How to Watch Doctor Who

Eleventh Doctor Meets The Tenth Doctor | The Day of the Doctor ...

It’s common for people to argue about the order in which one should watch the Star Wars Trilogy. Should you go with release order? Episode Order? The Machete order? Or my suggestion, the right order? But not many argue about what order to watch Doctor Who—the British show about a time traveling time lord that regenerates when he dies (so he can be played by a different actor and the show can go on). And there’s a lot of orders to choose from. It’s been on for more than 50 years.

Now, the obvious answer to the watching order question is “watch them in order.” Just start with 1963’s “An Earthly Child” and go on from there. This, however, will prove difficult because (a) there are many missing episodes from those early years and (b) some of those early episodes are difficult to watch. TV was just…different back then. Now, you could look up a list of the best Classic Who episodes, like this one, and watch just those; but if you are completely unfamiliar with Doctor Who, even the best of the old episodes can be pretty hard to stomach. Doctor Who has always been campy, even for its own time. Unless you are already a fan, watching any Classic Who might leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Now, the series was restarted—not rebooted but restarted—in 2005. The classic, which ended in 1989, featured 7 doctors. There was an 8th in an American made-for-TV movie in the 90s. And then, in 2005, the show started up again, with Christopher Eccleston starring as the 9th Doctor. Now this might make one think that those unfamiliar with Doctor Who could just start there. And, I grant you, that’s not a bad way to go. Since I watched the episodes as they can out, that’s what I did. But 2005 was 15 years ago now. Even those episodes are pretty campy by modern standards—and, a few things have happened in the series since then that, I think, entail that a different watching order is better.

What’s the best order?

For those who just want to do it, let me tell it to you straight out, so I don’t spoil anything. Then, if you want to know why this is the best order, I’ll follow up with an explanation for why this is best.

First, watch “Blink” (3×10)

Second “The Eleventh Hour” (5×01) through “The Name of the Doctor” (7×13).

Then watch the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”

After that, go back to the first episode of the New Who, which is “Rose” (1×01).

Watch up through end of Season 4 (“Journey’s End” 4×13). (Watch Blink again!)

What the five specials that followed it (“The Next Doctor” through “The End of Time Part II”)

Then watch the 50th Anniversary special again.

Continue on with the next episode, which is a special entitled “The Time of the Doctor”

Then start Season 8 (“Deep Breath, 8×01) and catch up to what is current.

It is at this point that, if you are interested, you can go back and watch “the best of” Classic Who.

Now, why this order?

“Blink” is arguably the best who episode of all time, and serves as the perfect introduction to who the Doctor is. You are introduced to him through the eyes of Sally Sparrow, as this mysterious man with special powers and a knowledge of the universe. He’s in the background; he’s not even the main character. It’s brilliant. Those new to who will be hooked.

“The Eleventh Hour” is the first episode of the 11th Doctor; and since it is when the show moved to introduce itself to an American audience, it requires no knowledge of previous episodes, enemies, or characters. It explains why The Doctor looks different (than he did in “Blink”), and sets up a full four seasons of big stakes adventures with lovable characters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream. And the 10th Doctor will remain this mysterious background character. And if you are worried about the new viewer being confused about Who the Master is when he shows up—don’t worry. The 11th doctor never meets the Master. And the viewer won’t be confused by River Song’s appearance, because the Doctor has to explain her to his companions.

After this, watching that 50th anniversary special will be a very special experience. After four seasons, the new viewer may have forgot about that mysterious 10th Doctor that they only got to see for a few minutes in Blink—but then it will all come rushing back once they see him on screen. They will be excited to get to know him, and wonder a bit about the inside jokes that they miss. But they will also meet The War Doctor, and be enthralled by John Hurt’s portrayal.

Careful viewers of the special will realize that, at the very end, when The War Doctor regenerates, we see that he is just about to regenerate into Eccleston’s “9th” Doctor (although I would argue that the War Doctor is The Doctor and Eccleston’s is really the 10th). At any rate, at this point, by going back to the first episode of Season 1, you follow the War Doctor’s story (rather than the 11th), and the episodes will take on a very special meaning as you, the viewer, know things about the time war that not even The Doctor on the screen knows. Indeed, since they were introduced to Rose in the 50th universe special, meeting her again in the first episode will have a special kind of significance. Of course, the new viewer will wonder if that mysterious 10th doctor they were first introduced to is going to show up; but they will be especially pleased as he appears in the beginning of season 2.

The next step is to watch the 10th Doctor’s story all the way to the end, and includes probably the best season of Doctor Who ever (Season 3). It will also include the “introduction/demise” of River Song in “Silence in the Library,” which will take on a whole new light given that the viewer already knows her from her story with the 11th. Then, once the 10th Doctor is done, watching the 50th anniversary again will take on a new significance. The “new viewer” will now know both doctors well, get all of the inside jokes, and revel in the comradery. It will remind them again of the 11th Doctor –the Doctor that they first got to know and love—and they will be thrilled, now knowing his entire back story, to pick his story back up and see where it leads.

But, of course, the thrill will be short lived, as the 11th Doctor dies and regenerates in the very next episode. Having just seen the 10th Doctor do the same, the viewer will likely feel like they can take no more emotional toil—which is a sign of a story well told. And indeed, if the viewer wants to stop there, they could.

But I would recommend all the episodes of the next two Doctors; although people have legitimate complaints about some (the moon is an egg?), others are among my very favorites (e.g. “World Enough and Time,” and “Heaven Sent.”) And let’s not forget “The Husbands of River Song,” River’s first/last episode. And if the viewer is still into it—that’s when to look up some of the best of the classic episodes. Or, even, dare I say it—start from the beginning in 1963,  watch all the way through to 1989, and end with 90’s TV movie (it’s pretty good).

That’s my suggestion anyway. You asked for, you got it! But in whatever order you watch it, Doctor Who is some of the best TV science fiction ever made.

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