55 moments that changed Doctor Who forever

Doctor Who is 55 years old today, and every single episode has told us something new and exciting about the Doctor’s world. But some moments were so universe-shattering that we just can’t imagine the show without them!

WARNING! This page contains spoilers spanning the 55 years of the show, so read with caution if you haven’t seen every episode ever.

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Artwork by Carolyn Edwards.

1. In the beginning

If two nosey teachers hadn’t followed a slightly spooky pupil home to see what her story was, then barged their way past the white-haired old fella blocking the door to a tatty old Police Box, they’d never have discovered it was actually the TARDIS and set out on the journey on a lifetime – and neither would we!

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William Russell as Ian Chesterton, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright and William Hartnell as the First Doctor. The first story, An Unearthly Child (1963), is set in Palaeolithic times and relates the adventures met by teachers Ian Chester and Barbara Wright when they attempt to solve the mystery surrounding fifteen year old pupil Susan Foreman.

2. First trips

The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara’s first trip together took them back in time, where they met a load of cavemen trying to learn the secret of making fire. But things really started to heat up at their second stop – Skaro. If the Daleks hadn't been as massively popular as they were in this first appearance, there's a chance we might not still be watching Doctor Who today.

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William Hartnell as the First Doctor pictured with his arch-enemy, the Daleks, in The Daleks (1963).

3. Changing the past

The Doctor’s had a hard time convincing Yas, Ryan and Graham that they shouldn’t meddle with established events when they visit Earth’s history. The First Doctor had the same problem in 15th century Mexico, when Barbara was mistaken for a powerful priestess and wanted to use her new influence to curb the Aztecs’ barbaric ways.

Back in Aztec times, Barbara is appointed a goddess and intends to stop a ritual sacrifice. But the Doctor pleads with her not to interfere.

4. A sad farewell

The first big change to Team TARDIS came when the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, fell in love with a man who’d helped save Earth from a Dalek invasion. The Doctor knew she would never leave him, so he locked the TARDIS doors and told her to build a new life.

A memorable scene from The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964).

5. Two TARDISes!

The first time we saw the Doctor meet another one of his own people – other than Susan – was in 1066, where a Time Lord meddler cosplaying as a Monk was amusing himself by messing around with the Battle of Hastings. He’d even brought an electric toaster with him – naughty.

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Peter Butterworth as the Monk in The Time Meddler (1965). He intends that King Harold shall win at the Battle Of Hastings, and it takes all of the Doctor's ingenuity to stop this interference.

6. The Cybermen arrive

Apart from the Daleks, the Doctor didn’t often run into the same monsters more than once, but that changed after a shipload of augmented humans from the planet Mondas turned up at the South Pole. The Cybermen would return to battle the Doctor time and time again. And his first tussle with them also led to another famous first…

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The Cybermen, a strangely human race of people who appear in The Tenth Planet (1966).

7. A new face!

It could have been the end for Doctor Who when William Hartnell had to leave due to ill-health, but the producers came up with the brilliant idea of renewing the Doctor – same person, whole new face. Viewers loved the cheeky Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, so the adventures continued!

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Patrick Troughton who played the Second Doctor between 1966-1969.

8. Super Sonic

There’s some debate about when the Doctor actually first used the trusty Sonic Screwdriver, but there’s no doubt that it’s been an extremely handy tool over the centuries – scanning stuff, opening doors, making things fizz and giving her something to point with and look cool. The only thing it doesn’t really do is drive many screws. Funny that.

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The Second Doctor unscrewers a screw in the handle of a revolver in The War Games.


UNIT, a special international army division set up to combat alien menaces, first popped up to deal with a Cyberman invasion in 1968, and they’ve been helping the Doctor out ever since. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was their commanding officer for many years, but these days his daughter Kate is in charge.

Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier.

10. The Time Lords

The Second Doctor’s last stand saw him hauled up before his own people, the Time Lords, to stand trial for interfering in the affairs of others. He pointed out all the good he’d done, but they still sentenced him to be exiled to Earth – with another new face. Wonder what punishment the Monk would have got if they’d found out about his toaster.

The three judges in the final trial of the Doctor in the final episode of the The War Games (1969).

11. Stuck on Earth

Life on Earth was a big change for the Doctor – and for the viewers, as Doctor Who was shown in colour for the first time! There was also a new man in the TARDIS as the Third Doctor – actor Jon Pertwee. Luckily the Brigadier joined the Doctor on a more permanent basis, and the Doctor soon made lots of new friends among the UNIT team.

Jon Pertwee who played the Third Doctor between 1970-1974.

