It is one of our personal goals to turn all of our friends into Whovians. We just want everyone to understand WHY we are so overwhelmed with feelings all the time. We have a couple of friends on the VERGE of dipping their toes into Doctor Who Universe. Our friend Samantha already KNOWS that the Ultimate OTP of the show (despite our undying devotion to Rose x Ten) is actually The Doctor and the TARDIS. She got there on her OWN, you guys! We were so proud! Recently our friend Anna asked us what episodes we would recommend for someone considering jumping into the lifetime commitment of being a Doctor Who Fan.
She also said she was asking “for a friend”.
A likely story. We know you are on the verge, Anna. Don’t deny it.
That got us thinking…where WOULD we start? Personally, when I (Kim) started Doctor Who around this time last year, I started with the first episode of Series One, “Rose”. Then again, I HAVE been accused of being a “Completist” on a well-known pop culture website. I don’t deny it. WHY WOULD YOU START ANYWHERE BUT THE BEGINNING?!
We put a call out to our Twitter followers and Facebook fans (PS: are YOU following us yet?) about which episodes they would suggest to newbies, which spurred a great debate. Eventually 6 episodes (well, technically 8, as there are two Two Parters on this list) rose to the top of the heap. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
Also to Anna and Sam: You WILL become Whovians in 2013. You should accept your fate now.
“Rose” (Series One, Episode One) – Sage
@ottofernandez: “My first episode was “Rose.” I don’t think it best represents the series, but why not start at the beginning?”
As a famous singing nun once said, the beginning is, in fact, “a very good place to start.” For your completist friends who refuse to watch anything out of order, you have no choice but to begin here. My own first experience with the Doctor was in this pilot episode of the modern series. “Rose” introduces us to Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, his new companion Rose Tyler (my future wife Billie Piper), Rose’s mum Jackie Tyler and boyfriend Mickey Smith, and the TARDIS, the Doctor’s transport across galaxies. Did I mention it also travels in time?
This episode is a romp. “Rose” only hints at the emotional depth of the series with the “turn of the earth” monologue and Eccleston’s portrayal of Nine’s worldweariness. The effects are charmingly low-budget and silly. But it also brings us up to speed on 40-some years of history in about 45 minutes and establishes a crackling chemistry with the Doctor and Rose. Showrunner Russell T. Davies wrote this one and cleverly peppers in snappy dialogue that also lets us know what to expect in the world of this show. This exchange is one of my favorites.
Rose: “If you’re an alien, how come you sound like you’re from the north?”
Doctor: “Lots of planets have a north!”
In six words, Davies establishes that, despite being able to access any point in space and time, the Doctor will spend a lot of time kicking it in present-day London. And despite knowing every single language there has been or will be, his default is modern English with a Brit accent. If you need a better explanation than that, then this isn’t the show for you. Move along.
“Rose” packs a bigger wallop on rewatch. When I first returned to it after catching up to series 7, it meant so much more to me to see the meeting of two of my all-time favorite characters and the inside of the TARDIS for the first time. Any Whovian who doesn’t get chills when Nine grabs Rose’s hand in that dark basement and whispers, “run,” isn’t a Whovian at all and is probably dead inside.
“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” (Series One, Episodes Nine and Ten) – Kim
@joethestampede “The best thing about episodes like that is that we feel happier for the Doctor more than anything.”
This two parter is the first one that actually scared the living daylights out of me. That should not surprise me as these are also the first Doctor Who episode penned by Steven Moffat, the man behind some of the most terrifying monsters of “New Who”. Moffat has (count ’em) SIX episodes on this list. Yeah. He is that good, especially in the early seasons before he took over full-time as showrunner. “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” have everything that makes Doctor Who so great: a terrifying villain (a scary gas mask faced child), a dash of romance (the simmering sexual tension between Rose and the Ninth Doctor is addressed in an extended conversation about “dancing”. Yeah, they aren’t talking about dancing) and it introduces the greatest Rogue Space Traveler this side of Han Solo, Captain Jack Harkness.
