Features The Eleventh Hour

Published on January 4th, 2014 | by Nick Kitchen

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The 10 Essential Eleventh Doctor Stories!

We’ve already said a very sad goodbye to Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor (can I just say how hard that was? After all, he is my Doctor…I digress). But in times like these, we get the rare opportunity to look back on the outgoing Doctor’s body of work. And without much further ado, we present the 10 Essential Eleventh Doctor stories, in chronological order.

The Eleventh Hour

As debut episodes for each incarnation of the Doctor go, it would be hard pressed to really choose one that was better than Smith’s.

Doctor Who: Fish Fingers and Custard

It faced seemingly insurmountable odds; new, young, Doctor, new show runner, new companion. All of these things could have ended disastrously. Fortunately, dear reader, stripping the Time Lord to just a mad man in the box, with sparingly used connections to the previous episode, worked in a fantastic way. The episode not only brought us the first appearance of the Ponds, it also gave us plot beginnings that are still being resolved and were resolved in The Time of the Doctor.

The Beast Below

The Beast Below

I’d almost be tempted to let it slip that I think, for a bevy of reasons, this may very well be one of the top 5 stories of Matt Smith’s reign. The Doctor is always at his best when he is placed in a situation where it is nearly impossible to “get it right.” This episode stood in stark contrast to The Eleventh Hour as, very early on in his run, we get a glimpse of the Eleventh Doctor’s wrath (“Nobody human has anything to say to me today!”).

It also reminded us that Doctor needs his companions, as Amy is the one who saves the day in the end.

The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang

“HELLO, STONEHENGE!”

The Pandorica Opens

Of all the characteristics that define the Eleventh Doctor, his incredible speeches probably rank right at the top of importance and this marks the first of them. This incredible two-part Series 5 finale saw the apparent endings of the “cracks in time and space” plot, and was an action-packed ride featuring a stone Dalek, a plastic Roranicus Pondicus, and the drunk giraffe.

Oh, and the end of the universe.

The Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon

The Impossible Astronaut

Any episode that begins with an opening where the Doctor apparently dies has to be mentioned. Furthermore, the episodes did so much to set up the major plot lines of the series (the Silents, Madam Kovarian, etc.) that it would be bordering a crime not to mention it.

The Doctor’s Wife

The Doctor's Wife

This is one of the more divisive episodes of Smith’s tenure; fans either love it or hate it. Neil Gaiman’s debut Who story finally gives a voice and a body to the Doctor’s most loyal companion, the TARDIS. More than a little hard not to feel a twinge of sadness at the end as Idris says goodbye.

A Good Man Goes To War

Strax, Vastra, Jenny, and Centurion Rory – what’s not to love?

dw-s6-goodman-gall8

Also, we finally learn who the mysterious River Song is: none other than the daughter of Amy and Rory Pond! As far as big episodes go, this had a little bit of everything. Some fans think that the River Song reveal came a bit too soon, but I would argue that this was the best spot narratively for the reveal.

Asylum of the Daleks

The Doctor encounters an old enemy in Asylum of the Daleks

Easily the best of the Dalek stories during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure. We get the Ponds having a rocky go of it with their marriage, insane Daleks, and the surprise introduction of current companion, Clara Oswald.

Also, this episode marked the beginning of the “blockbuster” motif that Moffat and company employed in each of Series 7’s episodes.

The Angels Take Manhattan

It's time to say goodbye to Amy and Rory in The Angels Take Manhattan

While this is not the strongest of Weeping Angel stories during Smith’s – or Tennant’s for that matter – run, it is probably the more important one to the overarching story of the Eleventh Doctor.

The Ponds grew to be Smith’s defining companions, so much to the point that he actually ended up as part of their family through marriage to River Song. Thus, the story that saw the Ponds’ swansong has to be included on any list of essential episodes for Matt Smith’s incarnation, even if the Statue of Liberty Angel was impossibly able to move through NYC without being seen (just saying).

The Snowmen

Doctor Who: The Snowmen scored well in overnight audience figures

All of Smith’s Christmas specials have been wonderful, but I’d give the edge to this one in terms of being essential. As the bridge between Series 7.1 and 7.2, the episode gave us a mourning Doctor, having just lost his in-laws to the Weeping Angels. It also saw the return of the Paternoster Gang and the second coming of Clara Oswald.

Oh! And Sir Ian McKellan lending some excellent voice over to the Great Intelligence.

The Name of the Doctor

The Name of the Doctor - feat 1

The Fields of Trenzalore, the Fall of the Eleventh, the question that must never be answered; all teased for three series and we were led to believe that this episode would potentially finally reveal the prophecy and most shockingly, the actual name of the Doctor! Well, we did visit Trenzalore. The Eleventh did sort of fall onto the planet, and the Great Intelligence did ask we what we were led to believe was the question, “Doctor who?” Instead of his name being revealed, we learned that the Doctor had another dark secret – a secret incarnation! One whose crimes were so grave that he lost the right to call himself the Doctor.

