All Thirteen Seasons of Modern 'Doctor Who' Ranked from Worst to Best

30/04/2024

James Payne (he/him) comprehensively reviews the British sci-fi classic, with hot takes, bad puns and one hundred percent nerdiness

Article Image

Image by IMDb

By James Payne

With three new Doctor Who specials having concluded and Season One of modern, MODERN Doctor Who beginning in May 2024, what better time to take a deep dive into the time vortex? It’s well known that there are brilliant episodes and absolute stinkers. That’s part of the charm of the show. But that extends to the seasons too.

Briefly, this is my Doctor Who journey: I grew up with Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant was my Doctor; I watched Matt Smith live, and stopped during Peter Capaldi’s first season (the eighth). In my third year of university I began to re-watch the show all the way through, and now having mostly caught up, I’m now going to watch all of ‘Classic Who’, starting with the first episodes in the 60s. So, I’ll see you in a hundred years when I manage to finish it all. This ranking will take into account the narrative, character work, music, and individual episodes within each season. It shall not include any specials, as that’s a story for another day. There will be no nostalgia bias. This is my definitive ranking, not the official ranking – yours’ will most likely be different, but that’s where the fun comes in, right? It’s going to be fantastic! Allons-y! Or should I say geronimo?

Let's rank all thirteen seasons of Modern Doctor Who (2005-2021) from worst to best.

Oh, and this article will include insert River voice spoilers. I’ll stop now.

Season Thirteen, no accurate rating

It’s saying something that I literally cannot bring myself to watch the rest of this season. It is such a slog to get through, and will I ever finish it? Yes. But will that be in the next decade? Probably not. So I think it’s only fair to place it in last place. If this is your favourite season, I apologise. I understand that it may have legendary episodes, yet I can’t currently sit through more of the bad than I already have in this season. If you agree with me, then I’m sure you’re on my side. Anyway, onto the actual ranking.

Season Two, 3/5

Well, I did say there’d be no nostalgia bias.

This season is surprisingly worse than I remember. I always thought that Rose was my favourite companion, and that David Tennant was my favourite Doctor, but that’s no longer true.

It starts strong with ‘New Earth’, but then you get two mid episodes with ‘Tooth and Claw’ and ‘School Reunion’ (controversial opinion, I know). ‘The Age of Steel’ is straight up bad, and ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ is just offensive. The two-parter of ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ is fine, but I found the episodes not as amazing as Whovians hype them up to be. Then, do I even need to mention those two episodes? ‘Love and Monsters’ is awful and ‘Fear Her’ is even worse – these aren’t the worst episodes of the show for me though; that title is reserved for ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’, a Capaldi special.

However, the season isn’t entirely awful. ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ slaps, and the final two-parter is gut-wrenchingly good. Emotions are high, the soundtrack is the best it’s ever been for me (‘Rose’s Theme’ and ‘Doomsday’ specifically), and the romance dynamic between the Doctor and Rose is a massive hit in my books. The Torchwood theme works well too. But the good cannot save this season from being second-last in my list.

Season Eleven, 3/5

There’s no denying that much of the world does not like Jodie Whittaker’s (Chris Chibnall’s) era. His best work that I’d watched at this point was ‘Cold Blood’, an episode from season five that I rank an 4/5. I was desperate to give Whittaker’s first season a chance because I so wanted the world to be wrong. And...?

‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ is a good opener. ‘The Ghost Monument’ is not such a good follow-up. However, the third episode ‘Rosa’, is seriously great. It is a daring episode, portraying realism in a highly unrealistic show. It is stirring and impactful. But that’s the peak of the season because then you get ‘Arachnids in the UK’. Honestly, it’s not as awful as I’ve heard, yet it’s not exactly something I’d want to watch either. ‘Demons of the Punjab’ and ‘Kerblam!’ are also solid episodes, with great music and emotion. There’s two less memorable episodes and it ends with a fine finale.

