I need Dr. Who watching advice.
January 4, 2008 8:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me order my queue.

Embarrassing confession: I'm a Dr. Who virgin. I realize that this is a situation I should rectify, and I'm definitely pre-disposed to like the series, but I'm also a person who much prefers to consume media in as tabula rasa a state as possible -- I never read reviews before having seen/read/listened to whatever, and so I know very little about the series except that people who have similar taste to mine have enjoyed Dr. Who. Which brings me to my current problem: I thought it would be easy to just start with episode 1 or whatever and then move on from there, but when I search for Dr. Who on Netflix, I'm overwhelmed by the options: Dr. Who: The Beginning, the First and Second series, the modern remake, etc. Movies! Series! It's overwhelming! And since I've waited this long, I want to watch things in the order that makes the most of the experience. But this is difficult to do without doing some research, which would probably expose me to spoilers (and I've judiciously avoided this). I've been told I should just read the wikipedia entry, but again I really love experiencing things with few preconceptions and I suspect that wikipedia would be overkill for what I want. So my question is this: what should I add to my Netflix queue, and in which order? Bonus points for exact titles so that I know which discs are which. Thanks, hive mind, and be gentle: like I said, it's my first time!

(Do I even need to state here that it would be great if you didn't give away details about the series in your answers?)
posted by tractorfeed to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can definitely watch the new seasons without watching all the older ones. There have been 3 seasons (05, 06, 07) and some random Christmas specials. This covers the ninth and tenth doctors. (That's wikipedia's list of episodes - if you read only what's in the episode charts and none of the explanatory text at the beginning and end, there shouldn't be any spoilers)
posted by Nickel at 8:31 PM on January 4, 2008

Ditto the ninth doctor (very enigmatic, and with a great partner), and also a read through of Wikipedias Dr. Who volumes. I don't find most episode guides on anything explain much until the subject has been read/listened to/or viewed... they seem more like summary notes without context otherwise.
posted by buzzman at 9:05 PM on January 4, 2008

I would say watch the "new" series first as Nickel suggests. They're more modern and David Tennant is dreaaaaaamy.

We just watched the first disc of dr who: the beginning and it gave some interesting back story, but was kind of slow and very 1960s. also, whereas most episodes in tv today wrap up in one or two episodes, all six ~30 minute episodes were the same episode, if that makes sense. it was very odd since we'd never watched tv that way. (i don't think i'm explaining it very well).

if you want to start from the beginning(ish) look at this wikipedia page which tells the order of all the episodes (helpful when trying to figure out what to queue--at least for me!).

but, i'd say watch the new stuff first and then go back to the beginning if you want to. yes, there's lots of backstory and mythology stuff in the new series, but they explain what needs to be explained because they know they have new viewership that might not know what a dalek is....

have fun!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:11 PM on January 4, 2008

You'll probably get as many different opinions as answers to your questions. If you're new to the show, I would suggest you start with the latest version, the one the 9th doctor (confusingly titled Doctor Who: Season 1 (2005). I grew up watching the Baker years on PBS, and while I enjoyed them, I think the show ages pretty quickly, and it might be hard for a new viewer to get past the humble special effects and enjoy the story. Part of the charm of Doctor Who lies in its cheese, but I think that the current iteration is simultaneously more accessible and still faithful to the original spirit of the show.

Plus I like me some Christopher Eccleston. Tennant is too screamy for me.
posted by bibliowench at 9:13 PM on January 4, 2008

Best answer: The "new" Dr. Who seasons from the past few years are really good, and they show a level of polish in the scripts and the effects that is far beyond what you'll see if you reach back further in the archives. That said, you can't go wrong with any of the Tom Baker episodes (Doctor #4).

If, after checking a few of those out, you find you are more in to the new, polished stuff, check out Torchwood, too. (You would probably want to watch all of the new Dr. Whos first, as there is a lot of interweaving between the two series). If you like the old episodes, you might also try Blake's 7, which has some of the worst effects of anything I've ever seen, but really engaging characters and a great arc over its 52-episode run.

Back in the day, when I was growing up in NYC, one of the public television stations would play a full serial of Dr. Who on Friday nights (i.e., all 7 episodes of a particular serial in a row), and then one of the other two stations would play another full Dr. Who serial on Saturday, along with one Blake's 7. Those were good days to be a young nerd.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:18 PM on January 4, 2008

I, too, am inexperienced in the realm of Dr. Who. I did understand the concepts of Time Lords, Daleks, and the TARDIS since I had friends who proselytized the original stuff. Because my local video rental store offered it, I jumped into the first season of the new series and didn't feel lost by being ignorant of canon. It was splendid. I'm sure that subtleties flew right over my head and I look forward to knowing more lore. Once I finish NetFlix's Red Dwarf collection, I hope to explore more Dr. Who, past and present.
posted by bonobo at 9:29 PM on January 4, 2008

