One of my coworkers started Doctor Who last month. I’d just left a screening of David Tennant’s Richard II (gold. nail. polish) when I saw his “Doctor Who: it’s happening” Facebook status and promptly offered the constructive comment “SHUT YOUR FACE.” Other friends chimed in with their own excitement, but when my coworker finally responded to the thread, all he said was, “Kelly, I was waiting for your comment.”
I think I’ve been found out. I want to share this show with everyone. If we spend any time together, I’ve probably got a gateway episode all picked out for you, which I will never, ever bring up in conversation, because that’s too much pressure. You can’t watch Doctor Who for anyone but yourself. But if you ever decide you want to watch it for yourself, I’ll be at your place within the hour with ice cream and a personalized guide to ruining your life the British sci-fi way.
Here’s the short version of that guide. These are just a few of Doctor Who’s gateway episodes—the ones I think could draw you into this world before you start watching in order (always watch in order). If you’re curious about the show, and if you’re down to completely lose your composure and change the way you live your life, here’s where you begin. Pick an episode! If you like it, time travel back to “Rose” and watch from the start.
Of course, if you’ve already decided that you’re in this thing, why waste any time? It makes sense to start at the beginning, with the pilot of the rebooted series. This is not Doctor Who at its best—a guy gets sucked into a trashcan, and you can actually see the production budget bursting at the seams—but that’s the charm of a good pilot episode, and it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is the first meeting of a 19-year-old shop girl and an alien in a leather jacket. The Doctor and Rose Tyler, saving London from shop window dummies. I still get chills when he takes her hand. Their dialogue is snappy and their relationship is brand new, and I’m jealous that you get to see it unfold for the first time.
“The Empty Child”/ “The Doctor Dances” (1×09, 1×10)
Rose and the Doctor in WW2 London, investigating objects that fall from the sky and using dance as an extended metaphor for sex? Yes please. This two-parter is one of my all-time favorites: it’s funny, eerie, and heartfelt, and it features what might be the defining moment of the the Ninth Doctor. Ten is my Doctor, but Nine’s a close second, and Christopher Eccleston is fantastic here. “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” are early enough in the show that you’re not at risk for spoilers, but they’re late enough in season one that the show has already found its groove, and it’s a good groove. Also did I mention the extended metaphor?
“The Christmas Invasion” (2×00)
Hello and welcome to David Tennant’s first full episode! A new Doctor means a fresh start for the show: like Rose, we’re meeting the Tenth Doctor for the first time, so it’s a bit like a second pilot episode, but with Christmas trees. Tennant is all energy and charisma, and I can point to the exact moment in his first full scene when I pledged him my life. It only took one scene. Ten’s dialogue is so sharp, and his chemistry with Rose is already running full steam ahead. I dare you to keep it together when Billie Piper and David Tennant smile at each other. Rose’s concern at this new face might mean less if you’ve never known the Doctor with his old one, but that’s not a dealbreaker: a friend of mine started with this episode and is now the proud owner of a pillow with Ten’s face on it. He has that effect.
“Blink” is the episode that practically everyone says is the ONE to start with, and for good reason. This is how you do a stand-alone story. Due to the way the show’s filming schedule works out, there’s one episode in every season that’s light on the Doctor, and this is season three’s contribution. So you won’t get to spend quite as much time with Tennant, but you will get an entirely self-contained, suspenseful, cleverly written story. No need to worry about spoilers here. You don’t even have to know anything about the show—just let yourself discover the world of the Doctor right along with Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan, giving us all a crash course in how to be a future star). Responsible for introducing one of this show’s creepiest and most romantic villains, “Blink” is also an early indicator of how much Moffat loves putting his own words on t-shirts.
Is your first Doctor the first one you watched all the way through, or the first one you ever watched at all? If it’s the latter, then Matt Smith is mine. Over a year before I sat down with “Rose” to watch the show properly, I saw the season five finale, and I was into it. Then I graduated college and went to live in Alaska for a year and didn’t exactly have Netflix, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t keep tabs on the characters. David’s my Doctor, but I’ll always owe Matt for piquing my interest, and this episode is one of the finest from his era. Written by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), “Vincent and the Doctor” is a gorgeous exploration of Vincent Van Gogh: not only of his depression and isolation, but also the way he saw color and beauty in the world, and what it means to leave behind a legacy. Just try to make it through this one without crying.
“The Impossible Planet”/ “The Satan Pit” (2×08, 2×09)
This would be a really intense story to start with, and there are some moments that I think would mean more if you know the characters better, but there’s something to be said for diving into the deep end, and this two-parter is another of my favorites. I love these episodes for the way they celebrate human ingenuity. The Doctor and Rose believe in each other so completely here. There are also some really beautiful, quiet reflections on curiosity and faith. Downside: Tennant’s hair is not up to its usual game in these episodes.
“The Unicorn and the Wasp” (4×07)
The Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie, and they all solve a murder by identifying which guest at their dinner party is secretly a giant wasp. You know, just like your average episode of Downton Abbey. That wasp sometimes drags down the plot, but there’s plenty of Donna Noble sass to make up for it. This one’s just fun. It’s a romp. Come romp with them.
There you have it! Questions? Comments? Want me to hand-pick an episode for you? (I don’t think you understand—I will do it.) If you’re at all interested in Doctor Who, I’m excited for you, and I want to hear about it. And if you’re already a Whovian, where do you tell your friends to start?