It’s been over a decade since the reboot of Doctor Who premiered and introduced a new generation of fans to the long-running sci-fi series. With more than 100 episodes in the modern series alone, it’s easy for some great stories to get overlooked. Everyone has their favorites, but we wanted to shine a light on some enjoyable episodes that don’t get as much attention as they should.
For this list, we didn’t include episodes that are widely considered by critics and fans to be the best of the series. So while we love “Blink” and “Vincent and the Doctor” as much as you do, they aren’t on here. We also stayed away from major “event” episodes like premieres, finales, and specials. The next time you’re having a marathon or introducing a friend to the show, consider giving these episodes a second look.
With the beginning of Doctor Who‘s ninth season just getting underway, here is Screen Rant’s list of 10 Underrated Doctor Who Episodes.
Dalek (season 1)
Season 1 of the modern Who was a bit uneven, as the show was still trying to find its footing, but “Dalek” is a standout. It reintroduces viewers to the Doctor’s (Christopher Eccleston in the first season) greatest enemy, who he thought he had completely wiped out in the Time War. He’s shocked to find that a Dalek – a cone-shaped robot of the kind that went up against the Doctor several times in the older, budget-challenged days of Doctor Who – still exists, chained up in an underground bunker.
While the Daleks are the most well-known of the Doctor’s foes, their clunky appearance makes it difficult for them to seem scary. But when this Dalek escapes and starts killing everyone in sight, it becomes a real threat. Eccleston brings out the Doctor’s darker side as he expresses his hatred for the monsters that destroyed the Time Lords. But the Doctor has more in common with the Dalek than he thinks, and this comparison offers a deep insight into his character.
Father’s Day (season 1)
This episode tackles one of the biggest consequences of time travel – changing the future. It also explores the concept of paradoxes, something that the show becomes much more lax about in later series. The Doctor’s (still played by Eccleston) faithful companion Rose (Billie Piper) was a baby when her father died, and now she has a chance to prevent that from happening. When she goes back in time and saves her dad, she creates a paradox and causes dragon-like creatures called reapers to appear and attack.
Rose realizes what she’s done, and that the only way to fix it is to let things happen as they were supposed to. Even with all the sci-fi elements, it’s the smaller, more personal moments that make up the heart of Doctor Who. “Father’s Day” is an example of the show nailing those emotional moments from early on.
School Reunion (season 2)
This episode is a nostalgic one for longtime fans as the Doctor (now played by David Tennant) reunites with a former companion from the original series, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). They are both investigating a school where the students are abnormally smart. Sarah Jane, while happy to see the Doctor again, is still a little upset that he left her behind all those years ago.
Rose initially feels some animosity towards the prior companion, as she realizes that she’s not the first woman to travel with the Doctor. But the refreshing thing is that these women choose to stop competing and instead bond over their experiences as companions. “School Reunion” is a great mix of old and new Who, and led to Sladen starring in her own spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. And let’s not forget about the return of the robot dog K-9, who saves the day, as expected.
Gridlock (season 3)
Only Doctor Who can make a traffic jam exciting (see “Gridlock”). Your daily commute may suck, but imagine being stuck in your car for years. In one of her first outings as a companion, Martha (Freema Agyeman) gets kidnapped while visiting New Earth. She gets taken by a couple that needs another person in their ship to move into the fast lane (which is still really damn slow). The Doctor has to jump from ship to ship to rescue her, and learns the truth about the endless traffic.
Martha is a criminally underrated companion, even by the Doctor himself. He’s still recovering from losing Rose, but Martha refuses to be treated like a replacement. When she demands to know the truth about The Doctor’s past, he begins to open up to her. This is when the Doctor starts to treat Martha like a proper companion.
Midnight (season 4)
While “Blink” gets all the credit for being one of the show’s scariest installments, “Midnight” gives it a run for its money. Despite taking place almost entirely within a small shuttle stranded on the planet Midnight, this bottle episode still manages to be thrilling. Usually the Doctor can see the monster he’s facing, but this time he’s up against an invisible threat. A mysterious entity causes the shuttle to break down and possesses one of the passengers.
As the situation escalates, the other passengers conspire to throw the possessed traveler off the ship. Companionless, the Doctor tries to convince the group to not resort to murder. The Doctor always prides himself on being the smartest person in the room, who can take control of any situation. In this case, his cleverness causes the rest of the group to turn against him, and makes him a target of the monster as well. This incredibly intense episode explores the fear of the unknown and the desperate lengths people will go to in times of panic.
