It’s no secret that I’m a big-time Thirteenth Doctor defender. While her era may not be perfect, I believe the fandom didn’t give this period the flowers it deserved. In fact, I wrote a whole piece defending the controversial Chibnall era for this very publication.
But regardless of how you feel about Chris Chibnall and Thirteen, this era still had plenty to offer in the way of outstanding Doctor Who episodes. In honor of the show’s approaching 60th Anniversary, here are our picks for the strongest episodes in the Jodie Whittaker era of Who.
“The Ghost Monument” written by Chris Chibnall (series 11, episode 2)
While Thirteen’s first episode was a bit slow (“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” almost had the vibe of a deleted Torchwood episode) things immediately picked up with “The Ghost Monument”. Beginning with the Doctor, Yaz, Graham, and Ryan floating in space, they are serendipitously saved by a nearby spaceship. The TARDIS fam gets caught in the midst of a deadly space race. In it, they must reach the mysterious Ghost Monument on the planet Desolation to survive.
Desolation is an exceedingly hostile environment, and Team TARDIS must traverse its deserts and acidic oceans in the hope of escape. This leads to some excellent action sequences and thrilling escapes, as Thirteen and her new team embark on their first alien planet adventure together.
We also learn more about these new companions, their lives, and their motivations. Chris Chibnall nicely establishes each companion early on, and we see the beginnings of each of their story arcs here.
“The Ghost Monument” is something of a non-traditional start to a Doctor’s era, but it’s an excellent one. It’s fast-paced, gripping, and builds up an excellent conclusion, where we find out the Ghost Monument was the TARIS all along. And the new, crystalline interior? Superb.
“Rosa” by Malorie Blackman & Chris Chibnall (series 11, episode 3)
Immediately after Thirteen’s first space adventure, we get to see her first historical episode. The team travels back in time to Montgomery, Alabama 1955, where they meet none other than the titular Rosa Parks. But other time travelers are present as well: a notorious killer named Krasko has escaped from Stormcage Prison. He traveled back in time to assassinate Parks and halt the progress of the American Civil Rights movement.
As a family show, Doctor Who can sometimes shy away from the darker and grittier implications of time travel. But “Rosa” deals with them directly, while still in a family-appropriate way. Set in the middle of a very grim chapter in American history, “Rosa” grapples with issues of systemic racism and white supremacy head-on.
This episode’s implication that white supremacy still exists in the distant future is a depressing notion. But it also serves as an important reminder for viewers that bigotry and hatred don’t go away easily or overnight, and have to be actively fought against. And, ultimately, “Rosa” leaves viewers with a hopeful ending. It reminds us that although systemic racism definitely won’t go away as quickly as it should, but that it will begin to fade as people continue to rise up against oppression.
And, of course, Vinette Robinson’s performance as the spotlighted historical figure is stellar. It would be amazing to see her reprise the role, perhaps in audio format. (Incidentally, she had previously appeared on the show in one of our favorites from the Tenth Doctor’s era, “42”).
“Kerblam!” by Pete McTighe (series 11, episode 7)
A topical satire on the Amazon corporation and online shopping, “Kerblam!” imagines a future, galactic version of package delivery. The Doctor and company go undercover in one of Kerblam!’s warehouses, disguised as workers. They quickly discover that not all is not well, and the disgruntled workers are terrified of AI stealing their jobs. Sound familiar?
As discussions around AI and workers’ rights continue, “Kerblam!” feels even more relevant now than it did in 2018. By the end of the episode, the Doctor helps the workers empower themselves and forge a new, human-centric path for Kerblam! Like many other episodes in series 11, this story is a reminder of the power of individuals to make a change in their society.
Additionally, the concept of a galactic shipping service makes for a fun sci-fi romp. Doctor Who writers could certainly use Kerblam! creatively in future episodes, and I personally hope the galactic mega-corp will appear again.
“Fugitive of the Judoon” by Vinay Patel & Chris Chibnall (series 12, episode 5)
Whatever you thought of the Timeless Child plot twist, there’s no doubt that “Fugitive of the Judoon” had the entire fandom’s collective jaw on the floor. This episode confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt what many fans had speculated since the 70’s: that there were, in fact, incarnations of the Doctor prior to William Hartnell’s One.
The episode starts pretty unassumingly. A platoon of Judoon have targeted a seemingly innocent Earthling, and it’s up to the Doctor to protect her. But this is no ordinary Earthling, and it quickly becomes clear that museum guide Ruth Clayton is no ordinary alien in disguise. She is a Time Lord, and not just any Time Lord, but an unknown previous incarnation of the Doctor.
