Thursday, 9 June 2016

Doctor Who: 10 Greatest Russell T Davies Episodes

Now that Doctor Who will get a new showrunner in the near future, it's time to look back at the best of the previous incumbents of the job. First up, the man who brought the show back from the dead - Russell T Davies...

10. Rose

A new version of the show with a completely different aesthetic, style and format, the 21st century take on Doctor Who could have been a travesty - except under the genius of Russell T Davies it honed in on the best parts of the classic series. While there is the odd quirk that is ironed out later (the burping bin, anyone?), just about everything else in 'Rose' is pitched-perfectly - from the characterisation of Rose to the holding back on the mystery of the Doctor. Simply one of the best pilot episodes of anything ever. Somehow, things got even better as they went along...

9. Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords

Not remembered too fondly in retrospect, partly due to the silliness of the climax, this rare three-partner for the new series (possibly only, if you don't count the last three of Series Nine as one story) rounded up my personal favourite RTD series with aplomb. Introducing not one, but two, fantastic and very different iterations of the Master in Derek Jacobi and John Simm, the central idea of the story is terrific. What if the Master, who the Doctor foils every single time, actually won and took over the world? Just don't think about the weird 'Jesus Doctor' bit at the end.

8. The Christmas Invasion

It is thanks to this story that Doctor Who at Christmas time - cos nothing says yuletide like alien nasties - is now a yearly tradition. Stripping the invasion story template back to basics, though still with some nice new ideas like blood control and the robot Santas, this one showcases the impact of the Doctor's regeneration on his companion more than ever before. The episode's masterstroke is holding back David Tennant until his triumphant arrival in the last quarter, as he duels with a Sycorax and then kills it with a satsuma. What an entrance!

7. The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Death of the Doctor

Probably the best The Sarah Jane Adventures episode ever, it is no surprise that it is from the pen of Davies. Featuring Sarah Jane teaming up with the Eleventh Doctor and another classic companion in Jo Grant, it is a huge treat for classic fans. What's more, though, the story is a surprisingly grown-up mediation on grief, which shows how SJA could be as intelligent and mature as its older brothers. Also, Davies absolutely nails the Eleventh Doctor's personality. As of now, it is his final contribution to the Whoniverse. If it remains so, at least it was a terrific way to go out.

6. Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

The classic series had dabbled in longer story arcs but it had never really produced a series finale. This Series One closer was the very first in the show's history, then, and its shadow still hangs over all the others produced since. Some of the contemporary television references might date it slightly, but 'Evil Reality TV Run By The Daleks' is still a terrific premise for an episode. Add in one of the strongest regenerations ever, and the summation of the best single series story arc for the Ninth Doctor, and this is one helluva two-parter.

5. Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day Five

Despite being loveable, Torchwood's first two series (and its fourth run, come to that) didn't really find their own identity outside of 'Doctor Who's raunchier spin-off.' The Children of Earth mini-series, however, understands that Torchwood's role is to tackle more adult themes than Who can or should - including the political ramifications of an alien invasion and what happens when there isn't an easy solution available. The powerful final episode is the best example of this, as events build to a dramatic yet downbeat conclusion.

4. The Waters of Mars

As much as Davies' Who is remembered for being funny and joyful, he could go really dark when he wanted to. Take 'The Waters of Mars', for example, which could have been a fun last adventure for the Tenth Doctor before his regeneration, but instead sees him at his lowest, darkest, ebb. Subsequent episodes have dealt with the Doctor going dark but none of them have done it as effectively as here. Also, the water zombies known as the Flood give Moffat a run for his money in the scary monsters department. Oh, this is co-written by 'Into The Dalek' writer Phil Ford, by the way.

3. Turn Left

Another bold and darker one, this. Set in an alternate timeline where the Doctor dies and the Earth goes to pot without his protection, 'Turn Left' is partly a fan-pleasing parade of familiar events from a different viewpoint (The Titanic crashes into Buckingham Palace, Torchwood stop the Sontaran Invasion), and also tugs at the heart strings as things get very bleak for his Dystopian world. Davies gives Catherine Tate the material to deliver some of her best work on the show, plus it features the long awaited return of Rose. Easily the second best Doctor-lite episode.

2. Midnight

Every series of RTD's Doctor Who had a 'cheap episode', the one without a lot of CGI or locations. Often these ended up being weaker episodes, but in 'Midnight' Davies turns the lack of resources into a strength to tell a claustrophobic psychological horror tale that plays off the eeriness of someone copying your words. Like the later Twelfth Doctor era, this one also showcases the less heroic aspects of the Doctor (he totally fails to contain this situation) and the nasty side of the human mob mentality. Definitely the writer's cleverest work on the show.

1. The Stolen Earth/Journey's End

Otherwise known as 'Doctor Who And Everything Except The Kitchen Sink.' Though perhaps not my favourite RTD episode (though it's up there), this massive crossover between the three Whoniverse shows is definitely the one that encapsulates his style of Who the best. Influenced by comic books and American genre television and, naturally, the best parts of classic Who, there might not be a lot of subtlety to this two-parter but it is exciting, hilarious and heart-breaking in turn. A big sci-fi treat with character drama at its heart. That's Russell T Davies' Doctor Who. 

Honourable Mentions: 'Voyage of the Damned', 'Army of Ghosts/Doomsday', 'Tooth and Claw', 'The End of Time' and 'Gridlock.'

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