Doctor Who returns to our screens next month, and in anticipation we’re ranking our favorite series openers of the reboot era!
The première episode of a new series always has a lot to achieve. It has to set up the arcs and plot twists to come, and (more often than not) introduce us to a new companion, or even sell us on a brand new Doctor. All while also giving us a convincing monster of the week story. It’s no small feat, but thankfully Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat are capable pairs of hands and every series opener ranks among the best episodes of the show’s modern run.
Still, it’s no fun to say “everyone gets a gold star” and join hands singing songs. So, we’ve taken the liberty of ranking the New Who series openers from best to worst. Before we start, a bit of housekeeping: We’re counting every first episode since 2005. We’re also counting “The Bells of St. John” as a series opener, but not “Let’s Kill Hitler.” That’s because series 7b brought us a new companion and series arc, where as the second part of series 6 was merely a continuation of its predecessor.
Okay, time to get on with it – here are our favorite series openers, starting with…
8. ‘Smith and Jones’
Poor old Martha. Following on from Rose, the most popular companion of many Doctor Who fans was hardly an easy job. She wasn’t helped by a slightly lackluster first episode in which a London hospital is transported to the Moon so that the rhino-like Judoon can locate a Plasmavore disguised as a human. The Judoon are fun aliens and provide a fun enough opening romp, but the disguised “Florence Finnegan” falls a bit flat as a series opening antagonist. It doesn’t help that Martha’s first episode is bogged down by all the family baggage either, as the brilliant Freema Agyeman doesn’t get a real opportunity to shine.
7. ‘Bells of Saint John’
“The Bells of Saint John” was the first time that a mid-series opener was used to introduce a new companion – even if we had seen Clara twice before. Unfortunately, the zany, super-intelligent and fiery version of the character we saw in her previous incarnations was replaced by a slightly flatter version in her official debut as the new companion. And while the wireless infections were a nice idea with some nice contemporary satire, the executions fall short with the Spoonheads. Though exciting and fun, the James Bond style stunts is one ingredient too many – and Clara’s first episode (and the Eleventh Doctor’s last opener) ends up feeling rushed and pacey.
6. ‘New Earth’
It might be seen as heresy to have two of David Tennant’s series openers in the bottom three (especially his first non-Christmas episode), but “New Earth” does still have a lot to love. There’s some interesting concepts at play, and it’s great to see the return of both the Face of Boe and Cassandra (the latter providing the new Tenth Doctor a great opportunity to show off his range in a hilarious body swap scene). However, the episode sometimes leans a bit too far on the comedic moments and not enough on the genuine drama that the story presents – missing out on a great opportunity.
5. ‘Asylum of the Daleks’
The series 7a opener featured one of the most shocking appearances of a character in modern Doctor Who history. The only thing is, instead of it being a shocking return, it was the shocking debut of future companion Clara. Or so we thought, until she turned out to be a Dalek and killed herself (taking with her the entire Dalek Parliament’s memory of the Doctor). But it wasn’t just shocks that “Asylum of the Daleks” gave us, as there was also some disturbing body horror and classic Moffat sci-fi concepts. The episode is slightly tarnished by the ham-fisted approach to Amy and Rory’s sudden marriage problems (and sudden reconciliation), but this remains a solid series opener.