The internet was abuzz with excitement over the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the official choice for the 13th Doctor. Maybe you’ve watched the show before, maybe you’ve only heard friends insist that you have to. But now you find yourself where so many Whovians have stood before, staring down a show with history. A show that already spanned decades before it was brought back to life, and has seen 10 full seasons and several specials even since then. It can be very intimidating from the outside looking in.
However, with Peter Capaldi set to pass the torch to Whittaker in this year’s Christmas special, and with her first full run as the Doctor set to debut later next year, you have so much time at your disposal to binge-watch the show to get ready for her. But where to begin? Well, I feel that much like Star Wars, there are a lot of different ways to experience Who for the first time, and I’m here to present to you a variety of the best approaches for anyone looking to jump onto the show now, with options for every level of commitment you want to make. I’m a mad woman with a box who wants nothing more than for you to fall in love with my favorite show. Shall we?
The Jump-In Method, AKA the "Eff-It" Strategy.
I’m a die-hard Whovian who has worked her way through the modern series as well as the classics, and has even jumped into side media like comics, novels, and audio plays, and what all of that has taught me is that there really is almost no bad time to just jump right in. The show has a deep past, it has a lot of names and villains and locations and things to keep track of, enough that even the biggest fans often forget at least something.
The truth is that really the only thing you absolutely positively need to understand is that the Doctor is an alien who travels through time and space in a blue police box that is bigger on the inside, arriving places where there is trouble and helping where he or she can. If you jump in at the start of Whittaker’s run next year, it’s almost a given that the show will introduce you to the Doctor, she’ll meet a human companion that will travel with her for usually at least a season, and you can kind of just piece it together from there. If you find it confusing at times, don’t worry, most of us veteran viewers do too. It’s part of the fun.
The Sampler Season Method
Season 10 was the final full run of episodes for outgoing star Peter Capaldi, as well as departing showrunner Steven Moffat. Because the show had taken a year-and-a-half hiatus before the season began, and in order to set the table for the new creative team, Moffat crafted a season specifically with new viewers in mind. The premiere episode, which is even called "The Pilot" as a tongue-in-cheek joke, introduces the Doctor’s newest companion, Bill, and through her eyes we learn who he is and what he does. The season also offers up a pretty solid smorgasbord of standard Doctor Who episodes, from post-apocalyptic futures to ahistorical mayhem, and even some multi-part episodes of inconsistent quality. These 12 episodes are a great primer for someone who just needs to get a solid foundation of the show without wanting to do major heavy lifting. Plus you get to enjoy Peter Capaldi's hair at its peak.
The Bowties Are Cool Method
Like Whittaker’s 13th, Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor debuted alongside a brandnew showrunner and production team giving the show an entirely new look and feel to what had come in the four seasons prior. This was when modern Doctor Who really broke through to mainstream American audiences, making Smith’s Doctor the first for a generation of young fans. "The Eleventh Hour" introduces his Doctor to us through the eyes of young Amelia Pond, and presents his otherworldly demeanor with an almost fairytale-like quality that encourages newbies and seasoned viewers alike to run off with him. For those willing to make a minor time commitment, this would give you a solid five seasons of show, including the 50th-anniversary special, "Day of the Doctor." You’ll get introduced to some regular recurring villains like the Daleks, and get to meet scary new ones like the Silence. Plus you’ll follow almost the entire convoluted but delightful mess that is the story of River Song.
The Modern Completionist Method
Here’s the version where you simply jump in with the dawn of the reboot in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor and work your way through it. You’ll meet the Doctor through the eyes of his first modern companion, Rose, and find hints toward the "Time War," an off-screen event that culminates in the aforementioned 50th-anniversary special. The advantage of this method is the sense of feeling like, to some degree, you’re getting the full story that the modern-day showrunners intend to tell. Your introduction to the Daleks will come with the fearful intensity of a Doctor who is fresh from fighting them in the Time War. When you get to "The Day of the Doctor," the scope of what his actions during the war mean to the Doctor will be heavily apparent. This route also gives you the proper introduction of River Song, who first appears during David Tennant’s run as the 10th Doctor, and whole mess of fan-favorite episodes like "Blink" along the way.
The Endurance Method
Most likely if this is a challenge you’d willingly take on, you’d have done it by now or certainly weren’t simply waiting around for the show to cast a woman. However, if you really just love getting every last drop of a show, you could start with the classic series debut "An Unearthly Child" in 1963 and work your way forward. Doing this will truly let you see how it all began, although as someone who has gone down most of this road, you’ll be amazed at how often famous antagonists just sort of show up. The show did not know it’d have a 54+ year legacy, after all, so they didn’t expect that some of these aliens would be still relevant decades later. If you go this route it should put you on pace to jump in and watch the modern show right around the time that Jodie Whittaker is regenerating into her replacement.
Finally, even prior to this announcement, as a fanatical Whovian, I’ve often been asked to recommend episodes for people to check out to start watching Doctor Who. While I do have a handful that I suggest if people insist on cherry-picking them, I don’t think that’s the best approach.
The Timey-Wimey Method, AKA the Riley Method
Over time I’ve come up with my own evolving introduction path that I’d recommend for someone who wants to join in on the show, that incorporates the way it has grown and changed since it returned to the airwaves in 2005. While I love them, the first episodes in 2005 can be jarring and off-putting for new fans who don’t have the patience for the special effects or the growing pains of the storytelling as the reboot found its footing.
I suggest instead that new viewers who do want to binge the entire series start with "The Eleventh Hour" and watch all the way through the fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons, all the way through the episode "The Name of the Doctor." At this point, you should stop and go back to the first episode of the modern series, "Rose," and watch through them all the way until you’ve circled back to "The Eleventh Hour."
With this new order, the Eccleston and Tennant runs feel like flashback novels that serve to further set up a saga, and then they deliciously lead right back into the 50th-anniversary special, which brings Tennant and Smith’s Doctors together and give the viewer the same full satisfaction of that particular arc. Once that is done, you can continue to plow right on through the Capaldi years, and that should lead you right to this year’s Christmas special, where you and the rest of us will eventually say hello to Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor.