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I never paid much attention to Dr. Who while growing up, but have become addicted to it with the BBC reboot over the last few years. Now I'm interested in going back to see what I missed.

So I went on Amazon to see if there were any good DVD box sets of the earlier episodes (pre-modern incarnation) and found that it was pretty fragmented. There are a lot of smaller boxed sets each with only a few episodes and they are pricey enough that it would be cost prohibitive for me to go whole hog and buy them all up.

So my question is this. For a fan of the newer Dr. Who episodes looking to catch up on the earlier Doctor's adventures, which of the available DVDs/sets do you recommend starting out with?

closed as primarily opinion-based by The Fallen, Ward, Micah, Valorum, Moogle Oct 31 '14 at 8:28

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Isn't this rather a discussion? – Eight Days of Malaise Jan 31 '11 at 1:53
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    Not looking for a discussion. Looking for answers containing suggested DVDs. – JohnFx Jan 31 '11 at 6:41
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    Even if all the box sets were cheap it would still add up: there are a lot of DW stories... – Richard Jan 31 '11 at 11:22
  • Also, earlier DW was written at a time before a whole story needed to be (usually) fit into 45min, so the stories take time to develop (and sometimes, too long). – Richard Jan 31 '11 at 11:25
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    This isn't a discussion as such (although it's a list question), but it's also a very subjective question. Different fans might have different "essentials." It would be very difficult to have an answer you could mark as the answer. – Martha F. Feb 1 '11 at 0:20
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I'd suggest

There are definitely others, but these are, for me, the definitive DVDs. Hartnell introduces you to the concept of 'the Doctor,' the Daleks and, frankly the insanity of Edge of Destruction.

Troughton introduces the Cybermen (in one of the, if not the, best Cybermen story; this is, of course, hugely subjective). Tom Baker...well, in Talons he's just superb, as is the story (again: hugely subjective). I can't really explain why I love The Caves of Androzani, besides it being a sort of Hamlet re-enactment, with a breaking of the fourth wall and some of the best characterisation (and worst monster creation) I've ever seen in any Doctor Who.

You may note that I entirely omitted anything by Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann (although I loved McGann's characterisation/portrayal of the Doctor, the TV Movie wasn't, perhaps, the best it could have been, though I still adore it).

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Actually - if you're a new fan of the series the earlier classic episodes might be a bit hard to handle. The early black and white ones tend to be overly long and slow. Its not a criticism - its just the way they made TV then. The early Tom Baker episodes are regarded as the first great glory days. 'Genesis of the Daleks' is a particularly good one. 'City of Death' - written by Douglas Adams before 'Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy' is another one. This was the period where Doctor Who was under constant criticism for having too much of a "horror" element.

Couple of other good ones: 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang', 'The Brain of Morbius', 'Robots of Death', 'The Deadly Assasin' - A remake of sorts of 'The Manchurian Candidate'.

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    Douglas Adams worked on a Dr. Who episode? I think I just had a nerd-gasm. – JohnFx May 10 '11 at 22:26
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    @JohnFx Douglas Adams was Script Editor for Doctor Who in 1979. He wrote 'The Pirate Planet', 'City Of Death' and 'Shada' which actually never made it to air due to industrial disputes. 'Shada' is often thought of as potentially one of the great episodes of Doctor Who. 'City Of Death' is definitely one of the great episodes from that time. – Lekarz Kto Jul 17 '11 at 12:04
  • @JohnFx And in watching those Dr Who stories you'll notice more than a few plot ideas developed further in tHHgttG and Dirk Gently. – Richard Mar 1 '13 at 9:45
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The biggest problem with getting into the earlier Doctor Who stories is that there is no DVD box set of (most) seasons.
I'll start by linking to Wikipedia which has a full list of all stories available on DVD, and shall pick out some of the most important ones.

The first two doctors have many missing stories, which exist only in audio form, with some still images. These are (I believe) available legally for free (because the teams who created the "restored" versions are only allowed to distribute them for free).
Thus there are many early Doctor Who stories which will probably never again see the light of day, since they're unlikely to be rebroadcast, or to be released on DVD.

However, most of the "big" episodes from the earlier doctors are available on DVD. These are normally episodes which featured some major villain, like the Daleks or Cybermen.

Like David Thomas, I'd recommend "The Beginning" DVD, mostly for historical reasons. Early first Doctor is interesting for knowing the origins of the show, but he's almost unrecognisable even compared to the later first doctor episodes.

As for other First Doctor stories, I'd honestly wait off on them until you know you like the style of the earliest Doctor Who stories. Second to Fourth doctors are much more "beginner friendly".

Second Doctor has a few "key" stories which I'd highly recommend.
Tomb of the Cybermen features the Cybermen, and is a great story The Cybermen were first introduced in a first doctor story which no longer exists in its entirety, but this is one of their earliest appearances.
The Invasion is another Cybermen story, featuring the Cybermen on earth, and is the first story with missing parts to be released on DVD, with the 2 of 8 missing episodes released on the DVD as animations.
The War Games was the final Second Doctor story; and was the first story to mention or show the Time Lords. I'd recommend this one very highly, as it's a great (10-part) story which features the first major details about the Doctor's past.

Third Doctor and onwards have more DVD releases, simply due to the fact that all episodes from here on still exist in some format.
I'd recommend a few stories here:
Doctor Who and the Silurians, Terror of the Autons, and The Three Doctors to name a few.

The Fourth Doctor is easily most people's favourite Doctor. Almost any Tom Baker story you pick up will be an excellent watch. Some highlights:
The Key to Time (a whole season with an ongoing plot arc), Genesis of the Daleks (a bit of a retcon compared to earlier 1st and 2nd doctor stories, but one of the best Dalek stories), City of Death, and the "New Beginnings" DVD set, containing Keeper of Traken, Logopolis (Fourth Doctor's death) and Castrovalva (first Fifth Doctor story).

Those are what I'd call the highlights of the first four doctors, and any of them would be great to pick up and get into Classic Doctor Who!

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