You’ve heard about it from all your nerd friends and you’d like to give Doctor Who a try, but how can you catch up on a show that first aired in 1963?
Series 9 is starts up in just over a month on September 19. That leaves just over 30 days between now and then. And I want to help you get ready for the new season.
WHAT IS DOCTOR WHO?
Doctor Who follows a human looking alien called The Doctor (No, his name is not Doctor Who, just The Doctor) as he travels through time and space looking for adventures and saving people.
Every so often The Doctor regenerates into a new person. It’s the same character, but he looks different and has a slightly different take on the overall personality of The Doctor.
Space and time travel is made possible by the Tardis, his ship that disguised itself as a 1960s blue police box and became stuck that way. It is famously “bigger on the inside,” as it has a myriad of rooms all within what looks to be a regular-sized telephone booth.
He routinely travels with companions, usually present day humans who help ground the almost 1,000 year old Time Lord and serve as a window for the audience into the strange, exciting world of The Doctor.
There is clearly a substantial amount of information and nuances I left out, but this gives you the basic premise and idea behind the show.
SHOULD I WATCH DOCTOR WHO?
Some people don’t enjoy science fiction. If that’s you, then you probably won’t be able to appreciate Doctor Who. It is a sci-fi show that will have elements of action, adventure and horror (not gory horror, but suspenseful horror).
The easiest way to decide if you will like it is to watch it. I’ll get to the episodes you have to watch, but there’s one episode that serves as a good litmus test.
While I am usually a stickler for going through a story from the beginning, if you are trying to decide if Doctor Who is worth investing in watch Blink (series 3, episode 11) first. It may be the best episode of the modern run and will give you a feel for the show.
If you like it, then you will enjoy the show. That’s where this list comes in.
WHAT EPISODES DO I HAVE TO WATCH?
While the older run is great, the “New Who” explains all you need to know. You don’t have to watch any of the previous seasons.
Just start with series 1 from 2005. (The seasons before 2005 are called “seasons.” Everything since then are “series.” So season 1 would be the very first season in 1963, but series 1 starts in 2005.)
If you have the time, the whole run from the last 10 years is great. But I’m limiting myself to 30 to catch you up before the new series starts.
In between series, there are often standalone “specials.” I’m generally going to stay away from those unless absolutely necessary.
The great thing about the show is that you can watch these 30 episodes and know what is going on. But if you’d like, you can go back and watch some that interest you like The Doctor meeting Shakespeare or Vincent van Gogh, then there is one of my personal favorites, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.
I’m also listing double (and one triple) episode story arches as one episode. Honestly, that’s the only way I can stick to my goal of 30.
If you just can’t handle 30 episodes, but you still want to try to catch up for the premiere in September, I’ve still got you covered. Again, start off with Blink to get a feel for the show, but instead of starting with series 1, skip down to series 5 for a 15-episode plan.
Otherwise, here are the 30 Doctor Who episodes since the 2005 reboot you need to see before series 9 premieres September 19. This is a combination of the best episodes of the show and those episodes that are can’t miss story-wise.
Fire up Netflix and let’s get going.
Mild spoiler warning
Dalek — The Doctor and Rose, his first companion, find themselves face-to-face with his greatest and most iconic enemy, a Dalek. Aided by the arrogance of a wealthy collector, the Dalek goes on a killing spree inside a bunker.
Father’s Day — One of my favorite episodes. This provides significant character development for Rose and offers good explanations for what can and cannot be done through time travel.
Empty Child/The Doctor Dances — This two part episode, introduces one of the most loved part-time companions, Captain Jack Harkness, and has some of the creepiest scenes in the show.
Bad Wolf/The Parting of Ways — The season finale finds The Doctor, Rose and Jack in more trouble than they initially realize. It ends with the death of the Ninth Doctor and regeneration of the Tenth Doctor.
Christmas Invasion — The Tenth Doctor’s (David Tennant) first episode that provides the framework for his version of The Doctor.
