Series 2 Ranked 'n' Reviewed™ by someone with opinions probably
Once Christopher Eccleston popped off at the end of the first series in a stream of CG golden light, in came fan favourite and general lovely man, David Tennant. What followed was a fun monster-of-the-week series that may have peeled away some of the layers of the Doctor and Rose’s relationship last series to make it a more straightforward romance, but that doesn’t mean that the two of them were any worse in the role. Even with its pitfalls, series 2 is still one of my babies and I love it. So here I am, ranking all of the episodes within this baby from Amazing to Lonely Cauliflower Alien. Its sub-babies, if you will.
Heads up, there will be some weird takes in these rankings and not all of them are popular. In fact, a lot of them aren’t. Just warning you off the bat, this is not really the general consensus.
11. Fear Her (2x11)
I’m a simple person. I’m fairly easy to please, especially when it comes to Doctor Who, so you’ll be hard pressed to find many episodes I could tell you I actively dislike. Here is one of those episodes: the strange, the illogical, the bafflingly written Fear Her.
Fear Her is so weird, I don’t even know where to begin. It feels like the product of a liminal space or some indecipherable offering left behind by a trickster god. For a start, the Doctor and Rose are written as if they’re on something strong here. I don’t know if that’s something anyone else has picked up on, but they have this strange energy and are way, way too quippy, at least way more than most other episodes. I swear, if you compare the dialogue in this to basically any other one in this series, you might just notice the fact that the Doctor and Rose are fully off their faces for most of Fear Her’s runtime.
To give this episode some credit at least, the concept isn’t bad. A lonely child given the power to trap people in her drawings by a lonely alien? I can get behind that just fine, no worries. It’s the execution that bugs me. To ensure maximum immersion, they chose the most boring setting to ever appear in a Doctor Who episode and a very, very interesting and cool time jump of a whopping SIX years to give Fear Her an ~otherworldly~ feel. Look, I get that they wanted it to be the Olympics in this and also this was probably written as a budget saver, so I can give it a pass for that, but they then proceed to do basically nothing with the backdrop apart from to crowbar in some offhand ‘love conquers all’ resolution that has no real resonance with me or any of the characters. On the plus side, David Tennant looks really happy holding that Olympic torch.
Speaking of the characters, I think they forgot to write good ones. As is a habit Doctor Who seems to be unable to shake, they give all these ‘troubled alien’ children the same personality trait, and that trait is Autistic. They’re usually socially unaware, isolated, sensitive to touch, sometimes kind of rude. And it’s written as if they’re aliens and that it’s obvious they’re aliens rather than, you know, having an extremely common neurological disorder. Chloe Webber embodies this to the letter, to the point where she even has what mirrors a meltdown when the Doctor starts to talk to the Isolus, and flinches in an extremely typical way when her mother tries to touch her. Autistic coded to the max, she’s only ‘cured’ of her pesky autism when the Isolus buggers off back to its fire pebble. There’s also Chloe’s mum Trish, who doesn’t listen to a single thing anyone says and puts the entire planet in danger while she sits downstairs drooling after Rose explicitly tells her to not sit downstairs drooling and stay with Chloe at all times. There are literally no other characters of particular note in this episode, but there is a shoehorned, wonky abuse plotline forced in there like this episode forces everything and nothing at all good is done with it or the characters.
And there’s another segue! Speaking of forcing things, there are some frankly hilarious leaps in logic that take place in this episode. Namely, the Doctor and Rose begin their investigation on the street, where Rose points out the fact that Chloe just so happened to be looking out of the window when Rose looked round, so she must’ve done it! She kidnapped those children! Even though, at this point, neither of them have any idea about the kid’s picture aspect. I know Doctor Who has some logic leaps sometimes and I’m okay with most of them, but this is a first draft mistake that just rips the suspension of disbelief right out and throws it in the bin.
To summarise, before I write a novel about this, it’s a decent concept that got basically every single aspect of its execution horrifyingly, car crash level wrong. But, another plus, it does contain one of the most unintentionally hilarious lines in all of Doctor Who, courtesy of a newsreader:
“And now we’ll go back to you in the box, Bob… Bob? Not you too Bob!”
10. The Idiot’s Lantern (2x07)
I know this is pretty much universally disliked by most of the fandom, and I really don’t echo that sentiment hugely, I just think this one is Solidly Okay.
The Doctor and Rose in the 50s plays off their fun dynamic really nicely and was kind of the perfect place to put them in terms of a period setting. And contrary to popular opinion, I think the Wire is a decent enough villain! She’s low key creepy, has a pretty singular motive but the decision to use a stereotypical 1950s TV presenter as the face of a carnivorous evil alien is kind of insane in the best way possible.
