From pure chaos to masterpieces, ranking every Doctor Who season finale since its revival

A timey-wimey trip through the highs and the lows of Doctor Who’s recent past


The final episode of Ncuti Gatwa’s first season as the Doctor, Empire of Death, is set to air this Saturday on BBC One at 6:40pm, and will be available on iPlayer all day.

After what has been a fantastic season so far, a remastered, feature-length episode, titled Tales of the Tardis: Pyramids of Mars, is set to air at 8pm tonight, taking us back to when the Doctor first met the villain Sutekh in 1911 with Tom Baker as the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, originally airing in 1975.

With revisiting old classics on the mind, let’s take a look back at all of the Doctor Who finales, ranking them all from best to worst since the show’s revival in 2005.

13. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (season 11)

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Jodie Whittaker’s first season as the Doctor was below expectations, and the series finale was no different. The big villain of the episode was Tim Shaw who had appeared at the beginning of the series but you wouldn’t be alone if you forgot he existed until he showed up again.

This episode was lacklustre and forgettable and the Doctor often contradicts herself and her own moral compass – she describes the stasis that Tim Shaw has trapped people in as “worse than death”, but then applauds Graham (Bradley Walsh) for not killing Tim Shaw but instead trapping him in a stasis. Quite simply, it is a boring episode and was easily ranked the worst in this Doctor Who finales ranking.

12. The Vanquishers (season 13)

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Series 13 was incredibly ambitious. Forced to cram a whole series into just six episodes, the showrunner Chris Chibnall decided to make it a continual story. However, it was clear that he couldn’t decide on what story to go with as the final episode is crammed with far too many threads to tie up that it becomes massively crowded.

With a massive cast crammed into the TARDIS, the Doctor split across three different locations and far too many villains to count, there’s so much going on that you can’t keep track of what’s what. There is absolutely no doubt that Series 13 had some shining moments that made The Whittaker a lot less dull, but the finale struggled to give it a satisfying resolution.

11. The Name of the Doctor (season seven)

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This episode had Richard E. Grant as the villain, introduced John Hurt as the Doctor and set up the 50th anniversary special, yet still seemed to be a bit drab. Impressive.

With the promise of revealing one of the Doctor’s biggest secrets, The Name of the Doctor was creepy and suspenseful, but it never really felt like a series finale. The villain, the Great Intelligence, despite being a menacing character previously in series seven, became a subplot to allow the episode to function as a set up for The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, both which are episodes far superior to this finale.

10. Ascension of the Cybermen / The Timeless Children (season 12)

doctor who finales ranking

via BBC

Easily the best series of Jodie Whittaker’s and Chris Chibnall’s tenure on the show. Bringing back old villains like the cybermen was a wise move from Chris, and by introducing new lore to the Doctor’s mysterious history he showed his ambition to bring the show forward, even if it didn’t stick the landing.

The recurring villains throughout this series are phenomenal, Sacha Dhawan’s incarnation of the Master is one of the best the show has ever seen and an incredibly unique portrayal. Chibnall’s lone cyberman, Ashad, was also a really well written character and pairing the two together to create the CyberMaster was a formidable stroke of genius from Chibnall. It’s just unfortunate that the Timeless Children completely uprooted the entire 60 years of history that came before it. Oh and I forgot to say anything about the middle part of the episode because it was so forgettable.

9. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday (season two)

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David Tennant’s first season as the Doctor was a memorable one and it ended with one of the most emotional finales ever – Rose Tyler being trapped in an alternate dimension. Whilst the cybermen versus Dalek feud feels slightly cluttered throughout the two episodes, it does offer fantastic sequences that show the scope and scale of their invasion, raising the stakes in true Doctor Who fashion.

Unfortunately, Rose’s return in series four means that the emotional farewell between the two loses some of its charm and it doesn’t age as well as Russel T Davies would have hoped.

8. Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways (season one)

doctor who finales ranking

via BBC

A bittersweet end for Christopher Eccleston who remains to be one of the most memorable incarnations of the Doctor despite only having one season at the helm of the show. Nevertheless, in that one season he was tasked with being the face of the revival and bringing a whole new load of fans into the fore, and he did it fantastically.

The ninth Doctor’s Swan Song was one that balanced Classic Who and NuWho perfectly, with redesigned old villains like the Daleks and a new sense of the Doctor’s importance to the universe. It’s a shame that Eccleston’s run as the Ninth Doctor was cut short but he delivered a spectacular finale that grabbed plenty of new fans of the show.

7. Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Timelords (season three)

doctor who finales ranking

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The twist at the end of Utopia to reveal Professor YANA as the Master was incredible, and it laid the groundworks for RTD to continue to reveal things through anagrams, as he has done yet again with the first part of the series 14 finale. John Simms’ subsequent portrayal of the Master remains to be THE single best portrayal in modern Who. He just understands the role, he is troubled, menacing and sly yet somehow sympathetic. The relationship between himself and the Doctor in this finale really gives me major Thor and Loki vibes.

