Movies and TV

The Escapist’s Favorite Things About Doctor Who


Doctor Who is coming back this weekend, so it seemed like a good time to reminisce about our favorite things about the show.

It’s no surprise: a lot of us here at The Escapist really dig Doctor Who and we couldn’t wait until this weekend’s season 8 premiere to talk about it. So instead, we gathered up our favorite things about the current run of the show — or “New Who” for the classic series fans in the audience would call it — to gush about.

doctor who christopher eccleston 650

The 9th Doctor

Played by Christopher Eccleston, 2005

Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor
Elizabeth Harper says: After 16 years off the air, Doctor Who finally returned to television screens, with a new modern aesthetic — and a new Doctor, of course. Though Eccleston’s run as the Doctor was short — lasting only 10 episodes — it will always be memorable for giving us our first look at the Doctor after a long absence. The 9th incarnation of the Doctor felt like something new, with his stark leather jacket and loner attitude… but there was something familiar, too, in his devil-may-care attitude and his cheeky comebacks.

Eccleston may not be many viewers’ favorite Doctor, but he was a great choice to bring the show back on the air and tell the story — a fairly dark one — of the Time War he’s fought in while he’s been off-screen. The only problem with Eccleston’s tenure is that it’s so short: we never had a chance to see where he might have taken the character if he’d had another season or two.

John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness
Marshall Lemon says: Doctor Who has some strong pulp sensibilities, given the constant alien invasions happening in any given season. But where The Doctor meets threats on an intellectual level, Captain Jack Harkness scales the pulp factor up to 11 with a direct, physical approach. A swashbuckling figure with a charismatic personality, Captain Jack (played by John Barrowman) is a former Time Agent and con man inspired by The Doctor to become a true hero. Eventually granted immortality and lost in time, Captain Jack continues to follow The Doctor’s ideals, despite a willingness to solve problems using guns and his fists. Captain Jack also explored darker aspects of the Doctor Who universe, specifically in the Torchwood spin-off series, but is generally at his best facing down monsters and hitting on anyone in the vicinity… whether male or female.

You see, Captain Jack isn’t just The Doctor’s action-focused companion, he’s also an overt attempt to address sexuality on mainstream television. Originating from an time period where humankind became sexually flexible, (“He prefers the term ‘omnisexual'”), Captain Jack was the first Doctor Who character to depict non-heterosexual lifestyles in a positive way. Often flirting and entering relationships with men and women alike, Captain Jack became a role model for gay and bisexual fans as well as an immensely likable character. It’s just too bad we haven’t seen more of him since Season Four, so here’s hoping he’ll teleport his way into future episodes.

doctor who david tennant 650

The 10th Doctor

Played by David Tennant, 2005 – 2010

David Tennant as the Doctor
Josh Vanderwall says: While Eccleston and Smith certainly had their charm — black leather coat and snarky personality, and crazy hair and awesome bowtie — David Tennant really shines as the greatest of the latest set of Doctors. Tennant exuded enthusiasm in every single episode — for the character, the setting, the lore — and really brought the show to life for me. With a uniform of a 3-piece suit and a pair of Chucks, Tennant’s Doctor was vibrant and charismatic, while being stylish yet sensible. Sure, I’m a bit biased from years of dressing quite similarly, but it’s not just the familiarity that Tennant’s garb offered that drew me to him. It’s more of how he expressed his character through his attire.
Of course, Doctor Who is nothing if not a social creature, and Tennant also had the best companions alongside him. From Rose Tyler to Martha Jones, Tennant’s interactions with his companions were, at least for the most part, genuine and compassionate. Then, of course, there’s River Song, whose interactions with Tennant trump any other doctor, hands down. I love the idea of her character, and I think Tennant is the one that best represented how The Doctor would actually react to the situations they find themselves in.
Not only is he well dressed, witty, and charming, but he’s also the prettiest Doctor we’ve ever seen, and sometimes, you can’t help being a bit shallow.

“Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday”
Marshall Lemon says: The Daleks and the Cybermen are among the oldest and most recognizable of The Doctor’s enemies, making regular appearances since their 1963 and 1966 debuts. Amazingly, the two races wouldn’t meet for another four decades, partly thanks to opposition from Dalek designer Terry Nation. It wasn’t until David Tennant’s debut season, during a seemingly unrelated investigation, when the Daleks and the Cybermen finally appeared… and promised to destroy each other. The subsequent battle, which encompassed the entire planet, was a massive payoff for Whovians of all stripes and remains the most memorable action sequence of Doctor Who‘s 50 year history.

