Ask fans for their favorite moments from any story and you’ll get a full spectrum of responses. Some quips, plots, characters, special-effect bits, anything, will rise to the top because of that strange wibbly-wobbly (see what I did there?) force of “meme”-ification.
Other favorites will be all over the place because of personalities and histories. Recently I began viewing the television series Arrow on Netflix, and I strongly identified with the older-brother hero, Oliver. Days later, I was convinced my sister-in-law would share my view — instead she hated what she felt was wooden acting and clichéd plots (at least in the first episode). Some stories are simply straight-up good or bad; others more subjective.
Look for similar responses after this Saturday’s “Day of the Doctor” 50th anniversary special, starring returning Tenth Doctor David Tennant and current Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith. Some will be ready to love it no matter what’s in it; some will be ready to compare it unfavorably to the “good old days” (such as to previous specials); some will be open to a mixture of both.
“Oh, you’ve redecorated?” the Tenth Doctor asks brightly inside Eleventh’s TARDIS; then Ten’s face slips into a scowl: “I don’t like it.” (Trailer.) But the Doctor is a Time Lord who time travels, and time equals change — most notably among the Doctor’s own guises.
So what “redecorations” do fans enjoy most about the revived series, or its 50-year history? Two Christ and Pop Culture writers, Jason Morehead and myself (E. Stephen Burnett), offer our favorites, though limited to new Who. Note that previous journeys in this series have taken a more linear progression; this one is more like a tangled ball of stuff.
Best stories, series 1
Stephen: “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances.” The best of the Ninth Doctor’s stories and the one I have used several times to introduce others to the best of new Who.
Best stories, series 2
Stephen: “New Earth.” Magic inhabits this story, with an unusual “everybody lives”-style finale that’s unusual for dark-sci-fi showrunner Russell T. Davies. Here an aged evil alien is shocked at hordes of chronically sick patients suddenly changing. “Did you kill them, all of them?” she asks. “No, that’s your way of doing things,” the Doctor replies firmly. “I’m the Doctor and I cured them.” He hugs a grateful woman. “New humans! Look at them. Look!”
Jason: “Love & Monsters.” Not one particular scene, but the charming story of a bunch of lonely, mundane humans slowly finding some semblance of community, and indirectly because of the Doctor. (But I could have done without the final “love life” revelation.)
Best stories, series 3
Jason: “Family of Blood.” The moment when The Doctor sentences the Family to their immortality and reveals he is a force not to be trifled with.Jason: “Blink.” This is one of the best recent episodes. It’s scary, clever, and not without a little humor. I love the concept of the Weeping Angels, but I think my favorite scene is the “conversation” that Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale have with the Doctor — or rather, a recording of the Doctor from 50 years ago.
Stephen: The Master trilogy. Series 3’s epic conclusion may have shown the best version of a dispensationalist final “antichrist,” and this thanks to an atheist writer. Here Davies also throws messianic themes over the top with Doctor’s transfiguration/ascension.
Best stories, series 4
Jason: “Midnight.” One of the Doctor’s greatest abilities is being able to talk himself out of any situation. So it’s both fascinating and terrifying to watch an unseen alien presence use that against him, in this suspenseful episode.
Jason: “The Stolen Earth.” This episode is full of action and spectacle. But the most spectacular moment is when we see that Harriet Jones — the former prime minister who had been deposed by the Doctor — sacrifice herself to help him and his friends save the Earth. (Stephen: This was the first new series I enjoyed as a fan, and enjoying seeing all the Doctor’s friends, even those “locked away,” reunited for this story.)
Best stories, series 5
Stephen: “The Time of Angels”/“Flesh and Stone.” This long-awaited expanded return of the Weeping Angels from “Blink” did not disappoint. Some viewers also noticed that in the Doctor’s odd return just after he’d left a paralyzed Amy, the Doctor should not have been wearing that jacket. Turns out this was indeed a very small hint for sharp-eyed fans.
Jason: “Vincent and the Doctor.” When the Doctor and Amy take Vincent van Gogh to the modern era to see his legacy. ‘Nuff said.
Jason: “The Big Bang.” Yes, the Doctor sacrifices himself and reboots the entire universe. But that’s nothing compared to the love and loyalty shown by good ol’ Rory when he takes it upon himself to defend his beloved Amy as she sits for untold millennia in an alien prison.
Best stories, series 6
Jason: “The Doctor’s Wife.” This whole episode is immensely enjoyable, as the Doctor begins to discover exactly how deeply connected he is to his beloved TARDIS.
Best stories, series 7
Stephen: The whole Rory/Amy story, concluding in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” I liked it so much I wrote about it yesterday. Did anyone notice writer Steven Moffat’s set-in-stone answer to the couple’s surname debate? Are they Pond (Amy) or Williams (Rory)? Secular and surely egalitarian writer Moffat can’t resist revealing: Williams. Amy took Rory’s name.
Stephen: Fans just can’t help but let the Who-verse’s inventive quotes and jargon season their lives’ courses. Regeneration (constantly coloring the theological term). TARDIS. It’s bigger on the inside. Run. Fantastic! Allonsy! I don’t want to go. Geronimo! Don’t blink; blink and you’re dead. Ex-ter-minate! De-lete, de-lete. The Master’s four-note drumbeat theme: dum-dum-dum-dum, dum-dum-dum-dum. Sonic screwdriver. Slightly psychic paper. Are you my mummy? Everybody lives! Hello, sweetie. Spoilers, sweetie. You should kill us all on sight. And of course: There’s something that doesn’t make sense; let’s go and poke it with a stick.