By Derek Samms and Ben Kliewer
I’ll admit it…. I don’t know squat about Doctor Who. Which means I should probably turn in my geek credentials, except that I do want to join the Doctor Who bandwagon. But with over 50 years of history, where’s a newbie like me start? To answer that, I turned to two experts…. Derek and Ben, two of the Con Guys. And their advice is good for anyone wanting to start on the Doctor Who journey. First, check out what each of them wrote below — a certified NEWBIE’S GUIDE TO DOCTOR WHO. And then check out the video podcast at the end, where they debate and jostle for the best Who advice. I now consider myself duly prepared for the Who fandom. — Jim Frye
An Open Letter to Jim from Derek
This letter is probably as difficult to read as it is to write. Just know that it comes from a place of love. As they say, the first step in getting help is admitting you have a problem, and now you’ve been honest about yours: You’re not addicted to Doctor Who. Don’t be afraid. The journey ahead may seem as impossible as Clara Oswald (you’ll get that reference later), but your companions love you and are here to support you through your journey out of non-addiction and into all of time and space.
As you may recall, Doctor Who is about an alien—a Timelord from the planet Gallifrey—who calls himself simply “the Doctor” and whose ship, the TARDIS, is bigger on the inside and can go anywhere in time and space. He always makes a friend from Earth whom he invites to travel with him, and together they have adventures all over the universe. It’s a show about friendship, diversity, optimism, and, in the words of famous fan Craig Ferguson, “the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism”:
In that spirit, what follow are some guidelines to help along the way. Allons-y!
- Don’t start at the very beginning.
It’s not a very good place to start. Seriously, though. For one thing, the show is over 50 years old now, and watching it all back-to-back would take over two weeks, not counting food, sleep, or potty breaks. Many of the classic episodes have been lost anyway, and while missing them might save time, it also means no one can possibly watch every episode ever made. No one can fill in all the gaps, and even watching what does exist would take more time than most of us with a standard human lifespan can afford.
Fortunately, like time, the story of the Doctor isn’t so much a line as it is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, sciency-wiency, plot-like stuff. The classic show aired in multi-episode serials, and the revival has season (or as the British call them, “series”) and multi-season arcs, but they have so many beginnings and endings and divergences and inconsistencies that you could begin almost anywhere and still have a great time watching it.
Now, if you want to see the truest possible beginning, you can download the Britbox app (https://www.britbox.com/) (the only source I know of with all the classic Who) and watch the very first episode ever, “The Unearthly Child,” and then you can catch highlights of the classic Doctors all you like. You could also begin like I did with “Rose,” the first episode of the revived Who, which aired in 2005 and is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Just remember: Every great show has highs and lows and usually takes a little while to find its voice. It’s fun if you can embrace the cheese, but a lot of casual viewers have a hard time getting into that first season.
With that in mind, here’s what I suggest:
- Watch a friend’s favorite episode.
A few years ago, I showed you what many consider the gateway drug to Doctor Who, “Blink” (s03e10). Unfortunately, it was late at night in our hotel room at Wondercon, and you fell asleep. You’re lucky the angels didn’t get you. But since they didn’t, and you still live in the Internet age, you can still see it. As a standalone story with a creepy villain and a compelling timey-wimey plot (not to mention the famous “timey-wimey” line), it’s a great starting point.
But since everyone recommends that episode, here are some other fan favorites that could do the job:
- The Girl Who Waited (s06e10)
- Vincent and the Doctor (s05e10)
- The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (s01e09-10)
- The Girl in the Fireplace (s02e04)
These all have strong, generally self-contained stories and emotional depth, not to mention situations that could only happen on Doctor Who. They’re less common recommendations but still excellent introductions to the show.
One word of caution: Apart from the examples above, you’ll generally want to avoid watching episodes with “Doctor” in the title (i.e., “The _____ of the Doctor” or “The Doctor’s _____”). Many of these are fascinating character episodes and favorites for a lot of fans, but you won’t be able to enjoy them fully if you watch them out of context. Start with some really good episodes but build up to the great ones.
In order to do that properly, you need my next two tips. So, when you’re ready to binge…
- Pick up with a new Doctor or companion.
Each time the Doctor brings a new friend into the TARDIS, he basically has to introduce himself all over again so the new character can get to know him. With each regeneration (i.e., new actor taking on the role), the Doctor has a new look and personality to explore and he’s getting to know himself. This is particularly helpful for new viewers because the basics of the Whoniverse get explained again every few seasons.
Here are some good starting points for this approach:
- Rose (s01e01) – new Doctor, new companion, new showrunner, new take on the show
- The Christmas Invasion (Christmas special between s01-02) – first David Tennant episode
- Smith and Jones (s03e01) – not the best beginning, but it would work
- The Eleventh Hour (s05e01) – the first episode with Steven Moffat as showrunner, Matt Smith as the Doctor, and Karen Gillan as new companion Amy Pond
- The Pilot (s10e01) – again, not the perfect starting point, but an okay one if you want to just build up to the new Doctor
- Title TBA (s11e01) – Later this year, we’ll see what new showrunner Chris Chibnall has in store for the first female Doctor and her all-new companions. You could start here; it’s just uncharted territory!