Of course, we all know how that played out during the 50th, but that was one heck of a cliffhanger!

Plus, we’ve got to mention that fan-pleasing montage of Clara falling through the Doctor’s time stream.

Honorable Mention: the last 5-10 minutes of The Rings of Akhaten

The Rings of Akhaten 3

So this episode was also rather loved or hated; and while I personally loved it, it was not without its flaws. However, the majestic speech given by Smith to the Sun God is enough to forgive any of the episodes sins… just not enough to make the list proper. Besides, how can you make a list for the Eleventh Doctor that ends at 10?

What do you think, fellow Whovians? Is there another episode that deserved to mentioned instead? Sound off below and share your own list with us!

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25 Responses to The 10 Essential Eleventh Doctor Stories!

  1. avatar Ian Gettings says:

    Rings (you did add the best 5 or 10 mins) was possibly the most in need of script-editing in the history of Who – well, it certainly looks like it. No real sense of jeopardy until about 25 mins in – a decent script editor could have added some earlier on. The rest I agree with, except where is the sublime, wonderful Let’s Kill Hitler! (Beast Below was another miss-step though!) :)

  2. avatar Pauluus says:

    Doctor Who is so subjective when it comes to taste. The beast below is one of my least favorite episodes of all of new gen Who, in fact only Fear her rates lower. Then again I really liked victory of the Daleks so go figure! Each to his own?


  3. This is why I love having different contributors on Kasterborous, each with different viewpoints and tastes.

    There is no way in the world an editor-written list would have included A Good Man Goes To War, the “game changer” episode that everyone saw coming. Yeh, Moffat over-promoted it, but The Almost People should have been the mid-season cliffhanger – that would have really left people wondering. Leaves AGMGTW weaker as a result.

    • avatar Queeneb says:

      Your right it really would have given it way more impacted but sadly they didn’t not do this. Sometimes over all scoping presentation is lost even in the best of tings.

  4. avatar TonyS says:

    And I can’t stand The Doctor’s Wife or The Asylum of the Daleks. The diversity makes for interesting discussions

  5. avatar Geoff says:

    I think The Eleventh Hour is the best opening episode of any new Doctor. A lot is made of regeneration stories but I have a soft spot for new era beginnings and this one is the best of the lot by a country mile, yes it’s even better than Time and the Rani in my view!

    I think there’s a lot to like in Victory of the Daleks too, sure it turns a bit crappy when the new rubbish Dakeks turn up but now we know they’ve been consigned to the same wardrobe as Kamelion I can enjoy the story a lot more for what it is instead of just mourning the proper Daleks like I did the first time I saw it.

    In fact there’s so much good stuff in Matts first year you could have easily added a few more episodes. Vincent and the Doctor is another stand out one for me too.

    • avatar Colin McDonough. says:

      What about The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex? I know Moffat has his haters but I really feel that the Smith era will ,in time, be seen as a really strong period of Who history.


      • The Girl Who Waited is superb and proved what Karen Gillan could do with Amy Pond given some decent material.

    • avatar Lozzer says:

      I’ve always considered The Spearhead From Space to be the best regeneration story, never got The 11th Hour fuss.

  6. avatar drewboynton says:

    Here’s my tops:
    7. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. 6. Vincent and the Doctor. 5. The Lodger. 4. Snowmen.
    3. Asylum of the Daleks. 2. Name of the Doctor. 1. The Day of the Doctor. Honorable mention: The first 20 minutes of Power of 3.

  7. avatar Lynn Haley says:

    Bells of St John reboot has such joy and is self-contained. I find myself revisiting the most!

  8. avatar TonyS says:

    My top ten (in no articular order):- The Eleventh Doctor; The Snowmen; The Day of the Doctor; The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People; Cold War; Hide; The God Complex; Vincent and the Doctor & A Christmas Carol.

  9. avatar Neu 75 says:

    I’ll need to watch them again before making any final judgements on Smith’s era (it’s only just finished). Suffice to say he’ll become momentarily unfashionable as the previous Doctor always is in these circumstances…

  10. avatar lozzer says:

    My top 5 – Hide, Asylum Of The Daleks, Impossible Astronaut (1&2), The Time Of Angels (1&2), The God Complex. I would have included Day Of The Doctor but Matt’s sharing the spotlight so it doesn’t really count.

    Honorable mentions for my two ‘least’ liked episodes of new Who that were screened during this era – The Doctor The Window And The Wardrobe, and The Rings Of Akhaten.

