So maybe you’ve watched all of the new series of Doctor Who, from Eccleston on, but the older Doctors are a mystery to you. Maybe you want to see Sarah Jane Smith in all her young nubile glory. Or maybe you’ve never seen any Doctor Who because you’re a completist and want to do it “right.” Where’s the best place to begin?
Option One: Begin at the Beginning
Well, you could start with the first Doctor… but it won’t be easy. For one thing, it’s in black and white, and slower paced. While I’m not afraid of “classic” television, some find it harder to get fully engaged.
More importantly, however, the BBC displayed a stunning lack of foresight back in the 60s and 70s, and many of the episodes from the first three doctors were ruined or destroyed. While there’s been a massive effort worldwide to restore as many episodes as possible, some are still incomplete – including, for example, part of the episode with the very first regeneration ever. If the completist in you will be driven insane, stay away from this option.
Option Two: Start With Pertwee, Like Your Parents Did
Most people consider the Third Doctor to be the beginning of a kind of golden age for Doctor Who. For one thing, he was the first Doctor in color. He was the first Doctor for many Americans – when PBS first started airing episodes in the 70s it was Pertwee who introduced them to the TARDIS. Thus, whether due to the influence of the Baby Boomers or simply by being an American, I tend to think of Pertwee as the first ‘modern’ Doctor.
It’s not a bad place to start, to be sure; however, Pertwee’s reign is a little different from the others. Due to budget constraints a well-thought plot twist, he stays on Earth more often than some other Doctors. Some of the most memorable enemies and companions come from this Doctor, but if you want rock quarries alien planets, you might do better to start a little later.
Option Three: Tom Baker and His Scarf
Whether he’s depicted on The Simpsons or Robot Chicken, most people think of Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, when they think of Doctor Who. He’s one of the most popular Doctors, for sure, and the one that has seemed to stand out over time. It’s probably easiest to find episodes with this Doctor, both because of his popularity and because his reign lasted for seven years.
Option Four: Whatever You Find
Now, does that mean that you can’t start at any other point? Absolutely not! I myself have seen a pretty random collection of older episodes, from the Second Doctor to the Seventh. I’ve seen a few episodes in order, but I’ve not yet seen every episode from a given Doctor (except the most recent, Ninth Doctor-on ones).
I don’t think watching out of order has really diminished my experience; I have enough of a “feel” for most of the Doctors that it’s fun trying to read their personalities into the more recent actors (“I think I spot a little of Third Doctor!”). When I come across a topic that I want to see more about, I can look up the appropriate episode without worrying about jumping ahead.
Also, a benefit of the older series is there’s very little “spoilers.” We know the basic premise of the Doctor; now we just jump into the adventure at random… just like one of his companions.
So what approach would recommend for someone new to the older Doctor Who? Do you think we should stick with the Ninth on and leave the older episodes in the past? And if you’ve seen past series, how were you introduced?
However you choose to approach it, I highly recommend watching older Doctor Who episodes if you’re entertained by the new series. Soon, you too will have even stronger opinions about whether the Doctor should get involved with a companion or how the Master should behave, and you’ll be rooting for this or that old companion to make an appearance (like me). You might even start referring to today’s season as Season 31 (okay, I don’t do that). Who knows? You might even have a new favorite Doctor.