Doctor Who is a popular science fiction television series that has many beloved stories and amazing/emotional moments. Each incarnation of the Doctor has its own unique storylines and episodes that people won’t forget for a very long time. One of the most beloved incarnations among the fans is the Eleventh Doctor, portrayed by Matt Smith, who had big shoes to fill after David Tennant left his post. Let’s delve into five of the best episodes in the Eleventh Doctor’s era.
[Warning: Spoilers from the Doctor Who series are below!]
”The Eleventh Hour” written by Steven Moffat (season 5, episode 1)
Matt Smith and the Eleventh Doctor’s era kicked off with this magnificent episode, setting the tone for the new Doctor’s shocking and unpredictable persona. Written by Steven Moffat, the episode showcased the Doctor’s first interactions with Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). The episode marked a fresh beginning for the series, introducing viewers to a regenerated Doctor whose childlike curiosity and behavior captured viewers’ hearts.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the episode is its courageous ability to serve as both an introduction for new viewers and a continuation of the show’s existing narrative. In the first episode of a new Doctor’s tenure, Moffat faced the challenging task of introducing a new Doctor, a new companion, and a new direction while maintaining the essence of the show.
He masterfully achieved this by crafting a story that respected the spirit of Doctor Who by blending mystery, emotions, and adventure together. By doing so, he provided a perfect entry point for newcomers. I personally love this episode because it serves as a wonderful introduction to this world for people who didn’t have a chance or didn’t want to watch previous episodes. And that’s why this episode is one of the best in this era.
”A Good Man Goes to War” by Steven Moffat (season 6, episode 7)
At its core ”A Good Man Goes to War” delves into the complex character of the Doctor, portraying him not only as an extraordinary strategist and time-traveling adventurer but also as an emotional being and protector of his friends and “family”. The episode foreshadows the central theme of the Doctor’s quest for justice and the lengths he is willing to go to ensure it.
In this episode, viewers finally discover River Song’s (Alex Kingston) true identity, see a big team-up, and learn why to never threaten the Doctor. For me, it’s one of the most epic stories from the New Who era. Basically, because we get to see something that we didn’t before. A mix of the emotional side of the Doctor and his ruthless side to save Amy’s and Rory’s (Arthur Darvill) daughter is fantastically shown.
Steven Moffat wrote one of the most iconic episodes of Doctor Who. His job wasn’t easy, because he had to not only keep viewers in suspense but also let their brains explode. Also bringing back some of the characters from previous episodes to help Doctor, was a really great play. This episode was one of the most important stories in the Doctor’s life. It changed him forever, and let him know, that he’ll always save people and that hope is the most important tool he gives people.
”The Rings of Akhaten” written by Neil Cross (season 7, episode 8)
”The Rings of Akhaten” is a unique episode in Doctor Who. It takes viewers on a journey with outstanding imaginative storytelling, emotional depth, and provoking themes that force viewers to think about certain problems. The “Rings” are a system of planets orbiting a distant sun. They are being brought to life over and over again to prey on innocent habitants of the Akhet System.
The episode delves into the Doctor’s past, shedding light on the regrets and losses that he suffered for those hundreds and hundreds of years. This makes him a more relatable and humanized character. The writer of this episode Neil Cross made this version of Doctor even more sad and broken. We can also see Clara (Jenna Coleman) who is an empathetic and courageous companion of the Doctor who needs to prove herself to him. And this is a key addition to their story in season 7.
What makes this episode really important to me is the monologue that the Doctor gives while fighting the parasite:
“You’re just a parasite eating out the jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them. On the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow. So, so come on then. Take mine. Take my memories. And I hope you’ve got a big appetite because I have lived a long life and I have seen a few things. I walked away from the last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and watched as time ran out. Moment by moment until nothing remained. No time, no space, just me. I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman. I watched universes freeze and creations burn. I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. I have lost things you will never understand. And I know things. Secrets that must never be told. Knowledge that must never be spoken. Knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze. So come on then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all!”
This monologue made me cry. It’s so full of emotions and harsh truths about every human being. We live, we have happy and sad memories, and we feel good and bad. That was one of the moments that really confirmed why Matt Smith’s incarnation of Doctor was one of the best.
”The Day of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat (50th Anniversary Special)
In this monumental episode, the Eleventh Doctor teamed up with his predecessors, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), and the War Doctor (John Hurt) to save Gallifrey from destruction during the Time War. As a celebration of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, the episode brought together multiple Doctors, thrilling action sequences, and a resolution that changed the lore of the show. The episode paid homage to the series’ rich history while setting the stage for its near future.
In ”The Day of the Doctor”, Steven Moffat told the story of three Doctors teaming up to stop the Zygon Invasion and save the Earth. But the Doctors didn’t know that during this particular event, they’ll also save Gallifrey and “themselves”. The way in which Steven Moffat wrote this episode is spectacular. He perfectly showcased both the funny side of the Doctor and the very dark and tragic side. Viewers felt the tragedy of the Doctor as if it were their own. And that’s a very unique way of writing that attracts more and more people to the Doctor Who series.
I started watching Doctor Who in 2020 during the pandemic and I wasn’t familiar with previous seasons from the 20th century. So I didn’t know there were big crossovers like this one. But honestly, even after all those years, I still think this is one of the best “New Who” episodes ever. It was something extraordinary and emotional for both viewers and characters. Also, we got the chance to see Tom Baker as the Fourth doctor/Curator (or one of the Doctor’s future incarnations) again.
”The Time of The Doctor” written by Steven Moffat (2013 Christmas Special)
”The Time of the Doctor” is the last episode with Matt Smith as the Doctor. It’s a very iconic and tearful conclusion to the Eleventh Doctor’s era. Each “goodbye episode” has the job of perfectly capturing the essence of each incarnation of the Doctor. And that’s exactly what ”The Time of The Doctor” did. This journey leads him to planet Trenzalore. Trenzalore was teased in previous episodes as the place where Doctor is supposed to die, and where the Tardis would become a big monumental grave.
The episode brings together various storylines from previous adventures of the Eleventh Doctor like the Silence or “Cracks in Time”. By addressing these unresolved plot points, ”The Time of the Doctor” provided a certain closure for viewers who have invested in the show’s narrative. But they did it so well. Moffat perfectly closed the Eleventh Doctor’s era by showing his vulnerable and heroic side that we knew would always be there.
This story shows us how Clara tries to say goodbye to the Doctor and decides to be with him in his last minutes. It’s so sad, yet happy in some way. Thankfully, he didn’t die, but only regenerated thanks to Time Lords. But still, even in his last moments, I love how his final words are perfectly combined with “The Infinite Potential” theme composed by Murray Gold. His goodbye monologue is an amazing emotional moment, that applies to real life:
“It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone in a moment like… breath on a mirror […] We all change when you think about it. We are all different people all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me…”
Even now, writing this, I shed a tear and began to cry. This is by far one of the most inspiring and true quotes that have appeared in the entirety of Doctor Who. This shows that although the series tells fictional stories, it still has moments that resonate with people and real-life situations.
What are your favorite episodes with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor?
Doctor Who returns this November with new episodes. Matt Smith’s incarnation of the Doctor left an indelible mark on the series and its devoted fanbase. These episodes are amazing and iconic. But what are your favorites? Let us know on social media or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. While you’re here, check out our review of Big Finish’s Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 or some of our other Doctor Who articles below!