Bad Geek, Never Seen Doctor Who
July 25, 2010 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I am ashamed to admit that I have never watched an episode of Doctor Who. Where do I start?

Normally, I would just begin at the beginning and slog through however many seasons there are. After reading Wikipedia, though, it looks like many of the original episodes are lost. So I'm at a bit of a loss as to where to begin.

Is it ok to start with the first season of the new seasons and work my way forward? What about all the "vintage" episodes? Am I going to be really lost without seeing any of those? If I do start from the very beginning, is not seeing any of these "lost" episodes going to screw up the story or continuity? Help!
posted by backseatpilot to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Start with the new stuff until you become current. Read the wikipedia page go get background. The really old stuff isn't necessary and the special effects/acting can be super cheesy to the point where you say, "why does anyone like this show?". the newer episodes, 2005+ are enough to get you hooked.
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:32 PM on July 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

Starting at the beginning of the new series would work fine. There are a few 'easter eggs' in some episodes which call back to some classic episodes, but the new series was designed to be a fresh start for people who had never seen any Doctor Who before.
posted by hobgadling at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2010

You won't find any consensus among fans as to which part of the series is best. Generally people tend to love the first Doctor they ever watched (e.g. Tom Baker for me). It's sort of like imprinting in baby ducks.

Where do you start? With whatever episodes are handy. The seasons don't really need to be watched in order, in fact, and you can jump in anywhere without too much trouble.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:34 PM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I only started watching Doctor Who with the advent of the new season, and loved it. I'm probably not going to trawl back through the old stuff - I tried watching the last Christmas special with David Tennant on iPlayer, and it really didn't grab me at all (although that's likely because I was seeing the end of his cycle, whereas I've seen the beginning of Matt Smith's).

So, don't feel that you have to start at the beginning and work your way forward to enjoy it. Dive right in, and if you want to grab some of the older stuff, do.
posted by djgh at 1:37 PM on July 25, 2010

Best answer: I was not a Dr Who person, either, until the new series started. I think it's definitely fine to start with the first series of the new seasons -- while there are certainly callouts and references back to previous Dr. Who episodes, you don't need to have watched them to appreciate the new series.

I tried watching the old series as a kid and could never get past the poor production values. However, I enjoy the new stuff immensely. Now I'm able to concentrate more on the story, and I've gotten back around to watching some of the old episodes that previously made me cringe. And I mostly like them.

So, yes. Start with Series One, with Christopher Eccleston, and get yourself interested in the Dr Who universe. If you like it, work your way through the David Tennant episodes and get "caught up." You can easily go back to the "vintage" episodes later. Someone with more exposure to the old stuff than I have had can speak to the wisdom of skipping around.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 1:38 PM on July 25, 2010

I've never bothered with anything before the so-called "new who", and well, you can't miss what you don't know... but I don't miss the old stuff ;) This'll be good, you can ration it out and get through all four seasons in time for the Christmas special and won't have long to wait for the next season ;)
posted by lemniskate at 1:39 PM on July 25, 2010

Nthing that you should start with the new-who. I've watched some old episodes from the older show, and they're okay, but... Old.

However, I personally find some of the first episodes from Season One to be kind of... not so good. (Don't kill me, other Whoians! I love the series dearly, but... c'mon.) If you want to start off with something that will show you just how damn amazing Doctor Who can be, I suggest you first watch the episode, "Blink," from season 3. It stands on its own very well, and it's amazing. All you need to know to "get" the episode is what the Doctor looks like, what the TARDIS looks like, and the fact that the two travel in time. It'll really show you just how awesome the series can be.

In general, I advise against just picking up any episodes of the series you can and watching them out of order. I mean, if that's the only way you can get them, fine. But, while each episode mostly stands on its own, there are season-long plot arcs. You'll also miss a significant amount of character development. Most of these plot points are subtle enough that you'd miss them if you didn't watch the series in order, and they're definitely worth picking up. I suggest "Blink" only because it really does stand on its own, in a way that most of the other episodes don't.

