If you are a geek who hasn’t followed the adventures of Britain’s favorite time traveling alien, getting into the Who universe can seem a bit daunting. After all, the series originally ran for twenty-six years from 1983 until 1989. It was then revived in 2005 and continues today. There are, presently, eleven Doctors and countless companions to choose from. So, where to start? Today, I am going to help you start with the new Doctor Who by offering some unconventional advice.
1. Why the new Who?
You should start with the new Doctor Who because the old Doctor Who, while it can be wonderful, is wildly dated. The budget looks like a high school production and while some of the acting is great, a lot of it is pretty bad. Additionally, old Doctor Who really stretched its budget, meaning that an average story is going to last 90 to 120 minutes, versus the relatively tight 45 minutes or so we expect from a show today. Simply, put classic Doctor Who is very slow. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. It’s just not the place to start.
2. Start with David Tennant.
What? Shouldn’t I just start with the first series of the new Doctor Who with that short haired guy in the leather jacket? No! I tried to start with the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and it just didn’t work. In many ways, the Ninth Doctor has some of the same problems as classic Who. The stories can be a bit cheesy and the special effects are about the same. In Season One, the series was just starting to find its footing and it shows.
The Tennant years, on the other hand, show some real confidence. The storytelling improved, and David Tennant is just so charismatic that he can carry stories that don’t work as well on paper. Also, his relationship with his first companion, Rose Tyler, provides a solid emotional foundation to the series.
3. Don’t start with the first David Tennant episode.
Three words. Spinning Christmas Tree. The first David Tennant episode is okay, but it’s not great by any means. First, David Tennant isn’t really in it all that much because he is recovering from regeneration (don’t worry – we’ll cover that in a second.) All I’m saying is that if you start with this episode you might conclude the show is cheesy and a bit boring. After all, you wouldn’t start a Star Trek fan with the pilot for TNG, right?
4. What you need to know before you start.
Because we aren’t starting from the beginning, there are a few things you should know before you start so that the show makes sense.
First, the Doctor. The Doctor is an essentially immortal alien who travels through time in his ship, the TARDIS. He is the last of his race after a war with the Daleks so he has some emo cred. The Doctor is about nine hundred years old and when he dies he regenerates into a new form. Eleven actors have played The Doctor since the 1960s.
The Doctor travels with a Companion or Companions. They are human usually and usually female. David Tennant travels with three different companions: Rose (his love), Martha (the one who loves him), and Donna (his friend). People have their favorites (usually Rose), but I think all of them are wonderful in their own right. Once you get to the Matt Smith years, you will meet Amy Pond, who is probably my favorite.
That’s about all you need to know, so let’s get started.
5. The first episode – “The Girl in the Fireplace”
Here’s where you are going to start. Series 2, episode 4 (available on Netflix Watch Instantly). This episode is written by Steven Moffat who will become the showrunner for the Matt Smith years and is also the creator of the new Sherlock series. His writing is amazing. This episode has science fiction, romance, a little bit of a steampunk vibe and should serve as a wonderful introduction to the series. The only downside is that it features Rose’s boyfriend, Mickey, who is kind of a drip, but trust me, he improves.
6. How did you feel about it?
If you loved it, you’re off! Go back to Series 2, episode 1 and get started with the David Tennant years. Once you make it through the whole Series 2 (you can skip “Love & Monsters,” it’s really bad), go back to Series 1 and give the Ninth Doctor a try, but don’t sweat it if you don’t love it or even want to watch it. Just keep on with the Tenth Doctor. Just remember, Series 2, episode 1 is a bit rough, in my opinion, but it gets better.
If you hated it, that’s okay! We are going to figure this out. I am going to suggest you skip the David Tennant years and head straight to Matt Smith. The writing is a bit sharper, and Matt Smith has a different vibe. Head to Series 5, episode 1, “The Eleventh Hour” and hang out with the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond. If you don’t like that, you probably aren’t going to like Doctor Who, but I have one last suggestion.
Series 3, episode 10, “Blink” is considered by many to be the best episode of Doctor Who of all time. It is great, but it barely features the Doctor. That’s why I don’t recommend you start with it because it is not representative. However, it is a great fail safe to show you what the show is capable of. This episode will haunt you.
8. To sum up . . .
Doctor Who isn’t for everyone. In many ways it is like Star Trek. It can be cheesy, overwrought, and definitely nerdy. But, if you can get into the spirit of optimism, adventure, and romance you will find something really special. It’s about 90% available on Netflix Instant so you have no excuses. Please enjoy it, forgive the speed bumps in the road, and know that you are enjoying a part of science fiction history in the making.
About the Contributor
Robert Barnhart is an attorney and stay-at-home Dad. He doesn’t have Twitter (yet). He can be reached at email@example.com.