So why is the season ranked this low? One reason is the theme that links the season together: Tzim-Sha (Tim Shaw), which is not exactly a strong thematic connection. The dialogue can also be super cringey. I actually believe three companions is a good thing, but they don’t yet feel strong enough to justify three of them. It just feels like a slog to get through – watching one episode is sometimes a challenge, let alone a whole season, despite its shorter number of ten episodes.

Chibnall brings in actual history that the show was too wary to cover before. The season is not terrible as others regard it, but certainly still lower in my list.

Season Twelve, 3/5

There’s a greater jump in quality between Seasons 11 and 12 and I feel more excited writing about this one.

I’ve certainly got to hand it to Chibnall – the opening two-parter is really good. Bombastic, devious, surprising, fast-paced, brilliantly acted and just downright awesome. Sasha Dhawan’s Master is unbelievably great! But then comes ‘Orphan 55’. How can you go from something so brilliant, to that? I like the stakes, fear-factor and cast of characters. I also have no issue with the environmental message. I just think it’s significantly less entertaining. Also ‘Benni’ – need I say more?

It gets back on track with ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’ and again the good ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’. Then you get ‘Praxeus’ and worse, ‘Can You Hear Me?’ Do you notice a trend here? The season reaches higher heights than its predecessor and much lower lows. And it alternates, which is really frustrating. That trend continues with the really fun ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ and then the poor ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’.

Then, it would be impossible not to discuss the widely controversial ‘Timeless Children’ arc. You can hate me if you want, but I genuinely enjoy the concept. We’re decades into the series now, so isn’t it time to shake up the formula, before it gets stale? Every modern showrunner has made their mark and Chibnall decided it was time for his contribution to the lore. The problem I do have is that the episode it’s revealed in is again, bad.

Ultimately, Whittaker’s Doctor and companions are given more emotions and backstory in this season. The arc that draws the season together is also interesting and it has some genuinely great episodes. But the season could have been much better and is the definition of ‘wasted potential’.

Season Nine, 3/5

If major disappointment had a face, it would be this season. Peter Capaldi, upon re-watch, is my favourite Doctor; I can’t believe I didn’t give him a chance when I was younger. Clara is my second favourite companion. I’d also heard that fans love this season. It was in the making to be the best season ever!

The first two-parter is completely awesome. Seeing how Davros and the Doctor’s paths are intertwined is very poignant. Michelle Gomez’s Missy is such a gem. The 12th Doctor playing electric guitar solidifies Capaldi as the best modern Doctor ever. Then comes the next second two-parter. I like the concept of having more two-part episodes due to being able to flesh the story out before moving on. What doesn’t work is when the story in question isn’t good. That’s the problem with this particular two-parter, so the season extends something boring to make it even more boring. Although, ‘The Girl Who Died’ revealing why the Doctor chose this face is something I’d always wondered and wanted to see.

But holy moly, ‘The Woman Who Lived’ is an abysmal episode. And after a fair start to the season, it goes downhill from here. The zygon two-parter is terrible, bar one exceptional moment: the Doctor’s speech on war. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save the episode. They bring in one of my favourite actors, Reece Shearsmith and put him in a truly horrible episode ‘Sleep No More’. And then, the ultimate fictional sin... resurrecting a character from the dead.

By itself, ‘Face the Raven’ is extraordinary. This show demonstrates that there are fates just as narratively impactful as death: Rose being sent to a parallel universe, for example. But when it kills off one of my favourite companions, I expect it to stick to that. I cried and mourned Clara’s character. It was a perfect sacrifice and seeing the darker side of the Doctor was awesome. But they bring her back to life, thus reverting any emotion her death had. If the show does that one more time, it’ll make me not trust any future deaths in the show, meaning there will be no impact and no point. Right now, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. But that’s a major reason why this season is ranked so low.

Although, the reason it is higher than the other seasons is because of ‘Heaven Sent’. A 5/5 masterpiece of an episode (yet actually, not my favourite, which we will get to later). And the finale is fine.

The 12th Doctor and Clara are as always, brilliant this season – they are my favourite Doctor/companion dynamic. The thematic connection of the confession dial is clever. It also introduces the piece of music ‘The Shepherd’s Boy’, which is Capaldi’s ‘The Long Song’. Overall, the season is certainly not the worst due to its ‘edgier’ vibe, but it is still very disappointing.

