5 Times Doctor Who Broke Our Hearts in the Modern Era

Come ride the roller coaster of emotions with the Doctors and their companions since 2005
The Doctor (David Tennant)
The Doctor (David Tennant) /

BBC television program Doctor Who has had many emotional roller coasters since its premiere in November 1963, whether seeing the first regeneration of the titular character to saying farewell to a beloved companion. I was introduced to the program in 2010 and have heard many stories of the doctors friends grew up loving or what it was like to see this BBC production return for a new era.

“New Who,” as the series that began in 2005 is sometimes called, is full of storylines that left an impact on viewers. Let’s take a look at some of the most emotionally affecting moments or storylines from the Ninth Doctor onward.

5. Rose Tyler at Canary Wharf

Billie Piper joins the Doctor Who audio universe reprising her role as one of the television show’s most popular companions. In this new character-led series, Rose will be jumping realities in search of the Time Lord she loves… Photo: The Last Party on Earth by Matt Fitton.. Image Courtesy Big Finish Productions /

We should have known the end was coming when Billie Piper promised to travel forever with the Tenth Doctor. It was a sweet scene and showed the trust she’d developed at the end of the series that began with her reeling from the shock of witnessing a regeneration.

The catastrophe at Canary Wharf claimed many lives and obviously, it’s a relief that Rose wasn’t one of them, but it was an emotional blow to see her trapped beyond the reach of her friend. No wonder so many people jumped for joy when her return became a reality in “The Stolen Earth.”

4. Love in the Time of Partition

Doctor Who Series 11
Picture shows: Yasmin Khan (MANDIP GILL) /

There are some wonderful stories during Jodie Whitaker’s run as the Thirteenth Doctor.  “Rosa” and the fam’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement is one, as well as the long arc dealing with Flux. 

No episode hits quite as hard emotionally as “Demons of fhe Punjab.”  It draws attention to a troubled time in history—the Partition of India that killed one million people and displaced between ten and twenty million others—and puts faces to the people who were affected by it. Yas’ family connection makes for a thought-provoking storyline, but the murder of the man her grandmother hoped to marry is a devastating moment.

3. “Forest of the Dead”

Photo: Alex Kingston.. Image Courtesy Tony Whitmore/Big Finish Productions /

River Song was never my favorite character. I was annoyed that she knew so much and had so much confidence and there was insufficient reason for any of that.

That opinion shifted over time and I changed my mind completely at the end of “A Good Man Goes to War.” She still didn’t outrank Donna Noble as my favorite character, but I rewatched every one of her episodes with a new appreciation for what it all meant.

I thought of listing “The Husbands of River Song” or the Singing Towers or “The Impossible Astronaut” for the great mystery of the Doctor’s apparent death. Then I realized that “Forest of the Dead” renders every appearance of River Song as a reminder that she will someday sacrifice herself in The Library. Honorable mention goes to the realization in “Let’s Kill Hitler” that she used up her ability to regenerate to save The Doctor. 

2.  Volcano Day and the Inevitable

View of the Vesuvius at sunset...
View of the Vesuvius at sunset... / KONTROLAB/GettyImages

I knew from the title that “The Fires of Pompeii” would be a personal favorite. Years before I took the Circumvesuviana line from Napoli to the Pompeii Scavi station and toured the ruins of Pompeii, I learned Latin from a textbook about an Italian family led by Caecilius. I was delighted by the idea of spending an episode on Volcano Day. 

The story couldn’t have a happy ending, of course. I went to Titanic knowing that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was statistically unlikely to survive and I watched Donna and The Doctor try to solve the mysteries of Pompeii with a memory of Caecilius’ death speech from my Latin class.

This episode is #2 on the list for the fact that The Doctor is forced to cause the famous Vesuvius eruption to save the world. Even more heart-rending is the moment when Donna, having argued with him for most of the episode about the ethics of standing by, helps him cause the calamity.

1. Van Gogh's End

Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh
Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh / Fine Art/GettyImages

“Vincent and the Doctor” is unquestionably one of the finest episodes of all of Doctor Who. It combines a mystery, a worthy cause, an historical figure in need, and what Rory would call “a ridiculous miracle.” It compares favorably with “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “The Shakespeare Code.”

In one of the most beautiful scenes of this episode, The Doctor and Amy Pond bring the despondent Vincent Van Gogh to an exhibit of his paintings in the modern era and the artist is able to hear and witness evidence of his legacy.

When they’ve returned Vincent to Provence, Amy rushes back to the museum, convinced that this experience will have helped Vincent to live a longer and fuller life and thereby have a creative boom of productivity. Sadly, his ending remained the same, except for a dedication to his friend Amy in one of the paintings left behind. This culmination of the story is especially poignant as Amy has just lost Rory and can’t remember why she keeps grieving. She and Vincent gave each other a safe space to feel things strongly and that is a beautiful thing.

There are many more moments that deserve a mention, but I hope this will give you a nudge to rewatch your favorite moments or seasons and enjoy the ride.

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