Doctor Who: David Tennant’s Best Episodes

Blair Marnell
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TV Streaming Doctor Who Sci-Fi

This week, Doctor Who kicks off the franchise’s 60th anniversary with “The Star Beast“, the first of three specials that will bring back two of the show’s most popular stars: David Tennant as the Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. It’s also the first time that Tennant and Tate have appeared alongside each other on this show since 2010.

However, Tennant’s history with the Doctor goes back even further to nearly the beginning of the Doctor Who revival in 2005. At the end of the first season, Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor regenerated into Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. Tennant stayed with the series over half a decade across three full seasons and various specials. He helped Doctor Who find a new generation of fans, and Tennant even returned for the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”

Given Tennant’s love for the role, it wasn’t a surprise that he agreed to come back for the 60th anniversary specials as well. The real shock was in the way that it happened, as Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor regenerated into a Fourteenth Doctor who looks just like Tennant’s Tenth Doctor – only about 13 years older. The mystery of why this happened has yet to be explored, but “The Day of the Doctor” established it as a possibility when the Fourth Doctor performer, Tom Baker, appeared as the Curator, a future incarnation of the Doctor.

For now, we’re celebrating the return of Tennant by looking back at his best Doctor Who episodes from 2005 to the present. And by the time that the new Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials have premiered on Disney+, starting on November 25, we may have some new favorites as well.

“The Girl in the Fireplace”

Season 2, Episode 4

In the original series, and for most of the revival as well, the Doctor isn’t the type of person to easily fall in love. But in “The Girl in the Fireplace,” the Doctor falls hard for Reinette (Sophia Myles), the famous Madame de Pompadour, when he and his companions discover that she is being attacked through time by Clockwork Droids on a spaceship in the 51st century that want to harvest her brain.

Because the androids have opened time windows to multiple points in Reinette’s life, it’s like she and the Doctor have known each other for years. It’s a courtship that happens in both the blink of an eye for him and in a lifetime for her, only to end when one last trip back to the past comes after her death. Seeing heartbreak on Tennant’s face was a new experience for Doctor Who fans. And it wouldn’t be the last time.

“Army of Ghosts” / “Doomsday”

Season 2, Episodes 12 and 13

Through the first two seasons of the show, the Doctor grew so close to Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) that it felt like there was almost a romance between them. During one of their recurring visits to the present in “Army of Ghosts,” the Doctor and Rose discovered a Cybermen invasion that inadvertently unleashed an invasion by the Daleks as well.

This led to a devastating war between the Cybermen and Daleks in “Doomsday” that threatened to tear apart the entire world. The Doctor and Rose saved the day and healed the Rift between worlds that allowed the Cybermen to come to Earth. Unfortunately for both, Rose was trapped on an alternate Earth and seemingly unable to see the Doctor ever again. The Doctor and Rose’s farewell message is just devastating, and one of the rare times we’ve ever seen the Doctor cry.

“The Runaway Bride”

2006 Christmas Special

Luckily, Donna Noble came along to keep that heartbreak from overwhelming the Doctor. Literally moments after saying goodbye to Rose, the Doctor found Donna transported to the TARDIS in her full wedding gown, having left an entire church full of her family and friends puzzled by her disappearance.

The Doctor and Donna weren’t exactly fast friends in “The Runaway Bride,” but there was an unmistakable chemistry between them as they tried to figure out how she was put in the TARDIS and why. Tate didn’t stick around for the third season, but she did become the Doctor’s regular companion in Season 4.


Season 3, Episode 10

Tennant’s Doctor is barely in this story, but there’s no roundup of Tennant’s best episodes that would be complete without Blink. It’s one of the best standalone episodes in Doctor Who’s 60-year history. Years before she headlined Promising Young Woman, Carey Mulligan played Sally Sparrow, a young woman who was getting strange messages from the past by the Doctor, whom she had never met.

Because the Doctor was trapped in the past without his TARDIS, he needed Sally’s help to get it back to him. First, Sally had to survive the Weeping Angels, terrifying aliens who resemble statues. The twist that makes the Weeping Angels such fantastic monsters is that they’re only statues when you’re looking at them. If you look away, or even blink, they strike incredibly quickly. The Tenth Doctor’s “don’t blink” warning for Sally was also one of his most memorable speeches.