Beyond the bonkers reveal of the Fugitive Doctor, this is a very solid episode in its own right. It features plenty of Judoon shenanigans, emotional character work, and delightful cameos.
“Eve of the Daleks” written by Chris Chibnall (New Year’s Special, 2022)
The final entry in Jodie’s New Year’s Dalek episode trilogy, “Eve of the Daleks” is also her best Dalek episode. Although Doctor Who has done time loops before, we’ve never seen Daleks trapped in a time loop in this way, and the results are delightful.
The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan land in a warehouse on Earth on New Year’s Eve. But the TARDIS resetting triggers a time loop, where invading Daleks kill team TARDIS, along with two humans in the warehouse, over and over.
“Eve of the Daleks” takes things further by introducing a twist to the typical time loop formula. Each time the loop resets, it gets one minute shorter, counting down to New Year’s Day. Chibnall makes excellent use of the New Year’s Special to tell a story that is festive, exciting, and creative. (In fact, it made our list of most festive holiday Doctor Who episodes.) It all builds towards a heart-racing climax, featuring the Doctor defeating the Daleks once again, a New Year’s kiss, and, of course, fireworks. A truly underappreciated gem from Jodie Whittaker’s TARDIS tenure.
“The Power of the Doctor” written by Chris Chibnall (BBC Centenary Special, 2022)
What can we say about “The Power of the Doctor” that hasn’t already been said? It’s easily one of the best (if not the best) episodes from Thirteen’s entire era. Following the epic and intense Flux arc, “The Power of the Doctor” had a lot riding on it. In addition to being the Centenary Special, celebrating 100 years of the BBC, it was the Thirteenth Doctor era. And boy, did it deliver.
Beginning with a heart-racing train heist in space, “Power” hits the ground running. And it never lets up from that breakneck pace, following the Doctor from present-day London to 1916 Russia, to a massive Cyber-Planet. Featuring the Daleks, the Cybermen, UNIT, and perhaps Sacha Dhawan’s best performance to date as the Master, “Power” is chock-full of Doctor Who essentials in celebration of the Whoniverse and the BBC.
One of the highlights of the episode has to be the return of previous companions unseen since their departure. Fifth Doctor companion Tegan Jovanka and Seventh Doctor companion Ace McShane play prominent roles in this episode, finally getting the on-screen closure they deserve. Additionally, a number of other beloved past companions made cameo appearances in the “ex-companion support group” scene. Ian Chesterton, Jo Jones, and Mel Bush all made welcome appearances in the final scenes of the episode, alongside Ace, Tegan, Yaz, Graham, Ryan, and Dan.
Speaking of cameo appearances, numerous past Doctors showed up as well. In a place inside her mind called the Edge of Existence, Thirteen gets words of wisdom from her previous selves. These include David Bradley’s version of the First Doctor, as well as Five, Six, Seven, and Eight. It was wonderful to see all of these Doctors back on screen, but was especially exciting to see Eight, who’s been largely absent from televised TARDIS adventures since his debut in ‘96.
But the centerpiece of this episode has to be the bitter farewells.
Dan shockingly leaves the TARDIS at the very beginning of the episode, which was unexpected but somehow refreshing. Dan’s departure added a sense of realism to the companion experience. Although plenty of companions don’t leave the TARDIS until the bitter end, Dan’s reaction to almost losing his life was sobering, reasonable, and down to Earth.
After three full seasons (longer than any other NuWho companion) Yasmin Khan says farewell to the Doctor in “The Power of the Doctor”. There hasn’t been a single Whittaker episode without Yaz; they’ve been inseparable since Thirteen first fell to Earth. Seeing these two go their separate ways was therefore exceptionally heartbreaking.
But above all, this episode marked the epic sendoff to Jodie Whittaker, a truly brilliant Thirteenth Doctor. Her farewell with Yaz was heartbreaking, and her regeneration even more so. She certainly deserves a break from the TARDIS. She’s certainly earned it. But I, along with plenty of other fans, are eagerly awaiting her return to the TARDIS in audio adventures and future multi-Doctor stories.
And one final note… that regeneration scene?!? Completely and utterly bonkers. Although by the time this episode aired, most fans were aware that David Tennant would be returning for the show’s 60th Anniversary, few anticipated that he would be returning as a brand new Doctor. So seeing him emerge from the TARDIS caught the whole world off guard.
All in all, “The Power of the Doctor” was one of the best, most packed, and certainly most epic, adventures in the Thirteenth Doctor era.
What is your favorite episode of Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor?
Doctor Who will return in November for the 60th Anniversary specials. Which episodes from the Thirteenth Doctor era were your favorites? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus and in our own Discord channel.