  11. avatar castellanspandrel says:

    Mine:

    The Eleventh Hour – best post-regeneration story with the exception of Spearhead from Space

    Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

    The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

    The Doctor’s Wife

    The Girl Who Waited

    The God Complex

    The Bells of St John

    The Crimson Horror

    The Name of the Doctor

    The Day of the Doctor

    My top 3, in no particular order, are Eleventh Hour, Dr’s Wife and Day of the Doctor. And Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone – it’s a ‘bigger on the inside’ 3!

    I could easily have put Asylum of the Daleks in there, but no exterminations by the Daleks – including lack of action by the old Special Weapons version – made it feel limper than it should’ve been. Similar storytelling concerns with the otherwise splendid Cold War and Hide prevented them from being in the ten.

    I wouldn’t put A Good Man… anywhere near my top 10. Expository writing and not much plot, sub-standard Death Star rip-off.

  12. avatar David F says:

    As well as the stories mentioned above, I love Amy’s Choice. It’s sharp and quirky and does something different from other episodes. I’m convinced the gloomy weather on the location shoot has affected its impact on fandom. If those scenes had been shot in warm sunlight, the whole episode would be held in higher regard.

    I also prefer A Christmas Carol to The Snowmen. I think it’s one of Moffat’s most brilliantly judged pieces of writing. Probably the best of all the Christmas specials.

    The Beast Below, meanwhile, may be undercooked (it’s obvious the design team, not to mention the actors, had yet to find their feet) but it contains more interesting sociological ideas than (I’d argue) any other Doctor Who story, and for that reason I never tire of it.

    This is the thing with Doctor Who. There are great episodes, and disappointing episodes, and always will be as a consequence of the flexible format. But no two fans will ever agree completely on which episodes qualify for which column.

  13. avatar Christine says:

    I just love A Good Man goes to war, if only for the lovely introductions to the Paternoster gang (not known as such at the time)…and Victory of the Daleks is one of my favourites too because of the wonderful tea-tray Dalek (never mind the not so wonderful new paradigm daleks). The rings of Akhaten is one of the ones I tend to revisit quite often too.

    It is nice to see that the opinions differ a lot among the reactions. I’m not an idiot after all, it seems, for liking Rings and Victory. There are others who enjoyed them too!

  14. avatar David F says:

    I just reread Nick’s article, and have to say I’m surprised by the Rings Of Akhaten comments. I had exactly the opposite reaction. The first half of the story is largely beautiful, but as soon as the Mummy is set aside and the Doctor starts railing at a sun that fails to make the basic dramatic contribution of speaking back, my interest dwindles.

    My feeling is that it’s Matt Smith’s worst scene as the Doctor. That he seems to be going through the motions, on a script that doesn’t inspire him. Which is something you can rarely say about him. It’s one of only three new-Who sequences I can’t bear to rewatch (along with the Olympic torch nightmare and the Dorabella copout).

    But I remember the old days, when mainstream audiences stopped loving Doctor Who. So every time I dislike an episode, I pray that everyone else likes it so that it won’t be cancelled. Glad other people got more from it than I did.

  15. avatar Jim McLean says:

    It’s always odd and curious to see such diversity in opinion. Such commentary never sways our minds, but it does make us think as to why we personally like or dislike certain episodes. Ten is tough for me, as I’ve said on countless podkasts, River Song sadly ruined some potentially good stories thanks to the way she was written, and the lack of chemistry I personally found she had with Matt Smith. It’s not for want of rearing up that old topic, she’s a fan marmite, but it certainly ruined Smith’s era for me, which is my loss. Ultimately episodes such as Impossible Astronaut, which were interesting and filled with a formidable foe, are not ones I’d recommend to a “younger James McLean” as to what he’d find essential in Smith!

    Mine would be as follows:

    Vincent and the Doctor – a slow amble that pays off in dividends at the end, marred only by the terrible last scene where Vincent signs a painting to Amy – another example of Doctor’s desperate need to underpin the importance and worth of a companion. This story is about Amy, not Vincent, don’t need to twist its emotional root.

    Amy’s Choice – yes, the monster’s are very naff – a good idea on paper I suspect, but the story structure and idea are quite brilliant, with some moving moments and a great sense of tension coming from Smith. Yes it’s an Amy episode, but Smith is the one who shines throughout.

    Bells of St John – best season opener since Time and the Rani. I jest. Since Remembrance of the Daleks. Witty, well paced, contemporary and really showing Moffat doing a really bang on opener. Pretty faultless for me.

    God Complex – claustrophobic, atmospheric with some great character scenes between the Doctor and Rory.

