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My question is related to the one about what older episodes to watch, but comes from a total beginner's point of view. I've heard wonders about Doctor Who and I've become interested in watching it. But there are lots of seasons with different Doctors, and I don't know where to start.

Where would you recommend starting and what are the definitive episodes/seasons I should watch?

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My opinion is that whichever Doctor you see first, that will be your favo(u)rite one. This is based on my unscientific poll of folks I meet who admit to watching Doctor Who. I've observed a similar pattern with Terry Pratchett novels (your favorite is almost always your first). –  Tangurena Mar 25 '11 at 2:35
    
My first Doctor was Christopher Eccleston, which I did like the most at first. However, David Tennant has become my absolute favorite. I think he's hilarious. –  Kalamane Dec 9 '11 at 15:06
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10 Answers 10

up vote 58 down vote accepted

As a TOTAL beginner, I'd suggest you start with the 2005 reboot, and watch them in the order they aired. It's both easier to get a hold of, and more modern. Plus once you're caught up, you can easily watch the new episodes as they're released.

In addition, if you're enjoying the modern Doctor Who series, I'd recommend watching Torchwood as well; preferably in the sequence it aired, as there are tie-ins with Doctor Who.

However, if you subsequently wish to watch some of the more "landmark" classic episodes, I'd suggest you go for 2nd, 3rd or 4th doctor stories first; specifically those involving the Daleks or the Cybermen. The 4th Doctor's Genesis of the Daleks is a fantastic story, and introduced a recurring villain (who appears in the modern series), and the 3rd Doctor's Master storyline introduced the character (who also appears in the modern series), so is well worth checking out. On top of this some of the 2nd Doctor's stories are well worth watching; specifically the early Cybermen stories like Tomb of the Cybermen, and the 2nd Doctor's final story, War Games.

I'd agree with other commenters, though, that the modern reboot is a lot easier to get into than the classic series, as the classic series is a bit dated in places, and the low budget special effects are often a bit corny. However, if you can deal with that, and enjoy the modern series, then I'd highly recommend checking out some of the classic series as well.

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Thanks for the answer. I'll go with the 2005 series to start then, and see where that leads me. And thanks for the recommendations on must-see episodes. I'll probably go to the classic series any way eventually, since I love old-school low budget special effects :) –  Fernando Briano Mar 28 '11 at 6:16
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Also, don't judge the 2005 series until you reach the episode "The Empty Child". It may be the fifth or sixth episode. If you get impatient, just watch the pilot and then skip to it. If that episode doesn't get you hooked, I don't know what will (except, perhaps, "Blink/Weeping Angels"). That's how it worked for me, my wife and my nephew. Torchwood, which is a bit darker, may not cater to such a diverse demographic! –  HNL Dec 12 '11 at 8:41
    
This is a great suggestion given that there are so many runs from the original show. I think that once you've seen most of the modern series, revisiting the classics will help you appreciate the character and adaptation in the revival. –  NickSuperb May 7 '12 at 23:57
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I started with the 2005 reboot with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. While it has a number of little references back to earlier series, I didn't find it particularly difficult to keep up. I'm in mid-season 3 now (and part of Torchwood) and greatly enjoying it, so I think that's a fine place to start. Particularly since they're very easy to access. (I'm watching them on Netflix instant queue.)

That's all I could say about it so far, though watching the newer series has excited me to watch the older ones now, which I had very little interest in before, so I'd rate it well as a "gateway drug" for the older Who.

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I would concur with this. As awesome as it is, the older series has a much higher "cheese factor", with lower production values and, frankly, terrible acting and dialog; all this can be terribly distracting, particularly to a new viewer. The concepts behind the stories, as well as the charm of the characters, is what makes Doctor Who awesome. My favorite parts of the newer series are when they manage to channel the old series but keep the feel of the new. –  neilfein Mar 22 '11 at 4:23
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I complete agree with this answer and comment. However, the current (eleventh) doctor is my personal favourite - awesome! –  Wikis Mar 22 '11 at 6:15
    
Thanks for the answer and the comments. The terrible acting and dialog could take me away from watching it, but low budget special effects are awesome for me. I'll start with 2005 like most people recommended and once familiar with the series, I'll check out some classic episodes. –  Fernando Briano Mar 28 '11 at 6:17
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The best way to start watching the Doctor is definitely the 2005 series. The other 'obvious' place to start is the first episode of the first Doctor. DO NOT do this, it has spoiled several people who could have otherwise been big fans. Many of the earliest episodes are missing.