Beyond that, the side characters are well-implemented, with the Connolly family in particular having a slightly better familial abuse plotline than Fear Her… until the end. I love Eddie’s reckoning, with Rita finally kicking him out of her home and I really felt that was a nice resolution to that arc for Rita to take her life back on her own terms. Only for the episode to throw out all of its goodwill by having the Doctor and Rose basically coerce Tommy into forgiving his actively abusive father by dressing it up behind ‘Lol of course he’s an idiot!!!! He’s your dad!!!’ Like no, Doctor Who, you can use that with dads who make silly jokes or eat all of your crisps, not dads who threaten to beat their children and sell out their mothers in law to the government. There’s quite a difference.
Basically, I’d say this is nothing to write home about. The Wire is decent, Magpie is good, the abuse arc sends me into total emotional whiplash. But this episode isn’t horrible.
9. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday (2x12-13)
I reckon this will be the first pitchforks and torches level take I put in these rankings, and it probably won’t be the last, but I really don’t rate the series 2 finale that much at all. In fact, I find it passable at best and a total slog at worst.
The Daleks and the Cybermen get into an actual fight. An all out skirmish between two of the most iconic villains in sci-fi history! So why am I not more excited? Why am I not enjoying this? I’ll attempt to tell you why. Because this two-parter spends about an hour of its runtime floundering about in the Torchwood building, killing off the odd office worker and making us watch the Doctor talk to some thoroughly uninteresting characters about something to do with a rift. And then when things finally do get interesting, the Daleks and Cybermen have a smack battle for some unknown reason and the whole thing gets wrapped up in about five minutes with a lovely little void-stuff bow on top.
Just to clarify, I don’t hate this. It has its positives, particularly its handling of Rose’s exit (when it finally gets there), as well as the tie-offs for Mickey, Jackie and Pete too. There’s some great emotional resolutions here, particularly with Jackie and Pete’s initial stubborn refusal of each other turning into delight at seeing each other again and, of course, the iconic beach scene that is still a tiny bit of a gut punch 14 years on, even if I’m not much of a Ten and Rose shipper. But its severe lack of good side characters and its pretty insurmountable pacing issues make this a more difficult watch for me.
8. School Reunion (2x03)
I know. Ouch. The Sarah Jane one in 8th place, below The Heathenous Episode no less. Let me explain.
I promise you that Sarah Jane’s presence isn’t what has put this so low. In fact, it probably would’ve been pushed down even further without her, because if there is one thing I love about this, it is the ever-charming, ever-brilliant Elisabeth Sladen. She has a unique and powerful dynamic with each and every character she interacts with, particularly Rose and it really is wonderful to watch their relationship develop from bickering and one-upping to bonding over their many similarities.
Unfortunately, that’s about where my love for this episode ends. Not even a suitably sinister villain guest spot from Anthony Head is enough to lift this out of being totally average. The premise and setting is pretty weak and is only really there to facilitate Sarah Jane’s return. And frankly, possessing a school full of brain-oiled children because you’re giant bat people who want to crack the big computer that God used to make things is totally outlandish even by this show’s standards. And as such, none of it is really interesting to me, because it just completely loses me when it starts talking about the Steak Paradigm or whatever.
Love Sarah Jane. Less love the premise that is both ridiculous and kind of mundane.
7. Love & Monsters (2x10)
Here it is then. The episode you’ve been waiting to see at the very bottom for sometime now. The episode I like more than Doomsday. I suppose a fair question at this point would be: What on God’s green earth is this doing outside of the pit this episode was thrown in 14 years ago?
I see Love & Monsters as an ambitious experiment that didn’t quite get off the ground properly. A Doctorlite episode that revolved around the antics of a quirky group of obsessive Doctor enthusiasts had some weight to it, and most of the characters involved in it were actually pretty good. I thought Elton Pope was a really fun character and I honestly wouldn’t have minded if he’d taken a couple of trips in the TARDIS. Ursula and Mr. Skinner (played by the legendary Michael from Alan Partridge) were fun too. So sure, this is a bit of a weird break from the formula and it wasn’t entirely successful, but I really think Doctor Who has done a lot worse than this before.