But these two episodes weren’t special just because they offered a Dalek-Cyberman showdown: it’s because they resolved two seasons of plot points in the process. Everything from the fate of Torchwood, to Rose Tyler’s farewell, to Jackie and Pete’s (sort of) reunion was neatly tied up in a two-part storyline, perfectly balancing cosmic warfare with heartwrenching human drama. That kind of achievement is hard to reach in any medium, and Doctor Who somehow pulled it off with flying colors and a gorgeous soundtrack.

Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones
Mike Hoffman says: Martha Jones is my favorite companion, and I know a lot of people don’t share that opinion. The biggest complaint I hear about Martha is that she was angsty about her unrequited feelings for the Doctor, and admittedly that was a little hard to watch. Still, this also lends itself to Martha’s greatest strength: she’s her own person, fully and entirely. Sure, the Doctor doesn’t have any romantic interest in her, and she knows that’s okay, even if she’s upset by it. She knows it doesn’t diminish who she is, and she is one of the most individual companions on New Who (I haven’t seen much Classic Who, sadly).

Martha wasn’t plucked out of an unhappy life to go traveling with the Doctor, she was already established in a successful career and a comparatively healthy familial relationship. Unlike certain other companions, she doesn’t sit around just waiting for the Doctor to come pick her up, she lives her own life. To Martha Jones, the Doctor is a companion, and only an occasional one at that. And most importantly, Martha Jones is the one who left. Completely of her own volition, she said, “You know what? This has been great, but I think I want to do my own thing, now.” Not to mention she was just always awesome to watch on screen, especially in episodes like “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood”.

John Simm as The Master
Marshall Lemon says: I never really bought into that “hero-nemesis love-hate” relationship business most serialized characters go through eventually. At best, it always seemed one-sided: the Joker might really enjoy toying with Batman, but that feeling is assuredly not mutual. Where I make an exception, however, is with The Doctor and The Master. Watching this pair interact is like watching a cosmic rivalry between brothers who can’t quite get along, thanks largely to the performances of David Tennant and John Simm.

In many ways, The Doctor and The Master are perfect foils to each other. As Time Lords, both characters are well-versed in the nature of paradoxes and time vortex mechanics. Both are obsessed with the planet Earth, whether protecting or dominating it. Both upset the well laid plans of adversaries by taking advantage of minor details. But what made their Newvian incarnations so special was that each character shared a great loss. Despite their conflict, Gallifrey was a beloved childhood home, one neither of them could ever return to. That simple fact prompted rare, heartfelt conversations between the adversaries, and in a strange way, made them feel responsible for one another. It was a unique dynamic that made The Master one of Doctor Who‘s more sympathetic villains, even as he committed horrible atrocities. It’s also why, just like the Daleks and Cybermen, series writers won’t let him disappear forever.

Catherine Tate as Donna Noble
Carly Smith says: Every companion has brought out something different in the Doctor, but it’s Catherine Tate’s chemistry with David Tennant that brought out some of the funniest episodes of the new Doctor Who.

The title of the first episode of the fourth season tells it all: “Partners in Crime.” In this episode, Donna and the Doctor reunite after her first episode from the previous season. The first conversation they have is through soundproof glass as the two can only mouth their words. Tate and Tennant completely sell it in their faces and mimes. Throughout the rest of the season, the wit between Donna and the Doctor is in sync. Instead of Doctor Who giving us the romantic relationships it’s keen on in the last few seasons, we see a strong friendship.

Donna Noble was crass, lost and adrift, and demanded respect — even from the Doctor. I can find no other character more relatable than the woman who’s shouting at the world because no one is listening.

Doctor Who is beautiful when it shows ordinary people are actually extraordinary. Donna repeatedly sells herself short, but we learn that she is the most important person in the universe when she saves reality.

To the most faithful companion, I echo the Doctor’s words: “Donna Noble, I am so sorry. We had the best of times.” You didn’t deserve to go the way you did.

