Once upon a time, I didn’t watch Doctor Who. I didn’t know why the blue phonebooth was important and I didn’t know if that garbage can thing with the whisk and plunger was a good guy or a bad guy. Once upon a time, I was too intimidated to even think about watching Doctor Who. Then I started a new job and met Theresa! We became fast friends and the only way I survived my first year teaching was because of her friendship and guidance. Theresa’s the best. One of the many things we bonded over was our shared love of Marvel, Star Wars, and all those nerdy corners of pop culture fun. But I couldn’t discuss one of Theresa’s favorite shows/characters/universes with her – Doctor Who. Eventually, trusting Theresa and her taste, I jumped into the world of Doctor Who and my life has become better in every way for it! But you may not know Theresa. Maybe that’s why you’re here. Maybe you’re curious if you should watch Doctor Who and/or how you even begin watching Doctor Who but you don’t have Theresa there to help you. Well, that’s why I’m here. I hope this short piece helps answer your questions, calm your concerns, and ignites your excitement for Doctor Who in the way being friends with Theresa did for me :D.
Should I watch Doctor Who?
Yes. Yes you totally should! Start right now! Yay!
Are you still reading? Um, do you need more? Huh. Ok, well, first let’s address some of the common concerns people have (like I, myself, once had!) before starting Doctor Who.
IT FEELS WEIRD NOT WATCHING A SHOW FROM THE BEGINNING BUT I’M NOT INTERESTED IN THE 1960s STUFF. IS IT CONTINUOUS OR DOES 2005 START A NEW SHOW?
Don’t worry about the stuff from the ‘60s. It’s (comparatively) weird and slow and super low budget. Modern Doctor Who connects to the classic show – it’s the same character, same world, same story – but you don’t need to watch any of the old episodes to enjoy the new. In 2005, Doctor Who started fresh. If you really love it, you may want to go back and try Classic Doctor Who some time. But if you’re new to the Doctor, just start in the modern era.
THE SHOW IS TOO LONG.
Doctor Who isn’t as long as you think it is! It may feel like you’re jumping into a show with 1,000 episodes but, for comparison’s sake, the entire modern run of Doctor Who is less than half of Grey’s Anatomy. The longest season is only thirteen episodes and the shortest is six, with Christmas and New Year’s specials sprinkled throughout.
I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT A SHOW WITH DECADES OF CANON.
You’re in luck! You can start S1E1 with absolutely no background knowledge and everything is explained as you go! But if you’d feel better going in knowing something, the blue phonebooth is called the TARDIS and it’s the Doctor’s ship which travels through all of time and space. It’s bigger on the inside! And it sometimes has its own ideas about where and when they should land. Also, the Doctor is a Time Lord. Time Lords look human but are aliens who regenerate whenever they are about to die. They carry their memories with them in each new regeneration but their physical appearance changes and their personality does, too. So all the Doctors are the Doctor but they each have their own distinct style and personality.
IF THEY CAN GO ANYWHERE IN TIME AND SPACE, ISN’T IT OVERWHELMING TO FOLLOW?
Nope! The Doctor always travels with a companion – sometimes more than one. The companions are always from our current time and from Earth. So the Doctor’s companions are the lens through which we learn about the Doctor’s world. No matter where or when they go, the Doctor is always explaining things to their companion so we always know what’s going on, too. It’s super convenient!
I DON’T KNOW WHERE IT’S STREAMING.
Um, you don’t really need me for this one. You’re on the internet. Just google to see where Doctor Who is streaming for you. But, just to be nice, at the time of this writing, Doctor Who streams in America on HBO Max and fubo TV and it can be rented or purchased on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, and iTunes.
OK BUT, CONCERNS ASIDE, WHY TRY DOCTOR WHO WHEN IT FEELS EASIER TO TRY ANY OTHER SHOW WITHOUT A DECADE OF “NEW” EPISODES?
No other show does what Doctor Who does! The TARDIS can go anywhere in time and space so one episode they can browse the bazaar on the rings around the planet Akhaten or explore the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire in the year 200,000 and then in the next episode swashbuckle with Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest in 1190 or see the birth of the Civil Rights Movement alongside Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 or solve a mystery with Agatha Christie in 1926. Tonally, there are deep, introspective character studies. There are (to use Theresa’s phrase) goofy, “cheese-tastic” sci-fi romps. There are fast paced adventures with a grand cinematic scope as well as quietly creepy tales of well-crafted horror. There’s love! There’s loss! There’s ALL THE FEELS.
