The 23rd of November marks the 56th anniversary of Doctor Who – a milestone it wouldn’t be close to reaching without the passion and devotion of its incredible fan base. Over the years we’ve been treated to a number of specials that specifically celebrate each anniversary – all of which are obvious choices to re-watch each November.
This year we decided to ask 23 contributors to share with us a story that sums up the magic of the show, no matter how unique or controversial. The results showed us that actually, it isn’t the big celebratory, spectaculars that capture what we love about Doctor Who. In fact, it’s the smaller and more personal stories full of life lessons and heart.
Surprisingly, hardly anyone picked the same story as another. The diversity of options and opinions shows that Doctor Who truly has something for everyone. So, if you’re having trouble picking a DVD from your shelf this anniversary, look no further than these 23 stories special chosen by female, trans and non-binary fans.
An Unearthly Child – @0hmyst4rs
It wouldn’t be a Doctor Who anniversary if you didn’t watch the very first episode, would it? The magic begins in 1963 as two teachers follow their student into a Junkyard to discover more about her, unaware the truth is bigger than they could ever have imagined. The relationship between the characters are wonderfully unique, these brief and chaotic encounters eventually blossoming into a magical TARDIS team. Full of black and white charm and 60’s vibes that makes me nostalgic for an era I never knew, this story is a special one for us all – the very beginning!
The Five Doctors – @Tardis_monkey
The Five Doctors’ was the first-ever Doctor Who story I watched as a kid. It was the most fantastical story with five actors playing The Doctor, a menagerie of companions and a whole load of classic villains. What more could you want from a Doctor Who story that celebrates not only its history, but was in aid of a brilliant cause: Children in Need. It opened up so many doors to the world of Doctor Who and I have never looked back. Thank you, Terrance Dicks and happy anniversary Doctor Who.
Hell Bent – @Clara_paige
I love Hell Bent! It’s perfect for an anniversary rewatch because it packs in so much of what works in Doctor Who. Before Jodie took to the TARDIS, Clara Oswald assumed the role of the Doctor and flew off to have adventures in her own right. What could be more inspiring?
Flatline – @vranouk
From the tiny TARDIS to the iconic “goodness had nothing to do with it” closing line, Flatline is a work of genius that joyfully subverts nearly every rule in the Doctor Who playbook. It manages to turn a very simple concept – The Doctor is trapped and the companion has to get them out – into a thoughtful exploration of Doctor Who itself. The casual horror of the Boneless walking, the joy with which Clara calls herself the Doctor, ‘local knowledge’ Rigsy, the visual gag of the Doctor moving the tiny TARDIS Addams Family-style: all of these are stand-out moments in a near-flawless episode. But perhaps most importantly of all, Flatline is a story about the Doctor and the consequences of being around them. For 45 brilliant minutes, the roles of the Doctor and Clara are reversed, and she is confronted with the impossible choices the Doctor makes every day. Years before the Thirteenth Doctor, it was an absolute joy to watch.
The Husbands of River Song – @FaceofBoaz
I love The Husbands of River Song because it gives us a glimpse into both how The Doctor sees the Companion role, and how a Companion behaves without The Doctor around (as far as she knows). While it’s all great fun, there is still a hurt that permeates – River doesn’t need The Doctor or care about him at all. The eventual revelation that she truly loves him and the counter revelation that he truly loves her is one of the most feel-good resolutions of an episode. Especially knowing that this is River’s last true interaction with the Doctor, it gives us a nice bow on their relationship, echoing her words from The Wedding of River Song – “I can’t let you die without knowing you are loved . . . and by no one more than me.” Watching relationships play out in often unorthodox fashions is one of my favourite elements of Doctor Who, and this episode is one of the best representations of that aspect of the show.