12. Enter the Master

The Doctor didn’t get a proper arch-enemy until the Master, his old school pal, rocked up on Earth looking for trouble. This suave, bearded smoothie was almost as slick as the Doctor himself, although his plans often came unstuck due to the slightly useless aliens he picked for allies.

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Roger Delgado as The Master and Katy Manning as Jo Grant in Frontier In Space (1973).

13. Three Doctors!

Doctor Who’s tenth series was marked by getting the first three Doctors together in one epic adventure! They teamed up to help out the Time Lords defeat Omega, one of the first Time Lords, presumed dead in an anti-matter accident and back for his revenge.

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William Hartnell (right) as the First Doctor, Patrick Troughton (left) as the Second Doctor, and Jon Pertwee (middle) as the Third Doctor pictured here for the four-part serial, The Three Doctors (1972).

14. On the loose

The Time Lords were so grateful for the Doctor’s help in defeating Omega that they lifted his exile, leaving him free to roam the universe again. His friend Jo was worried he’d head straight off, but he hung around with her and his UNIT mates for a while yet.

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Draconians surround the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) in a scene from Frontier In Space (1972).

15. A friend for life

The Doctor has a soft spot for all his companions, but plucky journalist Sarah Jane Smith was extra special. In fact, she ended up having adventures with four different Doctors, and starring in not one but two spin-off shows of her own!

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Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor in a scene from The Time Warrior (1973).

16. All teeth and curls

There was something distinctive about Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor that meant people really took him to their hearts. Was it the unruly mop of curls? The massive grin? The cheeky charm? It was all of those, for sure, but a special mention must go to the scarf. Just look at it! It’s magnificent.

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Tom Baker who played the Fourth Doctor, between 1974-1981.

17. Gallifrey

We’d had glimpses of Gallifrey before, but the first time we properly saw the Time Lords in all their big-collared glory, strutting around their Citadel while plotting and scheming, it quickly became clear just why the Doctor had been so keen to do a runner – they were a dreadful bunch!

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Tom Baker (left) as the Fourth Doctor in The Deadly Assassin (1976).

18. A Time Lord’s best friend

The Doctor’s first non-human companion was K-9, a metallic mutt with an onboard computer, a laser blaster for a nose and a great knack for sassy comebacks. In fact, he probably invented the concept of throwing shade.

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Tom Baker (middle) as the Fourth Doctor pictured with K-9 (left) and Lalla Ward (right) as Romana, in The Leisure Hive (1980).

19. Adric dies

By the time Peter Davison came along as the Fifth Doctor, things were crowded in the TARDIS. As well as brainy Nyssa and brave Tegan, the Doctor had Adric, a precocious boy genius stowaway. Even though he could be quite irritating, the Doctor and his friends were devastated when he died trying to stop a space freighter crashing into Earth.

Adric meets his end at the hands of the Cybermen in Earthshock (1982).

20. FIVE Doctors!

After the success of teaming up the first three Doctors for the show’s 10th anniversary, it seemed only natural that all five should get together for its landmark 20th. Sadly William Hartnell had passed away, and Tom Baker only appeared in old footage, but the other three were present and correct, along with a brilliant assortment of old friends and enemies.

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From left to right: Richard Hurndall (who replaces the late William Hartnell, Peter Davison, a dummy/mannequin of Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and the robot dog K-9 in the feature-length story, The Five Doctors (1983).

21. On trial

Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor had a more trying life than most – on TV and behind the scenes. In real life, Doctor Who was taken off the air for 18 whole months – the longest gap ever at that time. On screen, the Doctor faced The Trial of a Time Lord – a whopping 14 episode saga of tampered evidence and Time Lord backstabbing.

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Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor in The Trial Of A Time Lord (1986).

22. New beginning

Usually the Doctor regenerates in a blaze of glory at the end of one final adventure, but not when the Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy, made his first appearance. The Rani, a rival Time Lord, hauled the TARDIS out of space, apparently causing the Doctor to fall off an exercise bike and bump his head. Ouch!

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Kate O'Mara as the Rani (left) Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor (middle) and Bonnie Langford as Mel (left) in Time and the Rani (1987).

23. Flying Daleks!

Viewers have always loved the Daleks, but often mock an apparent flaw in their design – namely, that someone only needs to nip up a flight of stairs to escape them. This theory was debunked in 1988 – the Doctor thought he’d ascended to safety, until the base of Dalek chasing him started to glow with energy, allowing it to rise up after him.

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A Dalek conquers the stairs in Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).