At one time, all the back episodes were available on all the major streaming platforms. Now, unless you want to purchase them, your only option is Amazon Prime or a marathon on BBC America. Unfortunately, Amazon has a weird way of grouping them, so refer to my next tip when you binge.
- Watch the seasons and specials in the right sequence.
This can be a challenge. It was even for me, a long-time fan, when I introduced the series to my wife. That’s because as of my writing this letter, Amazon is still organizing its streaming episodes as if they were DVD box sets, with most of the specials separated from the main seasons. This can be very confusing for a newbie Whovian. At some point you might finish a season and click “Play Next Episode,” only to find yourself thrown into a crashing TARDIS with a driver you’ve never seen before, and you’ll be left wondering what went wrong with the spacetime continuum. If this happens, don’t worry. It’s not a crack in the fabric of reality, just a little poor organization by the good people at Amazon.
To avoid this problem, you can check the air dates before you watch each episode, or you can refer to the following list, with the seasons and specials in order:
- Season 1 (2005)
- The Christmas Invasion (Christmas 2005)
- Season 2 (2006)
- The Runaway Bride (Christmas 2006)
- Season 3 (2007)
- Voyage of the Damned (Christmas 2007)
- Season 4 (2008)
- The Next Doctor (Christmas 2008)
- Planet of the Dead (Easter 2009)
- The Waters of Mars (December 2009)
- The End of Time: Part One (Christmas 2009)
- The End of Time: Part Two (New Year’s Day (2010)
- Season 5 (2010)
- A Christmas Carol (Christmas 2010)
- Season 6 (2011)
- The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (Christmas 2011)
- Season 7 part 1 (2012)
- The Snowmen (Christmas 2012)
- Season 7 part 2 (2013)
- The Day of the Doctor (November 2013)
- The Time of the Doctor (Christmas 2013)
- Season 8 (2014)
- Last Christmas (Christmas 2014)
- Season 9 (2015)
- The Husbands of River Song (Christmas 2015)
- The Return of Doctor Mysterio (Christmas 2016)
- Season 10 (2017)
- Twice Upon a Time (Christmas 2017)
- Season 11 (2018)
Finally, while you’re watching…
- Expect some inconsistencies.
Like I said, this show has been on for over half a century now. It’s had its ups and downs, and it’s also had a LOT of writers and actors to put their own spins on things. For the most part, they’ve done a pretty good job of making it all work together, but in any show that lasts that long, there will inevitably be different ideas playing out at different times. Sometimes this frustrates viewers, as you can see from the vitriol directed at Steven Moffat from many dark corners of the Internet. The more optimistic and generous among us have learned to roll with these problems and not let them get too far under our skin. You may hear different Doctors offer very different rules for interacting with history, or you may feel like some characters have to relearn the same lessons, or that the future the show predicts is as far from our reality as Back to the Future II or 2001: A Space Odyssey. You’ll encounter overly flatulent aliens, tree-people, and some monsters literally made of bubble wrap (not kidding… “The Ark in Space,” 4th Doctor, 1975). If you take a little grace with you into the TARDIS, you’ll be happier.
But more importantly, when you experience these challenges, remember that, like the Doctor, you are not alone. Your friends are here to help you, and together we can help you journey out of your lack of obsession and into a world of adventure that’s even bigger on the inside. So when it gets tough, reach out, drop a line, or carve “Hello, sweetie” into a historical artifact, and your loyal companions will take your hand and help you through. Trust us (and Madame de Pompadour) when we tell you it’s worth it. It will definitely add to your pile of good things.
It’s Not “Dr.”: An Introduction to Watching Doctor Who for Jimbo Frye
Doctor Who: a Science Fiction Fantasy adventure that now spans over five decades of television, film, radio dramas, books, comic books, toys and music. If you’ve never experienced it (and in the case of this article, the target audience hasn’t) you surely see this dedicated fanbase from afar at conventions and online, and ponder to yourself “What the hell is going on over there, and how can I be a part of it?”
It’s true, just like your Stars, both Wars and Trek, Lord of the Rings and any other devoted Fandom, the love of Doctor Who has stood the test of time, and is something you want to be a part of.
“So,” one ponders to one’s self, “I must have to start from the beginning, watching 50 years’ worth of dry, British serials until my eyeballs turn into Saltines. Surely there is no other way!”
But I say to you, nay. There is a much easier and entertaining option to jumpstart your lifelong love of The Doctor and his Blue Box. Allow me to elucidate.
To start, let’s cover some basics of the Doctor Who universe. I call it The Whoniverse.