The Woman Who Fell to Earth – @Niamhmakennedy
“We’re all capable of the most incredible change”
After Jodie was announced as the 13th Doctor, I couldn’t watch any of her trailers, or appearances in character, without crying. Bit weird, I’m aware. Turns out I was going through a personal experience just as monumental as the casting, to me, at least. Gender has never quite sat right with me. I didn’t know why, but being a ‘woman’ or ‘man’ felt restrictive and gross. Watching 13 bound onto the TV, improvising her way through saving the world, not only comfortable but rejoicing in her new body and personality while also not giving a frick that it happened to be a woman’s one, showed me the possibilities open to me if I did the same. A few months later, I came out as non-binary, and I’ve never been happier. (And yes, I cried all through the episode. It was awesome.)
Genesis of the Daleks – @abitmeddlesome
Genesis of the Daleks is a story that captivates by the title alone. As the audience, we’ve seen the Daleks but were never given an origin. It begins with the Doctor and his friends dropped into a war to end all wars between two races: the Thals and the Kaleds. We watch as a mad scientist creates the Doctor’s most fearsome foes. Among the chaos, our hero is faced with a terrible choice: with his foreknowledge, does he allow these creatures to evolve knowing what they will become, or does he obliterate an entire race at their birth?
Demons of the Punjab – @NatalieRobyn812
Demons is probably not the first episode that would come to mind when you think of a Doctor Who anniversary rewatch, but for me, it’s a perfect example of a type of story that Doctor Who does so well, yet you’d never really think about it. It’s all about the darkest side of human nature, think about stories such as the Caves of Androzani or Planet of the Ood or Oxygen. But what Demons does differently is provide us with a strong emotional connection to the story and the characters that it has, which leads up to a devastating conclusion. It’s just another case of the show being extraordinarily good at forming a connection with characters we barely know. And yet, it ends perfectly like Doctor Who, with the idea and theme of hope always being there.
Dimensions in Time – @JDenchen
I’ve chosen this story as my entry into essential viewing for 56 years of Doctor Who, not just as it means so much to me on a personal level, but as I genuinely believe there is something for all fans here. If you look past the obvious lack of plot and shoehorned addition of EastEnders, which in fairness are huge things to look past, it has all surviving Doctors of the time, bundles of companion cameos, the madness of the JNT era (after all this was his last story in charge of the show) and the charm of 90s television. This story serves more as a celebration of the series rather than a plot-driven piece.
As far as John Nathan-Turner and David Roden were concerned this was the final legitimate Doctor Who story. I believe it celebrates the series in such a way, not with the plot, or cameos, or Doctors, or references, but the ambition. I believe the same ambition went into bringing the show back and the eventual casting of the first female Doctor Jodie Whittaker. This story is one of those people either love or loathe, and hating it isn’t fair. Don’t take it seriously. Watch it for its comedic and bizarre nature and it’ll make for great viewing. This is why I think it’s perfect viewing to celebrate 56 years of Doctor Who. I’m not saying Dimensions in Time is “Heaven Sent” drama, but that its uniqueness will make a fun viewing.
Boom Town – @HarryLikesSuits
Boom Town may seem like an odd choice of an episode to pick out as one to watch to celebrate Doctor Who’s anniversary, but it’s a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, has great moments for everybody in the TARDIS team, and that allows the viewer to simply enjoy themselves. After all, who could forget Margret the Slitheen’s dinner date with the Doctor? Or the TARDIS defeating her by turning her into an egg? No, it isn’t the most profound story that Doctor Who has ever had, but it’s pure fun – and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what the show is supposed to be?
The Green Death – @IreneWildthyme
The Green Death is to me, a perfect Doctor Who story. Love, environmental justice and fighting for what you believe in. Giant maggots in Llanfairfach lead The Doctor to BOSS and Jo Grant to Professor Clifford Jones, Biologist, expert of fungus, who she would marry by the end of the story. An ending Jo deserved and an adventure that has been long explored throughout the Who universe and continues to thrive, particularly through Big Finish. Mike Yates undercover, Metebelis 3 and The Doctor’s many disguises are all memorable, the most poignant being the subtle exit of The Doctor in Bessie after toasting the happy couple never fails to make one shed a tear. It is truly the end of an era for Pertwee fans but also the beginning of new adventures for The Doctor, Jo and UNIT. That is why this will forever be one of my favourite stories.
