The Doctor Who Episodes I’d Show You First

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.

 “Rose” (1×01)

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.

rose nine run doctor who

“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?

rose nine the doctor dances

“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.

rose ten christmas invasion love you to come smile doctor

“Blink” (3×10)

“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.

angels have the phone box t shirt blink doctor who  “Vincent and the Doctor” (5×10)

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.

vincent and the doctor

 Honorable Mention:

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.

rose ten helmet kiss gif satan pit

“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.

doctor donna unicorn and the wasp

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?


  1. For me the entire Donna Noble season with Ten will always be the gold standard despite the glories of other seasons. From The Fires of Pompeii through the introduction of River Song in the Library and especially The Planet of the Ood, it was a memorable collection of episodes. My one regret is the fate that they gave to Donna. It seemed so blinkingly unfair.

    1. Donna Noble is EVERYTHING. Most of season four’s episodes work better in context, which is why they’re not on here, but that’s also what makes the fourth season so solid. And I will never be over Donna’s ending, but I think the tragedy it lends the rest of her story is really beautiful (and also devastating).

    2. Absolutely! Out of all of the endings for the companions in New Who (besides the Ponds), Donna’s was the most heart-wrenching. Not only could she not travel the universe any more but she couldn’t remember all of the wonderful things she did? Awful, just awful

      1. Oh, I thought the Ponds’ ending was much less heart-wrenching than Donna’s or Rose’s, since what mattered to me was that they got to stay together. But I agree–Donna’s is TRAGIC.

      2. That is true. But Rose got that metacrisis Doctor in the end so I felt like her story got a semi-happy ending. I actually felt more sorry for Ten than Rose because he had to watch Rose end up with himself, but it wasn’t him.
        I just…poor Donna :’-(

      3. Definitely! Rose’s ending is bittersweet for both her and Ten, but it’s also way happier than anything we could expect for her. Only this show could pull that off.

      4. I know right? I’m wondering how they’re going to end Clara’s story if she does end up leaving at Christmas. It’ll be very interesting to see how they finish her story. Just because I don’t feel like the Whovian community is as emotionally invested in Clara as they were with the Ponds or River or any of the other many amazing companions the Doctor has had over the years

      5. I am really curious how they’ll characterize Clara this season, since it’s looking (hopefully!) like they’ve finally found her personality. If they can do that, I’ll be really sad to lose her. Jenna Coleman’s chemistry with Capaldi is great so far! If she is leaving, though, I hope she gets a solid send-off.

      6. My thoughts exactly! I read an article once that compared Clara to Rose and I was like “ummm, Clara is a passive, weak character with only her looks, really, to recommend her. How is she like Rose?”. The fractures of herself in those episodes during the Ponds’ time were more alive than the “real” Clara. BUT I totally agree, in Deep Breath she really came into her own, thank God. If this keeps up, I’ll be sad to lose her too!

      7. There were definite parallels (meant to foreshadow the Impossible Girl thing, which I was SO MUCH BETTER when done the way they did it with Rose), but personality-wise, Rose is so much more real. I hope they keep giving Clara some depth!

      8. The “Bad Wolf” thing was kind of blatant, but I always thought those tiny, garish touches gave the seasons a coherence that season 7.5 kind of lacked. Like Torchwood and Saxon and the Doctor Donna.
        I liked how subtle the “Impossible Girl” thing was, but at the same time I really didn’t buy it. Maybe if Eleven and Clara had had more time together, I would have believed in Clara’s sacrifice, but as it were we got about a month and a half’s worth of their relationship and I felt that the sacrifice was a tad melodramatic. She barely knew him!
        Rose and Donna are my favourite companions. Rose was just so bloody amazing! I hope Clara cans somehow redeem herself and meet the standards that New Who has set for the companions.

      9. I love that the Bad Wolf storyline ties everything together without hitting us over the head with the fact that there are things we don’t know yet.
        And same! Rose and Donna forever.

      10. I read this awesome article about Bad Wolf in the 50th anniversary special. Did you notice she was wearing a wedding ring? The theory is that what we saw was a distorted image of the Rose that would be currently living in the parallel world with metacrisis Ten because she couldn’t figure out which version of Rose she was supposed to portray, hence the torn clothes….and the WEDDING RING.

        Man, those two. I wish they’d met under better circumstances because those two would have been awesome together.

  2. A friend tweeted me the other day to say she was home sick and watched “Rose” for the first time and loved it. I managed to hold it together and THEN she said she’s been having “TARDIS-laced dreams” … I promptly lost all composure and have been tweeting at her in all caps ever since. IT HAS BEEN AWESOME AND I AM SO HAPPY AND I FEEL LIKE YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO WILL APPRECIATE THIS STORY.

    Also, “Vincent and the Doctor”: yay! 😀


      Only 11 more hours before I watch the next episode. You guys, I’m pretty sure everyone is sick and tired of hearing me talk about the Doctor. And I don’t even care.

      1. Ahh!! Yay! I pretty much walked into work one day last March like “guess what, I have a new life now and you all get to hear about it.” I don’t know how to talk about other things anymore, but it’s fine. This is what matters.

      2. It sure is !!! I can’t tell you how happy I am that you and Kelly are connected now. SHE TOTALLY GETS IT. Also, I will never ever ever get tired of hearing you talk about the Doctor. Because it’s the Doctor. 😀

      3. Ohhh do I get it. Last year my roommate was away for a long weekend, so I marathoned Doctor Who. When she got home I tried to tell her about it, and she just looked at me and said, “You should see your eyes. They are maniacal.” So so happy to share it with you both!

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