Also, if you don’t fall in love with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor after the way he delivers this speech, we can’t be friends:
“You want moves, Rose? I’ll give you moves. Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once! Everybody lives!”
It’s joy personified. Finally, The Doctor gets a real WIN when he oh so desperately needed one.
“Blink” (Series Three, Episode Ten) – Sage
@chels725: ” It has the fear, wonder, & simplicity that the show is all about. #wibblywobblytimeywimey”
This Series 3/Tennant-era episode is a popular answer to the “how to hook your friends on Who” question, and for good reason. “Blink” is a densely plotted mini-movie masquerading as an episode of a TV show. “Blink” is for your friends who claim to not like sci-fi, but saw Looper three times in theaters. Writer Steven Moffat, who eventually took on the running of the show when Davies and Julie Gardner departed, basically gives a master class on how to write time travel. As viewers, we start out completely clueless here, but as the episode unfolds, our view of the storyline gradually sharpens.
Aside from a few cameos, we don’t even have the Doctor to help us get up to speed. Instead, we’re figuring things out alongside Sally Sparrow, the best companion that never was. And who plays the spunky and clever Miss Sparrow, but the lovely Carey Mulligan, Oscar nominee and the First Lady of Mumford. (Carey Mulligan, you guys! Don’t leave this part out when you’re wooing your friends. People love her.) The best moment of the episode is the tour-de-force scene where the Tenth Doctor has a conversation with Sally via a DVD easter egg. It also offers a handy explanation of the nature of time that’s become gospel to Who fans. Also, he looks really sexy in glasses. Really.
“Blink” has the dubious honor of introducing the scariest aliens of the modern series, the Weeping Angels. They are why your nerdy friends give statues a wide berth while walking through parks, museums, and cemeteries. I won’t give away their MO here, but suffice it to say you don’t ever want to turn your back on one.
Add some comic relief with Larry Nightingale and his internet conspiracy theorists; some emotional resonance with the young and old Billy Shiptons; and some of the most memorable lines ever written for television, and you’ve got some seriously classic Doctor Who.
“Forest of the Dead”/”Silence in the Library” (Series Four, Episodes Eight and Nine) – Sage
@joethestampede: “Blink is usually the choice for episode but the Silence In The Library two parter exemplifies who the Doctor is.”
This Series 4 two-parter is another Moffat masterpiece. The TARDIS takes the Tenth Doctor (still in the reign of Tennant here) and Donna Noble (the perfect Catherine Tate) to the 51st century and the largest library in the universe – a library containing every book in history. It’s a whole planet that is filled with books.
There’s weirdness afoot, of course. The library is absolutely empty. That is, until a team of archeologists led by Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston) shows up to investigate its abandonment. Also, there’s the deadly Vashta Nerada that validate all childhood fears of the dark. They probably have something to do with it. Anyway, we don’t know who River is, but she’s in a spacesuit and has awesome curly hair and generally seems to be a competent, hot lady. We like those on Doctor Who. Trouble is, the Doctor doesn’t recognize her either. But she knows an awful lot about him. At the same time, the viewer and the Doctor realize that River is a person from the Doctor’s future. She has a diary of all the times they’ve met each other, but she won’t let him peek. Spoilers.
Even though we have no details on River’s relationship with the future Doctor, their interactions here have such a pointed sadness. While “Blink” is all about showing off the mechanics of time travel, “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” show just how cruel it can be to live one’s life out of order. It’s no spoiler to say that Alex Kingston is a recurring guest star in the Matt Smith era. Rewatching these episodes after getting to know River Song is even more powerful. (But can we just take a moment to appreciate Moffat setting up a plot point that didn’t fully pay off until 3 YEARS LATER?)
And that LAST SCENE: The flawless cinematography; River’s gorgeous voiceover; and the reminder that, whether it’s an “everybody lives” day or not, the Doctor will never, ever stop trying. Beautiful.