24. Secret history

In the show’s 25th anniversary year, there had been hints that the Doctor might not be the Time Lord everyone though. Bonkers Lady Peinforte had been told the Doctor’s secrets by a gossipy statue made from Gallifreyan living metal, and threatened to blab them to the Cybermen. But they weren’t interested, and cut her off before she could spill the tea. Boo!

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A group of Cybermen gather in Silver Nemesis (1988).

25. Where’s Who?

When we said goodbye to the Doctor and his friend Ace in 1989, nobody knew for sure that it would be a long while before we’d go on another adventure in space and time. Fans kept the flame alive by writing loads of books, comics and audio stories about the Doctor and his friends while they waited and hoped for his return to TV.

A poignant clip from Survival (1989), the final broadcast of the original series.

26. Dimensions in Time

Doctor Who hadn’t been on TV for a few years by the time its 30th anniversary rolled around, but former producer John Nathan-Turner was determined to mark the occasion with something extraordinary, which this definitely was. All the surviving Doctors returned for a one-off crossover ep with the cast of EastEnders!

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Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor (left), Sophie Aldred as Ace (middle) and Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor (right) on the set of Albert Square for the Children In Need special, Dimensions in Time (1993).

27. Millennium mayhem

For a long time, the Eighth Doctor had just one solitary TV appearance to his name, but what an appearance it was! Doctor Who was made in America for the first time, and this glossy, action-packed adventure set on New Year’s Eve in 1999 is the perfect bridge between the original run and the modern series.

Trailer for the 2016 release of Doctor Who: The Movie on Blu-ray.

28. Run!

It seemed like the whole world had been waiting for the Doctor after his long absence, and nobody needed him more than Rose Tyler, a London shop worker who was destined to become so much more. From the moment the Ninth Doctor – played so brilliantly by Christopher Eccleston – first grabbed her hand, they were inseparable. People watching at home couldn’t get enough, and Doctor Who was back, bigger than ever!

Rose Tyler meets a mysterious stranger called the Doctor in Rose (2005). She is faced with a choice; return to her normal life or join him on an extraordinary journey.

29. Last of the Time Lords

The first mega twist of the revived series came in the second episode, when Rose found out the Doctor’s entire race had been wiped out in a terrible war with the Daleks, and he was the only survivor.

The Doctor explains the fate of his home world to Rose in The End of the World (2005).

30. Bad Wolf

The first long-running story arc of the new era featured just two simple words – Bad Wolf. The Doctor and Rose seemed to encounter them everywhere they went, but they didn’t mean anything – until Rose herself scattered them back through time and space to lead her past self to a certain point where she was needed. Neat!

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Billie Piper as Rose Tyler pictured here being cornered by a Dalek in Parting of the Ways (2005).

31. Fantastic!

Over 13 weeks, millions of fans had come to love the Ninth Doctor, so it was a big wrench when he had to go so soon after he’d arrived. After absorbing a load of Time Vortex from Rose, his body was knackered and had to regenerate. But he’d been so fantastic that there was no chance now of the Doctor vanishing for good!

After musing on what his next body will look like and telling Rose goodbye, the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) suddenly steps back and bursts with energy from the regeneration process in Parting of the Ways (2005).

32. Reunited!

When Sarah Jane came face-to-face with the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, she recognised him immediately – despite his very different face. This bittersweet encounter showed the long-term consequences of living a life with the Doctor for the first time – and how painful it was to be left behind.

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David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor (pretending to be a physics teacher called Mr. John Smith) and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith in School Reunion (2006).

33. Parallel world

Rose struggled to deal with visiting a parallel world where her long-dead dad was still alive – especially when she discovered the Rose in that world was a dog!

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Billie Piper as Rose Tyler in The Age of Steel (2006).

34. Goodbye, Rose

Over the centuries, the Doctor has had to say goodbye to almost everyone he’s ever met, but few of those farewells were as gut-wrenching as when he and Rose found themselves stuck on opposite sides of a dimensional breach, just before he could tell her… something very important.

The Doctor and Rose say goodbye in Doomsday (2006).

35. The Runaway Bride

There was no time to dwell on Rose's fate – the Doctor was plunged right back into the thick of things. A bride had somehow appeared in the TARDIS, and she was pretty angry. It would be months before the story of how Donna Noble ended up there was told, making this one of the the most tantalising cliffhangers so far.

Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is walking down the aisle of her Christmas Eve wedding and the Doctor is alone in the TARDIS, but suddenly they find themselves brought together in The Runaway Bride (2006).

