Beginnings, Doctor Who, Neil Gaiman, Stories

Doctor Who: An Introductory Guide

It’s a nerve-wracking time right now in the Whovian Universe. This fall will premiere not only a new incarnation of the character of the Doctor (and the first time that the Doctor will be played by a woman) but the series will also have a new show-runner, which could potentially change the entire feel of the characters and how the stories are told. Personally, I’m attempting cautious optimism about the future of this show that I love so much, but in the meantime I’ve just been enjoying everything that has come already.

One of my favorite things is introducing new people to Doctor Who. It’s an interesting and unique show, but it can be hard to dive in all on your own. To start with, there is just A LOT of it. The show first aired in 1963 (that’s three years before the original Star Trek) and there are about 26 seasons of what is usually referred to as Classic Doctor Who, between the years 1963 and 1989. There was also a TV movie in 1996 (I have yet to be able to track down a copy to watch this one for myself). The show then rebooted on the BBC in 2005, and that is the current series that most people are familiar with. However, let me be clear that both the Classic series and the current series are STILL THE SAME SHOW. It’s the same character, and it’s the same ongoing adventures of that one character (I’ll get to that explanation in a moment). Wikipedia says there are 840 episodes (with 97 that have been lost from the original run), but many of them are multi-part episodes, so there are actually 267 stories. That’s a lot. Especially if you feel like you HAVE to start at the beginning and work your way through ALL of them. That’s a valid way to do it, but only if you have the determination and temperament for it. However, for the rest of you…

Like I said, one of my favorite things is introducing new people to the Doctor. If you aren’t quite sure if you will like the show or not, I’ve refined a selection of episodes that help you get to know the Doctor and also get a feel for the overall tone and attitude of the show.

 

But first, some background.

 

The Doctor is part of an alien race known as the Timelords (there are ladies, too, but the race itself is called Timelords). Timelords look human, but there are a few biological differences such as them having two-hearts. Timelords also have the ability that when they are about to die they can regenerate into new bodies, though they still retain all of their previous memories. Even though the Timelords remember all of their past lives and experiences, the new bodies generally come with slightly new personalities, tastes, and styles. This is how the same character has been played by multiple actors in the 50+ years of the show’s history. There are 7 incarnations of the Doctor from the Classic series, number 8 was in the TV movie, and the new series has so far given us Doctors 9 through 12, with Jodie Whittaker taking over as number 13 this fall.

The Doctor travels through time and space in his spaceship called the T.A.R.D.I.S (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), which is bigger on the inside than the outside and is camouflaged to look like a blue police box. The Doctor has a particular fondness for the planet Earth, and especially for modern day London. He will often pick up humans as travel companions in his romps through time and space, because who would want to travel through time and space all on their own?

The Doctor does not carry a weapon of any kind but he does have a sonic screwdriver, which basically does whatever he needs it to (unless something is made of wood).

The Doctor believes in mercy, compassion, and the importance of every individual life.

With that basic knowledge, you are now ready to start watching some episodes. The first episode I suggest is absolutely the one that you should start with (see the explanation below), but after that I’ve included one episode for each of the modern Doctors (post-2005) and you can watch those in whatever order you like. Season numbers all refer to the 2005 reboot, not the Classic series.

  • Blink – Season 3, episode 10
    This is the best episode to start with because it stands so well on its own; the Doctor isn’t even the lead character of the episode (which happens only very rarely). The story revolves around Sally Sparrow (played by Carey Mulligan) and her encounter with the aliens known as the Weeping Angels, which appear as stone statues anytime they are being directly looked at. This episode is one of the most well-written of the entire series, and captures the unique feel of the show very well. It’s classic spooky sci-fi, and guarantees you will never look at stone statues the same way again.
  • The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances – Season 1, episodes 9 & 10
    The 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) only stuck around for one season, but he was the Doctor who ushered in the new era of the reboot. He is probably the most divisive as far as opinions on the Doctors, but he has some serious merits. This two-part story takes place during the London Blitz and features his companion Rose (Billie Piper) and the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).
  • The Girl in the Fireplace – Season 2, episode 4
    One of my personal favorite episodes. The 10th Doctor (David Tennant) is one of the most beloved, and this episode is a good example of why that is. The story takes place on a 51st century space ship and also 18th century France. At the same time. The episode shows a great dynamic between the Doctor and his regular companions (Rose and Mickey, at this point), but also the relationships and attachments that he can form along the way in his travels. Also, clockwork villains.
  • Nightmare in Silver – Season 7, episode 13
    The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) is another fan favorite, and many of the very best episodes and story lines were during his tenure in the T.A.R.D.I.S. I actually had the hardest time picking a signature episode for this Doctor, because there are so many good ones that can also stand on their own. This episode is a bit more lighthearted than the others on the list, though, and the show IS typically rather lighthearted. The episodes usually have some kind of gravitas and can be suspenseful, but it’s generally geared towards being a family show and isn’t ALWAYS emotionally devastating. This episode was also written by my favorite modern author, Neil Gaiman, and features Warwick Davis, one of the most well-known little person actors before Peter Dinklage hit the scene (if you have never seen the movie Willow, DO IT). You also get to meet the Cybermen in this episode, one of the most long-running villains in the whole series.
  • Smile – Season 10, episode 2
    The 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is my own favorite Doctor, for varied but mostly personal reasons. Partly, I just love grumpy old men and he is one of the grumpiest old men you will find on TV. And he looks like an angry owl. It took me a long time to settle on a single episode for the 12th Doctor, mostly because his best episodes involve longer story arcs and require more background knowledge of the character. It’s easier to dip into the stories of the other Doctors, but the 12th Doctor really feeds the soul of a true Whovian. This episode is an excellent introduction though, because it takes place shortly after the Doctor picks up a new companion, Bill (Pearl Mackie), and as Bill starts to learn the ways of the Doctor so does the audience.

I hope this proves a helpful guide for those venturing into the Whovian Universe for the first time. Let me know if you have any questions, and also let me know what your reactions are!

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1 thought on “Doctor Who: An Introductory Guide

  1. I can attest that the first three episodes listed here were really helpful to be introduced to Dr. Who. It’s a show that I hadn’t broached before, but with Kathryn’s help, I checked it out and was delightfully surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

    Thanks for sharing more episode tips and giving us crucial information to jump in.

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