“The Eleventh Hour” (Series Five, Episode One) – Kim
@partlyrobot: “”The Eleventh Hour” because it’s a ‘getting to know you’ kind of episode.”
If for some UNGODLY reason, you have no interest in the Eccleston/Tennant years (If so, who are you and why are you reading this blog?), this episode, the first with Matt Smith’s Eleven, is an obvious starting point. If you aren’t completely endeared to Eleven after the fish fingers and custard scene with little Amelia Pond, then (I’ll say it again) we can’t be friends. (Yes, I realize I put a LOT of conditions on my friendship. #sorry #notsorry) Matt and Caitlin Blackwood (Amelia) have such a delightful chemistry, and I was completely in love with Eleven after watching this episode. And that’s coming from a die-hard Tennant fangirl.
Eleven’s big confrontation with the Monster of the Week at the end of the episode also contains a lovely homage to the history of Doctor Who in which we see all ten of his previous faces, with Eleven then emerging saying: “Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically…run.” Bad ASS.
And then the episode closes with this:
Amy: I started to think you were just, like, a mad man with a box.
The Doctor: Amy Pond, there’s something you better understand about me ’cause it’s important. And one day your life may depend on it. I am definitely a mad man with a box.
If you don’t understand everything The Doctor is about after that…well, I can’t help you.
“Vincent and the Doctor” (Series Five, Episode Ten) – Kim
@britt_anylynn: “Vincent and the Doctor. It shows the Doctor’s empathy and compassion for others and his need to help everyone.”
This episode, written by Love Actually scribe Richard Curtis, feels like a lovely little stand alone adventure where The Doctor and Amy meet legendary painter Vincent Van Gogh and fight a monster. And then the last 12 minutes or so happen and you are hit over the head with FEELS. SO. MANY. FEELS. The first time I watched the episode I was totally fine and then all of a sudden I was WEEPING. I am not going to say anything more than that because I don’t want to ruin it for you. Also, this episode also contains quite possible my favorite Doctor Who quote ever:
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and… bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.”
Honorable Mention: “Human Nature/The Family of Blood” (Series Three, Episodes Eight and Nine) – Sage
Adriane: “The Doctor isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and that is what makes him interesting.”
Facebook friend Adriane made an excellent case for the inclusion of this series 3 two-parter on the list. In my opinion, “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood” aren’t as suited for beginners as the others on this list. But, they are shining examples of the best in Doctor Who storytelling and acting. It’s the best performance I’ve seen Tennant give, Who or otherwise. The man might be the star of a Saturday night family sci-fi show, but he will not let you forget that he’s classically trained. David just completely destroys it, and the story wouldn’t be as devastating if he didn’t.
To hide from a ruthless family of aliens, the Doctor has to lock away his Time Lord identity and essentially become a human. John Smith is a polite, slightly awkward teacher in a boarding school in 1913. He doesn’t lead a very exciting life, but he does have fantastic dreams about traveling to other worlds, which he shares with the school’s nurse, Matron Redfern. He falls in love with her right around the time the family finds him and the shit starts to go down. Martha, his maid/the Doctor’s companion, has to convince John Smith to become the Doctor again.
There’s so much here about bravery and loyalty and identity and regret and love and running away and sacrifice. The brilliance is that John Smith is a fully formed person who will be destroyed by the Doctor’s return. Not only that, but he’s real. He’s not a randomly generated personality; he is who the Doctor would be in those circumstances – if he were a human living in 1913. To fully understand Doctor Who, you have to understand the scope and tragedy of this character. And these episodes bring it. This monologue, delivered by that adorable Love Actually kid, says it all:
“He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe. And…he’s wonderful.”
We firmly believe that there’s something in Doctor Who for everyone. The trick is picking best entry point. How have you successfully hooked your friends? Let us know in the comments!