The only limit to the stories told in Doctor Who is the imagination of the writers. No genre, type of character, or narrative style is off limits. There really is something for everyone and it all feels authentically connected within the larger world of the show. With regenerations, each actor puts their own unique spin on the Doctor while each new showrunner brings their own vision, too. This keeps Doctor Who constantly evolving and always feeling fresh.
More than anything else, though, Doctor Who reminds us how magnificent we are. So many brilliant shows and movies (The Walking Dead, The Leftovers, Westworld, etc.) shine a light on the dark, violent, and brutal parts of human nature and question whether we can transcend it. But Doctor Who dares to show us how brilliant and beautiful and important we are while examining how we hold on to that in the face of the most challenging trials. As goofy as it may sound, watching Doctor Who makes you feel proud to be human. When the Doctor says, “Do you know, in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important” you can’t help but feel seen and worthy yourself. It’s beautiful!
Steven Moffat, showrunner from 2009-2017, explains Doctor Who this way, “When they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun — they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-wing fighter — they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. And they didn’t give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat ray — they gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts. And that’s an extraordinary thing. There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.”
David Tennant, who played the Tenth Doctor, speaks to the importance of the character in his own life saying, “When I was a kid, why the show meant so much to me is the Doctor was the hero but he was never the jock…so the Doctor was someone I could aspire to be. And he was celebrated because he’s clever, because he’s clever and kind. And that’s such wonderful things for a character to represent.”
Speaking to a young fan who was a victim of bullying in online Doctor Who forums, Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, said, “The essence of Doctor Who is kindness; that is what really is underneath all of this. This is a person who moves through time and space and history, and all kinds of situations, and reacts to them, ultimately – despite the way the different versions of him may appear – he reacts with kindness. And that is how everyone involved with Doctor Who should be and how everyone who is a fan of it should be. If they’re not kind, they’re not receiving the show in the proper way and they’re not really a fan of it.”
Who isn’t made better by a story which brings more kindness into their life? Doctor Who is as entertaining, thoughtful, and well written as anything I’ve ever seen and, yes, there are so many other amazing shows out there which may feel less intimidating to start. But no other show sees in us what Doctor Who sees in us nor makes us feel what Doctor Who makes us feel. Personally, it never fails to raise my spirit and fill my heart. As our lives and world so often seem to grow ever darker, why wouldn’t you want to spend some time with a hero like the Doctor?
How to begin watching Doctor Who
Given Doctor Who’s ever-changing narrative, Doctors, and showrunners, there are several places you can start!
1) “Rose” (S1E1) – this is the pilot of the modern incarnation of Doctor Who. I (as well as Theresa!) would suggest you begin here with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion, Rose. This era features Russell T Davies as showrunner who excels at intimate, character-driven stories.
2) “Smith and Jones” (S3E1) – this is the only option on the list that comes within a showrunner’s tenure. Russell T Davies is still at the helm but this stars David Tennant’s Doctor with Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones. You may feel a bit lost as this comes in the middle of the Tenth Doctor’s story but you can learn it all through Martha’s eyes.
3) “The Eleventh Hour” (S5E1) – this stars Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor alongside Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond. The era features Steven Moffatt as showrunner who gives Doctor Who‘s stories a more grand, cinematic feel while writing the best speeches for the Doctor.
4) “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” (S11E1) – Jodie Whittaker takes over as the Doctor alongside Mandip Gill’s Yazmin Khan, Tosin Cole’s Ryan Sinclair, and Bradley Walsh’s Graham O’Brien. With Chris Chibnall as showrunner, we get some of the best historical episodes Doctor Who’s ever had as well as a greater sense of family in the larger TARDIS team.
But if this still feels like too much of a commitment or you’re too hesitant to try picking up at the beginning of a season, I have another suggestion. Watch “Vincent and the Doctor” (S5E10). Just that episode. If you were to give me just one single episode to show you the beauty, fun, and excitement Doctor Who holds and how it can move your heart and soul, I’d have you watch “Vincent and the Doctor.” Then, once you’re hooked, you can circle back and chose one of the above starting points!
