I count myself a nerd. Really, I do. Science fiction, fantasy, nine times out of 10, I love it. Which is why it’s such a crime that it’s only been in the past two years that I’ve gotten into the two sci-fi behemoths from opposite ends of the Atlantic.
In January 2009, I watched my first episode of the original Star Trek series, which put me on the path to catching that, then The Next Generation, then Voyager. And in January 2011, I finally started watching Doctor Who.
A bit of personal history, if you’ll indulge me.
The first Doctor Who episode I ever saw all the way through was Season 4’s “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” wherein there is a space wasp terrorizing a house of wealthy British people in the 1920s, and Agatha Christie is in attendance. That, for the record, is a VERY WEIRD introduction to Doctor Who, especially considering that it was coming on right after Battlestar Galactica at the time. (Thank you, SciFi, for your extremely strange programming choices. Let’s put the family-friendly action-adventure show on AFTER the horrifically depressing, geared-totally-for-adults space drama. That’s smart.)
ANYWAY. Fast forward a couple of years, and once again, here’s a show which is on Netflix Instant Watch in its (almost) entirety. (I say “almost” because the show is still airing.) Guess what? It’s good. Like, really good.
Now I might possibly have watched all five seasons available on Netflix Instant Watch, as well as the five specials that aired during 2009, several of the older serials, the first half of the sixth season, and the Doctor Who theme might be my ringtone. (When I get into a show, I get into it. None of this halfway b.s. for me.)
Basic summary of the show: The Doctor is a nearly immortal alien (called a Time Lord) who travels through space and time in his TARDIS, which is pretty much permanently stuck in the form of a 1950s-era police phone box. (It’s also bigger on the inside.) Along the way, he picks up different companions to take on his adventures. When he’s fatally injured, he regenerates into a new person with a new personality, which is why the show has had 11 different lead actors since 1963.
Obviously, after more than 30 years on the air, there’s a WHOLE lot more to the story than that. (If you’ve got a free afternoon, start with this Wikipedia article and click your way through to find out more.) But rather than try to condense it all, here are seven reasons why I love this show so much, and why you should give it a chance.
7. Each season is only 13 episodes long.
Fourteen if you count the Christmas specials. (Yes, Doctor Who always has a Christmas special.) Fewer episodes per season means less filler, which means fewer useless episodes. So far, each season has left me wanting more (especially the first), and I have to really, really think to come up with a weak episode. (In fact, there are only two, maybe three, that I can think of, out of five and a half seasons of the modern series.) How many American shows can you say that about?
6. It’s silly.
Very, very silly. A talking robot dog with a suction-cup scanner on his forehead? Giant pepper pots with a toilet plunger for a hand? The aforementioned space wasp? Modified British fighter planes from the 1940s engaged in a Star Wars-esque space battle with an incoming ship? A man-eating garbage can?
For pity’s sake, it’s about a 900-year-old alien who travels through time and space in a 1950s-era police box time machine. Yes, it gets very silly, and you have two choices at these points: scoff at it, or just sit back and enjoy the ride. Take it from me: just sit back and enjoy the ride.
So many shows think that they have to be serious and/or witty all the time. It’s really enjoyable to find a show that can be silly and adventurous and light-hearted. Of course…
5. It’s also scary.
Shortly after I started watching Doctor Who, I found a Flair button on Facebook that read (paraphrased): “I’m afraid of weeping angels, dark libraries, and people who repeat everything I say.” All three of those are villains in at least one episode of the modern series, and all three are CREEPY AS HELL.
You have the Weeping Angels (“Blink,” “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone”), intergalactic assassins that move only when you don’t look at them. Then there are the Vashta Nerada (“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”), carnivorous aliens that lurk in the shadows. And the unnamed being in “Midnight,” who takes over a human body and only speaks by repeating everything that’s said around it.
Plus, the most recent season has introduced the Silence, a race of aliens who make you forget that you’ve seen them as soon as you look away. (Oh, and the Gangers (short for doppelgangers), human lookalikes created from synthetic flesh who absorb the memories of whichever person created them.)