I second the Torchwood rec. It fits into the Dr Who timeline sometime after Season 1's "The Parting of the Ways" and right before Season 3's "Utopia" (the last scene of of the last ep of Torchwood leads into the first scene of Utopia). Dr Who season 2 explains a lot of the Torchwood backstory. I would say you should either watch all of Dr Who and then Torchwood, or do Torchood concurrently with the beginning of Dr Who season 3 (all the eps before Utopia).
posted by Nickel at 10:31 PM on January 4, 2008

Another vote for starting with the 2005 series revival with the 9th doctor... Also, please note that after you watch the first episode, the doctor does become less of a wanker as the episodes go on (and then eventually becomes David Tennent, who is my favourite Doctor so far!)
posted by ranglin at 10:33 PM on January 4, 2008

The other benefit of the recent seasons is that there haven't been any of the really long extended serials like Admiral Haddock mentioned; I think the longest serial they've done was the three-parter to end "Season 3". This makes it fairly easy to watch a few in a row and then stop.

I don't have any experience with the "classic" series, for whatever that's worth - I started with Eccleston and worked forward - but between those episodes, the Wikipedia articles, and a handful of copies of Doctor Who Magazine, I think I have a pretty decent grasp on the universe of the show.

My short list of Doctor Who episodes - if, for whatever reason, you had to limit yourself to a couple from each season:

"Season 1" - Rose, Dalek, Father's Day, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

"Season 2" - The Christmas Invasion, School Reunion, Rise of the Cybermen/The Age Of Steel

"Season 3" - the last six episodes. Especially Blink.

That will give you the understanding of three major Doctor Who villains (Daleks, Cybermen, and I won't spoil the last one), some of the rules of how the TARDIS works, a lot of background on the Doctor, a good bit of insight into the world of being a companion, and the whole regeneration thing. You'll also get some good behind the couch moments between Dalek, The Empty Child, and Blink.

And yes, definitely branch out onto Torchwood later, and - if it ever becomes available in the US - possibly the Sarah Jane Adventures.
posted by Remy at 10:40 PM on January 4, 2008

Dr Who and Torchwood are pretty much the only TV shows I follow right now. (I live in the US but have watched every new Dr Who & Torchwood the same night it aired [thank you Usenet] and have now watched most of the files multiple times since then.)

So I know all the current (last three years) episodes well, and I think you would be very happy just starting with them. Like the posters above I also see Dr Who and Torchwood as two halves of one clam, very much interconnected and worth watching together. I would suggest watching according to the chronology of their universe: the first two seasons of Dr Who, then (in any order) the third Dr Who season and the first Torchwood season. Torchwood & Dr Who enrich each other but don't contain spoilers for each other.

I have tried to watch some older Dr Who episodes and wasn't as into them as much. They're quite different, especially the slower pace and the much lesser, much more girly/weak roles of the female companions who travel with him. I think if you tried going through the *entire* Dr Who series in anything like chronological order, you might get bored (purely my opinion).
posted by sparrows at 11:20 PM on January 4, 2008

Another thing I'll mention is that Dr Who episodes (and even more so, Torchwood episodes) are very dense and packed. And both Tennant and Eccleston are pretty hyper, as actors and characters. The writers really cram emotion, action, plot and thrills into every episode. I think sitting down to watch an evening's worth could be exhausting -- maybe plan to pace yourself, especially with Torchwood.
posted by sparrows at 11:30 PM on January 4, 2008

Since you mentioned "Movies" in your post, I should point out that you should avoid the movie. It came out in 1996 as an attempt to reach an American audience. It has none of the British charm and is basically a really dull TV movie.

Otherwise, everyone else is correct and you can and should start with the new series.
posted by Gary at 12:43 AM on January 5, 2008

(Unless you meant the 1965/66 movies starring Peter Cushing that are sometimes found in cheap DVD bins. Those also aren't very good, but are at least more in the spirit of Doctor Who than the 1996 movie)
posted by Gary at 12:46 AM on January 5, 2008

The Onion AV Club did a giant write-up on exactly this question a few months ago.
posted by Gortuk at 7:29 AM on January 5, 2008

Best answer: Ok, not sure why that link didn't work - try http://www.avclub.com/content/feature/ask_the_a_v_club_november_30
posted by Gortuk at 7:30 AM on January 5, 2008

Mostly a "me too" post, but, as someone who has recently watched every episode of all 30 years (though some only exist in reconstruction form) I would definitely recommend you start with the beginning of the modern show and go forward.

Once you've done so, come back here or message me, and we'll/I'll be happy to recommend some "sample" shows from each doctor, throughout the run, to give you the feel for how the show worked in various eras. You may well see some fifth doctor episodes and want to see more, but see
a sixth doctor episode and find it awful. (For example. Mileage varies.)

