When RadioTimes.com decided to hold a vote for the best Doctor Who series of the modern era a couple of months ago, I was intrigued to see how things would stack up.
Would the freshness of Jodie Whittaker’s recent series outweigh its controversial finale? Would David Tennant’s status as fan-favourite be challenged by the likes of Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi? And would Christopher Eccleston’s well-formed first series have a shot at the top title?
Now, 55,000 votes and a nine-week lockdown later, we have our answer – David Tennant’s series four, aka the 2008 series he starred in with Catherine Tate, remains the fan favourite, taking an impressive 75 per cent of the vote in the final. Really, I should have seen it coming.
Arriving onscreen at a time when Tennant-mania was at its peak, series four still managed to exceed expectations in 2008, delivering a 13-episode run of terrific episodes (including a few classics) as well as an all-time great Doctor/companion relationship between the Tenth Doctor and Donna (Tate).
Other Doctor Who series may have had better individual episodes but few have had such a consistent run of quality through the entire series – though when it comes to The Unicorn and the Wasp, YMMV.
Personal favourites from this series include Davies’ “bottle episode” Midnight, the two-part Sontaran episode that filmed on my road (geographic bias, sorry) and Steven Moffat’s masterful River Song intro Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, all building to a genuinely epic conclusion in the finale The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End and Tennant’s goodbye specials over the following year.
Before we had Marvel movie crossovers, Russell T Davies’ ability to include parallel Whoniverse TV shows like the Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood in the main series was a masterful feat of organisation, giving the finale some real heft as the NuWho universe he’d created came together.
Over the years, series four became something of a connoisseur’s choice in terms of Doctor Who eras. Series one with Christopher Eccleston was maybe the purest expression of modern Doctor Who, series two hit the notes of the Doctor/Rose romance perfectly and series three had some brilliant one-off stories, while later adventures with Matt Smith entranced viewers overseas and rebooted the series perfectly.
Peter Capaldi’s adventures, meanwhile were beloved by both new and old fans, while Jodie Whittaker’s more recent series struck a chord with a whole new area of viewership and brought Who back to the centre of the pop culture conversation.
But series four was more measured and interesting than all of them – a little darker, a little more complex and experimental as both Davies and Tennant prepared to leave the show behind. This version of Doctor Who was going out on a high, and they used that power to create some genuinely interesting bits of television rather than resting on their laurels.
Now, at least among our readers, love of series four appears to have calcified into the mainstream opinion. When we ran a similar series poll in 2018, it also won the vote (with series one again in second place), and clearly any future series will have a hell of a job to displace it in Whovian hearts.
Still, maybe that’s fair enough. While you may have your own favourite series, or collection of episodes, or Doctor, it’s hard to argue that this superior run of TARDIS fun doesn’t deserve all the positive attention it’s still getting. Series four is a great season of TV, a high watermark for Doctor Who and the perfect swansong for the Tenth Doctor.
If we’re back here in two years, don’t be surprised to see it take the top slot once again.
Doctor Who returns to BBC One in late 2020/early 2021