Love and Monsters – @strange_cherry
I don’t know any episode as misunderstood as “Love and Monsters”. I know most of you probably cringed when you saw this name in this list. “What is this… thing is doing here? I am here to celebrate Doctor Who!” Indeed you are. But is it not a great way to celebrate Doctor Who than to watch again an hommage to its fans?
L.I.N.D.A. is the most accurate representation of Doctor Who fans you can find… and it comes from the show itself! A group of people with various backgrounds, various hobbies, but united by one passion: The Doctor. Friends sharing many fond moments, even if they have nothing more in common than this Gallifreyan folk. If it is not the quintessence of the fandom, I don’t know what is.
The Doctors Wife – @christawolf94
For me, one of the stories that is a perfect illustration of everything worth loving about Doctor Who is The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman’s first and best contribution to the show. By focusing on the TARDIS and giving her a voice, it changes how we see the show: not just the story a madman (or madwoman) with a box, but the story of two very close friends exploring the universe together. Even when the Doctor hasn’t got any human companions around, they’re never really alone. The TARDIS will always be there, ready to go on another adventure.
Journeys End – @jodieewhittaker
As someone who grew up with the Tenth Doctor and his companions by my side, who fell in love with Russell T Davies’s new version of a very old show, there is no better episode that sums up my love for Doctor Who than Journey’s End. It has threat on the largest scale (the literal destruction of the universe), it has buckets of emotion (who doesn’t cry throughout the final fifteen minutes?) and, most importantly is has the friendships that make Doctor Who the show that is. Nothing celebrates this show, and particularly its revival, better than the display of family in the scene where everyone is towing the Earth back home and it’s the perfect episode to sum up the era of my childhood.
The Holy Terror (Big Finish) – @mumford_98
Listening to The Holy Terror for the first time was an incredibly unique experience. I love the DWM 6 comics and their breezy, fun feel and Holy Terror is able to capture the dynamic between the two leads while still feeling unique thanks to the high concept setting and mesmerizing score. The episode plays with character archetypes ranging from dark fantasy to Shakespeare plays to biblical stories. This gives it an almost theatrical feel and managing to deconstruct said tropes in a way that is both funny and also plays into the ultimate narrative scope of the story; one that’s both powerful and puts much of the story in an entirely new context. The full story manages to be a piece on trauma, parenthood, hierarchy & tradition, the ethics of fiction and a humanistic perspective on the concept of godhood.
Twice Upon a Time – @timelesbians
Twice Upon A Time remembers the First Doctor in a beautifully written story of self-discovery and new beginnings. A perfect anniversary watch, it honours old companions and new alike, honours those who fought for our country, and introduces Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth, the first female aligned Doctor, after a lead up to just who she will be and what she will represent. The Twelfth Doctor meets himself in his first incarnation, both of them refusing a change, and follows their journey as they accompany each other in a story of self-contemplation to wrap up Capaldi’s time on the show. It is heart-warming and heart-breaking, powerful and brilliant, and encompasses everything Doctor Who is truly about.
Vincent and the Doctor – @brittanyplus
Vincent and the Doctor is one of the most quintessential episodes of Doctor Who. Very few episodes capture the heart and warmth of the show, while also reminding the audience that not everything can change. I believe it’s perfect for an anniversary rewatch because it captures the show’s essence. It will leave you feeling warm but heartbroken, just like all the best of Doctor Who should.
Fear Her – @Safarox8
Although it’s not my favourite, Fear Her will always have a special place in my heart because it was, oddly, the first Doctor Who I ever saw. Although I enjoyed it, I didn’t properly discover the show for a few more years and was delighted when I came across the episode once again (“Oh, so *that* was Doctor Who!”). I love the humour and warmth it radiates while dealing with the heavy, and to me, personally meaningful topic of family trauma. That’s what I love about the show; even the most unlikely of stories can make a lasting impression.