Season Five, 3.5/5

We’ve made it out of the 3s!

It’s the first season of Matt Smith and it starts with the well-renowned opener ‘The Eleventh Hour’. The episode has heart, fun and instantly solidifies the 11th Doctor as absolutely wonderful. There is a solid stretch of episodes with ‘The Beast Below’, ‘Victory of the Daleks’ and ‘The Time of Angels’. But I have two major issues with the next Weeping Angel episode ‘Flesh and Stone’. The first is that seeing the Angels move, while obviously cool, completely ruins their mystery and fear factor. I think this is a line that the show should not have crossed. The second is that Amy is extremely weird towards the Doctor at the end of the episode, leaving such an unpleasant taste in my mouth and making it difficult to root for her. The dynamic between the Doctor, Amy and Rory in this season is problematic, uncomfortable and seriously not fun – though this does get fixed in later seasons, hence saving this season from being lower.

‘The Vampires of Venice’ continues that uncomfortable trend, but then it’s followed by a great stretch of episodes. ‘Amy’s Choice’ is great (though it doesn’t feel earned, given how she still treats Rory unfairly later in the season). As expressed when discussing Chibnall, I do enjoy the Silurian two-parter. And then Season 5s zenith, ‘Vincent and the Doctor’. Yes, I cried and so did all of you. The whole episode is not 5/5 worthy, but the last scene is still one of the most exceptional in the entire show. The James Corden episode, while at least entertaining, is not good. But the final two-parter is exciting, fast-paced, epic and convoluted in the best way.

The crack in time storyline is true genius. We also get the song ‘I Am The Doctor’ which is so powerful that I wrote my dissertation whilst listening to it. But what drags this season down is that the Doctor, Amy and Rory lack the character development they get in later seasons, making it a less pleasant watch.

Season Six, 3.5/5

I remember watching this as a child and not having a single clue what was going on. Immediately, I think it’s too confusing for a younger audience. But I’m grown up now and I seriously appreciate how off-the-walls, exaggeratedly complicated it gets. This is the most ‘timey-wimey’ season and I really enjoy that.

That opening two-parter is terrifying, well-written and sets up a chilling mystery. They literally kill the Doctor in the first episode! ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ is certainly not the best pirate story I’ve watched. I’m also not as much a fan of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ as other Whovians are. The Flesh two-parter, while scary and with fantastic make-up, is not entertaining to me. But the twist at the end is disturbing, cruel and narratively brilliant. It also leads to ‘A Good Man Goes to War’, which again demonstrates the pure epicness of the 11th Doctor. This is the kind of episode Whittaker is not given (at least, from what I’ve seen). The Melody Song plot twist is still utterly shocking to this day.

The confusion continues with ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ and I enjoy that! ‘Night Terrors’ is cringeworthy, especially the song at the end; they never explain why dolls are singing that song. Both ‘The Girl Who Waited’ and ‘The God Complex’ are clever, sad and terrifying in different ways, and they drive the characters forward. The second Corden episode is better than the first, again and at least it is entertaining and mid rather than bad. The season ends in suitably perplexing fashion and highlights the Doctor and River’s devastatingly beautiful relationship. But she is Amy and Rory’s daughter, so things are all just weird and completely baffling.

This seasons’ storyline does not end in a satisfying way, how the Doctor survives feels cheap and obviously we know the show will not kill the Doctor. There are more bad episodes in this season than in its predecessor. However, there is a gradual character development with the Doctor and his companions, with the genius additional dynamic of River in the Tardis. The season also has episodes that are better than ‘Vincent and the Doctor’. Also, while not exactly narratively satisfying, I appreciate how much further the narrative goes, and how each episode throws a huge bombshell that shakes the story up.

Season Seven, 3.5/5

This is the one that transforms every episode into a movie.

