Per tradition, it’s the end-of-series rankings, minus the finale.
10. The Pyramid at the End of the World
I’m sympathetic: this episode had to clarify the nature of the Monks, provide a credible way for them to hold the Earth to ransom, and maneuver Bill into a corner where she’d have to agree to their demands. On paper it does one and a half out of three, while on screen it substitutes action figures for characters and doesn’t seem to have any idea how bacteria work.
9. Empress of Mars
A better-than-average Gatiss episode, with an interesting role to play in Ice Warrior history, but still hamstrung by the performances, the posturing, the thin plot, and the fact that the Doctor and Bill are spectators and little else.
8. The Lie of the Land
Not really all that good in its own right, but satisfying as a middle finger to the dreadful setup. Nothing could have paid off the absurdity of the Monks, so why not spend 35 minutes or so watching the season’s best actors play off one another?
Gorgeous visually, and it’s wonderful to watch the Doctor and Bill getting to know each other. In hindsight, though, it’s hard to shake the awareness that it relies on the humans and the robots being pathetically stupid, and I can’t get the shot of the robot with pound signs in its eyes out of my head.
The beginning of the season’s biggest waste of time: three episodes of a thoroughly nonsensical monster. This one is a mess, but it almost works.
5. The Pilot
I had to take off points for the “fattened” bit, the having-it-both-ways threat, and the underdeveloped relationship, but otherwise this gets a respectable passing grade as one of the loveliest season openers in quite some time.
4. Knock Knock
The most purely entertaining story of the season in my book. It has its flaws, including yet another unlikely reset button ending, but on the whole this is an underrated diversion.
A rock-solid idea, maybe only one character-focused revision away from being a match for “Thin Ice.” The “end of capitalism” promise might have been a bit too on-the-nose (and entirely at odds with even recent continuity), but the “suits are trying to kill us” joke is so real it’s almost not funny.
2. The Eaters of Light
An almost retro adventure that seems a little at odds with the tone and structure of new Who, yet fits right in thematically. There are more sophisticated and better-structured stories this season, but the texture of this one appeals to me so much that only a perfect grand slam could knock it out of the top spot.
1. Thin Ice
An all-too-rare Doctor Who story that manages to mix sociopolitical commentary, entertaining spectacle, a historical setting, and character development for both the Doctor and his companion without breaking a sweat.