Trust me, I share the same opinions on the Abzorbaloff and that horrible paving slab joke as you, but at the same time I remember the scenes with Jackie in that develop her as a person beyond the Doctor and Rose. I remember the intimidating presence Peter Kay has before he becomes the dumb green monster thing. I remember the unique and interesting framing device of Elton’s really awkward vlog that made this way more effective for me. So maybe I’m looking on this a little too favourably, but as a fun experiment that went a bit awry and as a precursor to the superior Doctorlite / Companionlite episodes that came after it, I think it’s time this episode gets removed from the fandom bog it’s been thrown into and given a little bit of appreciation for what it does right.
No, but I’m totally with you, I hate the paving slab joke so much.
6. Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel (2x05-06)
I personally have never found the Cybermen particularly scary. I mean sure, put me in a room with one and I would be, but on the show I always just see them as a passable menace for the Doctor to get all moral about. But I think the way they were reintroduced in the modern show was genius.
First off, I LOVE the design of the new (well, old now, but new then) Cybermen. Cold, metal and actually robotic looking robots with that great big Cybus C plastered on their chests. And as for Mr. Cybus himself, Roger Lloyd Pack plays a massively underrated one-off villain in John Lumic, the dying scientist who’s striving to create the ultimate immortal being to serve his own definition of evolution. The foundation of the Cybermen as a concept was built on the hypocrisy of men like Lumic and it’s played so, so well in this two-parter.
The setting of parallel London is really well-used and posits some probably deep questions about the direction humanity was heading (at least they were deep in 2006 because those flip phones are adorable from the perspective of a serious sci-fi show) and the parallel aspect also gave Rose, and thankfully, finally Mickey, some amazing character moments. Most notably, Mickey reuniting with his gran and crying about the ripped carpet just gets me every single time. As for the side cast, Jake, Ricky, Mrs. Moore and the parallel Tylers hold their own pretty damn well and the factory exploding ending ties it all off nicely.
5. The Christmas Invasion (Christmas 2005)
For an episode that lacks Tennant for most of its runtime, this ranks surprisingly highly. If I’m being completely honest, this isn’t paced brilliantly and has a slight aura of Ridiculous to it, but this was the very first Christmas special the show ever did and I have to be a bit lenient with it.
With the Doctor absent until the last ten minutes, it really is the return of Harriet Jones that elevates this during its downtime, as well as Rose, Mickey and Jackie’s desperate attempts to keep safe and keep the Doctor safe without his help this time. And there are some interesting moments during this, like the initial Roboform attack, and also some slightly more… off moments, like the killer christmas tree that for some baffling reason, Russell T Davies saw as compelling enough to then bring it back again next year.
But this inaugural special really shines in its ending sequence. That realisation that the Sycorax Leader is suddenly speaking English, the camera panning up to the TARDIS and he’s back! And as Tennant once put it in an interview, he doesn’t stop speaking for about five pages and every line is absolute gold. The sword fight climax alone makes up for the slightly shaky first 40 minutes and the moral dilemma slotted in at the end where both the audience and the Doctor realise that Harriet Jones perhaps isn’t the woman we thought she was is intensely good.
But most of all, this episode is a promise for things to come and a promise that the adventures are only just beginning. Cheesy though it may be, the Christmas dinner sequence and the ‘fantastic’ reference are living proof that the Doctor has found a real family and it’s actually heartwarming to see (then that family gets taken away in about 12 episodes, but shhh, he doesn’t know that yet).
4. New Earth (2x01)
Ten and Rose’s first trip out may seem fairly innocuous and tends to be overlooked on most rankings I’ve seen, but I think there’s some really great stuff here that gets glossed over a little unfairly.
While series 3’s return to New New York was probably a little better, the full, unadulterated use of wonderfully creative sci-fi in crafting this setting is really apparent. The layout of the hospital, the CG shots of the city, costume and make-up design for the various patients is so immersive and you can tell the crew did their utmost to make this feel totally alien.
What makes this most interesting for me though is the aspect not many episodes include, and even less include well: multiple villains with differing motives. And, depending on your perspective, there are three different villainous presences in this one, each with its own motive. The Flesh, who want nothing but to be free to live their lives but inadvertently become villains by infecting others. The Sisters of Plenitude, who will protect their dark secret by any means necessary. And of course, the returned Cassandra, who has now gained the ability to possess people or something.
Both David Tennant and Billie Piper get the chance to flex their acting muscles here, with both of them playing camp, overtly glamorous versions of their characters and that never stops being hilarious to me. And sure, the resolution comes a little easily, but I have to give credit to an episode that balances its multiple antagonists so well and has a really well-crafted setting to boot.
3. Tooth and Claw (2x02)
I won’t dress this up. It is literally just a monster of the week episode, no frills, no bells and whistles beyond here’s a monster, here’s Queen Victoria, here’s a big house, go ape. But it just does it so well, I can’t help but be completely immersed in it.
