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It Goes Ding When There's Stuff

First Trip To The Doctor: Doctor Who 101 and Why You Should Watch


If you’ve ever wondered why The Mary Sue doesn’t post much stuff about the current season of Doctor Who, there is a simple, shameful reason behind it: the editorial staff is only three seasons in love with the Doctor and is terrified of spoilers. We would just watch it all day and not post anything to bring ourselves up to speed, but you’d probably prefer that even less… so when contributor Christopher Holden, also a new Who convert who’s actually had the time to catch up, offered to write a post on how and why one should follow everyone else down the swirly worm hole after that twirling TARDIS, we welcomed it. If only to create even more people who, despite their expectations, find themselves learning to love that completely artificial synth-whine of a theme song.

My primary source of geekdom has always been comic books. That is the source from which all my other interests branch out. Thus, my first exposure to Doctor Who came from the random attainment of 1970’s Marvel Doctor Who Comics in my youth. The bright covers depicting a curly-haired English man sporting a long scarf seemingly made from Joseph’s Technicolor dream coat did not pique my interest. Although others may have enjoyed his comics, because the Doctor was not part of the canonical Marvel Universe, to me he was simply Doctor Who cares?

In recent years, the topic of Doctor Who has re-emerged in my life, through my constant use of the internet, and most prominently my frequent viewing of the “Late Late show with Craig Ferguson.” Ferguson’s fervid fandom sparked my interest, and once previews for the newest season began appearing on TV, online, and in my beloved comics, I endeavored to finally discover what made the Doctor so special. After watching the first couple episodes of the season, and doing some extensive research, I realized how amazing the world of Doctor Who is, and, what I had been missing for so long. In the hopes of helping convert new fans to this nearly fifty year old franchise, I created this guide to help fellow geeks who are interested in Doctor Who, but don’t know where to start.

Who is the Doctor

The simplest explanation of the Doctor can be found in the intro for the current series when Amy Pond states “His name is the Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He travels in the TARDIS that is bigger on the inside than on the outside, and can travel both space and time.” That get’s right to the point and allows viewers to jump on and enjoy the episode, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For starters, one would ask what is a TARDIS? And where exactly is somewhere else?

For starters, TARDIS stands for “Time And Relative Dimension In Space” which is to say, it is a ship that the Doctor controls (for the most part) and navigates throughout time and space. The Doctor’s TARDIS is disguised in the shape of a police box, which for those of us who are not British, is like a phone booth that connects directly to the police. TARDIS’s were created by a group of aliens called the Time Lords, of which the Doctor is a member, which brings us to who exactly the Doctor is.

Given the Doctor’s current status, he is somewhat like a Bizzaro Lobo. He is the last of his kind, because he killed the rest of his species, and he travels the universe having crazy adventures, fighting all kinds of aliens. However, unlike Lobo, the Doctor did not destroy his race because he was “the baddest bastich in the fraggin’ universe,” but instead did so because his once wise and peaceful race, the Time Lords of Gallifrey, had become corrupted and had become willing to sacrifice the entire universe for their own selfish reasons. Also, similar to Lobo, the Doctor does not simply die, but instead simply regenerates into a new body.

History of Doctor Who

Originating in 1963, Doctor Who is a show produced by the BBC geared towards children and Science Fiction fans alike. Doctor Who’s nearly fifty year old production history is best comparable to James Bond’s own lengthy film history. Similar to 007, a multitude of different actors has portrayed the title character over the years. However, unlike Bond, who we are led to believe is apparently an ageless agent of MI6, the Doctor is explained to be an alien known as a Time Lord, who in lieu of death, is able to regenerate up to twelve times (and possibly more) with a change in appearance and personality every time. This neatly wraps up the transition between actors, with every new Doctor seen regenerating from their predecessor. Of course, this constant transition leads to different eras of Doctor Who, with each Doctor having his own strong fan bases.

Continuing the James Bond comparison, the Fourth Doctor, portrayed by Tom Baker, is much like Sean Connery in that they are both seen as the most identifiable and often definitive version of their characters. The Fourth Doctor, who appeared in my comics, became well known because of his long vibrant scarf, quirky love of jelly bellys, beloved companions (Sara Jane and K-9), and bohemian persona. If Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor could be seen as parallel to Sean Connery’s Bond, then Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal of the Ninth Doctor could be seen as parallel to Timothy Dalton’s Bond. The Ninth Doctor, much like Dalton, is a much darker, grittier version of a long established character, accentuated by his short hair, and black leather jacket. David Tennant’s (aka Barty Crouch Jr.) portrayal of the recently departed Tenth Doctor, can be compared to Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of 007 in that they are both fan favorites who helped to reinvigorate the franchise. The Eleventh and most current Doctor is portrayed by Matt Smith. Much like Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond, Smith’s legacy for the franchise is yet to be seen.

Companions and Spinoffs

Every version of the Doctor is coupled with one or more different companions. No, I don’t mean “companions” in the way Inara is a companion; I simply mean people who accompany the Doctor on his travels. In fact, it is a general rule that the Doctors do not engage romantically with any of their companions. The companions help ground the series to some extent, and allows the viewer to understand the zaniness of Doctor Who better by seeing events though the perspective of the companions. Occasionally, companions are so popular that they are able to get their own spinoffs, such as The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. In this way, fans can continue to connect with the plot and characters of a certain series long after the Doctor they had grown to love has moved on into a new form.