    Cold War – probably the closest to the old show Smith has got. Marred a little by the Ice Warrior revelation – I think Ice Warriors should be Judge Dredds and the audience never sees beneath their helmets. I had to guess what Ice Warriors looked like as a kid, so should kids! Also I think the old fashioned “warrior code” is a little too on the nail. I know this really found its birth in the books, but I don’t see why alien soldiers can’t be just soldiers. They were in the original stories, but either way, good solid entertainment.

    Day of the Doctor – it’s essential, right? So needs to be in there.

    Death of the Doctor – it’s an eleventh Doctor story, and a brilliant one. Deftly written by RTD, has Smith being brilliant and SJS and Jo Grant being excellent. Loads of little continuity references.

    Time of the Doctor – yes we did bang on it for various issues, but all in all, in terms of Smith’s era, it tied up a lot of loose ends, played a good hand of monsters without feeling superfluous and is very relevant to Smith’s era.

    The Doctor’s Wife – if we ignore the excited fanwankydanky love of a TARDIS episode, this is a good little slice of Sci-Fi. Rory’s TARDIS situation is pretty horrific, Idris is perfectly cast and performed and the Doctor gets a little bit of rare drama for this period of Smith’s tenure. Solid.

    The Girl Who Waited – the best of Smith’s era. Smart, chilling and the singular story in Doctor since perhaps McCoy where you could cast the Doctor as an antagonist. His choices are cold, brutal and unforgiving. First time story I’ve seen where the “wiping out future versions” is treated honestly and we see an older Amy, as valid as the younger one, not wishing to die – and why should she? Especially after she’s endured years of waiting – why should she be removed? Society is very pro-vitality of youth. If you die young – or pretty, you’re given pity modifiers – its far worse to die at 18 than 28 – or 58. Sorry, I don’t agree. Death is sad, scary and immutable regardless of the age. Old Amy had lived through hell, she deserved life imo more than young Amy. She’d fought tooth and nail to deserve freedom. Are we saying a man who is imprisoned for 20 years is less deserving of freedom than a young 20 year old who hasn’t suffered? Surely the right to freedom and life should be the same and equal for all? And that’s the beauty of this episode – it pits this fundamental question to the viewer and the answer isn’t right, it isn’t just and it is very brutal and honest. You don’t feel for the Doctor, you feel for Rory, and you certainly feel for Amy. Brilliant, simply brilliant Doctor Who.

    Bubbling under?
    Eleventh Hour – no, I don’t think this is a great Doctor Who opener. I think its smart in some respects, but plays a lot of Moffat’s tropes, which for his first story seems a little predictable – but it is ALMOST essential Smith as it’s his first. Amy’s background doesn’t gel either and continues not to gel. A pushy, sassy village girl whose a kissagram about to marry a beta male nurse? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, but none of it sells me as to who Amy Pond is. However if we ignore that, and how the script really is a bit too pushy in proving how she’s the Doctor’s equal (what, slamming his tie in a car door to get him to explain why the World is about to end when the World is about to end? Does that make me like her or think she’s a bit of a pushy, self focused idiot?). I quibble and moan, but structurally its interest, with some fun moments between young Amy and the Doctor, a good antagonist and a fun opening to a new era.

  16. avatar Victor says:

    Lots of good in there, but no Time Of Angels/Flesh and Stone? It’s one of the very finest modern Who stories!

    • avatar Victor says:

      Apart from that Angel’s two parter, others not on this list I’d give special mention to would include ‘Hide’, ‘The Girl Who Waited’. ‘Vincent and The Doctor’, ‘The Crimson Horror’, ‘Lets Kill Hitler’, ‘Day Of The Doctor’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Victory of the Daleks’.

      Basically, there has been a lot of brill Who featuring Smith!

      • avatar Philip Bates says:

        Seconded!

  17. avatar Victor says:

    Ooh! and a little shout out to another overlooked goodie from Mr Gatiss, ‘Night Terrors’. If that hadn’t have come directly after War/Hitler and all the revelations there-in, I think it would have fared much better in peoples memories. Instead, because it seemed to ignore what had just gone on, it felt ‘wrong’ and so was looked upon too harshly.

    • avatar castellanspandrel says:

      I’m not sure that was the reason, Victor. Maybe people just didn’t like it that much.

      I quite liked Night Terrors in a Mind Robber-type of way, but got tired of the rehashed ‘parent-child’ obsession that’s underpinned a lot of stories since The Empty Child, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  18. avatar Ian Cundell says:

    I would swap out your honourable mention (fine as it is) for the last 8 mins or so of Vincent & The Doctor, as Amy realises that she can’t help – can never help, but I might be biased, since the whole episode was an fine and age-appropriate exploration of mental illness as you will see. (http://vaguedisclaimer.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/knowing-why-we-cry/ and http://vaguedisclaimer.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/a-little-light-for-the-blind-and-invisible-monster/)

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