(Want to know what Doctor Who is or which episodes to start watching? Read on!)
It’s no secret (really, it’s more like the exact opposite of a secret) that I’m a huge Doctor Who fan. I became hooked on the show a few years ago, and now it’s one of the very few television programmes I actively follow and teem with anticipation for. I own not one, but two suits for cosplaying as the Tenth Doctor. On any given day, a stroll through my social media feed will usually reveal a litany of cryptic photographs and nonsensical robots.
Since I tend to make my appreciation of the show pretty well known, a few times a month I’ll get messages from people asking where they should start with the show and if they’ll like it. So, rather than rewrite the same things over and over, I figured I’d write something up to show people when they ask.
Plus, this way, you can still have enough information to pretend to know something about the show when your friends bring it up even if you don’t watch it.
Everyone’s tastes are different, and I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me on some of this. (Especially which episodes are worth watching.) I suppose I could just give you some list of facts based on polls and viewing numbers or some actual factual data heuristics other than “did this rank high on the Gavinometer,” but hey, there’s a reason more people today watch The Daily Show than National News.
First, to answer some common questions.
Part I: A Question and Answer Panel, featuring: Myself!
Q: What is Doctor Who? Is it finally the medical drama about owls I’ve been waiting for!?
A: At its core, it’s a show about time travel and whimsical adventure. Most episodes take place in different at points in time that can vastly vary from episode to episode. The show visits everything from Pompeii and ancient Rome, to space stations and intergalactic libraries, with plenty in between. (Sometimes quite literally in between – one popular episode deals with portals to the French revolution on a spaceship!)
Q: How would you describe Doctor Who?
A: A good parallel might be something like Back to the Future. There’s a good dose of serious adventure, but there’s also an underlying sense of whimsy and humor that runs through it all. The plots vary widely, but consistantly use the wide range of scenery to offer creative, new ideas. When literally all of time and space is at your fingertips, there’s a lot you can do.
A director of the show once said (paraphrased), “Usually once I finish an episode what runs through my head is, ‘well, that’s another perfectly good movie plot used in a single Doctor Who episode.’”
Q: How long has this show been around?
A: Well, long enough to get its own Jeopardy question:
Q: Wait, so this show has been around since the 60s? Do you really expect me to watch all of that!? I can’t risk watching something my mom could have watched. Now THAT’S a time paradox.
A: Well, hold up there. The show ran from 1963-1989, had a movie in 1996, and then was revived in 2005. The reimagining in 2005 is what I’m going to be talking about here. While the new show technically isn’t a reboot, it’s treated like one in the sense that everything is reintroduced and you don’t need to know anything about the original show to appreciate the newer incarnation.
Q: What is Torchwood? It kept coming up when I was searching for other shows, and Netflix said it was related to Doctor Who.
A: Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures are two spinoffs. The former is far more grittier and adult than Doctor Who, while the latter is aimed at young kids. I wouldn’t worry about either of them right now if you haven’t watched Doctor Who yet. If you end up enjoying Doctor Who, I would definitely recommend Torchwood.
Q: Is there a good episode to start with?
A: If you want to get a taste of the show, the #1 episode I recommend watching is the season 3 episode “Blink.” It’s how I got hooked and it makes for a great way to test the waters. The brilliance of the episode is you don’t have to know anything about the show to enjoy it. The main characters are barely in it, and almost everything is introduced for the first time.
Even if you don’t think you’d be interested in the show at all, I recommend checking this episode out just because it’s some of the finest 43 minutes of television I have ever watched. Seriously, go watch it. Here’s the link straight to it on Netflix.
Q: Okay, I want to watch the show. Which episodes are worth it?
A: Wow, question-asking person, it’s almost like you knew how to construct the perfect segue to the next section!
Part II: Episodes to Watch
In this section, I’m going to go through all of the episodes since season 1 in 2005 through the end of season 7 and mark them in categories. (Season 8 is only partway through and it’s hard to evaluate the season until everything has finished.) These are all just opinions of course, and your mileage may vary - but it should at least give you a good baseline to work with.
