There’s an oft-problematic sub-genre of superhero comics I’ve always had a particular affection for nonetheless. It’s a genre I have a difficult time even coming up with a name for; one where the nigh-incomprehensibly complex nature of a sci-fi/superhero setting and the gritty humanity inherent in “real life of superheroes” type content collide. Series like Transmetropolitan, Astro City, and Powers fall into that category, and those are some of the greatest comic series of all time. But there is one that I tend to forget about and, as a result, don’t often go back to: Alan Moore’s Top 10.
The Gang’s all here. (Screenshot from Top 10.)
As a police drama set in a city where literally every resident is some sort of superhero, robot, mutant, monster, goddess, or alien, Top 10 hits a lot of zany-but-dark notes. But unlike the (truly brilliant) series Powers by Brian Michael Bendis, Top 10 is much more lighthearted in its take on “how do you do policework when suspects are superpowered beings,” and tends more towards “comics continuity gone wild”-type jokes and narratives.
Top 10 features a dazzlingly diverse cast in an almost unimaginably complex multiverse, but the stories that it tells are surprisingly relatable, due in no small part to the character-focused writing by Alan Moore. The art by Gene Ha crams nearly every page with enough Easter eggs and references that they sometimes come off as being from a Where’s Waldo book. But the comic also, like many of Alan Moore’s greatest works, tackles some very controversial issues in ways that can be (sometimes subversively) heavy-handed and trope-y. Though much of the more problematic content in these books does offer a nuanced and honest look at things like racism, sexism, homophobia, and police corruption, it also sometimes comes off as playing for pure shock value.
Note that this article is about the original 2000-2001 run of Top 10 (and to a lesser extent its prequel The Forty Niners) rather than the 2008-2009 run by Kevin and Zander Cannon (who also worked on the original).
I had a lot of difficulty pulling a 1-through-10 hierarchy out of these episodes, so I caved and ended up just listing them in the order they aired.
Although I’m partial to Ten and Rose, I tried to give an equal share to all the Doctors and companions, but your mileage may vary as to whether I succeeded. (I did crack at the last minute and replace The Girl Who Waited with The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, though.)
As a lot of the best scenes from these come from the end of episodes, and a lot of the episodes come from the end of series, it goes without saying that SPOILERS, SWEETIE.
So here they are, as my wedding present to River Song (sort of a shitty present, as none of the episodes contain her, but you’ll have that): the Top Ten Doctor Who episodes!
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Plot: Rose and the Doctor visit Blitz-era London and combat a mysterious and highly contagious disease.
Reasons I love it: It introduces Captain Jack Harkness, the world’s most interesting omnisexual Time Agent. It maintains a steady level of terror throughout (the titular Empty Child is actually quite terrifying). The flirty tension between Jack, Rose, and the Doctor and the hilarious metaphorical dick-measuring contest between the two men are awesome.
[Captain Jack has just greeted the Doctor as “Mr. Spock”]
The Doctor: Mister Spock?
Rose Tyler: What was I supposed to say? You don’t have a name! Don’t you ever get tired of “Doctor”? Doctor Who?
The Doctor: Nine centuries in, I’m coping.
Best scene: (best part starts at 5:40)
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
Plot: The Doctor, Rose, and Jack find themselves separated and trapped on Satellite Five, and facing an innumerable army of Daleks.
Reasons I love it: I love the Daleks as villains, first of all. They’re fun to hate and easy to make fun of. Outside of that, this first series finale marks Rose being even more badass than usual, an awesomely corny climactic kiss, and makes Jack Harkness immortal. Oh, and it makes me want to scribble ‘BAD WOLF’ on every surface I encounter.
Captain Jack: Rose, you are worth fighting for.
[Jack kisses Rose passionately]
Captain Jack: Wish I’d never met you, Doctor, I was much better off as a coward.
[Jack kisses the Doctor the same way]
The Girl in the Fireplace
Plot: Rose, Mickey, and the Doctor explore an abandoned spaceship filled with time windows that open of different moments in the life of Madame du Pompadour.
Reasons I love it: First of all, crazy steampunk robots. Also, the Doctor owns a horse. (or at least attempts to.) But for realsies, Reinette is one of those thoughtful people who can see right through the Doctor and is just strong, intelligent, and understanding in general. There’s something really compelling about following Reinette through her whole life in only forty minutes of episode, which, now that I think on it, might be a bigger metaphor for the Doctor’s time with all his companions.
[the Doctor enters, singing “I Could Have Danced All Night”, seemingly drunk]
Rose Tyler: Oh, look what the cat dragged in, the Oncoming Storm.
The Doctor: Oh, you sound just like your mother.
