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The best Doctor Who episodes through the years, ranked

The greatest Doctor Who episodes - vote for your number one.

The best Doctor Who episodes through the years, ranked
Marc Chacksfield
22 April 2024

We are in a new era of Doctor Who, a show now home to more than 850 episodes. But which are the best from past and present, and does the new Doctor have a chance of making the top hits chart?

Ncuti Gatwa is the fifteenth Doctor, taking over from Jodie Whittaker, after a slight return of David Tenant thrown in for the 2023 Christmas specials for good measure. He’s the second youngest actor to play the character to date (after Peter Davison), aged 31.

It’s going to be quite the series too. The Doctor is to head back to the 1960s to meet the Beatles in his fourteenth season, and back to the 1800s. There will be adventures in the far-flung future as well, alongside companion Ruby Sunday. She’s played by Millie Gibson.

There’s a solid chance some of these episodes will make it into our Doctor Who list below. Why? This season’s former showrunner Steven Moffat, the man behind the top three favourite Doctor Who episodes among Shortlist readers, is returning to write an episode called Boom. And fan favourite Russel T Davies reprises his role as head writer and showrunner.

The show may end up getting more attention than ever, too. It’s going global. In a slightly controversial deal, Doctor Who season 14 will stream simultaneously in the US, on Disney+, and on the BBC in the UK, from May 11.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for contenders that belong in our best Doctor Who episodes list. But for now, vote for your personal faves below.

The order that you see these Doctor Who episodes in below is all up to you. Upvote your favourites and downvote the ones you don't think are worthy of a place in the list. If we've missed out any stone-cold classics, share them in the box below.

The best Doctor Who episodes

You'll never look at a statue in the same way. With the Doctor and his companion engaged elsewhere, it's actually Sally Sparrow (played by Carey Mulligan) who discovers the Weeping Angels - statues who stand still while you look at them until you look away or blink, which is when they pounce. Terrifying.

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2. Heaven Sent

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Peter Capaldi was a great, gruff Doctor Who. While it took hi a little while to move from being weary and cantankerous to being weary and good natured, there was never any doubt to his acting prowess. And that is what is on show here: a one-man play of sorts that is breathtaking to watch. If all of the writing in his tenure was as good as this, then Capaldi could well have become our favourite-ever Doctor.

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3. The Empty Child

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"Are you my Mummy?" A chilling episode set during the Blitz in 1940s London. A small boy in a gas mask wanders through the rubble asking for his mother, but people won't touch him, saying that he's "not a real boy". This episode also introduced us to Captain Jack Harkness, who went on to feature in the BBC show Torchwood.

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4. Midnight

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A very spooky episode where we never really figure out what's going on. The Doctor takes a leisure trip on an alien shuttle - but the engines mysteriously fail, and one of the passengers starts acting oddly. Is she possessed? This scene, where the passenger (played by Lesley Sharp) predicts what the Doctor is going to say, is a masterpiece.

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The best Doctor Who episodes

5. The Girl in the Fireplace

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The Doctor and crew find themselves on a 51st-century spaceship which contains, among other things, windows into the baroque life of an 18th century French noblewoman. And it turns out she's being stalked by malevolent clockwork robots with china faces. Another superbly tense episode.

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6. Genesis of the Daleks

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A moral dilemma presents itself when the Time Lords send the Doctor and co back in time to destroy the Daleks before they can start to cause trouble -- but does the Doctor have the right to do so? We also meet the Daleks' wrinkly creator here, Davros.

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The best Doctor Who episodes

7. Doomsday

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This episode changed the rules of Doctor Who. First it pitches super-villains the Cybermen against ultra-baddies the Daleks. Then it took Rose - the Doctor's companion for two seasons - and dumped her in a parallel universe, and the Time Lord's grief was palpable. Could it be that the Doctor was... in love? With the person who sang Because We Want To?


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8. The Eleventh Hour

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This energetic episode is Matt Smith's first outing as the Doctor (and Steven Moffat's first spin as the series' head writer), crash-landing the TARDIS in seven-year-old Amelia Pond's garden, demanding fish fingers and custard, then disappearing from her life for 12 years. When he comes back, the adult Amy Pond, her fiancé Rory and the Doctor track down the escaped alien convict, Prisoner Zero.