“Time Crash”

Children in Need short

Although Time Crash is only a five minute short story, it’s a delightful blast from the past as Peter Davison reprises his role as the Fifth Doctor, and Tennant’s Tenth Doctor absolutely fanboys over his previous self. It’s a very dialogue heavy short, but just watching the two Doctors share the screen made it an unforgettable experience. After all, who else but the Doctor can say “I’m very welcome” after being thanked? The only way this could have been better is if it had been a full-length episode.

“Voyage of the Damned”

2007 Christmas Special

The setup for Voyage of the Damned sounds ridiculous at first. The TARDIS crashes into the starship Titanic, where the Doctor meets the woman who seems destined to be his next companion: Astrid Peth (Kylie Minogue). Of course, Minogue wasn’t going to be making a full-time series commitment. But it’s really fun watching Astrid and the Doctor play off each other as they try to save the passengers on this doomed ship.

Unfortunately, Astrid was one of the passengers that the Doctor couldn’t save. And that was another loss that heavily affected Tennant’s Doctor.

“Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead”

Season 4, Episodes 8-9

These episodes featured the first appearance of Alex Kingston’s River Song, one of the only women that the Doctor has ever loved. But at this point in time, the Tenth Doctor is completely mystified by the woman who has her own sonic screwdriver and knows everything about him, even his real name.

Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” also had a truly scary threat with the Vashta Nerada, beings who hid in shadows and darkness that could devour a person to the bone in seconds. This episode also had one of Doctor Who’s trademark heartbreakers as River realizes that the only way to save the Doctor is to sacrifice herself.

“The Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End”

Season 4, Episodes 12-13

This two-part season 4 finale, “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” was like The Avengers for Doctor Who characters, as all of the revival series’ previous companions, Rose, Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), Martha Jones (Freema Agryeman), as well as classic companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), and the popular Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), as well as other characters from Saran Jane and Jack’s respective spinoffs, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.

The Daleks were truly universal threats in this story, thanks in large part to the long-awaited return of their creator, Davros (Julian Bleach). It’s truly special to see all of the companions united alongside two versions of Tennant’s Doctor. This story also ended on a tragic note as the Doctor was forced to wipe himself from Donna’s memory or else she would have perished from the Time Lord knowledge in her head.

“The End of Time Part 1″ / “Part 2”

2009-2010 Specials

If you’re able to perform a good David Tennant impression, say “I don’t want to go!” to the Doctor Who fans in your life and see what kind of reaction you get. Tennant may have been ready to move on from the role, but the Tenth Doctor clings to his life in The End of Time even as the Master (John Simm) and the Time Lords return.

The brilliant part about these episodes is that Tennant’s Doctor was put in a no win situation of either killing the Master and sending Gallifrey back into the void or by murdering the Time Lord President Rassilon (Timothy Dalton) and potentially leaving the Earth to be destroyed by Gallifrey’s return. Thankfully, the Doctor finds a third way, and saves his soul but not his body. Tennant’s farewell to the role is still one of the most stunning regenerations that the series has ever done. But that wasn’t the end for Tennant’s Doctor.

“The Day of the Doctor”

50th anniversary special

Despite leaving the show three years earlier, Tennant signed on to return for “The Day of the Doctor.” opposite his successor, Matt Smith, as the Eleventh Doctor. Smith and Tennant turned out to be a truly hilarious comedic duo, and their interactions alone would have made this an all-time great episode.

Yet “The Day of the Doctor.” went above and beyond expectations by introducing John Hurt as the previously unknown War Doctor who had fought in the Time War that destroyed Gallifrey. Bringing the three Doctors together helped them deal with their part in the destruction of their homeworld, only to realize that fate had given them all a second chance to get it right. “The Star Beast” and the other 60th anniversary specials will have a long way to go to top this one.

Blair Marnell
Freelance writer for almost every major geek outlet, including Fandom!