Alex Kingston as River Song
Marshall Lemon says: Imagine a romantic relationship where every meeting feels like the first time, with varying combinations of excitement and uncertainty. That’s pretty much The Doctor’s partnership with River Song, his wife, in a nutshell. As fellow time-travelers, The Doctor and River are constantly meeting across the timestream but never in the right order, forcing the pair to use a journal to double-check where the marriage stands. The relationship hasn’t always been the most stable, like when The Doctor had no idea who River was, or when River tried to kill him, but somehow the pair manages to carry on and grow together.

River’s appearances are fantastic foreshadowing devices, although sometimes the marriage seems like a hard sell. After all, The Doctor has experienced strong romantic overtones with many of his companions, so what makes River different? Well, she can keep up with the Doctor at his exceedingly fast pace. She understands his unique quirks and foibles better than anyone, perhaps even himself. Most importantly, River deeply cares for the Doctor despite their vast differences (note her uncomfortable willingness to kill), and will stand with him against anything the universe has to offer.

The fact that the Doctor knows how her story ends, and can’t tell her, makes that all the more tragic.

Mike Hoffman says: I miss Russell T. Davies. I miss the explorative nature of Doctor Who and the weird worlds, strange cultures, and fascinating monsters that we had in the era of Tennant and Eccleston. “Midnight” was one of my favorites of these episodes, and was more terrifying than any Weeping Angel episode (although “Blink” was cool as hell) or some guy saying, “Hey, who turned out the lights?”

The Doctor goes to a world called Midnight and takes a shuttle trip to see a waterfall of sapphires. Before long, the shuttle runs into issue and the cockpit torn away. The Doctor and the other passengers (including Merlin‘s Colin Morgan) sit in fear as a mysterious creature attacks the outside of the shuttle.

Soon, the episode turns into a psychological horror as the passengers begin behaving strangely. This episode was incredibly inventive, creating a terrifying monster that we never even see, something that is able to take control of people, even if we never knew how. What gets to me is that this creature (or force) existed in a desolate wasteland, seemingly devoid of life. How did it evolve to do this? What other creatures has it done this to? How intelligent is it, really? I wish Doctor Who still left me thinking about episodes for as long as “Midnight” did.

doctor who matt smith 650

The 11th Doctor

Played by Matt Smith, 2010 – 2013

Matt Smith as the Doctor
Dan O’Halloran says: As the 11th Doctor (not counting the War Doctor, of course), Matt Smith brought a wonderfully refreshing joyousness to the role. The previous two incarnations of the Doctor were struggling with the pain of their decision to wipe out their own race to defeat the galactic threat of the Daleks, but this Doctor shook off the doom and gloom of tragedies past and boy, did Matt Smith run with it.

From the first moment we met him, Matt Smith perfectly portrayed the Doctor’s infectious enthusiasm while taking in the world with newborn wonder. Who can forget the scene where he ate fish sticks and custard with his future companion (and mother-in-law), Amelia Pond? Or, by the end of that first episode boldly talking down an alien invasion in what was to become a signature monologue for the character.

From playing the sheriff of a western town to struggling to deal with the sexy, difficult human representation of this TARDIS, Matt Smith carried every episode with wit and charm and energy. And some of the Steven Moffat scripts certainly needed it.

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond
Elizabeth Harper says: Amy Pond catches a lot of flack for wearing short skirts, but she’s a character with more depth than she’s often given credit for. Amy’s unique amongst the Doctor’s companions in that we first meet her as a child. Young Amy (played by Karen Gillan’s cousin Caitlin Blackwood) encounters newly-regenerated Matt Smith crash-landed in her back yard. It’s something any adult would have questions about, but Amy takes it in stride as only a child could.

Asking if he’s a policeman come to fix a crack in her wall, she proceeds to let him into the house, feed him increasingly bizarre combinations of food (“New mouth, new rules”), and make some creepy proclamations (“You know when grown-ups tell you everything’s going to be fine and you think they’re probably lying to make you feel better? Everything’s going to be fine”) before he rushes off to see to his TARDIS, with a promise to be back in 5 minutes.

But, of course, the Doctor isn’t exactly known for his punctuality and when he returns, it’s 12 years later to encounter a very different Amy Pond. In this time, Amy’s grown rather cynical and doesn’t entirely believe that the Doctor is her imaginary friend from all those years ago. The end result is that Amy goes her own way and stands up to the Doctor… and if she happens to have a crush on him, we can hardly blame her.

Have your own favorite Doctor Who characters, episodes, or moments? Tell us about them in the comments!

About the author