36. Dr Jones

Rose was always going to be a hard act to follow, so medical student Martha had a tough time establishing herself in the Doctor’s life. Eventually, he realised she was amazing in her own right but it was too little, too late – she decided to strike out on her own instead of living in Rose's shadow.

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Freema Agyeman (left) as Martha Jones and David Tennant (right) as the Tenth Doctor in Smith and Jones (2007).

37. Don’t Blink!

Every once in a while, a new monster appears that is so brilliantly, pant-wittingly scary that you can’t imagine how Doctor Who ever existed without them. The Weeping Angels, deadly predator statues who feed off time energy generated by zapping people into the past, immediately made it onto the exclusive list of Best Creatures Ever.

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A Weeping Angel in Blink (2007).

38. You Are Not Alone

On a trip to the end of the universe, the Doctor was horrified to discover he wasn’t the last of the Time Lords after all. The seemingly-friendly Professor Yana was actually his arch-enemy, The Master, disguised as a human. This breathtaking reveal was famous for being one of the first to inspire hilarious reaction videos on YouTube!

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John Simm as the Master and Alexandra Moen as his wife Lucy in The Sound of Drums (2007).

39. The Children of Time

When Dalek creator Davros stole the Earth to use as the centrepiece of a bomb that would destroy all of creation, the Doctor needed all the help he could get. Martha, Donna, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane, Mickey and Jackie all responded to the call for assistance – and Rose even made it back from the parallel Earth. Incredible scenes!

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From left to right: Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Noel Clarke as Mickey Smith, Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler, Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones, John Barrowman as Captain Jack, Catherine Tate as Donna Noble in The Stolen Earth (2008).

40. Handy spare hand

The Doctor also had defeated Davros and the Daleks from… himself! A whole other Doctor, grown from a hand that had been lopped off in a sword fight with the Sycorax – was last seen living in a parallel world with Rose.

Part Time Lord, part human. A new Doctor is born from regeneration energy, in an instantaneous biological meta-crisis!

41. Gallifrey Rises

With the Daleks and the Master back on the scene, it seemed inevitable that the Time Lords and Gallifrey would make an appearance. Rassilon, the first Lord President, hatched a complicated plan to drag Gallifrey out of the Time War and park it up next to Earth.

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Timothy Dalton as Rassilon during the Last Great Time War in The End of Time (2010).

42. "I Don’t Want To Go”

After a fraught day preventing the return of Gallifrey, a beaten-but-not-broken Doctor thought he’d cheated a certain death – right up to the moment he heard four fateful knocks. Wilf, Donna’s grandad, had got himself stuck in a radiation-filled chamber. After facing down some of the biggest threats in the history of the universe, this Doctor was honoured to sacrifice himself to save just one loyal friend.

David Tennant's final words as the Tenth Doctor were echoed in the sentiments of many viewers.

43. The Raggedy Doctor

With the arrival of the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith, it was time for everything to change again – new Doctor, new friends, new-look TARDIS, and an enchanting fairy-tale feel to his adventures. Everyone fell in love with this strange but loveable guy from the moment he dipped his first fish finger into his first bowl of custard.

The Doctor, a little peckish after his regeneration, turns to a young Amelia Pond to rustle him up something in the kitchen in The Eleventh Hour (2010).

44. Mr & Mrs Pond

Life got very complicated when married couple Amy Pond and Rory Williams started travelling with the Doctor: Rory died and came back to life more times than we could count, Amy was replaced with a duplicate made of living goo, and then they had a baby who turned out to be part Time Lord. Oh, and the baby grew up to be River Song, who later married the Doctor. That’s quite a family tree.

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Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams, Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amy Pond in A Town Called Mercy (2012).

45. The Doctor’s Wife

When the spirit of the TARDIS decamped into the body of a woman called Idris, she and the Doctor flirted up a storm, revealing a totally new side to their relationship! But poor Idris’s body didn’t have long to live, and the TARDIS had to return to her old shell – but not before telling the Doctor she loved him. Sob!

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Elizabeth Berrington as Auntie, Paul Kasey as Nephew, Adrian Schiller as Uncle, Suranne Jones as Idris and Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in The Doctor's Wife (2011).

46. The Impossible Girl

Clara is unique among the Doctor’s friends – he met her for the first time more than once! First she was Oswin Oswald, a human who’d been converted into a Dalek but still imagined herself as how she used to be. Then she was Clara Oswin Oswald, a Victorian nanny who died helping the Doctor defeat the Great Intelligence. Finally, he found Clara Oswald herself, and made it his mission to find out why this “Impossible Girl” kept popping up in his life.

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Jenna Coleman's first appearance in Doctor Who as Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks (2012).