Aliens of London/World War Three – @AlexFacemelter
Aliens of London and World War Three as one full story is, in my opinion, one of the most authentic interpretations of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. The Doctor is portrayed more realistically than ever, the alien plot is creative but chillingly realistic, the arc of each character is phenomenal, and the dialogue is beautifully written. The Doctor’s reactions are so truly in character, he wants to experience and be in the middle of history and nothing could be more exciting than watching humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrial life. The character arcs of Jackie, Mickey, and Harriet Jones are realistic and wonderfully clever.
The pinnacle of the story is the Doctor. If the Doctor was a real person, I can bet he would be a lot like he’s shown here. The way he stands unafraid of the aliens and the way he bluffs them and the way he analyzes the fake alien in the hospital room, all of it is perfectly Doctor Who. You may be worried about the fart jokes, and while I hate them with a seething passion, I still think this story is one of the best that Doctor Who has to offer. That’s how good this story is. So if you want to watch some Doctor Who to celebrate its anniversary, I can wholeheartedly recommend this story. It is, in a word, fantastic.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs – @Jessicatzen
Invasion of the Dinosaurs has everything a classic Doctor Who story should have – a big goofy looking monster, UNIT, and a bit of excitement. The best part, I think, is that it’s a true test of loyalty for some of the Doctor’s friends, and without spoiling anything, the Doctor and Benton make a really good duo!
The TV Movie – @bexpls
The TV Movie is one of the first Classic DW stories I watched, and it’s one of my absolute favourites. It’s one of only two televised Eighth Doctor stories, and both of them are amazing, but that isn’t a reason to watch it. As a Doctor Who story, the TV Movie really shines for me because of how different it is, completely unique from the Classic and NuWho runs. It’s one of the best introduction stories to a Doctor and a great exit for the Seventh Doctor, whose scenes are superb. While I adore the Big Finish audios and BBC Books’s Eighth Doctor Adventures series (which people wanting to experience more of the DW Extended Universe should look into by the way), it really does make you wish the Eighth Doctor had more televised stories, because Paul McGann is honestly a delight. It’s a perfect anniversary-celebration story because it highlights the fantastic, often under-appreciated Eighth Doctor in one of his, including all the books, audios, and comics, best stories ever.
Resolution – @FetinSmiles
For me, Resolution is the perfect episode to watch for the anniversary; it’s dramatic, tense, and nostalgic. For the first time in series 11, we find The Doctor faced against a monster from her past. What better way to end the Thirteenth Doctor’s first series than by having to stop a Dalek invasion from happening on Earth? There’s a real sense of danger, especially for viewers who know the history between The Doctor and the Daleks. The Team (Gang? Fam??) work brilliantly together, and the episode leaves us wanting to see what they will get up to next in series 12.
Listen – @lookingfortelos
I got into Who in 2014. Series 8 was the first time I watched live. Also, sad coincidence, 2014 was when my life took a stark downturn. Depression is bad, especially when it’s been brewing for a long time and feeds on your issues with sexuality and gender. And I think that’s why this season of Who in particular stuck with me: not just because it’s really good (although, it is), but also because it was the one that was most helpful to me, personally. “Listen” is a story about how the whole canon of Who, all the mysteries and the lore and the cleverness, ultimately are irrelevant, because what truly matters is that it can be present, in the end, to comfort a crying child. It’s a ghost story where the ghosts are the characters’ own pasts and neuroses, and where they have to find beauty and balance in their inner turmoil. And as someone who was very afraid for a very long time, being told by the Doctor that it was alright – that was invaluable.
Happy 56th anniversary of Doctor Who everybody!
Which episodes will you watch to celebrate? Tweet us @thetimeladies_