It should be noted that watching everything nonstop without sleep will take you about 14 days... and much of it, no offense, is dreadfully boring to modern eyes. And much of it is fantastic. So i wouldn't worry too much about being a completist. just start with the modern show, and if you then want to explore the roots a bit further, as I said, I can recommend a great sampling.

(or better still, ask on AskMe when you get there... but mefimail me too so i can participate. :-p)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:15 AM on January 5, 2008

On the other hand.... You could also do an interesting mix and match....

Watching the new show interspersed with episodes from the old that tell related stories.... Especially since, for the most part, there's no harm in jumping around the old series, even though i would watch the new in order...

Start with "Spearhead from Space", which was a "meet the third doctor" story from 1970, with Autons as the villains, then start the new series with "Rose", a "meet the ninth doctor" story from 2005, with Autons as the villains.... etc.

That could be a neat way to do it too...
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:35 AM on January 5, 2008

Best answer: (because I'm bored, decided to continue with my last thought.)

Okay, here's my suggestion for watching the new series and still learning about the history, seeing its roots, and helping you decide which old ones you'll want to focus on watching.

Watch, "Spearhead from Space (1970)" before "Rose", for the Third Doctor, and Autons,

Then continue on watching the new series in order, but watching:

"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (1964), before "Dalek", to see the First Doctor and see Daleks.

"Logopolis (1981)" before "Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways", to meet the Fourth doc, The Master, and for thematic connections (which means I don't want to spoil).

"Castrovalva (1982)" before "The Christmas Invasion", to meet the Fifth Doc, see The Master gain, and "thematic connections".

"The Hand of Fear (1976)" before "School Reunion", Fourth Doc & Sarah Jane Smith.

"The Invasion (1968)" before "Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel", for the Second Doctor and Cybermen.

"Earthshock (1982)" after "Army of Ghosts" but before "Doomsday", Fifth Doc, shared villian and thematic connections.

"The Macra Terror (1968)" before "Gridlock", for Second Doctor and Macra

"Remembrance of the Daleks (1988)" before "Daleks in Manhattan" to meet the Seventh Doctor.

"The Doctor Who 1995 TV Movie" after "Utopia" but before "The Sound of Drums". Eighth Doctor, who is awesome, and shared villain. (But yeah, terrible film. And ignore the "half human" line. Still, it's the only way to see the Eighth Doctor, who presumably changed into #9 JUST before what we se in "Rose."

And that pretty much catches you up to now.

Not a one of those is "essential" to understanding the new show, and some of them are only tenuously based, but it gives you a sampling of every doctor except 6, in a way that enhances your enjoyment of the new series. I THINK they're all out on DVD and hence netflixable. (Missing 6 is no big loss in my opinion, but simply supplement the above with a random sixth doc episode at some point and see what you think. )

And if you like a particular Doctor/era/Villain/etc., you can branch out from there. As I said, each serial is pretty self-contained on the old show, so jumping around is fine, and helps keep it all fresh.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:33 AM on January 5, 2008 [14 favorites]

You know what? Watch "The Two Doctors (1985)" before you watch "Time Crash". You'll meet #6, see a "two docs" episode, and met Sontarans, who will be showing up soon anyway in a as-yet unaired ep of the new show. There. now you're covered. I should really stop wasting time on this and run my errands now. Damn you, tractorfeed!
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:44 AM on January 5, 2008

JKF gives you some entirely unique advice, and it'd be wise to listen to it. (As a relatively new but semi-fanatical Doctor Who fan, I began with watching the new series as it aired on Sci-Fi and am currently catching up by watching Tom Baker and Peter Davison on PBS.)
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 11:48 AM on January 5, 2008

Just start watching from the beginning of John Pertwee: Spearhead from Space.

Keep watching in order until you can't stand it any more. Hopefully you will have at least hit Colin Baker by then. If you can't stand it any more, and you have reached Colin Baker episodes, there are a few odd ones you should still pick up, but worry about that when you come to it.

The new series is nothing like Dr. Who. Best to treat it completely independently. Anything that is a movie, or a made for TV movie, or whatever, is completely miss able, unless you become a real fanatic.
posted by Chuckles at 1:36 AM on January 7, 2008

The new series is nothing like Dr. Who.

Just as a side note, I disagree strongly.

This new show IS Doctor Who just as much as the old in m opinion. Same Doctor, same history, same man. Just told differently.

And I'd argue that 2005 DW is no more different from 1988 DW than 1988 is from 1963.
To say the show has morphed from one thing to another to another to another over the years is an understatement.

And, to modern eyes, I do think the new show is easier to get into for a modern audience, and should be used as a gateway into the story. Not instead of the old show. Along with it.

Just my opinion of course.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:54 AM on January 7, 2008

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