If you liked Dalek, other notable villain episodes:
Rise Of the Cybermen
The Age Of Steel
This two-parter reestablishes the Doctor’s second most iconic foe, also mechanical and bent on totalitarianism. Rose is initially dating a sheepish guy named Mickey, who soon becomes a companion on his own terms when he learns her secret. This story is a showcase for his meek heroism, while also demonstrating the lumpy pacing of DW two-parters. If I recall correctly, the second half is better.
If you liked The Girl In the Fireplace, other notable historical episodes:
The Vampires Of Venice
A potentially campy filler hour that actually has a cracking good plot with tons of nice character moments, and an engrossing sense of place for this mid-budget show.
Vincent And the Doctor
A beautiful and pointed exploration of loneliness and mental illness, where the serialization, metaphorical monster, and focal character all dovetail.
If you liked Doomsday, other notable season finales:
The Pandorica Opens
The Big Bang
Like Doomsday, these episodes work much better with seasonal context and character empathy, but they’re roughly self-contained epic jaunts showing just how badass the Ponds and Eleven are, and how grandiose Moffat lets his twisty storylines get.
If you liked Smith And Jones, other notable season premieres:
The Impossible Astronaut
Day Of the Moon
A perfect example of an incredible jumpstart that Moffat mostly fumbled at the end. Enjoy these classics in the moment – they’re fun time travel stories on their own with a new villain that’s super cool (albeit cribbed in some ways from a classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode).
If you liked Human Nature and The Family Of Blood, other notable pacifist episodes:
Planet Of the Ood
The Ood aren’t a classic adversary so much as a passive race that the Doctor keeps tabs on. Their subservient nature makes for a fascinating dynamic in this solid hour’s free will and/or racism allegory. Also, yeah, they look pretty creepy, but it is what it is.
The Zygon Inversion
Another example of a superior second half, The Zygon Inversion hits a lot of familiar Doctor Who themes: talking through things, regret and suffering, the pointlessness of evil, showmanship and flamboyance, petulant rage, and an investigative spirit.
The only preamble a new viewer needs is that an undiscovered alien culture on earth called the Silurians has begun to wage war and stake their claim to the planet. Their leader disguises itself as Clara and wants to wipe out all humans, in a chilling metaphor for immigration anxieties. The Doctor’s superiority over most life forms can sometimes manifest in a benevolent, doting Godlike way, as it does here.
At one point they return to a room from Day Of the Doctor, where a universe-saving armistice plot twist was reached through the Time Lord’s shenanigans. It is there that perhaps the greatest scene and monologue from the revived series occurs, exemplifying all those above facets of the Doctor’s worldview in a brilliant performance from Capaldi.
If you liked Blink, other notable thriller episodes:
This episode revels in its pulpy, high-tension premise – a then-timely ticking clock riff on 24 with plenty of action and cannon fodder.
Dinosaurs On A Spaceship
Here, there’s a surprising amount of time for moral quandaries, side character beats and developing the companions despite the unabashedly childish concept. Its threat and structure are also very unusual and intriguing.
Time Heist sets up the fiction of this world to pretty much do a straightforward heist caper with minimal sci-fi, and it’s a blast.
If you liked Midnight, other notable dark episodes:
A Good Man Goes To War
Let’s Kill Hitler
More portentous and grim than psychologically disturbing, these twisty-turny mythology payoff episodes heavily utilize Moffat’s go-for-broke puzzle-box story methods. The final result sort of collapses under its own machinations, harming the internal logic of some of the characters, but it’s a thrilling ride the first time through. This continues a pattern I observed earlier in season six. If you don’t question it and keep an emotional distance, it’s pretty impressive.
The Waters Of Mars
This is another unusually despairing Davies episode (a long-form special, at that) about gray morality, the Doctor overstepping his boundaries, and the best laid plans going awry.
If you liked The Eleventh Hour, other notable episodes from season five:
The Time Of Angels
Flesh And Stone
A double-shot Weeping Angel redux by way of Aliens. The iconic foes hadn’t lost their novelty or menace yet, and a familiar face shows up for the adventure, depending on which of these episodes you’ve already seen.
If you liked Amy’s Choice, other notable companion-centric episodes:
Kill the Moon
The Woman Who Lived
Next, an unrelated triptych to demonstrate how the Doctor complicates and infiltrates human existence. First, by breaking and complicating familial relationships. Then by lording over this lesser species without proper regard for their sapience and dignity. Finally, his alien machinations and ramshackle solutions tending to cause more problems than they’re worth.
There are some interesting moral quandaries presented among these three hours. Kill the Moon is a reproductive rights allegory wisely turned over to the women in the cast, and which just barely lands on the smarter side of the issue while offering shades of opinion. Next, The Woman Who Lived finds the Doctor accidentally creating a time-prolonged demigod equal out of an innocent young girl, and the unspeakable angst that created for her contrasts with the Time Lord’s seemingly altruistic methods. Then, Father’s Day sheds light on how the families of companions carry on after their child disappears (for all they know – it’s all very Peter Pan-esque) while giving Rose some character shading.
If you liked The Lodger, other notable comedic episodes:
A “what if?” episode that’s a showcase for Donna, one companion who’s not in this list a whole lot. This does a good job depicting her charming life, silliness and all.
This is a terrific adventure episode with an incredibly imaginative threat and a great use of Clara as a heroine. But I’m also including it here because of the most inspired comedic set piece this show has ever done.
If you liked The Doctor’s Wife, other notable TARDIS-related episodes:
Journey To the Centre of the TARDIS
More boundless TARDIS zaniness, with a couple eerie surprises.
If you liked The Snowmen, other notable Christmas episodes:
A Christmas Carol
A perfect Christmas episode balance of a familiar holiday tale, tweaked to fit the Doctor’s sci-fi milieu.
If you liked The Day Of the Doctor, other notable mythology episodes:
The End of Time, Part 2
The Wedding Of River Song
The Time Of the Doctor
These three episodes are all imperfect, but still have the signature of their creators and a lot of potential. The End Of Time has a typically lackluster first part, while the second half is a surprisingly slick, moving reunion tour of different companions as Davies bids farewell to his pet project. Among them is Wilfred, Donna’s grandfather and part-time spacefarer. He’s jovial, down-to-earth and childlike.
The Wedding Of River Song is a breathless attempt to ground a supporting character, Doctor and seasonal arc that had all gone out of control through Moffat’s increasing story escalation. That it even succeeds mildly is impressive. It’s a bit perfunctory, confusing and cynical about its characters, but essentially the plot makes sense.
The same goes for The Time Of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary companion piece to the Day Of the Doctor (and an ostensible Christmas special, technically). If there’s any occasion to forgive Moffat’s grandiosity, it’s this impressive story arc. It also marks another important facet of the show, the one regeneration episode on my list. For season seven, Smith’s “death” is appropriately off-format and belabored, but the basics are there, and it’s still resonant.
If you liked Mummy On the Orient Express, other notable mystery episodes:
Silence In the Library
Forest of the Dead
This fan-beloved two-parter has some of Moffat’s best story ideas, and it moves quickly and eventfully, despite a couple odd moments. It’s also crucial for introducing a rare non-companion supporting player, and a rarer still romantic foil for the Doctor. The thing about River Song (Alex Kingston) is… well, you’ll see, but suffice it to say that I skipped over her spotlight episodes in the general primer for a pragmatic reason, and your acquaintance with her should start here.
If you liked Heaven Sent, other notable existential episodes:
The Satan Pit
This unsettling second-part entry tackles the possibility of an unknown deity, and gets very cutting with its examination of faith and religion in a stifling setting similar to that of Midnight.