10 great tear-jerker geek TV episodes

Juliette counts down the geek TV episodes that'll make even the most resolutely dry-eyed geek TV viewers shed a tear, courtesy of Star Trek, Buffy, Doctor Who and more...

For obvious reasons, this article contains major spoilers.

Please note, ’10 Great’, not ‘Top 10’ – feel free to add your own in the comments below.

Crying: cathartic, emotional, headache-inducing. Usually a bad thing, but sometimes – when you have something in your eye, perhaps – floods of tears are the desired outcome of a stunning episode of television. This list probably needs little introduction, except to say that I only allowed one episode per series, otherwise the entire list could have been composed from Buffy and Doctor Who. Films are also excluded even if they’re spin-offs from a television series – we’ll get to them another time…

10. Star Trek, City on the Edge of Forever 

Regularly voted the best episode of Star Trek ever – and by that, I don’t just mean Original Series Trek. No, this episode is regularly voted the best episode of any Star Trek-related series or spin-off series. It’s got time travel, it’s got period costumes, it’s got romance, it’s got Joan Collins. Best of all, it’s got Kirk having to make the sort of sadistic choice people only ever have to make in science-fiction.

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Tear-jerking moment: Kirk not only has to allow the lovely Edith to die, he actively has to prevent McCoy from saving her.

You might be all right until: “He knows, Doctor. He knows” (Spock).

9. Ashes to Ashes, Series 3 Episode 8 

Life on Mars had one of the best TV finales most of us had seen – and then, they made a spin-off series. And, fun as it was, there was always this niggling fear that the wrap-up to Ashes to Ashes would retroactively ruin Life on Mars, so there was a lot riding on this finale. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but for many of us, this episode put our fears to rest. It was emotional, fun, slightly ridiculous and it offered an ending that satisfied and even almost made sense.

Tear-jerking moment: The audience have just found out what happened to Gene Hunt on Coronation Day when Ray, Chris and Shazza find the videos of themselves Keats has been keeping, which reveal what happened to them.

You might be all right until: “Maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me” (Oasis, Wonderwall, playing on Shazza’s Walkman as she’s stabbed to death).

8. Torchwood, Exit Wounds 

Joss Whedon may be known as King of the Cruel Character Deaths, but he ain’t got nothin’ on Russell T Davies and Chris Chibnall. Writers working on main series Doctor Who still have to be a bit careful who they kill off and how, but on Torchwood, anyone except Captain Jack is fair game and boy, did they prove it with this shocking season finale. It isn’t just that they killed off half the cast; it isn’t just that once again we’re presented with a shippers’ favourite couple who die before their love can be consummated. It’s the horribly cruel way in which they do it, Tosh bleeding to death alone except for an audio link with Owen, whose fate, given that he’s already undead, is necessarily grisly.

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Tear-jerking moment: Owen and Tosh have one last, angst-ridden conversation as both face certain death in separate locations.

You might be all right until: “You’re breaking my heart” (Tosh).

7. Angel, A Hole in the World 

It’s a really close call between this episode and Hero (“Is that it? Am I done?”). But Fred’s death just pipped it over Doyle’s for the sheer prolonged nature of it. Having only just got it together with the love of her life (naturally), Fred spends the entire episode slowly dying while her friends try in vain to save her and Wesley wonders why every woman he so much as kisses ends up dead.

Tear-jerking moment: Fred dies in Wesley’s arms, and her body springs back into life as the rather less cuddly Illyria.

You might be all right until: “I’m not scared, I’m not scared, I’m not scared” (Fred).

6. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Far Beyond the Stars 

The death of Jadzia Dax in Tears of the Prophets, like that of any regular character, is pretty tear-jerking, but character deaths are not the only way to produce audience waterworks. Benny Russell’s fight, not even for equality, but for the right to dream of equality, must surely move even the stoniest of hearts and the sense of relief as we are returned to the familiar greys of Deep Space Nine is a palpable reminder of how far we hope to come in the end.

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Tear-jerking moment: Still recovering from a vicious beating, Benny Russell is told that his story has been pulped and he is fired. He breaks down, denied even the right to imagine a better future.

You might be all right until: “You can pulp a story, but you cannot destroy an idea!” (Benny Russell).