If, on the other hand, you're ready to become a Whoian and don't need to see the best-of-the-best to be convinced, then ignore the above, start at the first one, and enjoy!
posted by meese at 1:59 PM on July 25, 2010

I just started watching Doctor Who a few weeks ago. You should definitely start with the first season of the new series. That's when the Doctor first encounters Rose Tyler, who is a major character for several seasons to come. And it's written so that Rose's introduction to the Doctor's world also serves as an introduction for new viewers.

I didn't start with the first season of the new series; I think I started with the first season starring David Tennant as the Doctor. Then I went back, because some things weren't explained. I still enjoyed the show a lot, but it would have been better to watch in order.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:00 PM on July 25, 2010

Best answer: Don't start with the very first season from the 60s. Start with the 2005 season with Christopher Eccleston. He's the ninth Doctor, but that's okay, because that's when the series was picked up again after a long hiatus. If you start with Eccleston, the writers don't assume you know anything about Doctor Who. If you really get into it, you've got all of David Tennant's tenure to look forward to (one Christmas special in 2005, but mostly 2006-2009). You could also start with the most recent season with the new Doctor, Matt Smith, because that season doesn't assume too much prior knowledge either.

If you find you really love it, you can start working your way through the back catalog, and in that case I don't think it matters much where you start. Pick a Doctor and watch a couple of episodes and see if you like them. If not, pick a different Doctor and see what you think.

The trouble with the older stuff is that the stories can be great, but the special effects often look really cheap. I had a wise friend tell me once that you have to watch old Doctor Who like it's live theater rather than television, because you're sort of expected to use your imagination to fill in the gaps. If you already love the Doctor, it's easier to get past the monsters made out of bubble wrap, green paint, and some cardboard. If you were not already invested though, I think the effects might be off-putting, because you'd be going: 'Why the hell am I supposed to be scared of that?' The pace of the older stuff is also quite different. The stories stretched over four ~ 20 minute episodes typically, and that also takes a minute to get used to.
posted by colfax at 2:01 PM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm another vote for the 'Series One' with Doctor #9 played by Christopher Eccleston, but like Chocolate Pickle said, that's who I started with, so I imprinted.

Don't worry too much about it though, Doctor Who is.... well, I wouldn't call it continuity light exactly, but it's a time travel show that doesn't always go by its own universe rules. it's pretty easy to jump into any season, because the Doctor always has to explain old villains to his new companion of the season anyway.

And here's a link to Adam WarRock's 'I Have Never Watched An Episode of Dr. Who In My Life.' I think he can commiserate with you.
posted by Caravantea at 2:05 PM on July 25, 2010

One more vote for starting with the 2005 season. I started their at the begging of this year, got hooked and watched it up about halfway through season 5 airing on TV then followed the new episodes on TV until the end of season 5.
posted by token-ring at 2:09 PM on July 25, 2010

The first episodes I ever watched were the Christopher Eccleston series, but I agree with what meese said - some of those episodes, in hindsight, are a little bit flimsy.

Personally, I would just start with the very latest series starring Matt Smith. You don't need to have seen anything from David Tennant's era to understand what it going on, and the production values and special effects are the best that have ever been seen on Doctor Who. Also, I believe the episodes are much more tightly plotted in the latest series, and it stands out as a much better season-as-a-whole than the Tennant stuff (which was good, but occasionally patchy and very occasionally awful).
posted by afx237vi at 2:17 PM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

In general, I advise against just picking up any episodes of the series you can and watching them out of order.

Enh, this is pretty much how I started watching, and it worked well enough for me. My roommate is a long-time fan from way back, and he started getting them on Netflix when they first came out on DVD. We didn't specifically watch them together, and I wasn't that interested at first so I'd only watch if he happened to have it on when I was around (and even that usually with it in the background while I did something else).

After a few episodes like that I got curious enough to start giving them my full attention, and then to ask that he save the discs to watch together. It was much later that I went back and watched every episode I had missed or hadn't paid sufficient attention to.

If you use Netflix Instant, everything is available up until Matt Smith arrives on the scene.

I also HIGHLY recommend Torchwood, which I honestly think is the better television series of the two.
posted by Sara C. at 2:29 PM on July 25, 2010

Nthing that you really needn't kick it off with the very first William Hartnell and slog through three decades of (often sluggishly-paced, and of deteriorating quality) episodes before catching up to the rest of the world.

Starting with the 21st century reboot with Christopher Eccleston will give you a good, meaty collection of episodes to get hooked on. If you enjoy them, then you can take pleasure in diving into the archives, and encountering earlier versions of friends and enemies from the new series (Cybermen, Daleks, Autons, U.N.I.T., The Master, Silurians, Sontarans, Sarah Jane and K9... a lot of what's old is new again)
posted by mumkin at 3:27 PM on July 25, 2010

Best answer: It's definitely ok to start at the new series, and I think that's the best idea. You don't need to know anything from the old series to enjoy the new series. If you're interested after you finish the new episodes, then go back to the old ones. If you do, you will pick up some context (like meeting older versions of the classic baddies). I think that background makes the new episodes a little richer, but it's not necessary to have that background to get and enjoy the new series.

No worries about the early lost episodes, there's no lost plot or continuity issues.

If you want to get through the old series eventually (it's a long haul!), here's my cherry-picked "intro to the old episodes" list: An Unearthly Child (Doctor 1); The War Games (Doctor 2); The Mind of Evil and Planet of the Spiders (Doctor 3); Genesis of the Daleks, the entire Key to Time season, and Logopolis (Doctor 4); Mawdryn Undead and The Caves of Androzani (Doctor 5). I was never fond of 6 or 7, and 8 was wasted on a questionable 1996 TV movie. This introduction would take a while to get through, but it's a good way to meet all the old doctors. Um, except 6 through 8.
posted by pemberkins at 3:40 PM on July 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Here's another Who fan saying that you should probably start with the new series - watching them in order is a good idea, but be prepared for some really atrocious stuff mixed in with the gems. That is the way of Doctor Who. I like the idea of mixing it up and seeing some of the old serials, too, just because you can get a real feel for the flavor of the show and the ways it's changed over time.

A good introductory point for some of the old stuff is the season called The Key To Time - it's a complete story arc over several stories. The old series episodes were broken up over several weeks, and most of them were kind of self contained. This particular year was a big long story arc that starts with the doctor by himself in the Tardis, so you can come into it comfortably in ignorance. Start with the first one, The Ribos Operation. It's got a lot of classic Who elements, including a cheesy rubber monster that isn't really scary, and really good writing. The doctor throughout The Key To Time is Tom Baker, the fourth doctor, who many people identify as their favorite.

After you finish the Key to Time episodes, try a few of the fifth doctor episodes - jump back into the 'guardian' stuff with Mawdryn Undead, Terminus and Enlightenment: a short arc which carried on with some elements of the Key to Time. Good stuff, and my favorite doctor.

After that, I'd move on to The Trial of A TimeLord - excellent writing and another season long arc, with some familiar villains. If you're watching through the modern series at the same time, you'll see some elements coming up (the timelords, the master) and will be able to form an opinion about how well it was handled in the 'modern' series based on how it was presented in the old stuff.

Then try Remembrance of the Daleks. You'll have seen plenty of the pepperpots by then, and multiple extinctions. This is a pretty good 7th doctor story, I think.

Um... yeah, that's all I've got for now.
posted by lriG rorriM at 4:00 PM on July 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

Umpeenthing the "Start with Eccleston" vote. And, honestly, don't worry about the fact that some (a lot?) of the episodes are pretty flimsy. That's pretty much a hallmark of the entire Dr.Who series. I started watching when the Tom Baker series made it over to the US and, even then, I thought a lot of the shows were...thin.

And, for the record, even though I started with Baker, I always found him a bit too creepy for my tastes. Not "mysterious man with deep secrets" creepy. More like "Don't leave the kids alone with your uncle" creepy. I really prefer the new series' doctors.

But, you really, truly do have to go in with the understanding that this is pop sci-fi on an adolescent level. This ain't Foundation for tv. If you find yourself about to throw a brick at the tv the first time you see the Dr. save a planet from destruction by pointing his sonic screwdriver at's probably best you just walk away from Dr.Who.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:16 PM on July 25, 2010

If you start with Matt Smith, here's a piece of advice regarding that episode mentioned earlier, "Blink":

There is a two-parter in the current season, "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone", that you will enjoy more if you watch "Blink" before you see those two.
posted by secret about box at 4:20 PM on July 25, 2010

I also highly recommend watching the series starting with Eccleston. I watched occasionally during the Tom Baker period, but didn't watch the reboot at all until just a few weeks ago. The first through fourth seasons are available for instant streaming on Netflix (with the exception being episode 1 of season 4, which is only available on disk for some reason).