From Wikipedia:

There are 27 incomplete Doctor Who serials, with 108 of 253 episodes from the first six years of the programme missing. Many more were thought to be lost until copies were recovered from various sources, mostly overseas broadcasters.

Doctor Who is not unique in this respect, as thousands of hours of programming from across all genres were destroyed by the BBC until 1978, when the corporation's archiving policies were changed.

Essentially, due to the British laws around copyright and broadcast rights, TV shows couldn't be rerun after a certain amount of time. At that point, the shows became useless to the BBC, which preferred to wipe and re-use the (moderately expensive at the time) tapes.

This policy was only changed with the advent of VHS technology. The only reason we have any of the old Doctor Who episodes is a hodgepodge of BBC misfiling, overseas broadcasts, fan 'taping' of various forms (mostly audio or using video cameras, typically poor quality).

More than one person who has been willing to put up with the cheesy dialog and poor acting/effects has had the fact that several episodes are missing (except for often poor-quality audio) as the straw that broke the camel's back.

Therefore, if you want to start with the older material, I'd suggest starting with the Third Doctor. The 2nd Doctor was the last one to be filmed in black and white, and the last missing episode is in his second-to-last serial.

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Thanks for the heads up on the missing episodes. Guess I'll just check the first episodes out of curiosity once I'm familiar with the show. –  Fernando Briano Mar 28 '11 at 6:19
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As others have mentioned, the 2005 relaunch is a good starting point. However, season 5 which is the first season with Matt Smith as the Doctor is also a good starting point. The Doctor just got a new regeneration, so it's a new face, and a new companion. They wrote it such that this season is a good jump on point for new people, with less continuity going back to the last few seasons.

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Season 5 is the first Season with Matt Smith as the doctor, and is a good place to start. Season 6 is the second, and is much better served after season 5. –  Sean McMillan Sep 29 '11 at 2:07
    
@SeanMcMillan Thanks, at the time I must have still counted the year of movies/specials as a season in my head. –  Keen Sep 29 '11 at 4:00
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My "in-Doctor-ination" kit includes the following episodes:

  • Blink
  • Vincent and the Doctor
  • The Girl in the Fireplace
  • Midnight (optionally: The Empty Child)

You hit both ends of the scary/sweet spectrum right up front, you see some of the gorgeous design of Girl in the Fireplace (along with a sense of the Doctor's character--the boyishness and the loneliness), and then jam right back to suspenseful/scary with Midnight or The Empty Child.

Each series of the reboot does have an arc to it, but these episodes stand alone quite nicely. I've turned quite a few people into dedicated Whovians with these four/five episodes.

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If you want to know if you will like it, watch the 10th Doctor episode "Blink". It is almost completely detached from the rest of the series, so you don't have to know anything at all. It's the perfect 'first episode' to watch.

Then, if you like it, start watching from the 2005 reboot.

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I always give the same advice to people that are just starting with Doctor Who: watch the 'new' series first; if you love them (and you will), they'll warm you up for the beauty of the 'old' ones.

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The 2005 reboot is a great place to start - if you want to watch all of them. However, it would be alright to start with the 11th Doctor: new face, new personality, new screwdriver. Any references you do not understand can be simply searched for or read in a plot breakdown.

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Like mentioned above, I would start with the beginning of the 2005 version of the show. Alternately, the beginning of the 5th series is a good place to start. After that, you may want to check out some of the classic series. While the effects are pretty primitive, some of the acting is actually quite good. Quality varied pretty wildly during the run of the show.

I had a lot of luck googling "best Dr Who episodes" and just started there. I especially liked Caves of Androzani, Horror of Fang Rock, The Three Doctors, The Mind Robber, and Carnival of Monsters. If you have Netflix, these are all available through instant streaming.

Most of these stories are pretty self contained, even the ones with a larger arc, like the key of time run. There is no need to find them in any particular order.

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Actually, I belive that starting with the 4th Doctor would be a good start. It worked for me, and for my grown children.

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Can you say why it worked or why you liked it that way? More details would be helpful –  SSumner Nov 2 '12 at 19:53
    
The 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) is definitely in the old-fashioned cheesy-special-effects category, but he's often proposed as the best doctor of the original seven (1963-1989). It's largely because of reruns of his episodes that Dr Who fandom was big enough to get a second chance in 2005. –  MGOwen Jan 8 at 8:49
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