5. True Blood, I Will Rise Up 

True Blood is many things – silly, sexy, funny, gross. It’s not often moving, but for a couple of scenes in the early seasons, it put aside the daftness for something at least aiming at, if not achieving, profound. One is the season 1 scene in which Sookie sobs as she eats her late grandmother’s last pie. But the best single scene True Blood has done so far is the end of season 2’s I Will Rise Up. Eric, best known at the time as the character who throws people’s disembodied arms across the room, cries, Sookie bonds with a vampire other than Bill and in the midst of two extremes of religious mania (Christian fundamentalists and Bacchants), some kind of peace is found as the sun rises.

Tear-jerking moment: Godric, tired of millennia of blood, meets the sun in a Christ-like pose.

You might be all right until: “A human with me at the end, and human tears. Two thousand years and I can still be surprised. In this, I see God” (Godric).

4. Doctor Who, Vincent and the Doctor 

New Who is not short of weepies, and most would probably go for Doomsday as the pinnacle of Doctor-y angst (‘I’m burning up a universe to say goodbye’). But for those of us with a fondness for Richard Curtis’ particular brand of overblown emotion, nothing can quite beat first Vincent Van Gogh seeing just how revered he would become, and then the discovery that, in the end, it wasn’t enough to save him.

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Tear-jerking moment: Van Gogh’s face as he looks around the (slightly inaccurate) Louvre.

You might be all right until: “Every life is a pile of good things and bad things… and we definitely added to his pile of good things” (The Doctor).

3. Blackadder Goes Forth, Goodbyeee 

It’s hard to say whether Blackadder really counts as a ‘geek’ show, which is why this is down at #3. But they did a time travel episode one time (Blackadder Back and Forth) and a fantasy episode (Blackadder’s Christmas Carol) and this episode is probably one of the most heart-breaking, brilliantly composed episodes of television ever, so it deserves to be included. The segue from black comedy into serious historical tragedy is smoothly and perfectly done, as George admits to being scared and Blackadder sincerely wishes everyone good luck, Baldrick’s final cunning plan coming sadly too late.

Tear-jerking moment: The boys go over the top and are immediately gunned down in slow-motion.

You might be all right until: Personally, I’m blubbing all the way from Darling’s wish to “Marry Doris”, but the truly stone-hearted might hold out until the fade-out to a field of poppies.


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2. Quantum Leap, The Leap Home Part 1 

Fan favourite episode MIA is not short of moments to make you cry or stop you ever being able to listen to Georgia On My Mind with a dry eye again. But there’s one episode that beats even that for sheer blub-potential. Sam leaps back into himself as a teenager, and struggles to save his father and brother from early deaths and his sister from an unhappy marriage, while Al tries to get him just to enjoy this unexpected chance to spend a few more days with his family.

Tear-jerking moment: Sam’s last dinner with his family is pretty moving, but it’s a slightly earlier scene that’s guaranteed to bring the tears. Sam’s little sister asks about the Beatles’ future and Sam sings her Imagine, to a simple guitar accompaniment. His sister cries because she realises he really does know the future and their brother is going to die, Sam and Al struggle to hold back tears and avoid telling her John Lennon’s future, and the audience (i.e. me) bawl their eyes out over Sam’s brother, John Lennon, the beauty of the song and the state of the world in general.

You might be all right until: ‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…’ (Sam singing ‘Imagine’).

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Gift 

You might expect to see Becoming Part 2 in the top spot, and this one is another very close call. In terms of shock value, episode structure and character development, Becoming might even be the superior episode. But The Gift, rather than tearing Buffy apart inside by forcing her to kill, allowed her to find some emotional peace and closure by allowing her to die (that being her gift. I didn’t say it was subtle). And rather than the well-written uncertainty of the end of Becoming, here we get sheer, unadulterated grief. This episode finishes Buffy’s story in a soaring, dramatic culmination of the one hundred episodes flown through in the ‘previously on.’ Much as I love the musical, the show perhaps should have finished here.

Tear-jerking moment: Buffy’s apparently agonising death is pretty gut-wrenching, but it’s the reactions of her friends that will bring the tears. When Spike breaks down and sobs, chance are you will too.

You might be all right until: “She saved the world. A lot.” (Buffy’s gravestone).

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Bubbling under: The X-Files, ‘Closure’, Star Trek: The Next Generation, ‘The Inner Light’, Stargate SG-1, ‘Heroes’, Farscape, ‘The Peacekeeper Wars’. The West Wing really isn’t a geek show, otherwise ‘Two Cathedrals’ would easily break the top five.

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