10 great milestone TV episodes

Doctor Who, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, The Simpsons... Juliette talks us through 10 great TV anniversary episodes...

With so many TV shows being cancelled after a season or two, it’s perhaps not surprising that those that keep going long enough to reach a significant milestone often want to mark the occasion in some way. Such celebratory episodes usually feature plenty of nods, in-jokes and references to past episodes and characters (frequently involving special guest stars from the show’s past returning in some form) and tend to be either light, sometimes metafictional comedy episodes, or extremely dramatic game-changers following which the show may never be the same again. If you’re not crying with laughter, you’ll probably be weeping at the emotional trauma inflicted by the story.

With Supernatural’s 200th episode coming up (fans have been promised a meta episode, brought to you by the show that once did an episode that took place on supposed ‘real’ set of the show, in the form of a musical) this seems a good time to look back over some of our favourite milestone or anniversary celebrations of the past few years.

10. The Vampire Diaries, 500 Years of Solitude

Milestone: 100th episode.

Format: Everyone spends the episode reacting to the impending death of Katherine Pierce, complete with flashbacks, hallucinations and unexpected visitors.

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Very Special Guests: David Anders as John Gilbert, Sara Canning as Jenna Sommers and Daniel Gillies as Elijah Mikaelson (as hallucinations); Kayla Ewell as Vickie Donovan and Matt Davis as Alaric Saltzman (as ghosts); Joseph Morgan as Klaus Mikaelson and Claire Holt as Rebecca Mikaelson (visiting from their own show).

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Stefan offering Katherine the chance to hallucinate holding her new-born daughter is rather sweet.

Is it a game changer? The episode is built to try to convince you it’s going to be, but pulls back at the end, as Katherine finds another way to go on living a bit longer. Katherine possessing Elena’s body might have been considered a major development on another show, but only a few episodes after the whole Stefan/Silas doppelganger business and on a show that never sticks with that sort of plot for very long, it’s just another twist in a very twisty tale.

RSVP because: The Vampire Diaries is very good at making use of the nature of the show –with a premise built on the existence of the undead – to bring back familiar faces of long dead characters every now and again, and it’s always good to see Alaric. They also manage to incorporate a lot of Stefan/Elena material without dismissing the Damon/Elena relationship, which is a pretty good stab at keeping everyone happy. And whether or not Klaus and Caroline getting it on constitutes a game changer is hard to say since they’re on separate shows, but it’s something a lot of the audience were rooting for so this was a nice time to do it.

 

9. Angel, You’re Welcome

Milestone: 100th episode.

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Format: It’s a fairly ordinary episode, format-wise, though it does have a significant reveal at the end.

Very Special Guests: Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase, in a coma since the end of season four, returns. We see a clip of Glenn Quinn, who had sadly passed away two years earlier, as Doyle.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Bring tissues, and lots of them. Not only does this episode kill off Cordelia, the only remaining character to have been with Angel from the beginning and who had been on parent show Buffy The Vampire Slayer since the pilot, it also includes extended references to and a short clip of Glenn Quinn as Doyle, ensuring that he and his character are remembered as part of the celebrations.

Is it a game changer? Yes; finally killing off Cordelia is a big step, and a bubbling sub-plot involving Lindsey is rounded off as well.

RSVP because: Poor Cordelia was not brilliantly served by season four’s storyline, and then left in a coma at the end of it; here, the 100th episode is used to provide solid resolution and a touching and heroic ending to one of Angel’s – and Buffy’s – core characters.

 

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8. Star Trek: Voyager, Timeless

Milestone: 100th episode.

Format: Largely an ordinary episode, but making more use than usual of flashbacks and parallel storylines in different time periods.

Very Special Guests: LeVar Burton, who also directed the episode, as Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Everything works out well in the end, but there’s something very unsettling about seeing most of the cast’s dead bodies scattered around the set.

Is it a game changer? Not really, but Voyager does get ten years closer to home.

RSVP because: There’s nothing especially out of the ordinary about the plot of this episode, a fairly standard time travel story of the sort Voyager did several times. However, the difference in this case is that, to celebrate the 100th episode, the production crew blew half the season’s budget on a spectacular sequence showing Voyager crash-landing on an icy planet. It’s also a very good time travel story, and a good episode for Harry Kim, a character the writers sometimes struggled to come up with really good material for, making it a highly satisfying centennial instalment of the show.

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7. Fringe, An Enemy of Fate

Milestone: 100th episode.

Format: This is the series finale.

Very Special Guests: There are no special guests, but everyone who played a significant role in the final season has their story wrapped up.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Whether it’s September’s heroic death or Peter’s goodbye to ‘Dad’, chances are something here will make you well up.