47. Warrior

After millions of echoes of Clara were scattered through time to help the Doctor, she thought she’d met every version of him. But as the timeline collapsed and she started seeing them all at once, there was one face she didn’t recognise. He was the same man, but he didn’t have the same name. How could the Doctor not be the Doctor? Because this stranger was the one who fought in the Time War! Now THAT’S a twist!

Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor!

48. An unexpected comeback

When pilot Cass sent a distress signal from her crashing ship, she wasn’t expecting a Doctor to respond. And fans really weren’t expecting the Doctor who turned up! Paul McGann kicked off the show’s big anniversary in style in a surprise mini-episode that finally showed us how he came to regenerate.

The Night of the Doctor (2013) - a mini episode starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.

49. Undo

To mark 50 years of Doctor Who, Ten, Eleven and the War Doctor were plunged into the Time War itself. Amazing things can happen when many Doctors join forces, and they found a way to rewrite the war's ending, saving Gallifrey while still destroying the Daleks. The Doctor also met someone who may or may not have been both his past and future self – it’s hard to tell, as he wasn’t wearing his scarf at the time. WHAT a day!

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From left to right: John Hurt as the War Doctor, David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara and Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor (2013).

50. A good man?

Clara was deeply unsettled when the Twelfth, played by Peter Capaldi, came along. Even a phone call from “her” Doctor in the past couldn’t quite convince her that the abrasive new man was someone she could warm to. This new Doctor forged a complex and intense friendship with Clara – one that was constantly tested to its limits.

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Jenna Coleman (left) as Clara and Peter Capaldi (right) as a newly regenerated Twelfth Doctor hide behind menus in Deep Breath (2014).

51. Meet Missy

The Doctor was confused when he met a woman claiming to be a “Time Lady” – he should have recognised her but didn’t. Turned out she just looked very different to the last time he’d seen her. Yes, she was now wearing a hat! Oh, and she had previously been a man. And she was the Master. Blimey!

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Michelle Gomez as Missy drinking a cup of tea in The Magician's Apprentice (2015).

52. The end for Clara

As time went on, Clara started acting more like the Doctor, facing danger head-on and no longer waiting for his approval. This went wrong when she accidentally signed her own life away to save a friend’s. There was nothing the Doctor could do to prevent her death, and he mourned her loss for four billion years! Then he got the Time Lords to save her, which is kind of cheating.

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Peter Capaldi (left) as the Twelfth Doctor with Jenna Coleman (right) as Clara as she prepares to die in Face the Raven (2015).

53. Secret of the Vault

After losing both Clara and River , the Doctor took a different path in life. He got a job at a university, and took Bill Potts under his wing. But there was another reason why he had to hang around on Earth – he was holding Missy in a high-security vault under campus. Releasing her set off a terrible chain of events that would cost both him and Bill their lives.

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Peter Capaldi as the the Twelfth Doctor pictured outside the Vault in Empress of Mars (2017).

54. An unexpected return

The Doctor was dying, and this time, he was too tired and sad to go on, so when he took a direct hit from a Cyberman, he refused to let regeneration take its course. The universe had other ideas – the TARDIS took him back to the South Pole, where the First Doctor was also having second thoughts changing. They helped each other to realise that they had to go on, and both Doctors finally faced the future.

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Pearl Mackie (left) as Bill, Peter Capaldi (middle) as the Twelfth Doctor and David Bradley (right) as the First Doctor pose in front of the TARDIS for Twice Upon a Time (2017).

55. She's the Doctor

One of the biggest surprises in Doctor Who history didn’t actually happen in the show! Millions of people were glued to their tellies on 16th July 2017 after the Wimbledon men’s singles final, desperate to see who had been cast as the next Doctor. A hooded figure walked through the woods towards the TARDIS, and the squeeing could be heard from here to Gallifrey when that hood came down to reveal Jodie Whittaker – the first female Doctor!

We had to wait more than a year to see this new Doctor in action, and was it worth it? Was it ever! She was a breathless, fizzing ball of energy. Millions of people tuned in to see her in action on opening night, and most of them have continued to enjoy her adventures with her new mates, Yaz, Graham and Ryan week after week.

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Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.

The really brilliant thing about Doctor Who is that the next utterly amazing thing that will change the universe is usually only about a week away! The eighth episode of the new series of Doctor Who The Witchfinders airs on Sunday 25th November. UK: 18:30 GMT on BBC One. US: 20:00 EDT on BBC America. Check local listings in other countries here.

Happy 55th Birthday, Doctor Who!

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