Having taken Doctor Who as an official religion about a year ago, then managing to trick a major metropolitan news outlet in paying me to talk about it constantly, you're probably not surprised to hear that I have a lot of people on Facebook and other social media asking me about my latest and greatest obsession. I get slews of questions from readers who figure that no one would go on and on like I do about something that wasn't worth the time, and want to maybe join in.
That being said, Doctor Who isn't like other shows. The sheer number of episodes alone is often enough to daunt people wanting to sample it. That was the reason I resisted so long myself. So in order to cut down on the number of times I have to answer questions, I thought I'd pen a basic FAQ in order to help anyone who has been putting off joining in the fun get started.
What the hell is this show about?
The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He travels through space and time in a ship called the TARDIS, which is bigger on the inside and is disguised as a police phone box. When critically injured, the Doctor can regenerate into a new form with a new look and personality. We are currently on the Eleventh Doctor. He usually travels with between one and three human companions, though occasionally alone. That's the basic gist.
Is that it?
Pretty much everything you need to know about how Doctor Who works can be summed up in a single two minute scene.
Do I have to watch the old series first?
Absolutely not. First off, you can't watch all of it anyway because some of the episodes have been lost. Second, Doctor Who is not some continuous storyline. It more or less reboots with every new incarnation, though the basic history is kept more or less intact. You will have no problem following the new series if you haven't seen the old.
But should I watch the old series?
Of course at some point. Lots of it is brilliant. The easiest place to start old school Who is with the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker). He has loads of complete serials streaming on Netflix. In addition to being one of the most popular Doctors ever, Baker also had two of the best companions, Sarah Jane Smith and the robotic dog K-9, and a couple of episodes written by none other than Douglas Adams. I suggest "Pyramids of Mars" as a jumping off point for those wanting to explore the classics.
What's the best place to start, though?
The beginning of the new series is where you should start. That's "Rose" starring Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. It was custom-designed to bring the series to a new audience after almost two decades of silence with only a poorly-received TV movie coming between the cancellation of the classic series and the start of the new.
Almost all of the new series is on Netflix streaming, save for a couple of Tenth Doctor specials from 2009 and the last five episodes. If you're stuck with Comcast on-demand services then you can pick up at "The Impossible Astronaut." That should be more than enough to get you caught up to the current season. You may get a little lost, but the thing about Doctor Who is just sort of going with it. Trust me, you pick up everything very fast.
I don't usually like science fiction...
Honestly, despite all the time travel that's going on there is not really a whole lot of science fiction. Sometimes it's straight horror, sometimes it's a mystery, sometimes it's a kind of fantasy, and most of the time it's a lot of running away from monsters. If you prefer all your TV shows to be hardcore realism like CSI, then maybe you won't like Doctor Who, but they really do explore a whole lot of different genres and never get bogged down in a formula.
What's the best episode to show someone that has never seen Doctor Who?
A lot of people will tell you "Blink" because it's a brilliant episode that requires little to no understanding of the mythos to enjoy. To me that's like trying to introduce someone to Pink Floyd by playing them Rasputina's cover of "Wish You Were Here." Sure it's genius, but it has little to do with the core of the art. The Doctor is barely in the episode, and there's not ever really another one like it.
If your friend has 90 minutes worth of patience I suggest "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances." It's a compelling period piece that shows off Nine at his best, introduces Captain Jack, and has a great ending. You could also try "Planet of the Dead" if you own it (not on Netflix). It's one of the few one-off specials that doesn't end with a companion dying and is a killer adventure to boot.
Why do the monsters in the old series look like crap?
Because the budget was very small and because science fiction monsters are inherently crappy looking 90 percent of the time.
Why is he called "The Doctor?"
He is one, apparently. The Doctor has claimed to hold advanced degrees in everything from medicine to cheese making. Aside from that, it's not really known why he goes by the alias. One theory is that renegade Time Lords like himself adopt aliases upon going rogue, as his enemy The Master and his friend The Corsair did.
As to what his true name is, no one knows. Obviously he has one. Other Time Lords such as Romana and Rassilon have conventional names. Supposedly "Doctor Who?" is the most powerful secret in the universe.
What is a sonic screwdriver?
The Doctor's weapon of choice. It can't kill anyone, but it opens doors, repairs barbed wire, hacks into computer systems, and even occasionally unscrews things.
What is a Dalek?
Picture R2-D2 being controlled by a tiny alien Nazi having a temper tantrum.
What's so special about this show anyway?
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Well, I can only speak for me, obviously, but here goes.
Have you ever wanted to simply step out of your door one morning and be whisked away to some grand adventure? That's every single episode of Doctor Who. It's all about he takes ordinary, every-day people and shows them a universe of infinite wonder and excitement. His companions aren't special, they don't have superpowers like Superman or magic like Harry Potter or even money like Batman. They're just folks who all of a sudden get to experience the whole of space and time.
Traveling with The Doctor is literally like taking a road trip with God... except that this god needs you just as much as you need him. He's brilliant, and clever, and brave, and most of all he just wants everyone to get a long before things go to hell. Watching his human friends stand with him as he saves the universe time and time again is the very best kind of adventure because it is so easy to picture ourselves in their place.
In short, Doctor Who is a show for people that look at all of history and existence and want to knows as much about it as possible. It's being thrown into mystery and danger constantly, but also being able to handle it. It's the greatest show ever made, and I hope you'll catch it sometime.