10 Doctor Who episodes that defined David Tennant’s time in the TARDIS

For a lot of fans David Tennant's time in the TARDIS marked a golden era of Doctor Who, but which of the Tenth Doctor's episodes was best?

David Tennant's Doctor Who

David Tennant is set to return to Doctor Who this weekend to celebrate the most significant British television series of all time’s 60th birthday, and we couldn’t be more excited.

So, with little to do other than count down the days until Doctor Who warbles its way back onto the airwaves, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the most remarkable episodes from David Tennant’s first tenure in the TARDIS. It was hard work rewatching the best sci-fi series of all time, but it was a sacrifice we were willing to make ahead of the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary special release date.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: The Christmas Invasion

The Christmas Invasion

We couldn’t write this list without including ‘The Christmas Invasion’. Not only does this episode give us Tennant’s debut as the Tenth Doctor (no, we don’t count The Parting of the Ways), but we also get our first glimpse at how charming yet ruthless this new incarnation is when he dispatched the Sycorax leader with nothing but a satsuma.

Honestly, though, the real legacy of this episode isn’t Tennant’s introduction. It’s the fact that ‘The Christmas Invasion’ gave the UK a brand-new Christmas tradition. Sitting down with the family on Christmas day to watch a Doctor Who special!

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: The girl in the Fire Place

The Girl in the Fireplace

If you know anyone who thinks Doctor Who is a kid’s show, then make them watch ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. A heartbreaking episode that mixes science fiction and romance, ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ is a powerful reminder that for all his swagger and arrogance, the Doctor is not a god.

The Time Lord may be a time-traveling genius, but the lesson of this episode is that he’s as vulnerable to the passage of time as we all are, and that means losing those he loves. For me, this is the episode where Tennant became The Doctor, displaying that underneath that cheeky charm and quiffed hair, there was a hidden vulnerability.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: The Satan pit

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

Doctor Who is meant to be scary, but I think most people would admit its modest budget and intended audience means it’s sometimes spooky at best. That said, ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ are legitimately terrifying. The Impossible Planet plays out like a ghost story, with the Doctor stripped of his TARDIS and lost for the first time ever while a seemingly sinister supernatural presence plagues a deep-space base.

The second part, ‘The Satan Pit’, isn’t quite as scary, but it gives us the Tenth Doctor facing his first genuinely formidable foe, The Beast, an ancient deity who supposedly inspired the legends of Satan. Scary, thrilling, and with The Doctor winning in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, it sounds like the recipe for a perfect episode to us.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: Doomsday

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

I don’t like Cyberman stories as a general rule, so the fact I’ve included one on the list of best David Tennant episodes tells you the depth of my feelings towards this episode. This two-parter might have it all.

We’ve got an epic first meeting of the Daleks and the Cybermen, the introduction of Torchwood, and, most importantly, Rose Tyler’s poignant goodbye. If you can watch Ten and Rose’s anguished final moments on Bad Wolf Beach without crying, then well done; you’re made of sterner stuff than me.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: Blink

Blink

The Tenth Doctor might not have a lot to do in ‘Blink’. Still, this episode’s become a fan favorite thanks to its unique approach to storytelling and for introducing the modern series’ most iconic villains, The Weeping Angels.

Honestly, this episode would have probably been remembered fondly even without the inclusion of the angels, thanks in large part to Carey Mulligan’s impressive turn as Sally Sparrow, but the statuesque villains make this one of the best New Who episodes ever.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: Family of Blood

Human Nature/Family of Blood

Another story where The Tenth Doctor barely features, ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Family of Blood’, are probably the episodes that best showcase Tennant’s skill and incredible range as an actor. The fact that you can make the viewer fall in love with John Smith over the course of just 90 minutes is impressive in itself, but what’s truly mind-blowing is how this episode essentially subverts the entire premise of the series.

So often, when you watch Doctor Who, you’re meant to wonder at the Doctor’s adventures and the epicness of the cosmos, but these stories serve to remind us that life is an adventure in itself. There are deadly consequences to the decisions the Doctor makes on a whim, and there’s a sadness to the wandering life he’s chosen.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: Midnight

Midnight

‘Blink’ gets a lot of attention as the scariest episode of Tennant’s run, but I’m sorry, ‘Midnight’ is so much more terrifying. Every episode of Doctor Who has featured the Time Lord talking his way out of trouble, but this is the first time his silver tongue failed him. Midnight’s a twisted psychological thriller that reminds us that as great as humanity can be, when we’re backed into a corner and feel scared, we’re just as terrible as any Dalek or Cyberman.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: Journey's End

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

Season 4 of Doctor Who was unarguably Tennant’s best season, so it’s hardly surprising that ‘The Stolen Earth’ and ‘Journey’s End’ give us the most epic finale in the history of the show at that point. These episodes were basically the Doctor Who equivalent of Avengers: Endgame, with all of the Tenth Doctor’s companions and friends coming together to save the day from the Daleks.

Speaking of which, who could forget Julian Bleach’s unforgettable and bone-chilling performance as Davros, the creator of the mutated menaces? That’s all window dressing, though, for Donna Nobles’ tragic exit from the TARDIS. All of the Doctor’s companions grow through their travels, but few come as far as Donna, and seeing her have all that taken away…well, let’s just say I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

Best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes: Waters of Mars

The Waters of Mars

‘The Waters of Mars’ is a pretty special episode that shows the Doctor finally indulging in his darkest impulses, bending the laws of time to his will, and saving a life he shouldn’t have. It makes for genuinely chilling viewing as the Tenth Doctor’s occasional streaks of arrogance and egotism boil over, and we see beneath the charm a man driven close to madness by the loss he’s endured.

Still, what I like best about this episode is how it’s the selflessness of humanity — specifically one-off companion, Captain Adelaide Brooke, who sacrifices herself to ensure the proper flow of time — that saves the Doctor from his madness. It’s a callback (intentional or not) to An Unearthly Child when the First Doctor was stopped from bludgeoning a caveman to death with a rock by his companion Ian.

A number of Doctor Who fans, myself included, choose to believe that it was Ian’s intervention that set the Doctor on the path to pacifism; after all, if a lowly human knew that killing could never be justified, indeed then a mighty Time Lord has no excuse for committing murder. It’s the same lesson in different eras of the show, and I love how it’s the best of humanity that puts the Doctor on the right track.

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The Day of the Doctor

‘The Day of the Doctor’, which was released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show, might just be the most significant modern episode of Doctor Who. It brings the Time War storyline to a close, it’s got some excellent fanservice (“No, sir! All 13!” will live in my head rent-free forever), and best of all, we get to see the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors hang out.

If you’re excited about David Tennant’s return, then you need to check out our guide ranking all the Doctor’s regenerations or our guide to the best Doctor Who companions. We’ve also got an article breaking down everything you need to know about the Doctor Who season 14 release date, a list of the scariest Doctor Who episodes, as well as a guide on Beep the Meep.

Finally, be sure to check out our list of the best TV series ever made, which may feature a certain Time Lord.