Choosing your favourite Doctor Who episode feels a bit like choosing your favourite child, except you probably don’t have 800-plus children, so maybe it’s even worse.
But that’s exactly what Doctor Who Magazine inflicted on fans earlier this year, sugaring the pill ever so slightly by combining all the multiple-episode stories into one, which helpfully narrowed the choice from over 800 episodes to 300 “TV adventures”.
Who fans were tasked with rating all episodes out of ten – narrowing it down to 37 stories – and then asked to pick their top five from this list. After much number crunching, the top 10 TV adventures were revealed.
And there was one clear winner: “Heaven Sent”.
This 2015 Peter Capaldi-era episode was certainly powerful and memorable. The Doctor was grieving Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), after she was executed in the previous episode, “Face The Raven”. In “Heaven Sent”, The Doctor is trapped in a strange castle, being pursued by an eerie cloaked figure, and spends four-and-a-half billion years in a torturous cycle, repeatedly dying and coming back to life as he attempts to break through a wall of the impenetrable diamond-like mineral Azbantium to escape.
And yet the crowning of “Heaven Sent” as the number one episode might come as a surprise to many. For one thing, in poll after poll after poll, the tenth Doctor David Tennant has been voted as fans’ favourite Doctor, so it would be natural to assume one of his episodes would easily make the top spot.
And only in September of this year, Doctor Who Magazine published the fans’ favourite Twelfth Doctor stories, and Heaven Sent came second to the 2017 two-parter “World Enough and Time” / “The Doctor Falls”.
This time, after a fresh round of voting, the roles were reversed, with the two-parter coming second in the overall poll. Still, that gave Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat a double-whammy in the two top spots, and they were chuffed to bits.
“I’m delighted – and stunned,” Capaldi told Doctor Who Magazine. “I was lucky enough to be the Doctor at a time when there was the kind of ambition for the show that allowed us to make an episode like “Heaven Sent”… this was an idea that only Steven could have come up with.”
“I’m absolutely astonished, and thoroughly delighted!” Moffat echoed, explaining that during Capaldi’s era he “was always looking to do one per season that was experimental. ‘Heaven Sent’ was a very risky one.”
Moffat was also keen to highlight the talents of the episode’s Executive Producer Brian Minchin, and Director Rachel Talalay, who is behind some of the upcoming Doctor Who episodes, including the first 60th anniversary special “The Star Beast.”
Moffat wrote a whopping half of the top 10 episodes, with 50th anniversary episode “The Day of The Doctor” coming fifth, weeping angel scare-fest “Blink” in sixth place and the two-parter “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead” – in which David Tennant’s Doctor first meets Alex Kingston as River Song – in tenth.
Only one other New Who era story appeared on the list: the 2007 “Human Nature” / “The Family of Blood” two-parter that saw Tennant’s Doctor hide from his alien pursuers by transforming himself into a human – 1913 schoolteacher John Smith – and face the devastating consequences.
The other four stories in the top ten are all classic Who: Tom Baker’s “Genesis of the Daleks” from 1975 in third place, the 1984 four-part serial “The Caves of Androzani” with fifth Doctor Peter Davison in fourth, another Tom Baker classic “City of Death” from 1979 in eighth, and Sylvester McCoy’s serial “Remembrance of the Daleks” from 1988 taking ninth place.
Doctor Who Magazine’s top ten list in full:
- 1. Heaven Sent (2015) – Peter Capaldi
- 2. World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls (2017) – Peter Capaldi
- 3. Genesis of the Daleks (1975) – Tom Baker
- 4. The Caves of Androzani (1984) – Peter Davison
- 5. The Day of the Doctor (2013) – Matt Smith / David Tennant / John Hurt
- 6. Blink (2007) – David Tennant
- 7. Human Nature / Family of Blood (2007) – David Tenannt
- 8. City of Death (1979) – Tom Baker
- 9. Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) – Sylvester McCoy
- 10. Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead (2008) – David Tennant
Do we agree? Let’s find out later this month.
The December edition of Doctor Who Magazine is out now. Doctor Who returns for the first of its 60th anniversary specials on Saturday 25th November on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK and Disney+ worldwide