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9. The Seeds of Doom

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An alien plant, unearthed by scientists in the Antarctic, starts attacking people and turning them into plant monsters. In a very British adventure, the Doctor has to fight both the alien plants and ecological red tape to save the planet - but he succeeds by improvising a bomb, enlisting the RAF, and escaping in a limousine.

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10. The Caves of Androzani

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In this brilliantly hammy episode, the 1980s cricket-jumper Doctor goes spelunking in an alien cave, gets covered in weird goo, and is captured by a local baddie. He manages to fool the baddie with a robot double, but the cave goo is toxic, and his only way to survive is to regenerate... into Colin Baker.

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11. The Robots of Death

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In addition to sporting the coolest title in this list, The Robots of Death - in which the inhabitants of a mining vehicle on another planet are mysteriously being strangled to death - also features the Doctor's leather-clad, knife-wielding companion, Leela. Which some people (mainly male) quite liked at the time.

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12. Tomb of the Cybermen

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The Doctor goes on an archaeological dig on the planet of the Cybermen only to find that they're still very much alive, and much more creepy than their modern fibreglass equivalents. This episode is a bit like The Mummy - only with metallic, monotone villains and no snogging.

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We had no idea what to expect when Doctor Who was revived with a film and theatre actor and former pop singer in the starring roles, especially when the opening minutes looked like a scene from EastEnders. But it was jaunty and unpredictable, with bags of chemistry, and it worked like a charm.

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14. The Runaway Bride

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A Christmas special in which the Doctor is distracted by the loss of Rose Tyler when Catherine Tate's bride Donna teleports into the TARDIS wearing a wedding dress, and her wedding is overrun by robot Santas. It's a festive thrill ride which gives a taste of the riotous time the Doctor would spend with Donna as his companion.

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15. The Green Death

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This episode is stuffed with classic Doctor Who imagery - bright green slime, a slag heap explosion, giant rubbery maggot monsters - and John Pertwee in his half-cape, striding in to save the day with a small blue alien crystal. Brilliant.

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16. The Dalek Invasion Of Earth

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In this episode, the Daleks don’t just invade Earth, they pummel the planet with plague-carrying meterorites, turn humans into robot slaves and decide to drill to the centre of the Earth. And to think we laughed at them for not being able to navigate stairs.

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17. An Unearthly Child

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The first time audiences ever saw the TARDIS, it was in a junkyard in London by a couple of unassuming teachers called Ian and Barbara. Next we meet the Doctor - who, it turns out, has a granddaugher called Susan - and they all take the TARDIS on an adventure in the Stone Age.

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18. The Curse of Fenric

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A wonderful 1980s mix of supercomputers, Viking runes, sea vampires, psychic barriers and a massive plot twist featuring the Doctor's companion, Ace.

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19. The Time Meddler

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In 11th century England, amid Saxon and Viking clashes, the Doctor encounters a mischevious Gallifreyan who's been travelling through time wreaking havoc. In case you're wondering, it turns out that he helped to build Stonehenge using anti-gravity, and he's the one who told Da Vinci all about helicopters. FYI.

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20. The Day of the Doctor

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There have been several special Doctor Who episodes over the years and this is one of our favorites. Made for the 50th anniversary of Who, The Day of the Doctor has an epic story in which the War Doctor decides to kill Time Lords and Daleks to end their conflict. It's so memorable because it features a few different doctors, played by John Hurt, Matt Smith, David Tennant, Peter Capaldi and Tom Baker.

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21. The Beast Below

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Many years in the future, Earth's inhabitants live aboard a massive spaceship. However, certain citizens keep disappearing if they fall foul of the sinister, doll-like 'Smilers'... This episode confirms every irrational fear we've ever entertained about carnival puppets and ventriloquists' dummies.

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Jodie Whitaker has been brilliant as Doctor Who, putting to bed any talk that the role should be male only. Her first season was a largely impressive affair but one episode stood out the most. Rosa is a stunning Doctor Who episode. It tells the tale of Rosa Parks in the best Doctor Who way possible, never shying away from the racism nor simplifying the story for a younger audience. Powerful stuff.

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23. Love And Monsters

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An offbeat episode where the Doctor and his companions only have bit-parts. Instead we meet Elton Pope, who is a member of a paranormal detective agency-cum-support group for people who have encountered the Doctor. It's funny and touching and, if that's not enough for you, it also features Peter Kay as a spotty alien.

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