Everyone watches television differently. I’m a completionist – I like to watch everything and absorb every detail. Other people just want to see the best of the best. Others yet just want to see the storylines unfold. So my system works like this:
Normal Font: This episode… well, it exists. This could be anywhere on the scale of “Meh” to “pretty good!” It doesn’t quite break into my bold font pantheon of “must watch just for incredible television,” though.
Bold Font: This episode is completely fantastic. If you are just in this to watch some great TV or want to skip ahead to some strong stories, then watch all of these. There are many other very good episodes, but these are the best of the best that I wanted to feature.
Italic font: This episode is important for storyline reasons. If you want to see all of the story, you won’t want to miss this one. If you decide to skip over this episode for any given reason, you’ll want to be sure to go look at the Wikipedia entry so you can find out the important plot details.
Oh, one more thing I should note: season 1 is pretty weak on the whole. Aside from one fantastic two-part episode, most of the episodes range from weak to mediocre. Don’t let season one sour your experience. I always tell people to power through season 1, and it all starts getting better from there.
1) Rose (Not a great episode, but you kind of need to watch this to get what’s going on.)
2) The End of the World
3) The Unquiet Dead
4/5) Aliens of London (2-parter)
7) The Long Game
8) Father’s Day
9/10) The Empty Child (2-parter)
11) Boom Town
12/13) Bad Wolf (2-parter)
1) The Christmas Invasion
2) New Earth
3) Tooth and Claw
4) School Reunion
5) The Girl in the Fireplace
6/7) Rise of the Cybermen (2-parter)
8) The Idiot’s Lantern
9/10) The Impossible Planet (2-parter)
11) Love & Monsters
12) Fear Her
13/14) Army of Ghosts (2-parter)
1) The Runaway Bride
2) Smith and Jones
3) The Shakespeare Code
5/6) Daleks in Manhattan (2-parter)
7) The Lazarus Experiment
9/10) Human Nature (2-Parter)
12/13/14) Utopia (3-Parter; the first episode of these is pretty good, the second two not as much.)
1) Voyage of the Damned
2) Partners in Crime
3) The Fires of Pompeii
4) Planet of the Ood
5/6) The Sontaran Stratagem (2-parter)
7) The Doctor’s Daughter
8) The Unicorn and the Wasp
9) Silence in the Library (2-parter)
12) Turn Left
13/14) The Stolen Earth (2-parter)
Between seasons 4 and 5, much of the crew – including the lead actor – had other obligations. So, for this year, they made five hour-long specials instead of an entire season.
1) The Next Doctor
2) Planet of the Dead
3) The Waters of Mars
4/5) The End of Time (2-Parter)
1) The Eleventh Hour
2) The Beast Below
3) Victory of the Daleks
4/5) The Time of Angels (2-parter)
6) The Vampires of Venice
7) Amy’s Choice
8/9) The Hungry Earth (2-Parter)
10) Vincent and the Doctor
11) The Lodger
12/13) The Pandorica Opens (2-parter)
1) A Christmas Carol
2/3) The Impossible Astronaut (2-parter)
4) The Curse of the Black Spot
5) The Doctor’s Wife
6/7) The Rebel Flesh (2-parter)
8/9) A Good Man Goes to War
10) Night Terrors
11) The Girl Who Waited
12)The God Complex
13) Closing Time
14) The Wedding of River Song
1) The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe
2) Asylum of the Daleks
3) Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
4) A Town Called Mercy
5) The Power of Three
6) The Angels Take Manhattan
7) The Snowmen
8) The Bells of Saint John
9)The Rings of Akhaten
10) Cold War
12) Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
13) The Crimson Horror
14) Nightmare in Silver
15) The Name of the Doctor
Hopefully this made for a nice little primer on the show if you’re thinking about watching it. If you have any questions, as always, just let me know. :)