“All of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will…Where do you want to start?”– Eleventh Doctor (2010)
Television shows that span multiple decades, let alone multiple generations, tend to be unforgiving for new viewers to jump into without feeling a little lost. Doctor Who is perhaps one of the only shows to still be connected in some way back to the original incarnation of the series and characters from 1963. The means of keeping show fresh came early on; by recycling the main actor portraying the titular character The Doctor, it allowed the character to pass onto a new face and new identity, and kept the show going against all odds. Many of these overlaps have been excellent points of entry for new viewers, however, moving into our fourteenth Doctor later this year, it may be a bit harder for some to pinpoint a good start for themselves.
Thankfully, there is not one or two — but several places that new viewers can jump in and get up to speed in no time! Here are a few of my suggestions:
From its initial launch in 1963 to the end of it’s initial run in 1989, seven different actors portrayed The Doctor. This run, (before cancelation by the BBC due to declining viewership over the years), marked the ending of the series until 1996, when an American co-produced TV film was made that featured the 8th actor to take on this role. This film however was not what the series needed in order to find new life. Flash forward to 2005, when another attempt was put forward by the BBC and previously accomplished showrunner: Russel T. Davies (Queer as Folk, Dark Season).
Christopher Eccleston was announced as the new Doctor, and the series was not to be a revival as many believed, but a continuation with this ninth version of The Doctor. Originally slated for a single season to test viewership waters, the project was greenlit before the first episode aired for more seasons to follow. With the initial project in uncertain territory prior to release, Ninth Doctor Eccleston, was only slated for a single season by his contract and refused to continue into a second.
Enter David Tennant, who took over as the Tenth Doctor. Many fans of the show point to this version of the character as their favorite, and watching just a single episode of his three season run, (four if you count all the holiday specials they created after the final full season), instantly proves how perfect he was in the role.
With the current run of Doctor Who nearing the 14th season, this is a great point for those looking to get into the show and feel like they aren’t missing too much. The companions who accompany The Doctor, often serve as set pieces for the viewers, asking the questions when an episode or story references anything prior to the 2005 re-launch. Everything else moving forward from the Ninth Doctor on, references itself nicely throughout the seasons.
My recommendation: watch seasons (or series as they are referred to) one and two for a perfect jumping in point. This gives you a look at two actors who drastically took on the same role in different ways, both accomplishing so much in their small time. From the first episode (Rose), you’ll be hooked from the moment The Doctor tells you to run!
I would stand by this as the best starting point, however, the filming style does look a bit dated by today’s standards, and many of the stories can be very camp, or a little too out there, which is why I will also talk about why I feel the next point of entry is more worthwhile:
Matt Smith. The drop of his name immediately brings up Doctor Who; even to those unfamiliar of the show. New Who is broken up by the showrunners in charge of the direction of the show, and the one who writes the more poignant episodes at the beginning and ends of the seasons. With the departure of Davies, Steven Moffat (Sherlock), took charge of the show after writing a handful of the best episodes during the Tenth Doctor’s time (Blink, Silence in the Library).
What Moffat and Smith brought to the table was a darker tone for Doctor Who, along with heightened cinematography and presentation overall. With Tennant’s final special wrapping up every single loose end, the first episode with Smith (The Eleventh Hour), marks a perfect new starting point in the New Who era. Very similar to the first episode of the Eccleston run (Rose), the first episode of the fifth series also sets into motion The Doctor’s new companions, but also lays the groundwork for the universe and history that came before. This was a huge effort by Moffat, a long time fan of Doctor Who, who wanted to leave his mark on the show that shaped his life, and his twist ridden, and intricate story weaving makes this an ideal spot to start your watching journey. It was where I personally started too, after struggling to watch Tennant’s off of BBC America for a year or two. Thankfully everything is streaming nowadays.
My only issue with this as a starting spot is you do miss out on the two loveable Doctor’s that came before. Also during Smith’s run, the 50th anniversary teams him and Tennant up for a whole adventure, and I can see this going either way with someone new to Tennant enjoying his performance, or seeing him again one last time shouting “Allons-y!”.
Smith eventually gives way after a few wonderful seasons to Peter Capaldi, (a shame I can’t mention his beginning as a proper start), and Moffat’s story telling would eventually go off the rails in places to justify that feeling of one-upping the audience. So for our next stop, you probably have a good idea where we are headed:
Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch, Attack the Block), is our present (at the time of writing this) Doctor. Her first series was also the first by showrunner Chris Chibnall, who has had mixed reviews over the course of their three series and specials. What greater place to start than with our current Doctor?
Series 11 saw an even darker turn and more cinematic stories brought to life, as well as the first female incarnation of the Doctor (and maybe more). The companions this time around are a great group that allows different viewers, different favorites, like the audience golden child, Yasmin “Yaz” Khan. But most importantly, it offers a clean slate for viewers to ride along with offering minimal legwork to keep up outside the mention or two of things that predate the Thirteenth Doctor’s journey.
Whittaker offers a wonderful and deep version of the Doctor, and I feel her time on the show will be appreciated more and more in the future as we look back on our short time with her. This is an optimal start for new fans who want to catch up as fast as possible for the final specials and event of our incoming Fourteenth Doctor.
For those who have a little more time on their hands, might I suggest the next point:
That’s right. Start from the absolute beginning with An Unearthly Child, and catch up with every single episode. No matter where you start, if you start and enjoy this show, this will be an eventual starting point for you, just like it has been for every fan, and William Hartnell deserves your love just as much as every other Doctor.
More serial in structure, multiple episodes (sometimes even a whopping 12+), all tell a single story of a larger whole week to week. These can be easily binged as movie events, or an episode a night still feels like the right pace when it comes to Classic Who. The biggest issue you will encounter is missing episodes, either partial or whole stories completely gone. (This is another article for another time). But those missing episodes act as impassible hurdles for some, and can easily prevent further watching.
If you have the time and dedication, seeing many sets and creature’s origin stories is a rewarding endeavor. But if you’re anything like myself, there’s no way to set that much time aside, so I will suggest my final option to you:
Much like tokusatsu, I would tell new people looking to get into the genre to pick what feels right to them. Single hero, or teams? Google the shows and look at the suits and motifs. What speaks to you? Watch that. Try it out for an episode or two, and if it doesn’t feel right, try a different one. You will eventually find a show suited perfectly for you.
I say the same for Doctor Who. Majority wants a newer looking and cleaner show; take my main choices above. But some love older, camp, and or unique seasons and that’s why I implore you to watch a serial for each Doctor. With majority on streaming services, and available on Blu-Ray, you can dabble a little bit easier (and cheaper) than people getting into this show years ago.
One might enjoy the quiet lunacy of Tom Baker, or the brooding darkside of Colin Baker. Upon trying this myself many years ago, I felt Jon Pertwee, the 3rd Doctor, was exactly what I was looking for, and watched as much of his stuff I could find and afford as a broke college student.
Whatever you chose, know there is no right answer. What feels the most right is probably your ticket into a show that is nearing its 60th anniversary, and there is so much fun, beauty, and creative episodes awaiting you if you have the courage to take the plunge!