A Noob's Guide to Classic Doctor Who
If you’re one of the more recent Whovians, there’s no reason to be ashamed. Many fans of both the current, and the Classic Doctor Who, are of the opinion that it doesn’t matter when you first started watching—you just need to hold on for the ride! I am a recent Whovian convert, although I remember seeing some episodes of Tom Baker’s striped scarf and jelly-belly loving version of The Doctor on PBS. Oops… I don’t want to date myself… However, age doesn’t matter, because one of the coolest things about Doctor Who is how the show has an incredibly passionate, multigenerational, and worldwide fanbase.
I kept putting it off, because the whole concept—a crazy man in a blue phone box, who travels through space and time—seemed silly to me. Plus, the sheer number of episodes was daunting. When I actually sat down and watched a few episodes of the new series, I grew “quite fond” of him—and Rose Tyler. In reality, Christopher Eccleston (Nine) was my first Doctor. David Tennant and Matt Smith, increased my love for this series; plus, this fan is also excited to see what Peter Capaldi can bring to the ever-changing character.
With the 50th Anniversary special coming up for the internationally beloved Doctor, now is a brilliant time to view some episodes of Classic Doctor Who. Many of these are available on Netflix and via Amazon Prime streaming in the United States; however, there are some episodes that have been lost from the BBC archives. Cue a very sad face…
The past counts
Let’s step into our own TARDIS and go way back to 1963, shall we? The journey is important. Although a newer audience can enjoy the recent reboot of the Doctor Who series as a stand-alone, you’ll most likely become interested in the Classic Doctor Who canon history.
Speaking of the TARDIS, when did The Doctor first snag his customizable, huge ride? The First Doctor (William Hartnell) claimed that he had constructed it, and he referred to it as “The Ship.” But, we know that “The Doctor lies.” It’s funny how the name evolved from a generic name, to a term of endearment, such as “Sexy.” Little things like this are what make watching the classic episodes worthwhile.
Anyway, tidbit aside, here’s a little roadmap to get you on your way.
You don’t have to binge
Television in that era was quite different than the weekly, near-movie-like experience, that we are so fortunate to have available today. The effects of the time, and for the budget, were pretty cheesetastic. Keeping that in mind, it’s best to focus on the story aspect. The classic series functions mostly as an episodic account of The Doctor’s journeys to Earth, and his interaction with the people that he meets. (If you’re into The X-Files, think of it as like the monster-of-the-week type of show, with a slightly woven-in, connecting storyline.)
This actually makes it easier to watch and to enjoy older episodes of the series. Although there are nods to continuity, the show does not have a completely serial nature like contemporary science fiction, such as Fringe. However, the episode arcs are referred to as serials.
Over fifty years of stories, there are bound to be some hits and misses. When I asked fans to recommend some episodes, I received some pretty spot-on answers.
Here are four key episodes/serials that are enjoyable on just about every level—from depth of story, to character interaction. Viewing these gems is likely to reel you in, just like a kiss from Captain Jack.
Let’s start from the beginning. An Unearthly Child is the first look of the very First Doctor, and it is the well-spring for much of what comes after. Start here.
As far as villains and other exterminating types, the Daleks are the quintessential foe. As such, the Tom Baker episode, Genesis of the Daleks, is a must watch. Look out for Davros.
One of Matt Smith’s most outstanding episodes is Nightmare in Silver, mainly due to the duality shown as he struggle with his own mind, and that of the Cyber-Planner (aka Mr. Clever). As such, it made sense to go back and have a look at Tomb of the Cybermen.
I was surprised to learn that author Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) was a writer for Doctor Who. He penned the serial The City of Death, which is more than just a thought-provoking, well-written, and humorous part of the series. I actually like a little oddball humor sometimes, and of course, Adams is good at providing that in his work.
Travel with your own companions
As you watch, you’ll be introduced to a variety of companions, and each of them has a different dynamic with the respective doctors.
If you’re feeling social and need a little guidance, it’s wonderful to find others who have the same interest. The Doctor doesn’t like to travel alone, and neither should you. Reaching out via fan forums, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media may enhance your viewing experience. Once you’re into Who, it’s kind of hard to keep all of the thoughts about it to yourself! Let the geeky flow! Good science fiction is meant for conversation—fifty years’ worth!
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