Admittedly, I only got into “Doctor Who” a few years ago, mostly because I had heard it mentioned by a couple of friends, and another friend gave me the perfect first episode to watch before I dived into the entire thing. However, ever since then, I have not looked back, and jokingly say that all my years as a “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” fan have prepared me for this- aliens, time travel, fun adventures, great characters and storylines and moral dilemmas abound. So now, as I am embarking on a second watch of the entire series starting from the 2005 reboot, I decided to kick things off by presenting a very quick primer on what the show is about, and a quick viewing guide with essential episodes that one needs to watch per season.
“Doctor Who” is a science fiction show that has been running on the BBC for more than fifty years now, but one doesn’t have to watch EVERY single episode to enjoy it, as there are numerous jumping on points, especially at the beginning of each Doctor’s run. However, most modern fans started out with the rebooted series in 2005, which was thanks to Russell T. Davies, and paved the way for “Doctor Who” to return after being off the air for more than ten years or so.
The show centers around the Doctor, a time travelling alien from the planet Gallifrey who goes around space and time in his ship, called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which takes the guise of a blue police box; and is often accompanied by one or more “companions”. Aside from this, the Doctor, at the end of his life cycle, regenerates, meaning that he’s still the Doctor, but with a different face and personality. So far there have been twelve Doctors, with the modern era Doctors being portrayed by Christopher Eccleston (Ninth Doctor), David Tennant (Tenth Doctor), Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor), and Peter Capaldi (Twelfth Doctor).
So aside from aliens, time travel and fun adventures, one should expect a compelling and engaging mythology and great stories that present interesting character studies and moral dilemmas which often do have real world applications.
Also, each new series or season has an underlying recurring theme or thread that ties everything together.
Now, one thing that worries people is where to start, and if all episodes are needed to be watched the first time around.
There are different ways to start watching “Doctor Who”, or at least the modern era of “Who”.
- Pick a Doctor, Then Begin with Him.
With this one, you can either start at the very beginning, with the Ninth Doctor in “Rose” (just expect it to be low budget and campier than the later seasons), or you can start at any point at the beginning of a Doctor’s run then go back afterwards from there.
a. Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)
Start at the very beginning with “Rose”, or at “The End of the World”, because “Rose” may be a little bit dated at this point in time.
Nine was a more rough and raw Doctor, who was still healing from deepseated emotional wounds from his past, almost in a PTSD-like level, which caused him to be little bit closed off emotionally. He wasn’t a big talker, and was straight forward and did things more than he talked, yet was adorkable at the same time.
His relationship with Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was “fantastic”; and his run introduced us to a classic Who villain as well as other memorable characters, such as Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton).
b. Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)
The second regeneration of the Modern Era. (My Doctor).
This was a Doctor who was the epitome of a swashbuckling hero. He was passionate, talkative to a fault, and he made up most of his plans up on the fly while talking down his enemies. He had a zest for life, humanity, pop culture, and a fascination for, well, almost everything. However, when the Tenth Doctor got mad, he would go to extremes, which made him even scarier than the Ninth when he got mad.
Ten also had the most number of companions to play off against, such as Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).
Start this one off with “The Christmas Invasion” (campy but it gives you a good idea on who Ten is), or “New Earth”.
c. Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith)
Many begin with Season/Series 5 because at this point, the effects and the budget were better compared to the Tenth Doctor’s run. So if you are the type to scoff at campiness, begin with “Eleventh Hour”. Also, you’ll like to start here if you like shows that has a mythos of its own that runs deep. Sure, “Doctor Who” has a rich history, but somehow, depending on the set of companions he is with, there was an underlying mythos that connects them in a stand alone sort of way. So the mythos surrounding Eleven, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and River Song (Alex Kingston), is very different from the underlying connection and mythos with Eleven and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman).
Eleven was the quirkiest of them all, and acted more like a little kid who constantly NEEDED to be doing something, yet deep down, he knew that he was really an old man. This Doctor was very endearing and very likeable. Also, this was a Doctor who ALWAYS had a plan before jumping into situations.
From here, you can watch Peter Capaldi’s run as the Twelfth Doctor before going back to Nine and Ten; or you can go back first and watch Nine and Ten before going to Twelve.
2. Sample Some, Then Dive Right In
Honestly, this is how I got started on “Doctor Who”. I’m the type who uses a three episode test, or watches one-off episodes first in order to gauge whether a series is worth my time or not. If you use this route, watch these episode/s first, then if you like it, dive right into things with Series/Season 1’s “Rose” (Just expect it to be fun, campy and low budget).
a. “Blink” (S3E10)– This was a “Doctor-lite” episode, which means that the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) aren’t prominent here. It’s a stand alone episode featuring a young Carey Mulligan, that’s part thriller and features some scary villains. It’s a good story that gives you a sense of what to expect, minus the adventure and time travelling part. This was my first ever episode, and it got me intrigued enough to start watching.
b. “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” (S1E9-10)– This two parter is a great thriller story set in World War II, which also introduces us to John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness. It’s a brilliantly done Steven Moffat story which also gives you a sense of what to expect with the series as well.
c. “The Girl in the Fireplace”– A beautiful episode featuring time travel, spaceships, clockwork aliens. It’s a well done and haunting story that features the Tenth Doctor at his best as a swashbuckling hero.
c. “Midnight” (S4E10)– A “companion-lite” story, this story is not just a thriller, but it makes you think and features a GREAT performance from David Tennant.
d. “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”– Another very solid, story that’s more scifi than adventure, and has solid performances from Tennant, Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble and Alex Kingston’s River Song. It also features some scary alien villains and is another shining example of what and who the Doctor is.