The stakes are at their absolute pinnacle here as well, with the Doctor seeming completely and utterly powerless by the end of the episode, and a genuine sense of despair for the audience who have no idea how he’s going to save the day this time. Apparently saying the word Doctor is enough to defeat the master, which somehow doesn’t really feel gratifying enough.

6. The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End (season four)

doctor who finales ranking

via BBC

For many, this is David Tennant’s best finale. The TARDIS is quite literally packed with companions from the past three seasons who all earn their place there (unlike “team TARDIS” in The Vanquishers), and the stakes are as high as ever.

The Stolen Earth does a fantastic job of developing the threat and showing how menacing the Daleks can actually be, literally plucking 26 planets out of the universe to use as a bargaining chip, but its Journey’s End that lets it down. The resolution to this universe spanning threat just feels like it takes a backseat to allow there to be emotional farewell’s to both Rose and Donna. It’s a massive fan service episode that loses its charm as it ages, putting it at a measly 6th place in the Doctor Who finales ranking.

5. Dark Water / Death in Heaven (season eight)

doctor who finales ranking

via BBC

In Peter Capaldi’s debut season he has a decent finale. That is it. It’s decent. The Doctor’s relationship with Clara builds, Danny Pink gets a good sacrificial send off and Michelle Gomez’s portrayal of Missy is fantastically entertaining.

Apart from the use of U.N.I.T, this just feels like a really good two-parter that has been teased for a few episodes prior. It was a shaky first season for Capaldi, with ratings dropping slightly from Matt Smith’s run, but this finale helped improve the overall scores.

4. The Wedding of River Song (season six)

doctor who finales ranking

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At number four in our Doctor Who finales ranking, this is a very divisive episode for Doctor Who fans, and usually the divide is determined by how much you like River Song or not. As a fan of River Song, I love this episode. River is solidified as one of the most important figures in modern Who, entwined within all the aspects of the Doctor’s life which makes Amy and Rory even more loveable at the same time.

Leading up to the finale, we are forced to question the Doctor’s moral compass and wonder if we should be getting behind him, but, unlike the Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation, the 11th Doctor sticks to his guns and proves why he’s so important. The only major downer to this finale is how convoluted and timey-wimey it becomes, making it so confusing. They defeat Madame Kovarian but the timeline resets, so is she still lurking in the universe?

3. Face the Raven/ Heaven Sent/ Hell Bent (season nine)

doctor who finales ranking

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Many hardcore fans of Doctor Who will agree that Heaven Sent is the magnum opus of Moffat’s era, if not the whole of modern Who. It is an expertly written episode that displays Capaldi’s ability as an actor, with witty monologues, cinematic shots and a clever story.

Clara’s death at the end of Face the Raven was emotional and left a mark that I still feel today. Well, I would still feel it today if it were not for the trope all too common in Doctor Who, a fake out death. In the reintroduction of Gallifrey, the Twelfth Doctor simply plucks Clara from before her death and leaves her to roam in the universe as he is forced to forget her. It just ruins the emotional stakes at play in the previous two episodes which are otherwise some of the best ever.

2. World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls (season 10)

doctor who finales ranking

via BBC

The 12th Doctor’s final season is incredibly underrated and the quality of this finale just proves why. It’s clear Moffat has a bit of an obsession with the Cybermen, but here he returns to their routes in classic Who, referencing the planet Mondas where the Cybermen originally came from.

The tragic death of Bill is horrifying and cleverly written by Moffat, combining the threat of a classic villain with the looming issues of time and space travel. The Doctor Falls is then full of passion and emotion, showing again how great Peter Capaldi is, finishing it with a cinematic end for Capaldi’s incarnation, setting up a brilliant farewell Christmas episode in the form of Twice Upon a Time. Even if the final episode may be straight forward, it is still beautiful and only narrowly missed earning the crown in this Doctor Who finales ranking.

1. The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (season five)

doctor who finales ranking

via BBC

Now this is fan service done right! The accumulation of villains all coming together to entrap the Doctor really gives a scale to how much the Doctor has done to the universe and how many enemies he’s made along the way. And the speech he gives atop Stonehenge… masterclass.

The season leading up to this finale does a brilliant job of developing Amy Pond and River Song as characters, but, if we’re being true to ourselves, our favourite character other than the Doctor is Rory, the Lone Centurion, the star-crossed lover of Amy Pond and the man willing to die for his love. A true hero. The performances of all the major characters in this finale are brilliant though, and Matt Smith cements his position as a fan favourite Doctor in his debut season.

Earning its crown at number one in this indisputable Doctor Who finales ranking, this episode is the biggest rollercoaster of emotions, from the heartbreak of the Eleventh Doctor’s self-sacrifice to the elation of seeing his goofy dancing at Amy Pond’s wedding after she delivers the most chilling wedding speech ever. Steven Moffat take a bow for this season and this finale.

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Featured images via BBC.