These aren’t just cheap scares; these are genuinely creepy, probably-shouldn’t-watch-it-right-before-bed stories. They get under your skin in the best kind of way.
4. It’s moving.
Silly, scary, and emotionally moving? You’d better believe it. It can be both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, often in the very same scene.
The modern series delves a little bit deeper into the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, and into the lives of the companions, than did the classic series. It makes all the characters more three-dimensional, which means you find yourself really connecting with them.
Plus, self-sacrifice is a running theme through the show. Even though the good guys usually win the day, there is a cost. Even if you like someone (especially if you like someone), at some point they’re going to have to sacrifice either themselves or something very important to them in order to save the day.
3. The adventure-of-the-week format.
For whatever reason, recently it’s seemed like every new show has had to follow a very dedicated serial format. If you miss even one episode, you’re screwed and will have to either wait for reruns or the DVD to catch up on what you missed. After trying to watch Heroes, I learned I really, really, REALLY hate that format.
Thankfully, Doctor Who is not like that. While there is typically an overarching plot to each season, most of the episodes are self-contained stories. I love that you can skip around and watch different episodes and not get completely lost. It makes it so much easier to enjoy.
2. Great villains and great authors.
Do you like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz? Then you’ll be happy to know that Simon Pegg shows up as a villain in the first season. Are you a fan of Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)? He, too, makes an appearance as a villain in the second season (in one of my personal favorite episodes).
If you’re a book nerd like me, then you’ll be happy to know that the Doctor interacts with some classic authors, including Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, and (of course) William Shakespeare. (Those are easily some of my favorite episodes, because come on, how awesome would that be?)
If you’re unsure about Doctor Who, but are intrigued by the inclusion of one of the mentioned authors or actors, watch that episode first and see what you think.
1. The Doctor. Is. Awesome.
Really, there’s just no better way to say it. The companions are great, the villains are great, but the Doctor himself is awesome.
So far, all three of the new Doctors — Nine (Christopher Eccleston), Ten (David Tennant), and Eleven (Matt Smith) — have been extremely entertaining, charismatic, and just fun to watch. It’s quite the job to take over as the Doctor, but each of them jumped in and made the character their own. It’s because of them that I’ve watched and loved the show as much as I have. (Shoot, this is the ONLY show I even try to watch when it actually broadcasts.)
I realize that if the show keeps going (already they’ve scheduled a seventh season), we’ll probably have a new Doctor in the next year or two. I can only hope that Doctor #12 is as good as his (or her) predecessors have been.
Well, Critic, that sounds like an awesome show! Where should I start?
I’m glad you asked! There are a few different places you can pick up the show.
First (and my personal recommendation), you can start watching with the first episode of the modern series, called “Rose.” This is the one that had to introduce the Doctor to a new generation, and did a damn good job of it.
If you want another place in the first season to start, there’s “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”, a two-parter that is easily my favorite story arc of the first season, if not the entire series. Also, it introduces Captain Jack Harkness, one of my favorite companions and the main character from the spinoff “Torchwood.”
Another place you can pick up is with “The Eleventh Hour,” the first episode of the fifth season. Since the show changed hands behind the scenes (from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat), it’s a clean slate: new Doctor, new companion, new everything.
I started with “Rise of the Cybermen”/”The Age of Steel,” a two-parter from the second season. I don’t know that this is the best place to start (there are some plot elements that make more sense if you’ve seen the first season), but it got me to fall in love with the show. It’s unique in that it’s an alternate universe story, rather than taking place in the past or future of the show’s regular world.
If you like the idea of an episode that relies heavily on time travel, start with “Blink,” from the third season. Warning: this is a Doctor-lite episode, so you won’t see much from him or his companion. However, this episode introduces the Weeping Angels and is just a phenomenal episode all around.
And there you have it: seven reasons you should start watching Doctor Who, and a few different places to start. I hope you enjoy!
All photos are credit the BBC and SciFi. Or is it SyFy now?