Now, once you are in it, you can either watch the entire season, or just watch the essentials, then catch up later. Here’s what I recommend per season w/ the Christmas Specials.
Series 1- The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman)
Rose – End of the World – Dalek – The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances- Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways (This introduces you to the show, the main characters and Captain Jack and the Daleks.)
Go Back For:
Father’s Day (an underrated gem). If you want to watch it with continuity in plot points in mind, watch The Long Game, Aliens of London/World War III in its proper order in the season.
Series 2- Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke)
The Christmas Invasion- School Reunion- Girl in the Fireplace- Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel- The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit- Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (This will introduce you to Classic Who companion Sarah Jane Smith as portrayed by Elisabeth Sladen, the alien race known as the Ood, and will introduce you to the classic Who villains, the Cybermen.)
Series 3- Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) (brief
Runaway Bride- Smith & Jones – Gridlock- Human Nature/Family of Blood- Blink- Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (Introduces you to Donna Noble, Martha Jones; explores the character of the Tenth Doctor more, emotionally; and concludes with an epic three part finale.)
Series 4- Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman)
Partners in Crime-Fires of Pompeii-Planet of the Ood- Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead-Midnight-Turn Left-Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (Re-introduces us to Donna Noble, introduces us to River Song, and concludes with an epic two part finale that’s also part love letter to the fans.)
Go Back For:
The Doctor’s Daughter (For an interesting Martha-Doctor-Donna adventure) & Unicorn & the Wasp (because…Agatha Christie).
2008-2010 Specials- Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins)
The Waters of Mars – End of Time I & II (These specials conclude the Tenth Doctor’s epic run.)
Series 5- Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) (& sometimes, River Song (Alex Kingston))
Eleventh Hour- The Beast Below- Time of Angels/Flesh & Stone- Amy’s Choice-(the very last 7 minutes and 28 seconds of “Cold Blood”) -Vincent & the Doctor-The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (Introduces us to the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond, Rory Williams and River Song. This season also sees the return of a classic Who villain last seen in “Blink”.)
Go Back For:
The Lodger (Because it’s James Corden pre-Carpool Karaoke).
Series 6- Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), River Song (Alex Kingston)
A Christmas Carol-The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon- The Doctor’s Wife- (the last 3 minutes and 19 seconds of “The Rebel Flesh”)– A Good Man Goes To War-Let’s Kill Hitler-The Girl Who Waited- God Complex- (the last 6 minutes and 8 seconds of “Closing Time”)– The Wedding of River Song (This season was heavy on the mythology surrounding Eleven, Amy, Rory and River. It also introduced the Silence.)
Go Back For:
If you enjoyed “The Lodger”, watch “Closing Time” if you have time, as it features Corden’s Craig again.
Series 7- Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), River Song (Alex Kingston), Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)
Asylum of the Daleks-Power of Three- The Angels Take Manhattan-The Snowmen-The Bells of St. John- Rings of Akhaten-Journey to the Center of the TARDIS-Nightmare in Silver-Name of the Doctor (We say goodbye to two companions, and welcome a new one in. Also, new TARDIS console, which is my second favorite in the series after Twelve’s console. Great acting, as well from Matt Smith in this season).
Go Back For:
Hide (A return to the thriller kind of story, which is also full of emotion and pathos).
The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary Specia)-The Time of the Doctor (The epic fiftieth anniversary special and we conclude Eleven’s run).
Series 8- Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)
Deep Breath- Into the Dalek-Listen-The Caretaker-Kill the Moon-Mummy on the Orient Express-Flatline- (the last few minutes, particularly the last 5 mins and 30 seconds to the last 2 minutes and 40 seconds of “In the Forest of the Night”)– Dark Water/Death in Heaven (We are properly introduced to the Twelfth Doctor, Danny Pink, and the enigmatic person who was instrumental in Clara and the (Eleventh) Doctor meeting in the first place.)
Go Back For:
Time Heist (Awesome heist adventure with Clara, Twelve and two other misfits. A favorite of mine.)
Series 9- Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)
Last Christmas-The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar- The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived-The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion- Face the Raven-Heaven Sent/Hell Bent- The Husbands of River Song (This season was full of two parters. We see the return of a major Classic Who villain along with the return of another race of enemies we’ve seen before. We also get to learn a little bit more about Time Lord mythos in this season, and last but not least, we have the return of River Song for the Christmas Special).
Go Back For:
Under the Lake/Before the Flood (Great thriller/mystery adventure with Clara and the Doctor).
So now that you have all the non-spoiler information, pick a way to start, and get to watching!
In the meantime, I’ll be making reviews per season, including the Christmas specials that encompasses each season. I’ll also be listing down my top ten favorite episodes per Doctor, and why I picked it.
I’m quite excited to begin, so watch out for next Friday for my review of Season 1, Christopher Eccleston’s run!
What did you think of my list? For fellow Whovians, how did you start watching “Doctor Who”? Feel free to leave your comments below!