Here's our ranking of every Doctor's debut season in Doctor Who since the show returned in 2005. Every new actor to be given the honor of portraying Doctor Who's iconic titular Time Lord has brought a new flavor to the role and, with such a feverish and passionate following looking on, it's important to make a good impression. Some actors take a few episodes to settle into the part, others have started strongly only to falter over time, while a talented few have managed to be consistently brilliant throughout their tenure.
However, the strength of a Doctor's debut season isn't solely down to the actor playing the character. The quality of the stories on offer is equally as important, as is the chemistry with the companions and the effectiveness of the villains. Since Doctor Who returned in 2005, not a single season could be considered a failure and, similarly, each of the five Doctors has resonated with the audience in some way. Nevertheless, each season has had distinct highs and lows and perhaps never more so than during each regeneration's fledgling year.
Taking into account everything from acting and characters to stories, villains and direction, here is a ranking of each modern Doctor's debut season, now that Jodie Whittaker's first run has wrapped up.
5. Matt Smith (Season 5)
Very few Doctor Who fans would dare suggest that Matt Smith wasn't a great Doctor. The young actor re-introduced a quirky, geeky side to the character that was largely absent in David Tennant's more heroic portrayal, but did so while exuding a wisdom far beyond his years. It was during Smith's tenure that Who began to take off on a more international level and the Eleventh Doctor would later go on to star in a number of classic stories. Unfortunately, things took a while to get going.
With a new Doctor, a new companion in Amy Pond and Steven Moffat taking over as showrunner, 2010 was all-change in Doctor Who for the first time since the show's return. Things began brightly enough with solid season premiere "The Eleventh Hour", a story that introduced audiences to the new cast using Moffat's signature mix of action, humor and honoring history. Follow-up episode "The Beast Below", on the other hand, was roundly panned by fans and even Moffat himself, who openly counts the story among his weakest. While the following week's "Victory of the Daleks" was a big improvement, it's largely remembered for attempting to introduce the misguided Power Ranger Daleks, a gimmick long since abandoned.
Happily, season 5 eventually kicked into gear, bringing back fan-favorite Moffat creation River Song, delivering the heartfelt "Vincent and the Doctor" and concluding with the thrilling double-header of "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang", by which point Matt Smith had really started to settle into his fez and bow-tie.
4. Peter Capaldi (Season 8)
Many have said that Scottish actor Peter Capaldi was born to play the Doctor, but those same fans might also claim that Twelve didn't get the amount of quality stories his performance deserved. Indeed, it would've been fascinating to see how his Doctor would've fared if he had stayed for one more season and worked under Chris Chibnall.
Capaldi's debut season, much like his TARDIS stint as a whole, was consistently entertaining but lacked the amount of standout episodes that Tennant and Smith seemed to enjoy. The two-part finale "Dark Water/Death In Heaven" and the season's obligatory creepy offering, "Listen", are perhaps the only two episodes that linger in the memory. Elsewhere, "Robot of Sherwood", "Time Heist" and "Mummy on the Orient Express" are all brilliantly entertaining adventures and the season-long arc that revealed Missy as The Master was well-worked, with Michelle Gomez's villain giving Doctor Who a welcome dose of insanity.
One of the most prominent criticisms of season 8 was the heavy focus on Jenna Coleman's Clara Oswald and after the "Impossible Girl" arc that dominated Matt Smith's final run, this stance was perhaps justified. Season 8 will likely be remembered more for Capaldi's captivating performance than for the strength of the individual episodes, but take away "In the Forest of the Night" and what's left is still a hugely entertaining set of stories.
3. Jodie Whittaker (Season 11)
Doctor Who season 11 represented the biggest overhaul in the history of the modern series. Chris Chibnall replaced Steven Moffat and introduced the show's first female Doctor, along with no less than three new companions and fresh approaches to music, direction and story. Prior to the season premiere, much of the discussion revolved around the Doctor's gender but it didn't take long for Whittaker to win viewers over, proving her Time Lord credentials beyond doubt and swiftly decimating any notion that the Doctor should only ever be male.
While the Thirteenth Doctor has been almost universally praised, however, the episodes themselves have attracted more of a mixed reception, especially when it comes to the season's distinct lack of villains. Under Steven Moffat's direction, Doctor Who featured plenty of returning foes and, as a result, the impact of monsters such as the Daleks and the Cybermen lessened over time. Chris Chibnall responded by delivering a season that was more or less entirely self-contained and featured no villains from Doctor Who history.
The intention behind this is clear; give the Daleks and co. a rest and, when they do finally return, it'll feel like a far bigger deal. However, many viewers felt that if the classic villains were going to put aside, they should've at least been replaced by interesting new ones. Ultimately, the only worthy baddie in season 11 was the Stenza Tim Shaw (T'Zim-Sha), whose appearances book-ended the season. Antagonists from other episodes were either too brief to be of note, misunderstood rather than evil or just regular old humans.
Nevertheless, the chemistry between the four leads proved a winning combination and stories such as "The Woman Who Fell To Earth", "Rosa" and "It Takes You Away" struck all the right emotional notes, while romps like "Kerblam!" and "The Witchfinders" provided action and excitement. Most importantly however, Doctor Who season 11 breathed new life into a franchise that was declining in viewership.