And I agree that watching in order works best, but each episode is generally self contained enough that you can watch a few and enjoy them, just knowing the basics of the story.
posted by gemmy at 4:54 PM on July 25, 2010

I would also recommend starting with the 2005 Christopher Eccleston season and then working your way forward.

I tried getting into the series about fifteen years ago and I started with the old stuff which I just found abysmal. I couldn't understand the appeal. Honestly, it seemed like an average episode of Captain Kangaroo had a bigger special effects budget and I was completely lost. Now, however, I can go back and watch the older stuff and actually enjoy it. Sure, the production values are less than stellar, but the story is the main thing and some of those episodes are just jam packed with story.

If you're a Netflix subscriber, most of the newer Doctor Who episodes are also available to watch online.
posted by BrianJ at 5:25 PM on July 25, 2010

I didn't watch Dr. Who growing up. I, like you, am ashamed, but hadn't really decided to do anything about it... I just found myself watching some of the new Matt Smith stuff recently and I'm loving it. Love, love, love. So I would strongly suggest that you start with the new stuff and work backwards. I found it fun & engaging and I loved the season finale.
posted by eleyna at 7:11 PM on July 25, 2010

Generally people tend to love the first Doctor they ever watched (e.g. Tom Baker for me). It's sort of like imprinting in baby ducks.

I feel this way about the Tom Baker years myself -- that's where I imprinted.

BUT: I am also completely won over by Matt Smith and Season 5, which I would recommend to anybody as a good place to start.

I've watched a few episodes from the Eccleston and Tennant run, and I enjoyed those too, but I think Season 5 has been the best of the recent lot, and it's almost certainly true that new viewers will have a better experience starting with any of the recent episodes rather than going back to the 60s. Or even my favorites from the 70s/80s. :)
posted by weston at 7:26 PM on July 25, 2010

I watched the 2005 series with Eccleston, and didn't like it at first. (Some of the BBC's production values leave a bit to be desired, and can be jarring to American viewers)

Eventually, a friend got me hooked on Torchwood, after which I watched Series 4 of the 2005 "reboot" with David Tennent, and then went back and caught up with the remaining Eccleston and Tennant series. (This was before the current Matt Smith series began airing)

Like the others here have recommended, I'd start with the 2005 season staring Eccleston, but might suggest skipping to the first series with David Tennant as the Doctor if you start getting bored with the first series. Alternatively: Torchwood (which can safely be watched without spoiling any major Doctor Who plot items).

Also be warned that pretty much every series in the franchise contains at least one awful midseason episode. Don't let that deter you.

Sidenote: "Series" = "season" in British TV parlance
posted by schmod at 8:15 PM on July 25, 2010

Start with the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker).
posted by pompomtom at 10:06 PM on July 25, 2010

I started with the ninth doctor (Eccleston, so the beginning of the reboot). The tenth doctor is "my" doctor, and Tennant episodes are my favorites, but I'm enjoying the latest series with the eleventh doctor as well.

I would definitely recommend starting with the reboot; you can work your way back as well, if you find an interest there, though of course there will definitely be times when you feel it's a bit cheesy at this point, in comparison.
posted by asciident at 3:58 AM on July 26, 2010

I started watching the classic series DVDs after about a season or two of the new stuff.

- First, you need to understand how the classic show works: stories span 4 (sometimes 6, rarely even more) half-hour episodes, apart from some seasons of the Sixth and Seventh Doctors. The classic show is released on a per-story base, ie DVD sets of 4 (or whatever) episodes that make up one story, with lots of extras.

- There is really no particular order or continuity to worry about in Classic Who. The only thing that will be confusing at first are the companions that come and go. In my experience, it takes a while to get a more intuitive feel for which companion came after which.

- What I did was to try and buy sets of around 8 DVD releases, trying to get one of each Doctor. Especially for the first time, this may be the best way to get an impression of each Doctor's style.