At least for me, there’s some real tension when the characters arrive at Robert’s house after the monks commandeer it. The build-up of the monster through Victoria’s story, Rose’s discovery of Flora in the cupboard, the Host being put in front of the screaming captives, it all does such a great job of building that full-blooded suspense before properly dropping the monster on us. And then when the monster does show up, you get the outer limits of mid-2000s CGI to deliver a werewolf that, while not as impressive as the legendary American Werewolf (because nothing ever will be), still holds up amazingly and was one of the most memorable Doctor Who monsters for me as a kid. There’s also a particular style of cinematography used when showing the werewolf killing someone; full of flashing, ragged, greyed out close ups of claws, fur and pained expressions. That’s how you circumvent watershed rules to deliver some proper horror.
There’s the odd plot wobble here and there when the script seems to forget about the werewolf’s mistletoe allergy and also all the throwaway stuff about the royal family having wolf blood, but this episode’s horror elements are so good I barely even care.
2. The Girl in the Fireplace (2x04)
There really isn’t much to say about this episode that hasn’t already been said, but it is a masterpiece.
Reinette Poisson is an absolute icon. She’s calm, intelligent, witty (and really hot but you didn’t hear that from me) and pretty much the only historical character to have a grasp of what’s going on and putting the sci-fi stuff into a context she can understand without a million questions the audience already knows the answers to. I literally love her so much that I think she’s the character I’m most mad about never becoming a full time companion (except for maybe Nasreen Chaudhry, but we’ll get to her when I rank series 5).
The contrast between the two settings here make for a really varied and diverse backdrop to tell the century-spanning story of some robots who came to a total misunderstanding and an indomitably horny french aristocrat. And boy, does that story just have the most heart-wrenching ending of basically any TV episode ever. It’s a testament to the quality of writing on this show that they can build up a decently written character over about 40 minutes and then write her death so unbelievably well, it makes you care enough to actively weep about it. Or maybe that’s just me.
As well as this, I have been committing a heinous crime that I will stop committing now by no longer ignoring the legendary Murray Gold, whose music through the first 10 series make these emotional, brilliant and epic moments most of what they are. And here, his soft, simple piano melodies are absolutely heart-breaking when combined with shots of people staring off into the middle distance and Reinette’s voiceover of her final letter. It kills me every time I watch it. And I think that’s probably a good thing.
1. The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (2x08-09)
As I mentioned at the top of this ranking, I’m a simple person and I’m easy to please. And nine times out of ten, a good old base under siege story will definitely do the trick. This does every trick. It does all of them.
Like all base under siege stories should be, it’s oppressive, dark, moody and there’s a constant threat of looming danger from all sides. The danger kicks off towards the beginning of the first part and it basically never lets up until the rocket is being towed away from the black hole. And that is thanks in part to the brilliant performances, particularly the Beast, who is terrifyingly manipulative and immeasurably evil both in its imposing voice and excellently animated physical form. The Oods’ (and Toby Zed’s) constant flickering between friendly and unassuming and satanically murderous is just one of many ways this two-parter keeps you on your toes and through its seamless blend of sci-fi horror and biblical horror (two subgenres that barely ever cross over and probably wouldn’t work in many other circumstances), it never stops being tense at the least and horrifying at the most.
Another important element to stories like these is a strong supporting cast. And this story has one of the strongest, most developed and well-acted set of side characters in any Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen. Zachary Cross Flane, Scooty, Ida, Toby, Danny and Jefferson all pull their weight here, with each of them feeling like real people, each of them having their own role to play and each of their deaths feeling meaningful or somehow impactful on the story. There is no cannon fodder here, these deaths are memorable and they hit hard.
And it’s easy to throw around the words ‘satisfying conclusion’ when it comes to Doctor Who, because for sure, most of them are. But this one properly embodies that. The victory feels truly earned and slaved away for and never quite in reach, even when it actually happens, and that tense atmosphere doesn’t let up until the credits roll. This is an absolute masterwork of blending horror genres, of character work, writing and building oppressive environments and creating ideas that endure beyond the death of the villain. They really went for an ambitious angle here, considering they literally tried to explain Satan, and somehow they still pulled it off.
There’s my breakdown of series 2. Got a favourite I sorely underrated? Or a hated episode you thought I rated far too high? Please feel free to let me know with as much vitriol as you can muster. Farewell, children. See you next time for series 3, where I’ll be placing Blink somewhere that isn’t first.
submitted by Eggo66