Sunday, April 27, 2014

Doctor Who: A Guide to Starting the Show

So you've heard about Doctor Who, and you've decided to try it out. First off, welcome to the amazing world that is Doctor Who! You have a wonderful journey ahead of you. :) But what's this? The show has been around since the '60's? Oh, and it turns out there are eleven versions of the main character, the Doctor (well, twelve actually, with Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor in the next season, coming in August. Well, thirteen, actually, as you have the War Doctor, too. Well, fourteen, actually, with Ten's regeneration that wasn't really a full regeneration - anyway, you get the point, there are a lot of Doctors!)? How can you possibly catch up?

Well, never fear. My first suggestion to you is to start with the "reboot" of the show, affectionately known as New Who, which began with the return of the show in 2005 after it had been off the air since 1989 (with a TV movie in 1996):

"Classic" Who: TV series, 1963 - 1989 (1st Doctor - 7th Doctor)
                       TV movie ("Doctor Who: The Movie"), 1996 (8th Doctor)
"New" Who: TV series, 2005 - present (9th Doctor - 12th Doctor, currently)

Before starting New Who, here are the basics you need to know to understand the show:

The main character, the Doctor, is from the planet Gallifrey; he travels through time and space in the TARDIS (it stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), which is a spaceship/time machine that looks like a blue police box. Because he is a Time Lord - an alien race on Gallifrey - instead of dying, the Doctor can regenerate, which essentially means he retains his memories while changing his appearance and his personality. He possesses a tool called a sonic screwdriver that can unlock almost any door, and also uses psychic paper, which allows him to fake his identity and pass unquestioned through almost any society, past, present, or future. While traveling across the universe, the Doctor often travels with friends he finds along the way, which are referred to as his companions. 

And that's pretty much the show - just the Doctor and his companions having adventures, but what amazing adventures they are! There are always monsters to be faced, discoveries to be made, planets to explore, and along the way you really get to know and love the Doctor and his companions. The tone of the show can be anywhere from silly and lighthearted, to dark and frightening, to emotionally poignant and even touching, back to hilarious and tons of fun. Thanks to superb acting and writing, everything works together to form one of the most brilliant and most flexible formats of any show in the history of television. 

So, where to start in this masterpiece of entertainment? My suggestion would be "Blink," from Season 3 of New Who, with the Tenth Doctor. An absolutely fantastic stand-alone episode, it is hands-down one of the best episodes Doctor Who has ever had, perhaps even the best. The story is tightly written and very suspenseful, it's a good introduction to one of the best Doctors, Ten, as well as introducing one of the best and scariest monsters the show has ever had.

Then, after viewing the genius of "Blink," watch Season 4's "Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead," from the same person who wrote "Blink," Steven Moffat. This two-parter is an excellent, mind-blowing thriller that really uses the show's full potential to weave a complex and intriguing story.  

Still not convinced you should keep watching (how can you deny all the awesomeness??)? Then watch either Season 3's "Smith and Jones" or Season 4's "Partners in Crime." Both are less intense than "Blink" or "Silence/Forest," but they are decent episodes, and each is a great introduction to the Doctor's current companion, Martha Jones (Season 3) and Donna Noble (Season 4). 

So, now you're in full-force; you're starting to love the show and its characters, and you want to be in for the long haul. Time to go back to the beginning...or, the near beginning, at least of New Who. I'm not going to lie; while I love the 9th Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler, Season 1 is a little rocky, especially when it involved certain blobby alien creatures (*cough* Slitheen *cough*). So, the best place to start is with the Christmas episode between Season 1 and Season 2, "The Christmas Invasion," where the Tenth Doctor is first introduced. 

Granted, the beginning is a bit slow, but hang in there, because the last third of the episode IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. I won't spoil anything, but really, if you feel yourself getting bored, just wait; you won't regret it. The Tenth Doctor completely comes into his own, and you just can't help really falling in love with the character. 

Did you watch them? Right! No turning back now! It's time to watch ALL the episodes of New Who, and here is the guide to help you do just that!


Season 2: The Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler

There's a bit too much of a focus on Torchwood for there to be really brilliant stories in this season; the real treat is seeing the relationship between Ten and Rose, which is amazing, grow.

-The Christmas Invasion
-The Girl in the Fireplace (Personally I don't like this episode, but most people seem to)

-Love and Monsters (This is notorious for being one of the worst episodes of New Who. If you're curious and want to know why everyone hates it, watch it at your own risk. I'm just warning you up front, the writers tried to do something different with the show's format and it backfired MAJORLY. Also, the monster was designed by a kid, so that might have had something to do with that. Overall, an unusually and painfully bad episode.) 

Season 3: The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones

At first I didn't like Martha, but she really came into her own by the end of the season; if you're doubting her, give her a chance. She turns out to be pretty awesome.