The Girl in the Fireplace — Possibly the best episode of the season, this is a great standalone story and shows the growing feelings Rose has for The Doctor.
Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel — Two parallel universes become entangled and The Doctor and Rose must save another world that includes a different version of her mom and dad. It features the second most iconic villain of the show: the Cybermen.
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday — The two-part season finale brings back some of the storylines from The Age of Steel and ends with an unwanted split between Rose and the Doctor.
Smith and Jones — This is the introduction of the next companion, Martha Jones, and features an interesting story of a hospital transported to the moon.
Blink — Here is the one I said to watch first. It introduces the Weeping Angels, the greatest villain introduced since the reboot. There are lots of fun time paradoxes and intertwining of different periods.
Utopia/The Sounds of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords — Yes, this is a three-parter. If you have to leave one off, Utopia would be the one to drop. But this trilogy brings back The Doctor’s mirror image villain, The Master.
Fires of Pompeii — This is a fun standalone episode, but it’s required viewing for another reason. The current Doctor (Peter Capaldi) plays a major role in this story and that fact supposedly plays a role in the upcoming series.
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead — A great two-part story that introduces the extremely important character River Song.
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End — The Earth is literally stolen in a plot by the creator of the Dalek. In order to defeat his plan, The Doctor needs help from all of his previous companions.
The End of Time (Special) — One of the specials you have to see because it contains a good bit of personal history of The Doctor and marks the transition from the Tenth Doctor (Tennant) to the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith).
The Eleventh Hour — Here is where the even shorter catch-up plan would start, as it features a new Doctor with a brand companion, Amy Pond, and a new overarching storyline.
(If you choose to start here, you may also want to watch the Silence in the Library two-part story because River Song is vital to the next three series.)
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone — A Weeping Angel two-parter featuring River calling The Doctor and Amy for help.
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang — This complicated, but fun episode features a lot of time jumping and shows the depth of the relationships between The Doctor and Amy, but also Amy and her soon-to-be husband Rory.
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon — In Utah, Amy, Rory and River meet an older Doctor who is then abruptly killed by someone in an astronaut suit. They then meet up with the present day Doctor and battle the second-best new villain, the Silence.
A Good Man Goes to War/Let’s Kill Hitler — Another integral two-part episode to the storyline of Amy, Rory and River. Much of the storyline before and after hinge on what happens here.
The Girl Who Waited — This is such an emotional, gut-wrenching episode.
The Wedding of River Song — The storyline set up at the beginning of the older Doctor being killed by the astronaut is paid off in this season finale.
Asylum of the Daleks — This series is one of my favorites, but I struggled whether to add the opening episode. The relationship between Rory and Amy seems off. It does, however, introduce a future companion.
The Angels Take Manhattan — All the feels. All of the feels. This Weeping Angel episode bids farewell to Amy and Rory in a perfect, poetic way where they demonstrate their unrelenting love for each other.
The Snowmen — The next companion, Clara Oswald, draws The Doctor out of his depression-induced hiding.
The Name of the Doctor — This episode, closes some Clara storylines and sets up new ones with both her and the Doctor’s own hidden past.
The Day of the Doctor/The Time of the Doctor (Special) — This unites the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor and rewrites much of The Doctor’s own history. It also leads to the transition from the Eleventh to the Twelfth (Capaldi). Many lose ends and previous storylines are tied up and explained here.
Deep Breath — The first full episode of the Twelfth Doctor shows the chaos involved in a regeneration and has a T-Rex in London.
Kill the Moon — Showing the sometimes contemptuous relationship between the new Doctor and Clara, this is an excellent episode.
Dark Water/Death in Heaven — The two part finale brings back a classic Doctor Who villain in a new form and puts Clara through a heartbreaking loss.
Now, you are caught up to series 9 and are, hopefully, an official Whovian. To get you ready for the next series, here are the two released trailers.
If you are already a Whovian, share your favorite episodes or moments from the show. If you start the show after reading this, let me know what you think.