‘Asylum of the Daleks’ is high-budget, grand scale and for a Dalek episode, it has a very human core with very human problems. ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ is certainly less good, but it still looks brilliant and is fun. I truly enjoy the Western ‘A Town Called Mercy’. The second Chibnall episode, ‘The Power of Three’, is, again, less good. Then comes the emotionally damaging ode to the Ponds, ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’. This episode made me realise how far the Ponds had come and how much I’d fallen in love with them. Saying goodbye is tough, especially when they’ve had the longest modern companion run thus far. It is a testament to both their characters’ development. All their previous flaws now make sense and are rewarded. It is complex, difficult to stomach and cruel. But it is the best-written companion exit in the modern series.

I also appreciate the season being structured in two parts. It tries something new and in my opinion, succeeds. There are two separate arcs, with the departure of the Ponds and the Great Intelligence and they culminate into an intriguing specimen of a season. ‘The Bells of Saint John’ gives off such a pleasant vibe, with the proper introduction of my second favourite companion – Clara. ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ has the greatest speech, paired with the best acted moment, in all of modern Doctor Who. It also comes with ‘The Long Song’, which as previously mentioned, is a huge favourite of mine. This moment is chilling right down to the bone. ‘Cold War’ and ‘Hide’ are both completely solid too.

Now, it wouldn’t be a Doctor Who season without a complete dud. ‘Journey to the Centre of the Tardis’ is the most disappointing episode in the entire series. Up until this point, I’ve been wanting to see more of the TARDIS, rather than just hearing of the cool things inside. And we get this episode, that shows us absolutely nothing but hallways. It doesn’t help that the rest of the episode is just completely forgettable.

The season ends with the solid stretch of ‘The Crimson Horror’ (using body horror and a disgusting parasitic creature), ‘Nightmare in Silver’ (with the most intense game of chess ever) and a fabulous finale. The quote “not in the name of the Doctor” goes hard.

It’s a season of spectacle, pinnacles of character development, emotional weight, pure epic, top-notch acting all around and innovation. Controversially, I truly believe that this is the best season of Smith – yet Clara and 11’s dynamic is nowhere near on the same scale as 12’s.

Season Ten, 3.5/5

This is one of the three most consistently good seasons of Doctor Who for me (the other two not yet having been mentioned). There isn’t a bad episode and that’s a rare feat for this show.

‘The Pilot’ is a brilliant introduction to Bill and I love seeing her takes on the Doctor’s cool tech. Bill saying “It’s like a kitchen” as opposed to “it’s bigger on the inside” is brilliant. ‘Smile’ is a terrifying concept, ‘Thin Ice’ shows the Doctor punching a racist in the face and ‘Knock Knock’ is genuinely scary. I watched it in bed after midnight and that was certainly an experience to say the least. In ‘Oxygen’ 12 goes blind and the episode is followed by a neat, unique three-parter, for the second time in modern Who (the first in Season Three). Seeing Capaldi pretend he’s not blind to keep Bill from feeling guilty is brilliant, and it’s one of the many reasons why Capaldi is my favourite Doctor. We even get to see the Ice Warriors again in ‘Empress of Mars’.

The only episode I find slightly less good, but still fine at the very least, is ‘The Eaters of Light’. It has a concept that I find completely simple and not worthy of anything above a 3.5/5. But it’s swiftly followed by one of the greatest two-parters in the entire show, and the episodes are made even better by the fact they serve as the finale of the season. In ‘World Enough and Time’ and ‘The Doctor Falls’, you have the most shocking start to an episode- Bill getting shot. You also have the darkest, most disturbing fate of a companion in turning Bill into a Cyberman. Watching this from her perspective, looking normal, paired with seeing others’ shocked, fearful reactions, is genius television. It’s chilling right to the core and it hurts because Bill just feels so real. You also get John Simms’s Master, along with Missy, which is an absolute treat and truly demonstrates how far the character has come.

In terms of companion exits, I think Clara’s is the only slightly iffy one thus far. As for Bill, turning into a space fish that travels the universe would not have been the first thing that comes to mind after she gets turned into a Cyberman. It’s a bit weird, but does the job just fine. There are no negatives to this season, other than it doesn’t reach as high heights as the seasons higher on this list. But it’s consistently good and 12’s development is beautiful to see.

Season One, 3.5/5

The one that started this regeneration of the show and it’s fantastic.

