Written by Dr. Mike Robinson ~ Guest Writer
Photo of Doctor Who image retrieved from BBC.
How to Start Watching Doctor Who
The legendary British science fiction show Doctor Who is about to celebrate its 60th anniversary in a big way by joining Disney+. This is a major moment for a program that I used to call “the greatest show you’ve never heard of.” There is no reason for this grand anniversary to be daunting for new and curious viewers though. Here are some easy ways to get into Doctor Who before “The Star Beast” makes its streaming arrival on Nov. 25.
Jump right in with a random episode.
Doctor Who began in the United Kingdom right after the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963. As the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news coverage of the world-changing event, the pilot of this new show did not get much attention. A rebroadcast of that episode a week later started the series along in style.
Doctor Who did not arrive so quickly here in the United States however. Eventually it was imported first on independent television stations and later more successfully on PBS stations (where there was already a fan audience for British television).
This is how I first encountered the show. While I was not too impressed by a rerun of the 1974 episode “Robot,” I was completely hooked by a wonderful episode from the same season called “Ark in Space” (originally aired in 1975). The most concise way I know to describe that story was that it was Alien before Alien.
I had no clue what this program was about. I had yet to discover that the Doctor was a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. I knew nothing of his time/space machine, the TARDIS. I had no idea that the Doctor had the ability to regenerate into a new form, thus allowing different actors to take over the role (the series was on the Fourth Doctor by then and we’re about to meet the Fourteenth).
And I loved every minute of it. The suspense of the story and the mystery of the characters hooked me into the show. The more I learned, the more excited I got.
If you choose this path, you’ll have one advantage I never did—the internet. You can learn as much as you care to online.
Or start with “Rose” and binge as much as you can
If you don’t want to risk a random choice, then start with the show’s first official return to television from 2005. The original series was canceled in 1989 after its 26th season. It returned for one night only in 1996 with a pilot that failed. This was the so-called “Classic Series.” The new series, sometimes dubbed “NuWho,” began when the show returned to the BBC.
Then showrunner Russell T. Davies designed this season 1, episode 1 story to be the perfect entry point into the series, with the adventures of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor serving as a perfect welcome for new fans and a welcome back for fans of the original series. No prior knowledge is required.
To be completely honest, it’s also a bit easier to get into the show with the new series. The production values are higher and the programs work a bit more like the television we are used to seeing.
Or start with “Partners and Crime” and binge from there.
If you want a bit more sense of the Disney+ program to come or if you have less time, you could jump in with “Partners in Crime,” the series 4, episode 1 story that reunites the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) with his friend Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). They had met once before in an earlier story but their adventures in time and space really take off here. The Doctor and Donna are one of the more popular pairings from the new series, but these episodes will really help you in another way.
You see, something really weird happened. When the Thirteenth Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker regenerated (yes, the previous version was played by a woman), we all expected another actor to take over the role. To everyone’s surprise, David Tennant returned as the new Fourteenth Doctor. This was truly one of the great shocks in popular culture because the arrival of new Doctors is often heralded with much press fanfare. We had been led to believe that Ncuti Gatwa would be taking over the part. He still will, but no one can guess exactly how he fits into all of this yet.
Anyway, previews show that the Doctor will once again find himself in Donna Noble’s life and that’s a fun pairing.
Don’t start with just “Blink”
If you’ve got a Whovian friend and you express any interest in Doctor Who, then that friend might try to start you off with “Blink” (series 3, episode 10). While “Blink” is certainly one of the most frightening hours of television produced this millennium and certainly one of the strongest episodes of the new series, it is not a typical episode of Doctor Who. If you’ve only got time for a quick preview, start with this and then watch one other episode, just so you can get the flavor of the show.
Don’t start with the very first story, “An Unearthly Child”
Whatever you do, never be a completeist with Doctor Who. This show is sixty years old. In its earliest years, the classic show was a very different experience. I’m not putting it down. There are amazing episodes back there, but your appreciation of them will be enhanced when you see those earlier elements that formed in the new series.
Classic episodes of Doctor Who are available on BritBox. Most episodes of the new series are on Max. New stories start Nov. 25 on Disney+.