47 Days of Doctor Who–Day #33: Best Single-Part Story

Welcome to Day 33 of my 47-day series about the revival version of Doctor Who (2005-present). I’ve come up with 47 topics / questions to answer, all of them basically positive and upbeat about the program. Each day (or as often as I can actually write these–so far so good!) I’ll pick one of them at random (using this convenient random number generator) and then write up an answer.

Why 47? It’s my favorite number.
Why Doctor Who? It’s my favorite show.
Why the modern day Doctor Who only? Simply because I remember it better.
Why only positive stuff? Because really, I write enough snark.

So, today, we spin the Random Number Generator, and it lands on 1 (!), which means
today’s topic is

“Best Single-Part Story”

This is complicated and not just for the obvious reasons. The obvious reasons are that there are lots of good episodes and very few that don’t have some noticeable flaws. But the less obvious reason is that it’s not always easy to tell what constitutes a single, one-part story.

In particular, are Face the Raven, Heaven Sent and Hell Bent one three part story, or three related one-part stories? I can see why someone might argue that they are in fact “one episode”, or that at least Heaven Sent and Hell Bent are a two-part story, with Face the Raven serving as a prologue of some sort (sort of like Turn Left back in Season 4). They have the same writer & director, they have related titles, and cliffhangers that lead directly into each other.

But I would vote otherwise. All three episodes feature settings, story focuses, supporting casts, tones and in some cases key production roles are more radically different from each other than we normally associate with a traditional linked stories.

This matters, because after due consideration of some other good stories, my favorite one-part story is

Heaven Sent

I’ve already mentioned this in other places, but this is definitely one of Doctor Who’s finest hours (or 45 minutes). Gimmicky stories like this can be well done but are often not entertaining.  But Heaven Sent is a lot of fun and completely engaging.  Steven Moffat’s script is an excellent piece of character work while still telling a gripping plot.  Rachel Talalay’s direction is strong.  The music and set design are good, the editing outstanding.  It’s just a terrific piece of work.

However, if we are going to insist that Heaven Sent doesn’t qualify, then there are a lot of other good single-part stories.  The next choice is

Midnight

Midnight is quite simply the best episode of Doctor Who by original showrunner Russell T. Davies.  A simple but extremely creepy concept with a claustrophobic atmosphere plus a great performance by David Tennant yields an a story in which the Doctor feels more vulnerable than just about any other.  It’s great work by everyone involved.

Incidentally, the runners-up for this spot were The Eleventh Hour and Blink, also great stories.  All four of these were “special” episodes of one sort or another.  Two were “Companion-lite” (with Donna and Clara barely showing up in the two mentioned above), one was “Companion-lite” and “Doctor-lite” (Blink), and one was tasked with introducing a brand new Doctor and brand new companion in the same story (The Eleventh Hour).

What is about this sort of pressure that apparently brings out the best in people?

Click here for a master list for this series.

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