New to Who? A “Doctor Who” Watching Guide

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After all the hoopla Snippets made about the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who I’ve gotten the same question from a few folks:

“I’m afraid of Doctor Who! I have no idea where to begin!”

Which is a totally fair question. Frankly the sheer amount of Doctor Who out there is daunting. Ignoring for a moment the novels, radio plays, and video games, it would still take almost sixteen whole days to watch every single episode of the show. Fifty years of characters and mythology, where could one possibly begin?

Season 29, Episode 10

That’s right, the best place to start your love affair with Doctor Who isn’t at the beginning, it’s somewhere in the middle (technically season 29 is known as series 3 of the revived series – what Americans would call a “season” is actually a “series” across the pond – but I’ll call them seasons). Like the Time Lord himself, I’m going to take you on a non-linear, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey tour of Doctor Who.

Oh! Before I begin, a primer:

Doctor Who follows an alien called The Doctor as he travels throughout all of time and space in a ship that looks like a 1960s Police Box known as the TARDIS. He travels with human companions who help him save the universe from complete destruction time and time again. The show went off the air in 1989 and was revived successfully 16 years later.

Got it?

Good.

So here it is, how to become a Doctor Who Fan in three episodes.

Season 3 – David Tennant

Episode 10 – Blink

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There are some fans who would tell you that Blink is the finest episode of the revived series of Doctor Who. While I am not as certain, there is no denying its quality. Written by Steven Moffat (who would go on to become show runner of DWBlink is a particularly clever episode. It follows a young photographer, Sally Sparrow (played by an effervescent Carrie Mulligan) as she deals with the dangerous Weeping Angels. These creatures can only move when they are not being observed – so she can’t look away, she can’t even blink. The Doctor, you see, is trapped in 1969 because…well never mind that for now. Blink is the perfect episode to jump into DW. Primarily because The Doctor hardly figures into the plot. Because of this, Blink can stand apart from the canon of DW. It works just as well for a neophyte as it does for the initiated. So start your journey here. You’ll get a feel for what’s possible in the world of DW without becoming bewildered in the process. And as a stand-alone story, it’s a darn good mystery.

Season 4 – David Tennant

Episodes 8 & 9 – Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead

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If Blink didn’t turn you into a fan then this two-parter definitely will.

Again, this story requires minimal knowledge of Doctor Who to still comprehend its plot. The majority of the events are based on brand new concepts that The Doctor needs to explain to the rest of the characters. So then he explains them all to you, hooray! Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead are possibly two of the creepiest stories of modern Who. They deal with a planet-sized library and sentient, carnivorous shadows. You will fear the dark again. After Blink, these episodes are a great introduction to who The Doctor is and what he does best. These episodes feature David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in absolute top form. This story shows what DW can achieve: character driven drama with immense stakes. Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead are equal parts tragic, terrifying, and triumphant.

Well there you have it. Three episodes. Instant fan-fever.

…What’s that? Still not convinced? Here are a couple other episodes that are friendly to non-fans and might get you hooked.

Season 1 – Christopher Eccleston

Episode 8 – Father’s Day

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Doctor Who was effectively regenerated in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth iteration of The Doctor. Father’s Day is basically the first episode in the first revived season where things get good. It shows the type of emotional stories that Doctor Who is capable of.

Episode 9 & 10 – The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances

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This two-parter marks Steven Moffat’s first effort in the world of Who and he knocks it out of the park. After an unsteady beginning, the first season of the revived series really comes into its own with episodes 8, 9 and 10. Prepare for a story that will surprise you and maybe even pull a few tears out.

Season 2 – David Tennant

Episode 4 – The Girl in the Fireplace

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Another Moffat delicacy. Are you sensing a pattern? Steven Moffat just gets what The Doctor is capable of and what the possibilities are in the Doctor Who universe. He doesn’t allow himself to be boxed in by conventional story telling constructs. Moffat’s time-traveling tales are wacky, complex, but always have heart and wit. The Girl in the Fireplace is an undeniably fun episode that gets at the heart of what the David Tennant years are about: classical romanticism in deep space.

Episode 8 & 9 – The Impossible Planet & The Satan Pit

impossible_planetThis two-parter delves into some fascinating territory regarding the nature of satan and the existence of evil in the universe. It is unlike most Doctor Who stories in that it deals with undeniably religious imagery, something usually avoided. The writers twist the iconography of satan in a clever way, and the story concludes in spectacular fashion. Again, this is an example of what this show does so well: the mixing of the human with the galactic.

Season 5 – Matt Smith

Episode 1 – The Eleventh Hour

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This is Matt Smith’s introduction, his grand entrance as the Eleventh Doctor. It’s a real crackerjack of an episode. Season 5 also marks the beginning of Steven Moffat’s tenure as show runner. Now his trademark complex, heartfelt stories could develop over whole seasons rather than be constrained to a single episode or even two-parter. Because of this, it’s hard to recommend too many of Matt Smith’s episodes because they are far more interdependent than any of Tennant’s or Eccleston’s. That said, The Eleventh Hour recreates the world of Who yet again, adding new vigor and panache, making it all the more modern and all the more amazing.

If you’re still not convinced, then let Craig Ferguson do what I could not.

Much of the revived series is available on Netflix, as is Classic Doctor Who, but Hulu Plus is the only place to stream the first few episodes from season 7 without buying them from iTunes.

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