Doctor Who: a viewing guide for ‘the David Tennant years‘:
This text has been hanging around since Christmas, and I’ve only now had time to polish it up a bit. Not very Lovecraftian, but plenty of sci-fi monsters!
Following a completed and complete re-viewing, here is my suggested “watch-list” for the 47 episodes of Doctor Who in which David Tennant was the Doctor. Tennant is generally regarded as the finest in a long line of Doctors. I don’t dissent from that opinion, but he was certainly given a few clunkers — by which I mean occasional poor episodes. Also some very mediocre series-padders, and three really dire episodes.
In all I’d suggest that six episodes and one Christmas Special can be skipped with no loss, thus saving about a day or two evenings of viewing time.
So… for what it’s worth here’s my concise “skip or watch” guide to the Tennant years. Spoilers are avoided.
Viewers completely new to Doctor Who should be aware that at the end of each episode there’s usually a trailer for the next episode, shown before the credits run. These can often act as spoilers, and as such you may want to have the means to hand to speedily zap these trailers when they start to run. Doing this also serves as a time-saver, since along with the credits you’re cutting two minutes or so off each episode. Over three series that adds up to about an hour saved!
If you’re new to Doctor Who, and just want a day of ‘taster’ episodes, then try the unified plot thread in the Tennant series that stretches across:
“The End of the World”.
“The Runaway Bride”.
The first of these enables you to understand the backstory for the next three, all three of which are all outstanding. Together these four will get you up to speed to view the following two episodes in Series 4 - which are some of the finest science fiction ever put on TV:
“Silence in the Library” (Part one).
“Forest of the Dead” (Part two).
These possibly inspired by Lovecraft (“There were awed sessions in libraries amongst the massed lore of ten thousand worlds”).
The Full Watch/Skip List:
We’re still in the non-Tennant Series 1 here…
WATCH. Series 1: “The End of the World” (2005). An excellent early episode in the series. This introduces two characters who will later appear in Tennant’s first proper episode, and who will make a lot more sense then. Being episode two of Series One, this is a good general introduction to the basic idea of ‘who The Doctor is’, and also his companion Rose. You’ll also get a good look at the style of the Doctor which Tennant replaced, Christopher Eccleston.
WATCH. Series 1: “The Parting of the Ways” (2005). The final episode of the Eccleston series. This will introduce you to two continuing characters, and has the old Doctor Who (Eccleston) regenerating into the new (David Tennant). One of the continuing characters will only make sense much, much later in the Tennant run.
SKIP! Christmas Special - “The Christmas Invasion” (Xmas 2005). Dire. You should avoid this one entirely. Especially in terms of it being a potential starter for watching the Tennant years. I fear that those unfamiliar with Doctor Who would start by watching this first… but then just not bother watching the other three series — assuming that it would be more of the same cringe-inducing low-grade TV.
Series 2 (2006).
WATCH. 1. “New Earth”. Outstanding. A great sci-fi ‘opening episode’ for Tennant, and a marvellous recovery from the 2005 Christmas Special disaster. Best seen after a viewing of “The End of the World” (2005) (see above), as it has two continuing secondary characters from that episode.
WATCH (optional). 2. “Tooth and Claw”. A good historical/horror episode. It’s not vital, but there’s no reason to skip it. For newcomers to Doctor Who it’s as good an introduction as any to this episode type. Though the genre-shift may be a little jarring for some, coming straight after the space sci-fi of “The End of the World” + “New Earth”.
WATCH. 3. “School Reunion”. A modern-day Earth episode, and as such it’s again likely to be a startling genre-shift for newcomers to Doctor Who. It looks slightly cheaper then the previous episode, but is terrific fun throughout. Also introduces a key new (old) character to the series.
* SKIP. 4. “The Girl in the Fireplace”. An unwieldy mash-up between historical-drama and spaceship setting. Mildly watchable and it has two good jokes, but is not at all vital. It also pushes the Doctor slightly out-of-character.
WATCH. 5. “Rise of the Cybermen” (part 1). The first of a Cybermen two-parter, the Cybermen being one of the Doctor’s main ‘enemy’ races. Very mediocre, yet it is fairly brisk and effectively told. It also sets up the arc for two future characters, so you will need to see it.
WATCH. 6. “The Age of Steel” (part 2). ”
* SKIP. 7. “The Idiot’s Lantern”. A minor filler episode. Quite well done, as a costume-historical episode set on Earth… but has a very conventional second half. Definitely skippable.
WATCH. 8. “The Impossible Planet” (part 1). An effective space-based two-parter, that also sets up a race who will appear many times.
WATCH. 9. “The Satan Pit” (part 2). ”
WATCH! 10. “Love and Monsters”. An unusual Earth-set episode of Doctor Who, but one of the most memorable.
WATCH! 11. “Fear Her”. Another Earth-set episode. Excellent, of its kind.
WATCH. 12. “Army of Ghosts” (Finale, part one). Enjoyable, but not a wholly satisfying finale because… it’s all ‘too easy’ at the end. It does however wrap up threads from earlier in the series.
WATCH. 13. “Doomsday” (Finale, part two). Briefly introduces a key new character.
Series 3 (2007).
WATCH!! Christmas Special - “The Runaway Bride” (Xmas 2006). After last Christmas’s dud episode, this one is a classic. 1,000% better than the previous Christmas. Also introduces a very key new character.