Christopher Eccleston has one season and he left his mark with his stern yet fun, tortured and completely lovable persona. While this article contains no nostalgia bias, I have to say this season holds such nostalgia for me – my Grandad used to buy me Doctor Who magazines when I was a child, and they contained stickers and even DVDs. I remember watching this season and genuinely falling in love with the show. This season is part of my childhood.

‘Rose’ holds such emotional weight and is the introduction of a companion that is close to my heart. Things were also more simple in the show back then – a present day episode, then a future episode with ‘The End of the World’ (showing that these adventures are certainly not all fun and games) and a past episode with ‘The Unquiet Dead’ (gothic and vibey). The Slitheen two-parter introduces some British politics and then there’s the truly iconic ‘Dalek’. 9’s pure rage and disgust is palpable and grabs you right through the screen. ‘The Long Game’ and ‘Father’s Day’ are not the best. But then the fear factor ramps back up in ‘The Empty Child’ and ‘The Doctor Dances’ which contain the introduction of one of my favourite Who characters, Captain Jack, and the iconic 9 quote “everybody lives!”. ‘Boom Town’ is simply fine.

The two-parter finale is truly brilliant. My favourite part of this season and one of my favourites in all of the show, is the play on popular British game shows. Turning Big Brother and The Weakest Link into a game of life and death is dramatic, intense and unbelievably thrilling to watch. The Jack scenes with the play on What Not to Wear are also funny and equally terrifying. And ‘The Parting of the Ways’ walked so all other great Who finales could run.

It’s a campy, memorable, edgy and fun season, acting as a brilliant time capsule to 2005. Is every episode perfect? No. But does it start off the show wonderfully after its hiatus, something that perhaps nobody could have predicted? Absolutely. I love it and always will.

Season Eight, 4/5

Here it is. The most underrated season and first 4/5.

‘Deep Breath’ is a solid opener and brings a connection to ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, something that I could never have expected. ‘Into the Dalek’ is what ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ should have been: actually interesting. ‘Robot of Sherwood’ is just a lot of fun, showing that 12 (when not in post-regeneration mode) is not always serious and can be comedic. ‘Listen’ is genuinely terrifying, eerie, extremely clever and just a downright banger of an episode. To have a 4.5/5 so early in the first season of a Doctor is a feat reserved only to Capaldi and Whittaker. ‘Time Heist’ has the most perturbing moment in all the show and the most grim fate for a random character. Brain “soup” and a person living in a cell as a shell of their older self, with a concave in their head, is twisted. It shows that this season can be mature and is to be taken seriously.

‘The Caretaker’ and ‘Kill the Moon’ are both solid. ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is a fantastic concept and really puts a strain in the dynamic between Clara and 12. It’s then followed by ‘Flatline’, where their roles are ultimately reversed. Moffat wields these two characters perfectly and it is completely riveting to see. It does stay true to Who fashion by having a terrible episode with ‘In the Forest of the Night’, where all common sense is thrown out the window. Surely it’s not concerning that Mr Pink and Ms Oswald, two teachers, lose a child? They can still be teachers, right?

But then comes such a dark, powerful and moving two-parter finale. ‘Dark Water’ and its revelation that those who are dead still feel what happens to their body, is utterly horrific. “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” is such an emotional blow and just makes me adore 12 and Clara that much more. Characters are pushed so far in that episode and it’s stirring to see. ‘Death in Heaven’ actually having the confidence to kill Danny off is completely daring. You also get 12’s first iconic speech. And you get to see Missy in full action for the first time. The ‘Promised Land’ arc is thoroughly intriguing and extremely well executed.

It is a season consisting of the most horror for me personally, the best character dynamics and such emotion. It is extremely consistent with one awful episode, but at least it’s an entertaining one to watch with friends. It is 12 without his character development, but unlike Amy and Rory in Season 5, he’s not unpleasant to watch and he’s still really entertaining. It’s the best opening season of the whole show.

Season 3, 4/5

Holy moly, this season is good.