Rose Tyler: What have you been doing, where’ve you been?
The Doctor: Well, among other things, I *think* I just invented the banana daiquiri a couple of centuries early. Do you know they’d never seen a banana before? Always take a banana to a party, Rose, bananas are good.
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
Plot: The TARDIS lands in a base stationed on a planet that is orbiting a black hole. As this is scientifically not okay even a little bit, the Doctor decides to investigate, accidentally leading himself and Rose into one of their most dangerous adventures yet.
Reasons I love it: I watched this episode the first time during a one-person all-nighter marathon viewing, and it actually left me physically shaking, it was so intense. I’d rate this episode easily scarier than Blink for two reasons: One, the people in danger are not new characters but the Doctor and Rose themselves, and two, they’re up against freaking SATAN.
The Ood: The Beast and his armies will rise from the pit to make war against God.
Rose: I’m sorry?
The Ood: [whacks communication sphere] Apologies. I said: I hope you enjoy your meal.
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
Plot: An impossible victory against an army of millions of Cybermen and Daleks leads to the Doctor and Rose being irreparably separated.
Reasons I love it: This one’s more of a love to hate. I knew something like this was coming since Rose and Ten had enough UST at this point that they were either gonna act on it or Rose was going to die. The whole first episode builds this sense of growing horror and just sets you on edge for the whole time. It was heartbreaking and final but so well done and I wept inconsolably for literally an hour when it was over.
Rose: Planet Earth. This is where I was born. And this is where I died. For the first nineteen years of my life nothing happened. Nothing at all. Not ever. And then I met a man called The Doctor. A man who could change his face. And he took me away from home in his magical machine. He showed me the whole of time and space. I thought it would never end. That’s what I thought. But then came the Army of Ghosts, then came Torchwood and the war. And that’s when it all ended. This is the story of how I died.
Best scene: (yes, the depressing one on the beach 😛 I put on my big girl panties and watched it again)
Human Nature/The Family of Blood
Plot: The Doctor becomes human to hide from a group of unstoppable hunters and finds that he could make a happy life for himself, but when the hunters find him he must weigh his happiness against the lives of those he loves.
Reasons I love it: This episode deals really well with the dark side of the Doctor, both his weaknesses and his cruelty. River says that the Doctor has never fallen as far as he did at Demon’s Run. I say River obviously never watched this episode.
Tim Latimer: Because I was so scared… of the Doctor.
Joan Redfern: Why?
Tim Latimer: Because I’ve seen him. He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever… He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe… And… he’s wonderful.
Plot: The Doctor and Martha are trapped in the 70s by the Weeping Angels, a unique scavenger race; in the present day, a young woman must piece together clues to save him.
Reasons I love it: The Weeping Angels are one of the best villains/monsters introduced in the series, in my opinion – a really clever and interesting bunch. The time streams in this episode are so crossed that it’s really exciting at the end when everything falls together. (Although, to be honest, although I do love this episode and the Angels , this is not my favorite by far. If I was prioritizing this list this would probably be near the bottom, famous or not.)
Great quote: The ever-excellent:
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly, wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
Plot: The hints that have been dropped throughout the series come together into a huge final showdown: the Tenth Doctor and all his companions and several other familiar faces versus Davros and the Dalek fleet.
Captain Jack Harkness: [on realizing that there are technically three versions of the Doctor – the original, the clone and the Doctor/Donna combination] I can’t tell you what I’m thinking right now!
[Oh Jack. We all know what you are thinking, and it is sexy indeed.]
Best scene: (I couldn’t find the best scene on youtube or the BBC, and the runner up won’t embed. Check it out here.)
Vincent and the Doctor
Plot: After noticing something odd in one of his paintings, Amy and the Doctor travel back to meet Vincent van Gogh and battle aliens.
Reasons I love it: Deals maturely with issues of depression and suicide, casting van Gogh as a sympathetic figure. Also, British people apparently say van Goff instead of van Go.
Vincent Van Gogh: It seems to me there’s so much more to the world then the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe then you could ever have dreamt of.
The Doctor: You don’t have to tell me.
Best scene: Features a bit of time-stream meddling, but whatevs.
Plot: The TARDIS’ consciousness matrix is trapped temporarily inside a human woman’s body, while a metaphysical entity kidnaps the blue box with Rory and Amy still inside.
Reasons I love it: This episode is just enormously heartwarming. It’s lovely to have the TARDIS anthropomorphized and to hear her side of the story of her and the Doctor’s journey. The villain in this episode provides some ultra-creepy mind-fuckery for Rory and Amy while they try to help mend things.
Doctor: “You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go.”
TARDIS: “No, but I always took you where you needed to go!”