WATCH. 1. “Smith and Jones”. A mediocre enemy and setting, but the episode has to be watched since it introduces yet another key character.
* SKIP. 2. “The Shakespeare Code”. A rather straightforward historical costume-drama horror episode, with a creaky plot.
WATCH! 3. “Gridlock”. Outstanding far-future sci-fi, done well. One of the most memorable of the Tennant episodes. Continues to introduce a race and characters from the previous series.
* SKIP. 4. “Daleks in Manhattan” (part one). Another costume-historical episode set on Earth, which are always a bit hit-and-miss. In this case it’s very creaky, and also often blatantly padded out to add length. The histrionic dialogue doesn’t help at all, and there is some woefully over-acting in response to the bad writing. Even the fearsome Daleks are made to be ridiculous, and the budget was obviously low. A big fat waste of time.
* SKIP. 5. “Evolution of the Daleks” (part two). ”
WATCH. 6. “The Lazarus Experiment”. Quite well done, and it sets up a key plot thread for the end of the series.
* SKIP 7. “42”. Pure filler, except for a tiny cut-away bit at the end… which gets amply recapped in another episode.
WATCH! 8. “Human Nature” (part one). A costume-drama two-parter, but this time it’s an oustandingly good one. It also serves as a great lead-in to the concluding episodes of the series.
WATCH! 9. “Family of Blood” (part two). ”
WATCH! 10. “Blink”. A highly effective and memorable ‘horror’ episode, with lots of time-travel twisty-turny-bits. Sets up a new enemy race.
WATCH. 11. “Utopia.” (part one). The first of a grand finale three-parter. Excellent, and links with through from the earlier episodes 8 and 9. Pace yourself, to savour it all, rather than risk getting binge-fatigue at the end of the series.
WATCH. 12. “The Sound of Drums”. (part two).
WATCH. 13. “The Last of the Time Lords”. (part three).
Series 4 (2008).
WATCH. Christmas Special - “Voyage of the Damned” (Xmas 2007). Entertaining, yet not especially memorable. Worth seeing, but it could be skipped if you’re short of time.
WATCH. 1. “Partners in Crime”. A very mediocre central plot, but… with lots of interesting side-plots and some vital ongoing new characters packed around it.
WATCH 2. “The Fires of Pompeii”. The usual second-episode costume drama, but this one is well-paced and very good.
WATCH. 3. “Planet of the Ood”. A strong episode which develops a previously introduced race.
WATCH. 4. “The Sontaran Stratagem”. (Part one). Creaky and hackneyed to start off with, but by the time it enters the second part of the two-parter it’s suddenly much better. Introduces a continuing new race which becomes important for ‘the next Doctor’, but the episode could be skipped by those short on time.
WATCH. 5. “The Poison Sky”. (Part two). ”
* SKIP. 6. “The Doctor’s Daughter”. Production values are somewhat high, but it’s all very forgettable and in the end rather pointless. Seems to have only been made so the BBC could make a spin-off comic-book, but that failed too.
* SKIP. 7. “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. A mid-series period costume-drama, rather more well-made than usual - but very forgettable and also rather silly throughout.
WATCH!!! 8. “Silence in the Library”. (Part one). Now this is great. One of the best Doctor Who episodes ever filmed, the first of a two-parter. Must watch, and also some of the most excellent science-fiction shown on TV!
WATCH!!! 9. “Forest of the Dead”. (Part two). ” It helps the flow if you skip the trailer at the end of episode one, and the recap at the start of episode two.
SKIP. 10. “Midnight”. A strange departure from the usual formula. A claustrophobic shouting-match, which soon becomes very boring indeed. The episode is a big comedown after the sublime script of the last two episodes. Skip unless you like confined-space psychological drama, with lots of screaming matches.
WATCH. 11. “Turn Left”. (Part one). Series finale, with very high production values. Tries to tie up about 50 different plot threads. A good intro to the final episodes.
WATCH. 12. “The Stolen Earth”. (Part two). ”
WATCH. 13. “Journey’s End”. (Part three). ”
Series 4 ends here. There were then five Tennant “specials” that linked Series 4 and Series 5, and helped to fill the long 2008–2010 gap between full series, while a new Doctor was found.
SKIP. 14. “The Next Doctor”. A Christmas Special. A Victorian costume-drama for Christmas. Definitely skip this.
WATCH. 15. “Planet of the Dead”. An Easter Special.
WATCH. 16. “The Waters of Mars”. An award-winning episode.
WATCH. 17. “The End of Time”, Part One.
WATCH. 18. “The End of Time”, Part Two. Regeneration from Tennant to a new Doctor.
Series 5 (2010).
This opened with a new non-Tennant Doctor, Matt Smith. Smith was also an excellent Doctor, and it’s well worth considering a re-watch of his series too.
There’s more! The Big Finish full-cast audio adventures, known as The Tenth Doctor Adventures, now have two series in which Tennant reprises his role as the Doctor alongside Donna.
The Tenth Doctor Adventures 1 and The Tenth Doctor Adventures 2. These are audio-only, but are full-cast and have all the production polish of the TV series.
A third series, The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, is out in June 2019, though the cover art makes it look as though Tennant takes a back seat? Anyway, together these three audio series will effectively represent a whole new TV series in terms of length and quality.