9. Silence in the Library / The Forest of the Dead (2008) [6.09%]
Steven Moffat may have taken over as showrunner with The Eleventh Hour (or the last few minutes of The End of Time, if you want to be pedantic about it), but it was in series 4’s Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead that his era truly began. And all with two little words: “Hello sweetie.”
Yes, this terrifying two-parter gave us the universe’s biggest library, a shapeless monster called the Vashta Nerada, and an ominous virtual reality universe all packed within, but the true star of the show was the introduction to one of Moffat’s most iconic characters: Professor River Song. Portrayed effervescently by Alex Kingston, the feisty archaeologist emerged as a face from the Tenth Doctor’s future that he had not yet met, alongside a big blue diary of memories yet to come. Spoilers, apparently.
Little did we know at this point that River Song’s true identity would elude fans over two more series, with even showrunner of the time Russell T Davies not wanting to know who she was – although as revealed from a 2007 email in his and Benjamin Cook’s book The Writer’s Tale, he was “sure” that she must be the Doctor’s wife…
Beyond Song, however, these two episodes marked some of Moffat’s boldest ideas to date. Take, for instance, Miss Evangelista’s eerie post-death “ghosting,” Donna having to come to terms with a dream family that aren’t real, or the Vasha Nerada in general, who – just like statues – gave you yet another reason to fear the dark.
It truly was the work of one of Doctor Who’s imaginative writers. Perfect timing then – given that a few days before the episodes aired, Russell T Davies revealed him to be the new showrunner. Sophie Hall
8. Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways (2005) [7.01%]
For those who’d come new to Doctor Who in 2005, this two-parter offered the first chance to see a regeneration. The Doctor, who kids had grown to love over 13 episodes, was engulfed in flames and transformed into some other chap by the name of David Tennant. Would the show ever be the same again?
The send-off of Christopher Eccleston certainly packed an emotional punch. After all, he does have a good track record when it comes to death scenes – his “statement of a dying man” speech from Cracker being one of TV’s finest. But it’s through Rose (Billie Piper) that we experience the real drama.
Following a huge Dalek battle, the Doctor puts his own future on the line to save the life of his companion after she absorbs all the power of the Time Vortex. Cue puzzlement, disbelief and then wonder from Rose as she’s left to come to terms with this sudden demise and rebirth happening before her eyes… David Brown