Doctor Who Episodes You Need To Watch Before The Anniversary Specials

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

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Unless you’ve been trapped in a TARDIS for the last year, you know that we have a Doctor Who 60th anniversary special event coming up this November. The special will give us three more episodes where David Tennant’s Doctor must team up with Donna Noble in a quest to (what else?) save the world. The whole thing has us feeling very nostalgic for some of our favorite Doctor Who adventures, and with that in mind, we’re here to bring you the definitive list of episodes you should watch before the BBC drops the anniversary special on us.

“The Final Test”

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Out of all the Doctor Who episodes on this list, “The Final Test” might be the hardest to find, but it’s arguably the most important to watch. That’s because it’s the final episode in a classic Who series that introduced The Celestial Toymaker, the returning villain that Neil Patrick Harris will portray in the upcoming special.

Why do we suggest just watching the final showdown between the Doctor and the Toymaker? Tragically, the episodes preceding this are part of the 97 original Doctor Who episodes the BBC taped over that have never been recovered. 

This episode survives, though, and watching it means you’ll appreciate many of the inevitable Easter Eggs the special will have involving this classic villain.

“The Day Of The Doctor”

Part of what makes this upcoming Doctor Who anniversary feel so special is that David Tennant (whom many fans consider the best Doctor) is reprising his iconic role. To properly prepare for that, why not watch the last special that brought Tennant back to this famous franchise?

In “The Day of the Doctor,” Tennant’s Doctor joins with Matt Smith’s Doctor and even a heretofore unseen incarnation: the War Doctor, played by screen legend John Hurt. There is fun fan service left and right (including cameos by Billie Piper and even Tom Baker!), but the episode also gives us plenty of great info about the Time War and the Doctor’s past. 

Refreshing yourself on this will help you appreciate the special, which seems to involve the Doctor’s past mistakes coming back to haunt him in multiple ways.

“The Runaway Bride”

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While fans are understandably most excited about the anniversary special because of the return of David Tennant, the special notably features the return of Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble. To help prepare for that, why not watch the episode where this firecracker of a character was first introduced?

In “The Runaway Bride,” Donna appears on the TARDIS in a wedding dress, and things just get crazier from there. The actual plot is your standard Doctor Who fare (in this case, trying to stop the Racnoss Empress from waking up her kids, and trust us: they definitely aren’t alright), but the real magic comes from Tennant and Tate and the crackling chemistry they share. 

The special will likely show us how Donna Noble’s adventures with the Doctor end, making this the perfect time to revisit how they began.

“The Stolen Earth”

For as lighthearted as Doctor Who’s episodes with Donna Noble mostly were, they occasionally delved into more serious subject matter. For example, in “The Stolen Earth,” we see Donna do her best to help the Doctor in an epic confrontation against Davros and his army of Daleks. And this episode sets up an incident that will change her life forever.

The incident (which plays out in the next ep) is that she ends up making contact with the Doctor’s hand, previously cut off in a battle with the Sycorax (don’t worry: he got better). This DNA transfer eventually results in the creation of a Doctor with human DNA, which leads to a really bittersweet ending for Rose Tyler sure to make some (but not all) Doctor Who ‘shippers happy.

It also results in some of the Doctor’s DNA merging with Donna’s, and this creates a particular dilemma that the Doctor is still trying to circumvent in the upcoming special.

“Journey’s End”

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In the Doctor Who episode “Journey’s End,” we see what a double-edged sword getting the Doctor’s DNA can be. At first, Donna manages to save the day with her newfound super-intellect. It’s quite the character arc: she went from flighty comic relief to saving the entire universe from the terror of Davros and the Daleks.

However, she then discovered that her mind was getting overwhelmed: simply put, a human mind was not designed to contain all the complex knowledge of a Time Lord. The Doctor has to wipe her memories in order to save her life, but this means she lost all memories of their time together. Even worse, if she starts to remember what happened before, it could end her life, which is a central element of the 60th anniversary special.

“The End of Time”

In the episode “The End of Time,” we discover just how difficult it can be to avoid triggering Donna’s memories. The episode involves the Doctor teaming up with her grandfather in order to save the Earth from the machinations of the Master. Despite the high (world-ending, even) stakes, the Doctor must also constantly avoid Donna because triggering her memories of their time together would kill her.

It’s a very bittersweet Doctor Who episode that led most fans to (quite naturally) assume the Doctor and Donna would never team up again. But that team-up is finally happening in the upcoming special, and watching “The End of Time” is the perfect way to prepare for the special’s first episode. 

The Doctor and Donna are back together again — that’s enough to get both your hearts beating with excitement!