Amy’s Choice (Season 5)
The Doctor (now played by Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan), and Rory (Arthur Darvill) begin alternating between two dangerous scenarios in “Amy’s Choice”, continually falling asleep in one and waking up in the other. In one world, they are being attacked by aliens disguised as senior citizens, and in the other they are freezing the death in the TARDIS. They have to figure out which is the dream and which is real in order to stay alive.
This decision mirrors a choice that Amy is forced to make between her former imaginary friend and her fiancé. Does she want to have madcap adventures with the Doctor or a quiet life with Rory? The theme of Amy deciding between the two men in her life comes up again in subsequent seasons (and gets old after a while – why does she even have to choose?) But this episode deals with the issue in an exciting way, and makes it clear that while Amy loves them both, her heart truly belongs to Rory.
The Lodger (season 5)
The regular tasks of human life – like paying rent and dealing with roommates – are completely foreign to the Doctor. Putting him in these everyday situations only emphasizes his alienness, often to comical results. “The Lodger” is a more lighthearted episode, as the Doctor pretends to be human for a few days when Amy is trapped in the TARDIS and unable to land.
He rents a room from Craig (James Corden) to investigate the strange happenings on the floor above his apartment that are affecting the TARDIS. Although he tries to be normal, living with the Doctor is as strange as one would expect. Craig thinks that his new roommate is ruining his life, but he actually winds up making it better. This is one of the show’s funnier episodes due to the back-and-forth between Smith and Corden. It’s no surprise that Craig ended up making a return appearance in the next season.
The God Complex (season 6)
Despite a creepy hotel setting and an interesting examination of fear and faith, “The God Complex” is often overlooked. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves in a hotel with ever-changing rooms, which is actually a prison for a minotaur. People who have a deep faith in something appear in the hotel, and are drawn to the room that houses their biggest fear. After entering the room, they become possessed and start praising the beast, who attacks them and feeds off their faith.
The problem is that Amy has had an unshakable faith in the Doctor since she was young. To protect her from the beast, the Doctor has to break her faith in him by making her understand that he’s not a hero. It’s heartbreaking to see him admit these painful truths about himself to his best friend. This incident also makes the Doctor realize that he can’t keep putting Amy and Rory in danger, because one day they might not survive.
The Caretaker (season 8)
Unlike most companions who leave everything behind to travel full-time with the Doctor, Clara (Jenna Coleman) instead tries to juggle both her crazy adventures and normal life as a teacher. She’s also keeping this double life from her boyfriend, Danny (Samuel Anderson), who also teaches at the same school. This difficult balancing act becomes even more complicated when the Doctor (now played by Peter Capaldi) shows up at her school posing as a janitor in “The Caretaker”. He’s trying to stop a killer robot, but his actions end up revealing Clara’s secret to Danny.
The Doctor is immediately dismissive of Danny because of his prior occupation as a soldier. This kind of prejudice is unusual for the Doctor, and it creates a rift between him and Clara. Clara’s life doesn’t completely revolve around the Doctor, and she’s not always going to take his side. This episode highlights Capaldi’s ability to be a sterner, colder Doctor while still being humorous. It’s also a great example of how Clara gains more agency as a companion throughout this season.
Flatline (season 8)
“Flatline” pretty much confirms that a female Doctor would be awesome. When the Doctor is stuck inside a shrunken TARDIS, Clara fills in for him to take on two-dimensional creatures that flatten everything in their path. Not only does this episode feature a unique monster, but it also looks at the challenges that come with being the Doctor.
As Clara gains some companions along the way, she feels responsible to keep them alive. She’s under pressure to save everyone and to bring out the best in her companions. Her leadership and quick thinking saves the day, and the Doctor respects how she handles the situation. But he knows how constantly having to make the tough choices can harden someone, and he doesn’t want Clara to become too much like him. He admits that she makes a great Doctor, but he’s not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing.
“Planet of the Ood” (Season 4) – The Doctor and Donna (Catherine Tate) save the Ood from being forced into servitude. The discussion of slavery gives the episode a social message.
“The Beast Below” (Season 5) – This is the first proper adventure with the Doctor and Amy, and demonstrates why they make a great team. Plus, there’s a space whale.
“The Rings of Akhaten” (Season 7) – This episode deserves a mention just for the gorgeous scenery alone. It also features a great speech by the Doctor, and gives Clara a chance to shine as a new companion.
Do you have a favorite episode of Doctor Who that’s underrated? Let us know in the comments! If you haven’t already, take a look at our Doctor Who Viewing Guide along with our review of the Season 9 premiere.