- If you want, there's Torchwood or Sarah Jane's Adventures. But watch a bit of modern Who first, as those shows are more or less introduced during Tennant's years. The lTorchwood: Children of Earth miniseries is, IMO, a seminal piece of British science fiction drama.

- This is a list every Doctor Who fan disagrees on.. the "essentials" for each Doctor. In a year's time, you'll have your own list!

-- First Doctor: The Aztecs. Or you could just get "The Beginning", a box set with the first three stories (Including the first Dalek story!).
-- Second Doctor: The Tomb of the Cybermen
-- Third Doctor: Inferno is very good, but maybe not 'typical'. The "Beneath the Surface" set has two good stories ("Silurians" and "Sea Devils") but also an abysmal Fifth Doctor one, which is something for later.
- Fourth Doctor: Talons of Weng Chiang. One of the few episodes that people seem to agree on: one of the very best stories of classic Who.
- Fifth Doctor: Maybe "New Beginnings", which is a box set with the last Fourth Doctor and the first Fifth Doctor episodes. I love those stories, even if they are somewhat dense in vague scifi tropes. "The Visitation" is a decent standalone Davison.
- Sixth Doctor: To be honest, the show does decline in quality around this point (IMO). "Vengeance on Varos" is a nice one. The "Trial of a Time-Lord" (a season-long story) box is quite decent too. Insider tip: Colin Baker's Doctor is often said to get more respectable in the later Big Finish audio adventures.
- Seventh Doctor: "Ghostlight". A personal favorite. Deeply confusing, perhaps even badly written, but presented with such atmosphere and sense of purpose that it becomes more than a confusing plot, and more of an enduring mystery.
- Eighth Doctor: He's only got one movie. Make of that what you will.

Gallifrey Base is a large Doctor Who fan forum, with a special section for newcomers. Almost everyone there will be more than willing to tell you their own recommendations!
posted by Harry at 6:31 AM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nthing the Netflix streaming recommendation. If you want to go classic series, they have City of Death (Baker, written by Douglas Adams), and may other fine Tom Baker examples (Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang). The nicest part... if you watch 10 minutes, and you aren't into it, then switch to a different one. They're slow, effects are mostly terrible, and not all the plots make sense. They're more parlour-game / procedural like than the new series, and less operatic. New series: I'd start with the The Doctor Dances two parter (Eccleston, new series one)

If you are into this, you'll like the old series fine: .
tom baker jelly baby goodness:
posted by gregglind at 6:34 AM on July 26, 2010

The lTorchwood: Children of Earth miniseries is, IMO, a seminal piece of British science fiction drama.

Totally agree.

Though it's also the last place you should start with the Who-niverse. The story is extremely tangential to anything having to do with the Doctor storyline (though I haven't seen any of the 11th Doctor stuff yet), and it takes place at a point in the Torchwood story that would be confusing and strange if you hadn't been introduced to any of the characters.
posted by Sara C. at 7:09 AM on July 26, 2010

Response by poster: Excellent, looks like I'll start with the beginning of the "new Who". Thanks all!
posted by backseatpilot at 7:14 AM on July 26, 2010

Yeah, probably best to start with Eccleston. Everyone's opinions are going to be different, but just as a word of warning: the writing and directing quality declines pretty sharply in the Tennant seasons, and as much fun as Tennant is, he's just not as interesting as Doctors Nine or Eleven and can't hold all of the interest on his own. There are still quite a few gems in those years, though, and once you get to Matt Smith, the show has found it's feet again, so have heart.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:34 AM on July 26, 2010

The one thing I'd repeat from the comments above is that the show gets a bit uneven at times with something brilliant being followed by something... less so. But all of them do have something good, so it's worth it to see them all. More importantly, it's a good idea to watch them in order when possible. Maybe less so with Eccleston, but with each season, what happens previously becomes increasingly important, culminating in 11 where a lot would be lost if viewed nonsequentially.
posted by quin at 12:20 PM on July 26, 2010

This article from The AV Club might be of help too... at the end it lists the "essential" episodes from each Doctor's tenure.
posted by Lucinda at 6:43 AM on July 27, 2010

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