Doctor Who is one of the geekdoms that it can seem hard to break into. Do you start with the new show or old? Do you pick up with the latest Doctor or go back to the first Doctor of the new revival? What about this David Tennant people are always raving about? Where the heck do you start?
For those of you who are not Who savvy, a little history. Doctor Who is a British science fiction show that started in 1963. It then ran until 1989. A TV movie was made in 1996, a movie that is considered part of cannon, despite its issues. However, the show lay dormant until 2005, when it was revived. This 2005 revival was not a reboot or a redo. The old show was taken as its cannon (as much as anything is cannon in a show about a time traveling alien who can change his appearance instead of dying) and the new show started at a point where new people could jump in without knowing any history and old viewers could watch without complaining, “They’re changing everything!” Since 2005 there have been six seasons, but three incarnations of the Doctor. Because you see, the Doctor is an alien who whenever he is about to die instead regenerates into a new person. But at the same time he’s still the old person. It’s sort of a caterpillar/butterfly thing.
So with all of this insanity, where does a person possibly start?
Well, the answer for this is never “Go back to the very, very beginning.” No sane Doctor Who fan would ever say go back to the very first episode, "An Unearthly Child" and start from there. It’s not because those episodes are terrible or incredibly bad. It’s that they were made in 1963, and for people with modern sensibilities, those old episodes can be hard to watch. And it certainly won’t addict you to the show or even give you a feel for what the show is. The show didn’t know what it was back then. When Doctor Who came out they thought of it as an educational show. And though Doctor Who is still a family show, a show that never loses sight of the fact that children are a large portion of its audience, it is not the show it thought it was at the onset. (Most shows rarely are.)
But narrowing it down to the revival is not as easy as picking it up with the first episode “Rose”. You can certainly do that, and many people have. My best friend started watching the new Doctor Who from the onset of its revival and loved Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. (For the record, he is the Ninth Doctor, and is usually referred to as such). However, I have found that for people who are hesitant of the show, those first few episodes do little to hook them in. So I advise generally not starting at the beginning.
The first episode I recommend to anyone who is new to Who, is “Blink”. It comes from the third season of the revival, when David Tennant is the Doctor (the tenth Doctor) and his companion is Martha Jones (companion is the human who travels with him). I recommend this episode for two reasons. One: it’s awesome. This might be the best standalone episode of Doctor Who ever written. (There are episodes that I love more, but I usually love them because of the emotional impact and plot lines they gain from a story arc. This one is a forty-five minute episode that you can enjoy like a short story. You don’t ever have to watch or read anything else. Except you’ll want to.) The second reason is that it requires absolutely no prior knowledge, since the episode does not actually follow the Doctor or Martha. It follows a young woman who knows nothing about them, and you are introduced to the Doctor and Martha through her. It does an excellent job of explaining who the Doctor is without delving into too much Time Lord detail. (Time Lord is the Doctor’s species). It does an even better job of explaining all the crazy stuff that happens when time travel is involved in a show. This is the perfect episode to explain to you everything Doctor Who is about and what sort of show it is.
The next episode I generally recommend is “The Girl in the Fireplace.” This is another episode that has a little more of an outsider feel, because there is a stranger (stranger being not the Doctor or one of his companions) that the plot revolves around. However, this episode does follow the Doctor and his companions. I love this episode. I think it’s beautiful and tragic, and everything I love about Doctor Who. It gives you an amazing feel for the character of the Doctor and who he is.
If you watch both of these shows and say, “I must have more!” and you want to continue watching the show, you then have two options.
Option 1 is that you go back to the beginning of the revival and watch from Season 1 of the new series. This takes you back to that first episode “Rose”. You watch all the Christopher Eccleston episodes, all of the David Tennant seasons, and then you start in on the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith.
This will be the option that most people direct you to, specifically, those of us who are die hard David Tennant fans. It makes little sense to start with Season 2 (David Tennant’s first season) and skip Season 1, because a lot of Season 2 is dependent on Season 1. And Season 3 plays directly off of Season 2. And though I started with Season 4 without having watched any other season of Doctor Who, or even any other episode of Doctor Who, it’s not something I recommend. It leaves you scratching your head and asking yourself, “Who is that blond chick who keeps appearing and why should I care about her?”, thus lessening the entire season’s emotional impact.
However, I’m going to go a little renegade here and go on the record and say it’s completely ok if you want to start with Matt Smith as the Doctor (i.e. Season 5). The Matt Smith seasons have little to nothing to do with the previous seasons. However, if this is the route you take, there are two David Tennant episodes you must watch first, the Season 4 episodes “The Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”. These episodes directly relate to a character in Season 5.
If you watch those two episodes, plus the two I already recommended ("Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace", "Blink" being completely necessary to watch Season 5), then you can start Season 5 and be completely fine.
Is Season 5 the best season of Doctor Who? The answer is no in my opinion, but it is debatable. But if you watch Season 5 and love it, you can then go back and watch the other seasons of Who, not because you have to, but because you want to.
Doctor Who is an amazing show, and I highly recommend it.
Anyone out there disagree with my recommendation? Does anyone else have any favorite standalone episodes that they recommend to new Who viewers?