‘Smith and Jones’ is an iconic and memorable opener. ‘The Shakespeare Code’ terrified me as a child and honestly still does. ‘Gridlock’ is again, such a unique premise, with a sense of looming dread throughout. Unfortunately, the season is dragged down (only ever so slightly) by an awful two-parter. Did anyone ask to see a Dalek in a suit? Or worse, hear “Laszlo”, on a similar level to “Benni”? Side note, I had no idea Andrew Garfield was in Doctor Who.

But then comes two nice additions to the season with ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ and ‘42’. And none of the negatives of the season matter too much because it hits the highest point in the entire show for me. The greatest two-parter and individual episode in ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’ (the latter being the most clever, impactful and serious Who has ever been). That montage of 10’s wrath is out of this world television. It’s one of only two 5/5 episodes in the show alongside ‘Heaven Sent’. It also has one of the four moments in the show that have made me cry (alongside the Van Gogh moment, Amy and Rory’s death and Clara’s ‘death’) Then, swiftly onto the well-renowned ‘best’ episode, ‘Blink’. Whilst it is not my all-time favourite, it’s absolutely stunning. It is genuinely terrifying, thinks completely out of the box and gives core memories to children everywhere. Then another three-parter in modern Who with ‘Utopia’, ‘The Sound of the Drums’ and ‘Last of the Time Lords’. John Simms is legendary. The drums and Saxon storyline, is again, genius. So there’s plenty of genius to go around in this season.
I haven’t even mentioned Martha yet, who is one of the most important companions. She actually saves the world, by herself. For her to leave the Doctor willingly makes a change from most other companions. She still shows up in the next season, which I’m glad about, but we’ll get to that.

It’s completely great (bar the Dalek two-parter).

Season 4, 4.5/5

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Donna’s season takes first place – she was brought back in the 14th Doctor’s specials for a reason.

This is the most consistent season of Doctor Who, with seasons 8 and 10 being runners up. It’s better than those seasons though because it is more consistently great, rather than good. It starts off good with ‘Partners in Crime’, ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ (an episode that later ties into the 12th Doctor’s story), ‘Planet of the Ood’ and a completely solid Sontaran two-parter. Also, Martha’s here, so yay!

The only episode that is fine, rather than good, is ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, but that is still a fun watch. Plus, a moment that devastated me as a child and still devastates me now, when a Hath drowns in front of Martha, whose acting is fantastic. I truly enjoy ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ and it’s perfect for a summer’s day watch with a ginger beer or elderflower cordial. But then comes an exceptional stretch of episodes to finish off the season. There’s no 5/5s, so it’s not as good as the Season 3 stretch. But this stretch lasts longer and is not preceded by an awful two-parter, thus this season takes first spot. The library two-parter is scary, unique and gives a vibe no other episode has managed to replicate. ‘Midnight’ is a bottle episode done so right. It contains one of the three most unique villains in the show, alongside the Weeping Angels and the Silence. ‘Turn Left’ is the culmination of the arc of this season and it is impactful, creepy and emotional. Finally, it’s fan-service central and you know what? I’m more than happy about it. It’s Tennant’s last season and it’s Russel T Davies’s last season too (well, at least it was).

Donna’s fate is heart-breaking, so thanks for that Russel. Sure, it’s reverted way later in the series, but it doesn’t heal the pain I suffered when I watched it. Donna is my favourite companion and I love how bombastic, chaotic and evolutionary her dynamic is with 10. They are platonic soulmates. I couldn’t say a negative about this season. It’s simply perfect.

Conclusion

Well, no season of Doctor Who is perfect, nor do I think it ever will be. But even if a season isn’t a ‘perfect’ 5/5, it doesn’t stop this show from having legendary 5/5 episodes and being an all-time favourite. I had a blast watching through the entire thing (almost).

I hope you’ve enjoyed my hot takes, bad puns and overall nerdiness. I do wonder whether Ncuti Gatwa’s first season will take a high spot, or first, on my list. I also wonder how Ruby Sunday will fare against the other companions in my ranking. One thing is for certain: I’m hyped! So to finish in the words of the 15th Doctor in the trailer: “Give me the loving!”

7872

7873