Familiar with the Who-niverse (if not, read here), but can’t decide where to begin the long binge? Fear not, we’ve got you covered. In this, the second part of our Whovian guide to the galaxy, we’ll take you through the ideal ways to get that TARDIS off into the fourth dimension. Allons-y!
Most people need a good place to start their journey, since Doctor Who caters magnanimously to every one of its dedicated fans. Meaning, you may stumble into an episode that is 1 of 10 parts, as found in the classic era (1963-1989), to see the Doctor making even less sense than usual. Or you’re left wondering who the hell Sarah Jane or Jack Harness are, and did someone say The Doctor had a pet?
That’s usually the point at which the newly initiated hang up their sonic screwdrivers. But the good news is there’s no dearth of jumping-off points, or means to dive deeper within the folds of the Whoniverse. Each one is specific to the kind of Whovian YOU are, and how many EFFS you really give. (effs for ‘efforts’, kids)
Alright, so you just want to dive in, without having to catch-up.
· The easiest answer is Series 1 (2005). A revamped show for a new generation, with the legendary Russel T Davies at the helm (writer and producer) and Christopher Eccleston as NINE (the fandom refers to Doctors in the order they were cast), a grittier Doctor than ever. It’s what started Who-mania all over again, after almost 15 years of becoming irrelevant. The villains and story arcs do often refer to classic Who, but from the eyes of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, a department-store-clerk-turned-companion, you needn’t know anything else.
Yes, there are cheesy visual effects, even cheesier villains, and predictable storylines, but it grows on you. I started within this era and I must admit, I gave up many times too, only to be pulled back in by an epic story, such as ‘Blink’ (we’ll get back to that).
· Now, if it’s a modern version of the same that you desire, start at the top of Series 5 (2010). With Matt Smith as the youngest Doctor ever cast, plus completely new companions, this is the series that crossed a demographic threshold and broke Who into a worldwide phenomenon (being drastically catered to British audiences up until then).
With Steven Moffat as head writer and producer, the stories became even more emotional, the TARDIS turned slick and snazzy, even the production shot up as it became part of the BBC Worldwide family. Somewhere during this era, I became a Whovian (yes, Eleven is my favourite), and the binging was glorious.
· If you want some middle ground, other options are to watch the last of TEN (considered one of the finest actors to have played the character) so you transition into Eleven. Between Christmas 2008 and New Year’s 2010, there were 5 Specials released, being Tennant and Davies’ last of the show, as they handed off the reigns to Moffat and Smith.
· Some fans say that starting with Series 5 and then going back to Series 1 may be a good strategy too. It is an opportunity to learn about characters that were introduced in NINE and TEN’s time, whose return during ELEVEN’s makes much more sense.
AN EFF OR TWO
Let’s get a little geekier, for those who want to know more. The classic series is 26 years of hardcore sci-fi, to comedy, to weird/cheap horror, to political commentary, and beyond. Simply put, it isn’t ideal for people that would like to get immersed, and just don’t have the time. There’s sol-who-tions for you too:
· Geek hero Mark Gatiss (a writer on Who since it’s revival), wrote and brought to life a docudrama called ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ for the 50th anniversary in 2013, which told the very origin of Doctor Who, as it was conceived in 1963. A fascinating tale, the 90-minute film depicts the era of ONE, played by William Hartnell, as well as the first producer of the show Verity Lambert (who happened to be the first woman producer at the BBC, ever).
It provides a great insight to what led to this larger than life character to capture the hearts of millions of people, and how it continues to do so even today. It features cameos by Carole Ann Ford and Anneke Wills (actors that played ONE’s companions in 1963 and 1966) and even the current Doctor in 2013, Matt Smith.
· If you’d rather read about it, in your own time and space, look to comedians and Whovians Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke’s ‘Running Through The Corridors’ (http://bit.ly/2pjdCay): A 3 volume magnum opus of two friends watching every Who episode from 1963-2010.
· OR maybe you’d rather catch up via diagrams and maps. Here you are,
Doctor Who Timeline in the form of a London Tube Map: http://bit.ly/2pjhjNE
BBC Future’s interactive Doctor Who timeline: http://bbc.in/1gcuAAn
EFFS ALL AROUND
So you’ve seen the New Series and are all caught up, but still yearning to know more of the legacy. My personal strategy into this quest has been two-pronged: first, to go to the beginning of each new Doctor’s time. Second, to find the best standalone stories. Each era had its charms and pitfalls, so binge “swad anusar” (according to your palate):
· If you’re a purist at heart then by all means, start at the very first episode ‘An Unearthly Child’ (1963). Be warned, it’s black and white, the pace is slow, the monsters are ugly costumes, some episodes are missing all together, and initially the Doctor himself hasn’t developed into the character that you may know and love.
· Many of the highest ranking Doctor Who episodes are from the FOUR era (Tom Baker). He’s considered by many to be the most prolific comedic actor to have played the role and solidified the Doctor as his characteristic goofy self, which balances out the intensity of being an alien hundreds of years old.
The storyline, ‘The Key to Time’ (entire Season 16, 1978) is not only self-contained but also revered to be one of the greats, written by the legend Douglas Adams.
Doctor Who Magazine (holding a record for longest running magazine based on a TV series) named the story arc ‘Genesis of The Daleks’ (Season 12, 1974) the greatest arc in Who history, after a poll from readers. It also features the legendary character Sarah Jane, who went on to have her own show (The Sarah Jane Chronicles), returning to Who after its revival, and even having Matt Smith guest on her show in 2010. Watching this story arc will thus explain much of why Sarah Jane is considered by many as the best companion.
· Steven Moffat wrote his first story for Who in 2005, with NINE and Rose coming across a child wearing a gas mask repeatedly asking “Are you my mummy?” This nightmare-inducing, Hugo award-winning two-part, ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ (Series 1, 2005) marked the genius of Moffat and the impact of the revived series. It also introduced recurring character Captain Jack Harness played by John Barrowman, who went on to have his own successful show, Torchwood.
· And then, there’s ‘Blink’ (Series 3, 2007).
If there’s an episode that can convert those with no knowledge of Doctor Who, to join the ranks, it’s this. This episode featured a young Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby) discovering the frightening enemy, the Weeping Angels, along with the audience. Mulligan won an award for her performance, Moffat won two BAFTAS.
Nerd royalty, Neil Gaiman (involved in multiple Who stories) put it quite simply,
“People are intimidated. They think that there’s 47 years’ worth of stuff they need to know before they can enjoy anything. What you want to say is, ‘No. Look, there is a blue box. It is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It can go anywhere in time and space and sometimes it even goes where it’s meant to go. And when it turns up there’s a bloke in it called the Doctor, and there will be stuff wrong and he will do his best to sort it out and he will probably succeed, because he’s awesome. Now sit down, shut up, and watch Blink.’”
This here is definitely not a “best of” list, there’s plenty of those based on stats all over the interwebs, and every Whovian has their own favourite Doctor/companion/villain/TARDIS décor. The purpose here is to provide as much info as we can.
So here’s an episodic guide, a much distinguished blog (and book series): TARDIS Eruditorum and for any queries there’s always the Who-portal: http://tardis.wikia.com/
If you choose this path, young time-hopper, there’s always solace in knowing that there’s more to explore. When you find yourself tiring of Doctor Who, remember that it has a long standing reputation of changing people’s minds over time. And space.
Scribe: Ankit Dayal
Captains Log: Ankit Dayal is a professional procrastinator, musician, high ranking amateur geek by day; and asleep by night. Follow him, not for the stories, on Instagram @ankitdayal.