This time last year I found a new obsession. Back in the summer of 2007, I got into Firefly in a big way. I’m a nerd, but I’m not the type who dresses up or writes fan-fiction or buys lots of merch, but with Firefly I went a little further than I ever had before. I bought any book I could get my hands on. I went to special screenings of Serenity. I bought a Jayne Cobb hat. It was pretty intense for a while, but a show that was already canceled, it wasn’t exactly easy to maintain the fandom. I still adore Firefly to no end, but I’m not totally over-the-moon like I was back then. My new obsession is on a whole new scale. It’s called Doctor Who.
For those completely under the rock, Doctor Who is a science-fiction series on the BBC in the UK. It first premiered in 1963, went on for many, many years, was eventually canceled in the 80s, and then brought back by Russell T. Davies in 2005. It’s about an alien who looks like a man and goes by the moniker, The Doctor. He flies around in an old police box called the TARDIS, which can travel anywhere in space and time. He usually brings along a companion or two from Earth. He goes on adventures, helping people around the Universe and stopping bad guys. It’s cheesy and fun and badass and sometimes even emotional. I love it to death, now let me tell you how I got into it and why you should, too.
Before last year I’d had roughly two major encounters with Doctor Who. The first was back in the mid 90s, when I live in Turkey, and had the BBC. They used to play re-runs of the Tom Baker years as Doctor Who. I remember watching a number of episodes and finding it bizarre and pretty much left it alone. Then, in 2005, with the reboot, I watched the premiere and quite a few episodes from the first season, but somehow didn’t quite get into it enough to continue when the lead actor changed from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant. That second experience with the show told me there was something of value to it, but trying to get back into it after a few years seemed like a commitment I didn’t want to make.
My journey back to Doctor Who actually started with a different series entirely. If you haven’t seen the BBC series, Sherlock, you are missing something spectacular. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and plops those characters into the modern era. It’s amazingly entertaining, and currently has two seasons of three 90-minute episodes each. It’s practically like watch eight brilliant Sherlock Holmes films. That series was co-created by Steven Moffat, who also created Coupling. Well, on the lookout for more Moffat-y goodness, I learned that he had taken over the running of Doctor Who in its fifth series. Here was my chance. I was about to jump in.
My initial instinct was that I’d have to watch the series starting from its new beginning in 2005. This seemed slightly daunting to me, especially since what I really wanted was more Moffat, and he only took over the show more recently. So I solicited some advice. Basically, I was told to go back and watch pretty much just the Moffat had written in the first four seasons, plus a couple other great ones. It was a great idea for two reasons. The first is that it gave me a good taste for seeing multiple Doctors (he can regenerate into new form when he’s about to die) with multiple companions. It’s the nature of the show that the actors change out and remix every few years, and it was good to get used to that immediately. On top of this, it helped that Moffat’s episodes were pretty much some of the very best in the series run, including the wildly popular episode, ‘Blink’. Finally, at least two of the Moffat stories come back into play during his run as head writer, one of which is very important to the mythology he’s crafted.
So, I watched those episodes and then I started up on Series 5 and 6. By the end of it I was completely hooked and the only thing I could do to satiate my Doctor Who cravings was to watch the previous four seasons, which I’d mostly skipped over. That took a bit of time, but once I was done I felt empty once more. So I tried my hand at watching the original series from 1963. I watched a few episodes, and it was surprisingly entertaining, but very quickly I balked at the task of watching 23 seasons of a TV show, particularly one where around 100 episodes have been lost and only exist in weird hybrid stills+audio form. It’s too much. I might still go through it, but for now I’m patiently waiting for the next new series of episodes to start.
I love the show. I adore it. I love it to pieces. I think about it constantly in everyday encounters. I slapped a Doctor Who-themed decal on the top of my laptop. I bought a replica sonic screwdriver Just a few days ago I bought a pair of Converse sneakers for no other reason than that they’re the exact same style David Tennant wore for much of his stint as the Tenth Doctor. I still don’t plan on doing any cosplay or writing any fan-fiction, but I do consider myself a full-on Whovian. It’s kind of a sickness, but such a wonderful sickness.
Now, the sell. You should be watching Doctor Who if you aren’t already. It may seem like it’s not for you, but it totally is. You may have preconceptions about it, and you’re totally right, but also totally wrong. You see, because of the nature of the show’s premise, the series can pretty much go anywhere, do anything and be anything. It can be a hardcore science-fiction show one episode, shift gears into an action show, then do a horror episode, then something romantic, and half the time it does elements of all of these in a single episode. It’s crazy and it’s all over the place, and yeah, it’s often pretty cheesy with budget effects, but these things only make it better. The sense that anything can happen just because anything can happen gives it a wonderfully playful tone that’s easy to fall in love with. It helps that all three of the actors who’ve played The Doctor in the reboot have been completely fantastic in their own wild and unique ways.
I won’t go overboard, though. The show can be extremely uneven. Episodes range from totally amazing to completely awful, and from week-to-week you don’t know where on that spectrum you’ll fall. The first four seasons tended to be more uneven, whereas Moffat has been a bit better at this by strengthening the core season arcs. Still, this unfortunate aspect of the show is part of the bargain. It’s the risk you take when you make a show this untethered from general TV logic. Sometimes you just have to take the bad with the good, and the good in this case is so worth it.
So do yourself a favour. Join the Doctor Who train. Give the show a whirl. I would probably recommend just starting with the first episode of the 2005 reboot and going from there, but if you’re unsure, or maybe you’re like me and are more familiar with Steven Moffat from his other works, here’s a handy list of the episodes you should watch before delving into Series 5:
Series 1, Episode 1: ‘Rose’ – It’s always good to get things started where they actually started. The first episode of the reboot is a pretty solid intro to what The Doctor is all about. Good for the uninitiated.
Series 1, Episode 6: ‘Dalek’ – This is a pretty darn good episode, which not only shows off some of the deeper emotional range the series is capable of, it’ll introduce you to the classic recurring villainy of the Daleks.
Series 1, Episodes 9/10: ‘The Empty Child’/’The Doctor Dances’: Moffat’s first Doctor Who story spans two episodes and features everything great about Moffat’s sensibilities as a writer. It’s funny and emotional and thrilling, and best of all, it’s got one of the creepiest monsters in the series’ run.
Series 2, Episode 4: ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ – Moffat returns with a story that brings real pathos and emotion to the time-travel element of the series, and once again creates one of the scarier Who monsters.
Series 3, Episode 2: ‘The Shakespeare Code’ – This one’s a super fun, entertaining episode. That’s it. That’s why you should watch it.
Series 3, Episode 10: ‘Blink’ – Another Moffat episode, and another example of both a brilliantly effective use of time-travel and possibly the scariest of all Who monsters. The episode stars Carey Mulligan and hardly features The Doctor at all, which makes it an interesting example for how the show can still work even when the main characters aren’t the main characters.
Series 4, Episodes 9/10: ‘Silence in the Library’/’Forest of the Dead’ – Moffat’s last story before taking over the series. It’s my least favourite of his pre-Series 5 arcs, but it’s pretty necessary as it introduces some key concepts for the show’s future, as well as one of its most important characters.
Series 4, Episode 11: ‘Midnight’ – A pretty chilling episode with an amazing horror concept, somewhat reminiscent of the film Pontypool. Well worth watching.
There you have it, ten episodes to get you into Doctor Who. Trust me on this, if you have any love for TV and you haven’t seen Doctor Who, I’m betting you’ll enjoy it. And if you’re already a Whovian, well, we should be best friends.