Recently a new guy at work turned around in his swivel chair and said, “So… I’m thinking of watching Doctor Who. I hear you’re a fan, where should I start?” About halfway into the 15 minute discussion that was my response, it occurred to me that this poor man didn’t really care. He had just been trying to make conversation, and quite frankly looked a little scared. This failed attempt at office camaraderie got me thinking: Doctor Who can be a pretty intimidating show to start watching. It’s been around for 50 years for goodness sakes, and there are so many good places to start!
So, I’ve decided to write a little guide to any brand-spanking new fans. I have not watched enough Classic Who to recommend a plan of action for starting that, so I will be sticking to New Who for this post.
The way I see it, while there is no wrong way to start watching Who, there are a couple ways that I would recommend.
1) Begin at the Beginning
You can start from the beginning of Eccleston with “Rose,” the first episode of the show’s revival in 2005. There are pros and cons to this. The pro is that the show was being written to introduce people to Doctor Who all over again, so it’s a good place for someone who is meeting The Doctor for the first time; it’s written specifically for someone in your situation. But for a con, the first episode is not the best example of how great the show is. It has some pretty poor special effects, and if that bothers you then it is easy to get turned off by it. With this route, the trick is watching the first and second episode in the same sitting. “Rose” is a good introduction to The Doctor, and “The End Of The World” shows the scope, the wonder, and the magic.
2) Begin with Eleven
You can start with Matt Smith and “The Eleventh Hour”. (I would recommend against starting with Tennant or Capaldi). With Matt Smith, there was a new Doctor, a new companion, and a new show runner/head writer, so I think it’s a good jumping off point. It is also a great introduction to the concept of regeneration, which is crucial to buy into to truly enjoy the show. If you watch Matt Smith and like him, then I say once you’re caught up to go back to the beginning of Eccleston and watch from there.
3) Begin with Gateway Episodes
Ok, so let’s say you want to only watch a handful of episodes and see if you like this crazy show before committing to the series. (This is actually what I ended up doing.) “The Eleventh Hour” and “The End Of The World” also work wonderfully as one-offs to test the waters, as they show the best of all the wonder and excitement. But in case you wanted to test out different Doctors, here are a few other good one-off episodes to start with.
This episode is widely recommended for new fans of Doctor Who, and for good reason. It’s an introduction to the world of Doctor Who without actually completely introducing The Doctor, who hardly makes an appearance in this episode. I think this is great, because if you don’t like an episode without the charming Doctor, then you probably won’t like the zany nature of the show in general. “Blink” is really scary and introduces a truly terrifying monster, so any horror fans will love it. It also stars one of my favorite actresses, Carey Mulligan, so naturally it is one of my all time favorite episodes.
“The Girl In The Fireplace”
Not a huge horror fan? That’s ok! This episode has a really sweet storyline with the Doctor and the titular girl in the fireplace, and if you like historical drama, this will be right up your alley. It also reveals a lot about The Doctor’s character. While in some episodes The Doctor may seems callous and unfeeling, in this episode we get to see a wide range of emotions play out. It’s a great reminder why The Doctor loves the human race so much. Just be ready to think twice every time you hear a clock tick!
Basically a bottle episode, what Midnight lacks in scope it makes up for in terror. More of a psychological drama than a horror drama, it also makes you think quite a bit about the morality of the situation as it shows the extreme highs and lows of human nature.
“Vincent and The Doctor”
This episode will make you fall in love with Amy Pond. Her exchanges with Vincent are so sweet, and if you’re an art history fan then you’ll be happy to know that your Van Gogh prints are now nerdy in a brand new way. Besides that, this episode also shows that sometimes The Doctor can’t do everything and that some things cannot be changed.
I almost didn’t include an episode from Series 8, but this was one of my favorites and a good example of where the show is now. It has the feel of a spy thriller, and the entire episode is a puzzle to solve. Both The Doctor and Clara get to shine as we figure out the mystery along with them.
Donna Noble is my favorite companion, and this is one of her best episodes. It shows just how important the Doctor can be and how the impact of one tiny decision can completely change the course of history. It also features Donna’s father, Wilfred, who is a fan favorite. Seriously, I dare you not to love Wilfred.
Feeling a little daring and want to test a two-parter?
“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”
This two-parter is not only a great WWII drama, it shows us the 9th Doctor at his best and introduces us to Captain Jack Harkness. Everyone loves Captain Jack Harkness, and Captain Jack Harkness loves everyone back. Everyone. He loves everyone.
“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Night”
This episode means a lot more if you are familiar with the characters, but I think it is a good one for newbies because it doesn’t have a happy ending. This show will hurt your heart, so it’s good to be a little prepared. It also ranks quite high on the scary chart, and the monsters are truly chilling, so it is another good episode for horror fans.
“The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang”
Want to see Matt Smith at his best? Watch these two episodes. From The Doctor’s amazing Stonehenge speech to zapping back and forth in time, to two Amy Ponds, if you want a crazy whirlwind of a ride this is for you. These episodes are the last two of series 6, so if you want to try out a different two-parter from Matt Smith’s tenure, then I would recommend The Time of The Angels/Of Flesh And Stone.
So, there you go! Those are my recommendations for new fans of the show. At the end of the day, there is no wrong way to go about watching Doctor Who, but a little guidance never hurts!
How did you start watching Doctor Who, and what would you recommend to someone just starting out? And if you have any recommendations for Classic Who, comment below on that! I will be starting watching Classic Who in earnest soon and am in need to some guidance myself 🙂