Doctor Who: series 9 penultimate rankings

By tradition, before the finale, I rank the year’s episodes and discuss how my opinions of them have changed with hindsight. I’ll list them from my least to most favorite this time.

11. Sleep No More
Mark Gatiss seems like a fun guy I’d probably quite like if I met him socially. I wish I had nicer things to say about his work on Doctor Who.

10. Before the Flood
Not actually terrible, just one of the two low-key episodes in a generally exciting season. Bit of a bad habit of killing off the characters I actually liked.

9. Under the Lake
Not significantly better than its conclusion. Ask me tomorrow and I might swap the two.

8. The Girl Who Died
The message is nice: there are other ways to fight that don’t involve violence, even the most powerful foe can be vulnerable to a dose of truth, and so on. It’s just that the episode itself feels a bit too goofy to take seriously, and not quite funny enough to enjoy for its comedy.

7. The Magician’s Apprentice
Davros and his dopey snake flunky hold no interest for me. This episode appears this high on the list for one reason and one reason only: Missy.

6. The Witch’s Familiar
More Missy, more fun. The rest of it isn’t bad, but it’s not that great either. Focus on Missy.

5. Face the Raven
Clara’s death was annoyingly arbitrary, but the Gaimanesque urban fantasy leading up to it was intriguing and cool. More of that, please.

4. The Zygon Invasion
An intriguing, bold concept for the show, in some ways a throwback to invasion stories of old, in others a welcome reimagining of the same. Far from perfect, but you don’t have to agree with every move it makes to find it fascinating.

3. The Woman Who Lived
The haters are right that the second half of this is less successful than the first, but if you’re only focused on embarrassment at the gallows humor, you’re forgetting that “Day of the Doctor” and “Vampires of Venice” went there first and arguably worse. Again, not perfect, but still one of the best this year for me, and dare I say a lot more honest about how humans face death than “Face the Raven.”

2. Heaven Sent
I had to watch it twice to love it, but now I really do. It appears to be either a puzzle or a sort of symbolism-filled dream sequence, but in fact it’s a perfect explication of grief. And dare I say a lot more successful at depicting depression than “Vincent and the Doctor.”

1. The Zygon Inversion
Not just for the speech, which goes into some surprising corners in addition to the obvious ones, but for Clara’s experiences in the Zygon pod, the Doctor’s banter with Osgood, the way the episode makes you cheer “five rounds rapid” and then fear the point of view behind it, and really almost everything else. Clara’s duels with Bonnie are the best Jenna Coleman moments all year, and unless “Hell Bent” is truly incendiary, this is the undisputed tops.