This post is dedicated to my friend Andy, attendee of many fan conventions, master of card games, board games, and multiple universes. Despite his love of so many things geek, he has yet to find interest in the Doctor Who universe. Hoping to remedy this, he requested a list of episodes to get him into the modern series.
While beginning at the start of the modern series would be the most logical recommendation, he’s seen the first three episodes (Episodes 1.1 – Rose, 1.2 – The End of the World, and 1.3 – The Unquiet Dead). I can understand his lack of engagement. These episodes are a bit stilted, but with moments of the intelligence, suspense, and humor that makes Doctor Who great. However, they haven’t quite found their footing, and the lack of budget is felt stronger than in later episodes.
Instead, my hope is to list 5 episodes that would engage any Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan who has not yet discovered the charm and quality of the modern Doctor Who. These aren’t necessarily the best episodes. Instead, these episodes are mostly stand-alone episodes where someone who knows nothing about the show can jump in.
Basic things you need to know first: 1. The Doctor is a Time Lord, a non-human sentient being with two hearts, who travels through time and space and goes on adventures. 2. When the Doctor dies, he regenerates, miraculously becoming a different actor. 3. He travels through space and time in the Tardis, which looks like a British Police Box on the outside, but is much larger on the inside. 4. The Doctor almost always has a human companion from modern Earth.
(For a great overview of the entire series from 1963 to present, check out this primer from avclub.com.)
Episode 1.8 – Father’s Day
The 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) brings his companion Rose back to the day her father died. She saves him, creating a time-paradox and danger to everyone.
Why Start Here: When another friend said, “I want to see Doctor Who, but I don’t want to get sucked in and watch the whole series,” I showed her this episode. It contains suspense, humor, warm fuzzies, and tugs on your heart by the end. It’s a great stand alone episode that introduces the greatness of Doctor Who.
In the words of the tumblr site where I found the above image: “Aaaaaaaand with Father’s Day, the Doctor Who Reboot won this father over. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s something in my eye. Also, I’m weeping uncontrollably.”
Episode 1.6 – Dalek
Even though this takes place before the previous episode, I’m listing this one second because it introduces The Doctor’s archenemy: The Daleks.
The 9th Doctor and Rose land in the TARDIS, following a distress signal. It turns out their in a secret warehouse on Earth that contains extraterrestrial items. One item happens to be the last of the Daleks, just as The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords.
Despite a low budget, the Dalek is both terrifying and sympathetic. The Doctor’s dark, angry side is shown, as is Rose’s compassion. While not the best episode, it’s a solid episode that establishes part of the Doctor Who canon in the modern era.
Episode 3.10 – Blink
Starring pre-Oscar Nomination Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrows, this is arguably one of the best Doctor Who episodes. Ever.
Taking a break from the normal format, the episode follows Sally as she receives messages from the tenth Doctor Who (David Tennant), who is trapped in the past. He warns her, “Don’t blink.” If she does, she will be attacked by The Weeping Angels, who hide in the form of statues, and are downright terrifying. Watch it during daylight. And don’t go to anywhere that has stone statues for a few weeks.
Also, you can make a Weeping Angel’s Christmas tree topper!
Christmas Special 2010 – A Christmas Carol
While prior Christmas Specials involved some ghastly apocalyptic event that Doctor Who had to prevent in order to save Earth (primarily England,) this special is more character focused. Following the framework of Dicken’s classic of the same name, Michael Gambon (aka Dumbledore 2.0), plays a Scrooge-type man named Kazran Sardick who controls a Dickensian/steam punk planet. The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) acts as ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to persuade Sardick to save a space-cruise ship containing his friends from crashing into the planet’s force field. A lot’s at stake emotionally and physically as Sardick gets to know a lady named Abigail, as played by Katherine Jenkins (who sings as part of the plot).
A heart-warming, bittersweet Christmas story, and a great example of good Science Fiction.
Episode 6.4 – The Doctor’s Wife
In this crazy, timey-wimey (a Doctor Who term), the 11th Doctor and his companions travel to the edge of time and space, join a bizarre junk yard, and meet a crazed woman of mystery. Written by Neil Gaiman, this episode one last year’s Hugo Award for a television series. Those last two should be enough to watch it.
If you’ve completed the above five, and you still don’t like Doctor Who, then it’s time to move on. However, if you’re intrigued, I highly recommend starting from Episode 1.1 and pushing on through to the most recent episode. All modern seasons except for the current one are available on Netflix. If you’re intrigued, but don’t want to invest into all episodes, here’s a list of my favorite stand alone episodes:
Episode 1.9/10 – The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
Episode 2.4 – The Girl In The Fireplace
Episode 2.8/9 – The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
Episode 3.8 / 9 – Human Nature / The Family of Blood
Episode 4.2 – The Fires of Pompeii
Episode 4.8/9 – Silence In The Library / Forest of the Dead
Doctor Who Special: The Waters of Mars
5.1 – The Eleventh Hour
5.10 Vincent and The Doctor
5.11 – The Lodger
6.10 – The Girl Who Waited
Christmas Special 2011 – The Doctor, The Widow, And The Wardrobe
7.1 Asylum of the Daleks
7.2 Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Honorable Mentions, but you need to watch along with the series first:
Episode 2.12/13 – Army of Ghosts / Doomsday
5.12/5.13 – The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang
7.5 – The Angels Take Manhattan
For those who already love Doctor Who, what’s your favorite episode? Do you agree or disagree with my list? What would you add or take away?
If you have any other questions about Doctor Who, feel free to ask below.
Disclaimer: I do feel this list gives short shrift to David Tennant’s excellent turn as The Doctor.
Side note: My favorite classic Doctor Who episode is Robots of Death with Tom Baker as The 4th Doctor.
For all Doctor Who fans out there (Spoiler Alert), here’s a blog with various interviews with Steven Moffat, current showrunner for Doctor Who and BBC’s Sherlock.