Michael from My Comic Relief and I have been good friends for years now, as we both started blogging within a few months of each other and discovered each other’s blogs early on. I even had the pleasure of meeting him during a family vacation, as my family and I arranged to meet up for lunch with him and Kalie, who writes Just Dread-Full. For awhile we have good-naturedly pushed the other to start watching our favorite fandoms – which for Michael is Doctor Who and for me Star Trek, specifically The Next Generation. What is amazing about both our series is that they both began in the 1960s, had a few speedbumps to overcome, but then were re-tooled for the better in recent years. So we both choose eight episodes to best represent our favorite fandom and had the other watch them, after giving each other some introductory comments.
This swap has been months in the making, as I mailed my Star Trek episode guide to him back in July and I slowly started to work my way through the episodes he assigned me. This slow going actually proved to be beneficial to me, as I was able to tie this post into Doctor Who Day aka TARDIS Day, and I got to experience the most recent season coming to a close. To read Michael’s thoughts on the Star Trek: TNG episodes I assigned him, click here!
Michael: Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi show in history so jumping in can be…overwhelming. I debated choosing one Doctor or giving you sampling of several Doctors. Then I decided to chose “thematic” types of episodes Doctor Who regularly uses. It was HARD not giving you any of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor and I still don’t know if leaving the Daleks and the Cybermen out was the right move. But I made my choices so allons-y!
The Woman Who Fell To Earth (S11E1)
Michael: This was Jodie Whittaker’s first appearance as the Doctor as well as Chris Chibnall’s first episode as showrunner. To my mind this regeneration episode explains the process and how all the Doctors are the same yet have their own unique personalities better than any other. Moments before the episode begins, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) regenerates into the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker). The regeneration energy damages the TARDIS and sends the Doctor plummeting towards Sheffield, England where she will meet her new companions – Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh). As a result, we see the Doctor sort who she is without her TARDIS or her sonic screwdriver as it was in the TARDIS. Oh, when she crashes and pops back up, it isn’t because the Doctor is invulnerable but rather, within the first fifteen hours of a regeneration cycle, there’s enough residual cellular energy to repair damage such as that fall or regrowing a lost limb.
Nancy: I was excited to see this as my first assigned episode since I had already watched it before with my brother-in-law Chris, who is a big Doctor Who fan himself. He and I had watched the previous episode, which was the last for the Twelfth Doctor when my family was visiting for the holidays, and months later watched this introduction to the Thirteenth Doctor. While I have been aware of Doctor Who for decades, and remember watching a few with one of my Grandmas as a child, these modern-era episodes are brand new to me. I had asked Chris a lot of questions at the time, so having this as my first episode was a stroke of luck as I had some prior knowledge built in this time around.
So the thing is when you get a new Doctor, you almost always get new companions. That can be a lot to take in, but the people that the Thirteenth Doctor befriends are an appealing lot. So imagine my dismay, when one of the companions dies in this first episode! Since this was my second watch, I obviously knew Grace would die, but it still stung. I liked Jodie’s take on the Doctor and felt that she was perfect for the role.
The Rings of Akhaten (S7E7)
Michael: This is my favorite “first trip” episode! Here Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) takes her first trip in the TARDIS after meeting the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and agreeing to travel with him. The Doctor does some poking around in Clara’s past because she’s a mystery to him; he encountered a version of her already in the 1800s and in the distant future buuuuut that’s not really important to this story :). Still, it explains why he’s confused by her and probing her past before he takes her on her first trip. Bonus! The young actress who plays Merry Gejelh is Emilia Jones who was just nominated for an Oscar for Coda!
Nancy: While I gave Michael a chronological journey through Star Trek: TNG, he did not do the same for me. He had his sound reasoning for his episode choices, but I admit I had a bit of whiplash as I watched these episodes, as they bounced around and I ended up watching episodes with four different Doctors. This time around, I was introduced to Matt Smith, who I previously watched in The Crown, so to me it seemed as if a young Prince Phillip with bad hair was gallivanting about space. And while Michael mentioned the child actress Emilia Jones later was in Coda, I recognized her from the three-season Locke & Key series I recently wrapped up on Netflix.
This series is not known for its special effects, and they seem to just lean into it, with the many different aliens looking quite cheap. I made a joke to Michael afterward that the show made the aliens from Star Trek: TOS in the 60s look high-tech. I noticed that this second episode also killed off an appealing character – Clara’s mum. But her leaf ended up being the most important leaf in history! When I mentioned this second death to Michael, he then shared that the series showrunners at the time were criticized for pulling their female companions away from their families, but that’s a digression for another time…
The Unicorn and the Wasp (S4E5)
Michael: This episode features the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) as he travels with Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). They are a pretty heavy fan favorite Doctor/companion duo amongst Doctor Who fans. This is a great example of just a “fun” episode – as well as a historical episode – as the Doctor and Donna find themselves in England in 1926…where they work to solve a murder mystery with Agatha Christie! Doctor Who loves dropping famous people in their historical episodes and this is a personal favorite.
Nancy: The phrase I used to describe this episode to Michael was that it was ridiculous fun! I had heard that IRL Agatha Christie disappeared for a time and offered no explanation as to where she had been, so this was as solid an explanation as any. One of the actresses in this episode was Felicity Jones, who I recognized as Jyn Erso from Star Wars: Rogue One. I also know Catherine Tate as a comedian, so sometimes it was disconcerting to see actors and actresses I associate with other roles in these Doctor Who episodes.