– The Doctor: The lead character in question is named “The Doctor.” He is not “The Dr.” he is not “Dr. Who,” and he is not technically “Doctor Who,” save for periodic meta references which get thrown out a couple times every season. There is a pair of British films from the 1960’s starring a “Dr. Who” based around the same mythology, but these are not considered canonical. However, fan-theories have made them part of the Whoniverse, considering them in-universe human attempts at making film adaptations of The Doctor’s adventures. But for now, that’s neither here nor there. Let’s just settle on point one, his(/her) name is The Doctor.
– Time Lord: The Doctor is not human. He is a “Time Lord” who comes from the planet Gallifrey. Time Lords have ridiculously advanced technology, often referred to as “Time Lord Technology” (go figure) which is most often represented by the ability to have a larger inner-working of an object, than what appears can be contained by the outside (AKA “bigger on the inside”)
– The T.A.R.D.I.S.: Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Not only is it a Time Machine but it is also able to travel to practically any location in the Universe, from the beginning of time, to the end. The T.A.R.D.I.S. is, in fact, bigger on the inside, as it is cloaked as an old English Police Call Box. Essentially a big blue phone booth that was used in the first half of the 20th Century to make emergency calls. So we’re talking an exterior footprint of only a few feet by a few feet. Conversely, the T.A.R.D.I.S. houses an incredibly spacious interior, with many rooms (including a swimming pool), however, most of what we see inside the T.A.R.D.I.S. is the main control room.
– Regeneration: We’re currently prepping to see the 14th actor to portray The Doctor in the upcoming season (technically there have been quite a number of other actors to portray The Doctor in different sketches and incarnations of the character, but fourteen in the major, main storyline). “BUT WAIT!” you say, “How the hell can there be fourteen different actors to play The Doctor, is this some kind of James Bond thing?” Well, yes and no. The original actor to portray The Doctor back in 1963, William Hartnell, fell ill with arteriosclerosis in 1966, and needed to step down as the character. Patrick Troughton was selected personally by Hartnell to succeed him as The Doctor. The concept of “regeneration” (a biological process unique to Time Lords) was invented to explain why The Doctor’s appearance changed. When a Time Lord is about to die, their body heals itself by regenerating into a new body, often with new personality traits. This was a brilliant concept which allowed new actors to bring their own flair to the character without having to simply impersonate another actor’s mannerisms. This process continued through the series, and continues into the new season, premiering in 2018. Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to take on the role, will be considered the “13th” Doctor, (John Hurt was cast as a “forgotten” incarnation of The Doctor between Doctors eight and nine for the 50th Anniversary Special)
– Companions: The Doctor often selects a human companion, or companions to travel through time and space with. Not only do these companions keep The Doctor company and build relationships with him/her, but they also serve as surrogates for the audience, experiencing everything for the first time and requiring The Doctor to explain abstract concepts in ways the companions’ simple human minds (and by proxy, the audience) can understand.
– Sonic Screwdriver: A piece of Time Lord Technology, the Sonic Screwdriver acts as a unique tool used by The Doctor for any number of tasks. For a brief period during the 70s/80s The Doctor was without his Sonic, as it had become a crutch in the writing and essentially became a deus ex machina/magic wand that could solve any problem. While the Sonic Screwdriver can do a great many things, it does have its limitations. It doesn’t do wood.
Now, knowing all this, where does one start? Well, you could scour the internet to find every episode of the original serials from the 1960s through the series of the 1980s. However, as I said before, that has the potential to be… tedious. Not to mention, at some point in the last 50 years the BBC literally burned reels on reels of old Doctor Who episodes to open space in their physical archives. So today, there is literally no way that one could watch every episode of Doctor Who ever made.
What I would suggest? Start with the Reboot! After the series got canned in 1989 during the seventh incarnation of The Doctor, there was a six and a half year Who drought until the BBC/Fox/Universal released a made-for-tv movie in May of 1996 starring Sylvester McCoy as the Eighth Doctor, in continuity with the television series from the last 30+ years!
That movie was terrible, and thus the world waited another nine years to see a new take on Doctor Who. That take was a series reboot starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. 2005’s series premiere episode Rose ended up launching a whole new life for Doctor Who as a television series which is now going into its eleventh season. And it’s all technically in continuity with the original series starting with William Hartnell in 1963.
These reboot episodes are available on Amazon, many of which are on Prime. Over the course of the eleven seasons they do a great job of explaining concepts of the Whoniverse to the viewer without overtly holding their hand, so it makes a wonderful and more entertaining place to start for the Who Noob. After that, you can Wikipedia anything you don’t know, check out fan websites, and scour the web for classic episodes to fill in gaps or simply satiate your hunger for Who.
And there you go! Best of luck and allons y!!!
By Ben Kliewer
For even more fun, check out when Derek and Ben do their best to get me hooked on Doctor Who, below in our Con Guy Show….the Doctor Who stuff start around minute 34:00… enjoy!
Do you love Doctor Who? Can you provide some guidance to newbies like me? Please send us your advice!