Don’t feel you need to binge-watch this show either. You certainly can, if you get hooked and want to! But Doctor Who is a show that can sometimes have a year or more between new seasons. It’s a show best consumed at your own pace. It feels “wrong” (or at least counter-cultural) to approach a show like this anymore but watch when you want to and take breaks when you want to, too. You’ll enjoy the show more if you don’t put yourself under any pressure to “get through it” or “catch-up” to the new episodes. The Doctor will always be there waiting when you’re ready ;).
Lastly, I’ll add this. When you begin, the show feels unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. So give it a chance. Learn the rhythm. Some people fall in love with it immediately! For some, it takes a few episodes before it grabs you. But of everyone in my life who has followed me into the world of Doctor Who, just as I followed Theresa all those years ago, no one has been disappointed. Everyone has been surprised to find the show is even better than I said it was. I’m sure you’ll love it, too! Otherwise, I’d not be writing this piece :).
Doctor Who has brought so much fun, excitement, beauty, light, and hope into my life. On a personal note, I couldn’t’ve gotten through the last year (with the pandemic, lockdown, and some deeply personal losses and struggles) without Doctor Who. It is a gift. It’s a gift that has filled my life up and it’s a gift I love sharing! It offers many ways to experience the show and, should you find yourself loving it as much as I do, it is the ultimate comfort show because it feels like it’s never-ending! You have the modern run of the show to watch and rewatch. You have all the seasons from ’63-’89. You have novels and comics and audio dramas, too. You needn’t ever experience any of those other stories to enjoy watching Doctor Who. But, if you’re like me and you find comfort in a show you can return to again and again, then you’ll not find a better choice than Doctor Who.
You’ll not find any show more worthy of your time, either. And if I still haven’t quite convinced you to trust me on this, that’s ok. But you can trust Theresa! She’s the best and she’s not gonna mislead you here. I know from experience :). So why don’t you give Doctor Who a try? As the Thirteenth Doctor reminds us, “None of us know for sure what’s out there. That’s why we keep looking. Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you, constantly.” And there is a wonderful world waiting for you, full of hope and surprises, with Doctor Who!
Also, Happy Doctor Who Day! This piece was originally posted on November 23rd 2021, which is the 58th Anniversary of Doctor Who’s very first episode which aired November 23, 1963. So that’s one more reason to jump on board with Doctor Who! You get a new holiday to celebrate!
Also, the photo credit for this post’s fantastic featured image is the modern Doctors section of Jeremy Enecio’s character portraits of all Fourteen Doctors, which the BBC released in November of 2019. If you would like to explore Jeremy Enecio’s own site to see more of his amazing work, you can click here, too.
If you’re still curious and/or would like to read more about Doctor Who (with pieces all featuring spoilers of various kinds for the episodes they discuss), you can try one of these pieces:
A Doctor of Kindness: Doctor Who and a Universal Ethic is my loving and detailed examination of how the Doctor moves through the universe and why they do what they do.
Doctor Who, “Can You Hear Me?,” and the Nightmares of (More) Pandemic Teaching looks at how the Doctor has been invaluable in helping me survive the long, tiring struggle of my job while also examining how vitally important it is for all of us to be heard.
“Fancy a Trip in the Box?” – Considering the TARDIS and Each Companion’s First Trip breaks down how the TARDIS operates in more detail as well as giving a super short summary of each companion’s first trip in the TARDIS from Rose up to the present.
The Abject Horror of Doctor Who‘s Confession Dial considers what is, to my mind, the scariest episode of Doctor Who EVER and uses the episode as a springboard to explore what I fear most.
 Mark Brake, The Science of Doctor Who: The Scientific Facts Behind the Time Warps and Space Travels of the Doctor, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021).
 “Jodie Whittaker and David Tennant: Doctors Stick Together.” The Late, Late Show with James Corden, season 2020, episode 783, June 18, 2020.
 “Peter Capaldi had this to say to the cyberbullies targeting a Doctor Who fan,” RadioTimes, Published April 11, 2017. Accessed May 1, 2021. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/peter-capaldi-had-this-to-say-to-the-cyberbullies-targeting-a-doctor-who-fan/