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Is it a game changer? It’s the series finale, so yes and no – the characters’ lives are hugely and irrevocably altered by the events of this episode, but we won’t be seeing what happens to them next.

RSVP because: Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s 100th episode was also designed as a series finale, but the show was renewed for two more seasons (see below); in Fringe’s case, however, the show was given exactly 100 episodes before it was wrapped up (100 episodes being the desired number for selling the show in syndication). An Enemy Of Fate is primarily concerned with wrapping up the series rather than celebrating the episode milestone, but the nature of the finale also lends itself rather well to 100th episode celebrations, giving everyone their moment in the limelight and providing a rousing ending and satisfying conclusion to the previous 100 episodes.

6. The Simpsons, The Simpsons’ 138th Episode Spectacular

Milestone: 138th episode.

Format: A clip show in the form of a special celebration of The Simpsons presented by Troy McClure (you may remember him from such Fox network specials as Alien Nose Job and Five Fabulous Weeks of The Chevy Chase Show).

Very Special Guests: No special guests for this episode beyond semi-regular Phil Hartman as Troy McClure (and Lionel Hutz) but it does feature stock footage of Buzz Aldrin as himself from Deep Space Homer and Glenn Close as Mona Simpson from Mother Simpson.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: You’re unlikely to cry unless you’re really fond of Mr Burns, or you find it really funny.

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Is it a game changer? No, but it is an early example of the show breaking the fourth wall and doing an episode about the show as a show, pre-dating the later VH-1 send-up Behind The Laughter.

RSVP because: The Simpsons in the 1990s was too knowing to take these things seriously; the 100th episode, Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song, was marked only by Bart writing on the chalkboard at the opening, ‘I will not celebrate meaningless milestones’. However, the other television tradition The Simpsons writers were always faintly embarrassed by was the clip show – a financial necessity every now and again, but something they tended not to feel proud of. And so, for their third clip show, they hit upon this solution, making fun of both TV clichés at the same time. In the years since, having celebrated rather more milestones than most, the show has occasionally marked such meaningless occasions as the 400th episode (which aired just before the release of the feature film and was preceded by one of the original Tracy Ullman Show shorts) and the 500th episode (featuring several guest stars and special opening credits) but we like this one. 138th episodes should be celebrated more often.

 

5. How I Met Your Mother, How Your Mother Met Me

Milestone: 200th episode.

Format: Instead of Ted narrating stories from his life before he met his kids’ mother, he gives them a brief summary of her life before she met him.

Very Special Guests: Rachel Bilson returns as Cindy, and Adam Paul as Mitch (the Naked Man).

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It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: The poor woman’s boyfriend dies on her 21st birthday – but if that doesn’t get to you, the final scene, in which she plays a beautiful, slightly mournful version of ‘La Vie en Rose’ on the ukulele while Ted listens from the other side of a partition is probably one of the last really moving scenes of the series.

Is it a game changer? This is pretty much the most we will ever learn about Cristin Miloti’s Mother (her name, Tracy, is eventually revealed in the series finale), and by ending with her and Ted mere inches away from each other, it gets us so close to the titular event, we can almost see her yellow umbrella in the distance.

RSVP because: How I Met Your Mother’s finale, in which Ted and The Mother finally meet, was, shall we say, divisive. This episode, however, was much less so. The entire episode is a long series of call-backs to events from previous episodes seen from the Mother’s perspective rather than Ted’s and they knit together beautifully. It’s the perfect celebration of 200 episodes of the show, and for many probably makes a more effective and satisfying conclusion to the series than the finale – on re-runs, many may simply stop watching here.

 

4. Stargate SG-1, 200

Milestone: 200th episode.

Format: The team sit around brain-storming ideas for feature film spin-off of Wormhole X-Treme!, the TV show based on their adventures, and we see visualisations of their suggestions.

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Very Special Guests: Richard Dean Anderson’s now General Jack O’Neill and Don S. Davis’ General Hammond both return, alongside Willie Garson as Martin Lloyd. Incidentally, it also features a young Cory Monteith as Young Mitchell.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Only with laughter.

Is it a game changer? No. Although Martin Lloyd was an occasionally recurring character, and this episode builds on the premise of the 100th episode celebration which first introduced us to Wormhole X-treme!, it’s largely an excuse for everyone to sit around and have a long, healthy laugh at themselves.

RSVP because: It’s hilarious. Wormhole X-treme!, based on a similar idea and featuring the same show-within-the-show, makes more of an attempt also to be a proper episode of SG-1, but 200 simply gives up and messes around for an hour – and it is glorious. Everyone will have a different favourite segment, from the Gerry Anderson-style puppet version with its mockery of Carter’s perhaps over-zealous introduction (never introduce yourself by talking about your reproductive organs) to the Star Trek homage, but our favourite has to be the simultaneously wonderful and painful homage to the late, lamented Farscape, with Michael Shanks as Crichton and Ben Browder as Stark, and Thor ponderously saying ‘Yotz!’

 

3. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Gift

Milestone: 100th episode.

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Format: It’s the fifth season finale.

Very Special Guests: None, but we get a little moment with each of our main characters (and we see stock footage of Angel and Cordelia in the ‘Previously on’ montage).

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Copiously. If Buffy’s painful-looking sacrifice doesn’t get to you, Spike crying or the final gravestone shot surely will.

Is it a game changer? Yes. Buffy dies. The episode was originally intended to be the series finale, and although some elements were changed after the show was renewed (Anya survives, for example) the tone and events of the episode could still easily serve as a series finale. Outside of the story, this episode is also the last to air on the WB network and the last to feature Antony Stewart Head as a regular cast member (he later returned as a ‘Special Guest Star’).

RSVP because: The whole of season five, and in a sense the whole series, has been building up to this moment, as Buffy dies saving the world, and they pull it off beautifully. There’s also a particularly nice symmetry between this and another of Buffy’s best episodes, Becoming Part 2: where Becoming 2 was Buffy’s darkest hour, when she had to kill the man she loved to save the world (wearing a black top), in The Gift she is able to save the appropriately-named Dawn by sacrificing herself in a ball of light (and a white top. Obvious symbolism can still be effective symbolism). It’s all topped off with the fantastic opening montage, in which the ‘Previously on’ segment gives up on trying to fill in people who haven’t been watching the show and shows a quick montage of clips and frames from all 100 episodes.

 

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2. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Trials and Tribble-ations

Milestone: 30th anniversary of Star Trek.

Format: In order to tell a story about the Deep Space Nine crew travelling back in time to meet the original Enterprise crew, new footage is spliced together with existing film from old episodes of Star Trek (a technique still pretty new at the time, only two years after the release of Forrest Gump), chiefly but not exclusively from The Trouble With Tribbles.

Very Special Guests: In addition to using substantial stock footage of the original crew from The Trouble With Tribbles, Charlie Brill reprises his role as Arne Darvin, playing the villain both in 1967 and 1996.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Probably not, unless the sheer nostalgia of it all moves you to tears.

Is it a game changer? No, though it does include the first on-screen acknowledgement of the change in the appearance of the Klingons between the original series and the feature films, which would later become a plot point in Star Trek: Enterprise.

RSVP because: On one level, there’s a simple pleasure to seeing then-current characters interacting with not just the original actors, but the original characters as they appeared in the 1960s, youth, Technicolor and all. But this is also a wonderful celebration of Star Trek, gently observing and occasionally mocking how things had changed since the 1960s, but doing so with a fondness that you can feel through the screen. Just try to ignore the fact that when Sisko speaks to Kirk at the end of the episode, William Shatner’s performance was originally intended to be flirtatious (he was trying to pull our universe’s version of his Mirror Universe girlfriend at the end of Mirror, Mirror).

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1. Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor

Milestone: 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.

Format: A feature length episode (at 76 minutes) which was screened in cinemas as well as broadcast simultaneously in 94 locations, earning it a Guinness World Record.

Very Special Guests: In addition to John Hurt as The War Doctor and Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, Billie Piper plays the Moment in the form of the Bad Wolf version of Rose Tyler, David Tennant returns as the Tenth Doctor, and (to the audible excitement of the audience) Tom Baker plays the mysterious Curator.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: Tears of joy and uncontained excitement. “No, sir. All Thirteen!”

Is it a game changer? Yes. Gallifrey, destroyed in between Paul McGann’s tenure and Christopher Eccleston’s, is restored (sort of). This also partly provides the basis for Steven Moffat’s solution to the twelve-regeneration limit in The Time Of The Doctor.

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RSVP because: There can have been few jobs in television more frightening than being in charge of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of a British institution, and we think Steven Moffat et al did phenomenally well with this. One of the best recent episodes of Doctor Who, this is an episode that carefully avoids writing out the development of the Doctor’s survivor-guilt-ridden character from Russell T Davis’ years as show-runner (by wiping Ten’s and the War Doctor’s memories of saving Gallifrey) but also manages to absolve the Doctor of at least one count of genocide (he allowed the Daleks to destroy each other, but didn’t destroy his own people) and provides a celebratory episode full of fond references to the past, from major plot points like Bad Wolf to minor in-jokes like Kate’s reference to the difficulty of dating the files on her father’s adventures with the Doctor. You’ve got guest stars, previous stars seen in stock footage, in-jokes, references, a few tear-jerkers and huge plot developments – what more could you ask for from an anniversary episode?

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