-Smith and Jones
-Human Nature / The Family of Blood (These episodes, especially "The Family of Blood," are amazing. Genius concept, fantastic writing, great villain, and superb acting by David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor). Probably the best episodes of the season, after "Blink.")
-The Sound of Drums

Season 4: The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble

Here is where New Who hit its stride. Season 4 is, in my opinion, the best season of New Who yet, with several solid stories and one of the best companions, and, hence, one of the best Doctor-and-companion duos. Donna may come across as a bit grating in the Christmas episode "Runaway Bride"; here, though, she is exactly what the Doctor needs, and he is exactly what she needs: just a best friend to travel the universe with. 

-Partners in Crime
-Planet of the Ood
-Turn Left
-The Stolen Earth / Journey's End

(Note: "The Fires of Pompeii," while not a great episode, is the episode where Peter Capaldi, who would go on to be cast as the 12th Doctor years later, plays Caecilius, one of the episode's major characters. As the Doctor says, "When you travel around as much as I do, you're bound to run into yourself at one point or another!")

Post-Season 4 Hour-Long Specials:

-The Waters of Mars (One of the darkest moments for the Tenth Doctor, and one of the show's best-written specials)
-The End of Time, Part II

-The Next Doctor
-Planet of the Dead

Now that you've finished the Tenth Doctor's era, it's time to go back in time to the 9th Doctor, so you can see where it all began!

Season 1: The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler

Again, like Season 2, the stories aren't always the best, but you grow to love the characters. The 9th Doctor is fantastic, and so is Rose; watching their relationship develop across the course of so many adventures is really what makes Season 1. 

-The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (The first episodes Steven Moffat ever wrote for Doctor Who; of course, they are two of the best episodes of the whole season, possessing quality in both story and character writing that Moffat later brought both to "Blink" and "Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead.")
-Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways

-Aliens of London / World War Three (although you may want to watch just to see what a Slitheen is, and also for the awesomeness that is Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North)

And so, after being show runner from Seasons 1 through 4, Russell T. Davies stepped down and Steven Moffat (yes, the brilliant writer I've mentioned probably five or six times now) took over as show runner. I personally prefer the Russell T. Davies era for its consistent quality of episodes; Moffat's era (from Season 5 onward) is less consistent recently, with either incredibly brilliant episodes or unspeakably awful ones. Season 5 was good; Season 6 was thrilling and a bit darker, which is why it remains my favorite season for the Eleventh Doctor, although it did start to get a little too complicated and had some major plot holes; Season 7 was a horrible crime against the show, but that's just my opinion. Watch and judge for yourself!

Season 5: The Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond

After the loss of the Tenth Doctor, easily one of the most popular Doctors ever, the Eleventh Doctor managed to win audiences over with his endearing child-like wonder and crazy antics. Here is Eleven at his best and most exuberant; it's a side of him that I often missed in later seasons.

-The Eleventh Hour
-Amy's Choice
-Vincent and the Doctor
-The Lodger

-The Beast Below
-The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood (trust me, this two-parter is incredibly boring; it probably should have just been one episode instead of two)

Season 6: The Eleventh Doctor and the Ponds

While Amy is definitely the main focus as the Doctor's companion in Season 5, in Season 6 Rory Williams truly becomes a part of the team, and undergoes one of the most awesome character transformations of all the companions. In Season 5, I thought he was annoying and would never last as a companion; in Season 6, he is one of my favorite parts of the show. GO RORY!

-A Christmas Carol (as my favorite Christmas special, it gets everything right)
-The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon
-The Doctor's Wife (written by Neil Gaiman, this is one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever)
-The Almost People (the second part to the two-parter that starts with "The Rebel Flesh")
-A Good Man Goes to War
-The God Complex

-The Curse of the Black Spot (who would have ever thought that an episode about pirates would be boring?)
-The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (one of the worst Christmas specials)

Season 7: The Eleventh Doctor and the Ponds / The Eleventh Doctor and Clara Oswald

This is the season where the show started going wrong. Over-complicated plots and weak character writing is just the beginning of its problems; I'm also not a fan of Clara, who is my least favorite New Who companion. Hopefully Season 8 will give her the chance to finally become a fully-developed character!

-The Angels Take Manhattan (it makes no sense, but it is a tear jerker)
-The Name of the Doctor
-The Day of the Doctor: 50th Anniversary Special

-Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (written by Steve Thompson, the same guy who wrote "The Curse of the Black Spot"; he is also going to be writing an episode for Season 8. Why do they keep letting him come back if he keeps writing crappy episodes?)
-The Time of the Doctor... (...although the regeneration scene (the last 10 minutes or so) is decent)

Congratulations! You've watched all of New Who! What a weird, wonderful, wild ride it is!
Season 8 will air in August; while you're waiting for that, you can catch up on Classic Who - from what I've heard, the 4th Doctor is the place to start to view the "Golden Age" of Doctor Who.

Now that you've seen the wonders of this show, you can introduce other people to it, too! There can never be enough Whovians! I hope, through this guide, you can come to love it as much as I do.