The Zygon Invasion Part 1 & Part 2 (S9E7&8)
Michael: Doctor Who loves two-parters so here’s an example of that as well as a story which shows a companion traveling with two different regenerations of the Doctor (which happens sometimes but not all the time). This episode is set in the present day and it follows the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara as they try to prevent war from breaking out between the human race and the Zygons, a race of alien shapeshifters who have been living as refugees on Earth for a few years. It also features UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), the military group the Doctor worked with steadily in the ‘70s and has popped up semi-regularly ever since. It is their job to investigate the odd and unexplained and protect the Earth from alien threats. You also see Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) who serves as UNIT commander like her father, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), did in the 70s.
Nancy: These were my least favorite of the episodes, mostly because I didn’t connect with the grumpy Twelfth Doctor. And the evil Zygons looked like an octopus and lobster had an ugly love child together. I think the franchise needs to buck up more for the special effects. I also had to text Micahel several times to understand why there were multiple Doctors featured at the beginning of the episode, and why most are numbered but then there is a War Doctor. This can be a hard franchise to get into, as there are a lot of backstories to try to figure out. Luckily, Michael kept the episodes in the modern era, as there are hundreds to choose from since the franchise began in 1963. This two-parter had a good message, but I thought the ending was self-indulgent. It reminded me of Star Trek: Discovery which I feel tries too hard and is too preachy.
Michael: Always counted among the best episodes of Doctor Who in online polls and fan countdowns and critically acclaimed as one of the show’s best dramatic episodes, it introduces the Weeping Angels – creatures who have become as iconic as the Daleks and Cyberman (dating back to 1963 and ’65 respectively). Creatively, this episode sees the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) trapped in the 1960s while Sally Sparrow (Cary Mulligan (two years before she’d get her Oscar nomination for An Education (yes, pretty much every famous British person has been on this show)) serves as the main protagonist trying to solve the mystery unfolding around her.
Nancy: The Weeping Angels were awesomely creepy! The beginning actually threw me off, as it seemed to be a murder mystery vs a Doctor Who episode. In fact, the Tenth Doctor wasn’t in the episode much at all. I’m glad Micahel included this episode, for I have perceived the entire franchise to be on the campy side, but this was an excellent atmospheric stand-alone episode that introduced new deadly aliens. I’d love to shop at the Sparrow & Nightingale Bookstore!
Can You Hear Me? (S12E7)
Michael: As Kalie put it when she started watching the show, one of the best things about Doctor Who is (as corny as it may sound) it makes you proud to be human. Garnering high critical acclaim and positive fan responses as well for its depiction of mental illness and the importance of mental health care, this is one of those episodes. The Thirteenth Doctor leaves Yaz, Ryan, and Graham in Sheffield in 2020 for some “shore leave” as she travels to Aleppo, Syria in 1380. A mystery stretching from Aleppo to the present will pull them all to a space station orbiting a distant planet in the far future.
Nancy: This episode was meh for me. I expected more because Michael hyped it, but since I was just dipping in and out of the Doctor and companion’s lives, this didn’t resonate for me as it would for long-time fans who are invested in the characters. I thought the mental health angle was solid, and I did appreciate getting to know more about the companions, but the time jumping took me out of the narrative flow.
Vincent and the Doctor (S5E10)
Michael: This episode just makes you feel good. It has everything that makes Doctor Who great – history, space creatures, excitement, humor, and all kinds of heart. It is often held up, critically and by fans, as an example of how compassion-centric a sci-fi show Doctor Who is. So this is our feel-good note to end on. The Eleventh Doctor takes Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) to Auvers-sur-Oise, France, in 1890 to meet Vincent Van Gogh and it’s all so beautiful!
Nancy: Unrealistically, I wanted a happy ending for Van Gogh that included ginger babies with Amy (Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy)! I agree with Michael it was a beautiful episode, but the term I would also use is bittersweet – although they showed Van Gogh that his works would be considered masterpieces in the future, his demons still got the better of him, and he still had the sad ending. On a side note, I saw a very cool Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit in Chicago last year, so this episode was a neat connection for me as I had recently seen much of his work.
Michael: I had twelve episodes that “almost” made the final cut! Choosing which I’d assign you was so difficult! But this was so much fun, too :D. It was really special to share Doctor Who with you in this way – to give you a little sampling of a show I love so much while you shared a show you love so much with me. I’m still unsure about leaving the Ninth Doctor off but his thirteen episodes feel like such a connected story to me. But had I included any of his episodes it (probably) would’ve been either “The End of the World” (S1E2) or “Dalek” (S1E6). I hope you had fun and enjoyed your time in the TARDIS, Nancy! For anyone else interested in getting into Doctor Who, you can follow the course Nancy journeyed here or use this piece – “Should I Watch Doctor Who? / How to Begin Watching Doctor Who” – I wrote a while back.
Nancy: So will I continue watching Doctor Who? Yes! I have already watched the last episode of Jodie’s Thirteenth Doctor and saw her regenerate into a surprisingly familiar face for the Fourteenth Doctor. The next episodes are a full year away (timed to coincide with the 60-year anniversary!) and I believe will only consist of a few episodes, before yet another regeneration occurs and we finally meet the actor who will be playing the Fifteenth Doctor in 2024. Watching these episodes has led to some nice communication with my quiet brother-in-law, as he texted me after the recent season ended to discuss the reveal. I had also sent him Michael’s list and he suggested a few others for me to watch, so I will try to watch those before I see Chris next. While I don’t see myself being a consistent watcher, I now feel confident in my background knowledge of Doctor Who to check out some future episodes, so this franchise swap experiment has been a success!