Doctor Who may be as old as the invention of the computer mouse but no actor has ever taken up the role of the Time Lord twice.
That's until David Tennant agreed to a sensational return (alongside returning fan favorite Catherine Tate) in May 2022, which followed a hugely successful four-and-a-bit year stint for Tennant as the 10th Doctor. Now, Tennant is back as the 14th Doctor for the three 60th anniversary specials on Disney Plus internationally and BBC One/BBC iPlayer in the UK, which begin on Saturday, November 25.
Playing the part for 47 episodes from 2005 to 2010, Tennant quickly became a fan favourite thanks to his energetic, likeable and extremely human performances, which also owed much to the top-notch writing by showrunner Russell T Davies. Taking this into account, it's no surprise that, when discussing the best Doctor Who episodes of the modern era, plenty of contenders feature the Scottish actor.
For this roundup, we've decided to go off his performance along with some must-see episodes to kind of get you ready for the 60th anniversary specials, with each entry delineated by the season they're set in and the episode number of said season. So, for example, season 2 episode 4 will be shown as 'S2 E4'.
Some light housekeeping before we begin: first, don't expect to see 'The Day of the Doctor' or 'Blink' on this list. While both are exceptional, the former is more of a Matt Smith episode, while the other barely features the Doctor. Secondly (and lastly), these episodes are only available to stream on Max in the US because the legendary sci-fi series' entire back catalog isn't available on Disney Plus stateside yet.
Without further ado, then, here are the 14 best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes worth streaming.
1. S2 Christmas Special – The Christmas Invasion
Let's be honest: you can't start the Tennant era without his first appearance.
"But Tennant is barely in 'The Christmas Invasion'" you say. That's true! But when he does materialize in the 39th minute of this 60-minute Christmas Special, it's simply glorious. This is how to introduce a new Doctor to audiences, giving a tour-de-force monologue that instantly endeared audiences to the character's latest iteration.
2. S2 E2 – Tooth and Claw
Now into the swing of things, the Doctor, Rose, and Queen Victoria (yes, you read that right) face off against a werewolf in 1879 Scotland.
In addition to some quality comedy and chemistry from Tennant and Billie Piper's Rose, we get a commanding performance from the lead man as he deals with treachery, blood lust, and the beauty of the beast. This is also the first time Torchwood, which became a beloved spin-off show, is mentioned, as well as the first appearance of the 10th Doctor's swanky glasses.
3. S2 E3 – School Reunion
'School Reunion' shows Tennant going above and beyond to prove to any naysayers that he has the acting chops to not only make this role great but to make it his own.
Bringing back classic companion Sarah Jane Smith (played by the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen) was a touch of class that allows the Time Lord to examine what life is like after the TARDIS. Oh, and bat creatures are hijacking the minds of schoolchildren, too.
4. S2 E4 – The Girl in the Fireplace
'The Girl in the Fireplace' is a brilliantly unique script from Sherlock writer Steven Moffat.
Essentially, clockwork droids in the 51st century are stalking Madame de Pompadour in the 18th century. Clear? Crystal. Look, all you need to know is that it won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Performance, Short Form in 2007. But, if you need further proof that this is a fantastic episode, just watch Tennant's stunned expressions when the aforementioned Madame plants a passionate kiss on his lips. Or Tennant's Doctor having a whale of a time traveling back and forth through time using the titular fireplace.
5. S2 E8/9 – The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
Sure, Daleks and Cybermen are scary, but what about the Devil himself?
Stranded on a human expedition, Rose and the Doctor must face off against Satan (and a black hole) that's set to obliterate everything it touches. How Tennant's performance grapples with the existence of the Beast, pushing himself further into the darkness to find out the truth throughout this belter of a two-parter, makes for gripping viewing.
6. S2 E12/13 – Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
Cybermen. Daleks. A hidden institute inside Canary Wharf. Parallel universes. This two-parter to-end season two is still a joy to watch 17 years on.
More specifically, it's down to the unprecedented emotional performances of Billie Piper and David Tennant that delivered something completely different for the sci-fi show. It's hard to think of many more scenes that encapsulate why Doctor Who is so special than those final moments on Bad Wolf Bay. We're not crying, you are.
