspense and tension that is not commonly seen in the series.
Wibbly, Wobbly, Timey Wimey
It challenges the traditional dynamics of time travel, as the Doctor becomes an observer rather than the main protagonist, adding a thrilling twist to the typical Doctor Who formula.
Moreover, Blink is an exceptional standalone episode, making it accessible to viewers who may not be familiar with the overarching series plotlines.
It was designed as an entry point for newcomers, introducing them to the show’s fundamental concepts without requiring prior knowledge of the Doctor’s history.
This makes it an ideal choice for those who want to experience Doctor Who without diving into the extensive lore and continuity of the series.
Moffat Makes His Mark on Doctor Who
The episode’s script, penned by Steven Moffat, showcases his brilliant storytelling abilities.
Moffat crafts a plot that is not only engaging but also deeply unsettling.
He masterfully weaves together various timelines, creating an intricate puzzle for both the characters and the audience to solve.
Terrifying Weeping Angels
The phrase “Don’t blink. Blink, and you’re dead” has become iconic, reflecting the terrifying concept of the Weeping Angels, who can transport you to the past within the span of a single blink.
The suspenseful atmosphere and eerie visuals create a sense of unease that persists throughout the episode, making Blink a genuinely memorable and haunting installment.
In addition to its creative storytelling and inventive concept, Blink features some compelling characters, including Sally Sparrow, a resourceful and relatable protagonist who becomes embroiled in the Doctor’s world.
Blink showcases the show’s ability to explore complex ideas, create memorable and terrifying adversaries, and provide a perfect entry point for new viewers while still offering a thrilling experience for long-time fans.
It’s a testament to the show’s enduring legacy and its capacity to continually surprise and captivate its audience.
2. The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (Series 1, Episodes 9 and 10)
The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, a two-part story in the first season of the revived Doctor Who series, are often cited as must-watch episodes, and there are several compelling reasons for their enduring popularity.
These episodes are a prime example of the show’s ability to blend science fiction with historical drama, creating a captivating and immersive narrative.
The Doctor in World War II Britain
Set during World War II, the story incorporates the wartime setting seamlessly into the plot, bringing to life the atmosphere, fears, and resilience of the era.
This historical backdrop provides an emotionally charged context for the Doctor’s adventures, making it one of the show’s most memorable historical episodes.
One of the standout elements of this story is the introduction of the eerie and iconic Empty Child.
Are You My Mummy?
The gas mask-wearing child, constantly inquiring for “mummy,” is an unforgettable and chilling character.
This character’s mystery and ominous presence set the stage for a unique and intense atmosphere, creating genuine tension and fear in the viewers.
It’s a prime example of Doctor Who at its best, blending horror and science fiction with exceptional storytelling.
Moreover, these episodes delve into the moral and ethical dilemmas that the Doctor often faces.
The Doctor Accepts Responsibility
As the Doctor navigates the alien threat in wartime London, he must grapple with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of those affected by the crisis.
This moral dimension adds depth to the story and reflects the core values of the Doctor as a character who seeks to protect and heal, even in the most challenging circumstances.
1. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday (Series 2, Episodes 12 and 13)
Army of Ghosts and Doomsday are essential episodes that form a gripping two-part story, packed with high-stakes drama, heart-wrenching moments, and memorable characters.
Firstly, these episodes mark a monumental moment in the show’s history as they feature the return of the Doctor’s most formidable enemies, the Daleks, and the formidable Cybermen.
The sight of these iconic foes clashing on the streets of London is an incredible treat for fans, and it creates a palpable sense of danger and excitement that is hard to forget.
The Doctor’s Sacrifices
Additionally, Army of Ghosts and Doomsday explore complex themes of loss, sacrifice, and the consequences of the Doctor’s actions.
As the Doctor grapples with the emotional toll of the conflict between the Daleks and Cybermen, viewers witness the cost of his time-traveling heroics and the pain of separation from his companions, Rose Tyler in particular.
These episodes provide an emotional rollercoaster ride that showcases the depth of character development and the intricacies of the Doctor-companion relationships.
Torchwood Makes an Appearance
The episodes also introduce the mysterious Torchwood Institute, setting the stage for future story arcs in the Doctor Who universe.
This organization and its enigmatic leader, Yvonne Hartman, add depth and intrigue to the narrative while expanding the show’s lore.
The Doctor and Rose Say Goodbye
Moreover, the climactic scene in which the Doctor and Rose are separated across dimensions is one of the most emotionally charged moments in the series.
The heart-wrenching farewell between the Doctor and Rose leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of fans, emphasizing the deep and lasting impact of their time together.
These two episodes serve as a testament to the show’s ability to balance thrilling science fiction with genuine emotional depth and to create moments that resonate with viewers long after the credits roll.
Doctor Who has provided fans with almost six decades of thrilling adventures, thought-provoking stories, and unforgettable characters.
With such an extensive and diverse history, it can be a daunting task to decide where to begin or what to prioritize.
However, the 14 storylines mentioned in this article stand out as absolute must-watches for both seasoned Whovians and newcomers to the series.
They showcase the Doctor’s enduring appeal and the show’s ability to balance thrilling science fiction with emotionally resonant storytelling.
Doctor Who continues to be a show that explores complex themes, captures the imagination, and inspires viewers with its message of hope and the idea that even in the darkest of times, there is always a way to make a difference.