7. S3 Christmas Special – The Runaway Bride
'The Runaway Bride' introduced Donna Noble to the TARDIS, presenting a formidable counterpart for the 10th Doctor to bounce off.
With the Doctor still reeling from the loss of Rose and Donna mysteriously disappearing on her wedding day, it's all-go in this thrilling 2006 Christmas special from. It's a partnership that's proved to be one of the best in the six decades since the show's inception and we can't wait to see Tennant and Tate get up to more hijinks and drama-fuelled moments very soon.
8. S3 E4/E5 - Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
Not enough love is shown for this two-parter – which also features a young Andrew Garfield – as the Daleks kidnap homeless people for hideous experiments in 1930s New York.
Sure, some of the effects and the accents are a bit off, and long time fans certainly bristled at the prospect of merging the DNA of humans and Daleks to create, well, a human-looking Dalek. However, the core premise is an interesting one, allowing Tennant to play to his strengths in every scene.
9. S3 E8/9 – Human Nature/The Family of Blood
On the run from the so-called Family of Blood, the Doctor transforms himself into a human under the pseudonym John Smith to hide out at a school in 1913 with his companion Martha (played by the hugely underrated Freema Agyeman).
Adapted from Paul Cornell's novel of the same name, this story has everything: high stakes, eerie scarecrow monsters, electrifying performances – shout out to Harry Lloyd's Baines – as well as an impossible choice for John Smith: live on as a human, or make the ultimate sacrifice to bring the Doctor back. This is as emotionally gripping as it gets.
10. S4 E2 – The Fires of Pompeii
Expecting to see the wonders of the universe, things become very real when the Doctor and Donna end up in Pompeii the day before Mount Vesuvius erupts.
Wrestling with the concept of fixed points in time, we get to see the difference Donna makes to the Doctor's ideology. We also get to see Peter Capaldi a few years before he was given the keys to the TARDIS, albeit playing a completely different role here.
11. S4 E10 – Midnight
Arguably David Tennant's best performance as the Doctor to date, 'Midnight' is a fascinating look into human behavior.
With Donna hanging back to enjoy a local spa, the Doctor takes a shuttle to visit a waterfall made of diamonds, only for the vehicle to unexpectedly break down. It's from here that things get out of hand as Tennant futilely tries to convince the other passengers to stick together only for them to revolt against him. It's taut, thrilling, and fascinatingly ingenious when you find out that writer Davies penned it over a weekend. Why can't all TV episodes be this easy to write?
12. S4 E12/13 – The Stolen Earth/Journey's End
Aside from the anniversary specials, no other episodes celebrate Doctor Who like the revived show's season 4 finale. With 26 planets stolen from their place in the galaxy and an old foe waiting in the wings, the 10th Doctor and friends band together to save the universe.
A duology stuffed with as much nostalgia, fascinating twists and turns, character crossovers, and so much more, this two-parter is an absolute triumph. If the entire series had ended here, nobody could have complained. A stunning piece of sci-fi theater.
13. 2008 to 2010 Specials E2 – The Waters of Mars
Doctor Who constantly makes the normal abnormal, so naturally the show goes full horror by introducing a virus known as The Flood to the water supply of Humanity's first colony on Mars.
Not only are the humans infected by the infection downright terrifying, but the life of the Time Lord's 10th iteration is increasingly getting closer to the end – and he knows it. As the Doctor battles against the laws of time itself, we get lots of great shouting from Tennant as well as some superb looks when he loses all empathy, only to realize he's gone too far. It all sets up the finale quite nicely. Speaking of which...
14. 2008 to 2010 Specials E3/4 – The End of Time
"Sometimes I think the Time Lord lives too long…" The final curtain call for Tennant has the actor go out in a sensational way, dealing with his own mortality like the show has never addressed before.
While the flashy effects, The Master's return, and the imminent threat to mankind are all abundantly prevalent, what elevates this conclusion are the quieter moments between the Doctor and Wilf (the late Bernard Cribbins). In fact, these not only contribute to the best David Tennant Doctor Who episodes, but make up some of the best moments in the show's history. If you watch anything before Tennant's return in the 60th anniversary episodes, it's this two-parter.
For more Time Lord-based coverage, read our guide on every Doctor Who Christmas special ranked from worst to best. Alternatively, read our thoughts on why Ncuti Gatwa is an inspired choice for the 15th Doctor.