The current Doctor’s companion, Amy Pond, as well as her fiancé Rory, have already garnered a large fan base, and are shaping up to be a set of the most beloved companions in The Doctor’s history.

Nemisis/Nemises

Any hero is only as good as his/her villains, and the Doctor is no exception. With a wide array of enemies from different species and backgrounds, the Doctor often has his hands full. The two most significant  of his enemies are the Daleks, and the Master. The Daleks are the second most recognizable thing from Doctor Who, after the Tardis. They are compact, tank-like cyborgs, who look like roid-ed out R2-D2s and have the catch phrase of “Ex-terrrrr-min-ate!” which they shout in a manner similar to how an angry Stephen Hawking must sound. They also have death rays.

The Master is The Doctor’s arch-enemy. Their relationship is best comparable to that between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Similar to The Doctor, The Master is a Time Lord, and regenerates into a new form with every new Doctor. They are on the same level of intelligence, and were even classmates. The Master disappeared at the climax of “The End of Time,” the last episode with the Tenth Doctor, and has not yet been seen in the last two seasons, leaving his fate, and the form of his eventual regeneration, a mystery.

What watching an episode is like/ Why you should watch Doctor Who

Watching Doctor Who is a unique experience. It is unlike any other show on TV. Most episodes are self contained and with an hour’s length, are almost the equivalent of a small movie. Despite being geared towards children, Doctor Who is a show you have to pay close attention to. The dialogue is the most important aspect, because although there is often a lot of action involved in the show, the Doctor always saves the day by relying on his wit and intellect instead of constantly resorting to violence. For this reason, as well as for the occasionally inaudible accents, Doctor Who is best viewed when you have the ability to pause and rewind as you watch it. Another amazing thing about this show is the plethora of nods and references made throughout. Past episodes with different Doctors are alluded to occasionally, and every once and a while old Doctors come by for a cameo. The great thing about Doctor Who, is that it’s a show so deeply embedded in the British culture, that it’s not going anywhere soon; which means it’s a show you can get involved in, knowing that there are legions of other fans across the world, and with the solace of knowing that it will quite possibly outlive you.

Editor’s Note: I would like to add, by way of further persuasion, that Doctor Who, like many American sci-fi shows, frequently depicts inter-species romance. It is to its credit that, unlike many American shows, it depicts interracial and gay relationships just as often.

Why you should start watching this season

With decades of canon already in place, and a multitude of excellent actors previously portraying the Doctor, someone might wonder why they would want to begin watching from the current season. The truth is, there are many exciting things happening this season that will entice old fans and new converts alike. The continuing saga of the Doctor’s time traveling future wife, River Song, comes to a head with the promise of her first encounter with the Doctor to be presented later this season. Simultaneously, the mystery of Amy’s potential pregnancy persists, as does a resolution to the dreadful events seen earlier in the season’s two part opener “The Impossible Astronaut.”

Rumors are circulating that the season finale will presented on an epic scale, with a crossover between multiple Doctors, including fan favorite David Tennant. Granted those still remain rumors, while one of the most exciting things about this season is a certifiable fact. That’s right, the Sandman himself, Neil Gaiman, has written the fourth episode of the season! The episode is quite a doozy too, as it delves into the most important relationship in The Doctor’s life. Another reason this is the perfect time to start watching Doctor Who, is that it is the second season of the Eleventh Doctor, which means that you have an entire season full of reruns to sate your appetite for Eleven and Amy Pond, as you wait for a new episode each week.

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  • http://ladymercury-10.livejournal.com/ Maiasaura

    I’d been wondering why there were so few Doctor Who-related posts, what with the exciting new season and such.  Enjoy your Who-viewing, TMS staffers!  

    A tiny nitpick–something does not peak interest, as it says in the second paragraph; rather it piques it.  

  • Anonymous

    I was so focused on italicizing the right Doctors and Whos that I must have missed that one. 

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget the Cybermen! They play a major role as recurring/persistent villains in the series. 

  • Anonymous

    I was wondering why newer Doctor Who stuff never gets mentioned. 
    As for the article itself
    “The continuing saga of the Doctor’s time traveling future wife…” While that has been hinted at heavily, it hasn’t been stated and can’t be regarded as fact. And if people want to see her adventures, they should at least start with Season 4 so they can understand where River Song started in the show. 

  • Anonymous

    Amy married Rorie and it was a great episode.  

    I have a ten month old who is completely enamored with the theme music.  We play it for him as we put him to bed every night.  It works like a charm and brings him joy, but I am worried that instead of creating a Dr. Who superfan, I might be training him to equate the show with being sleepy.

  • Anonymous

    And this season we had an interracial gay couple as well as a (hinted at) interspecial lesbian one! Who were also Victorian crime fighters! Can’t top that.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know if I would say the current incarnation of Doctor Who is geared toward children. I know the original series started that way, but over time, it has evolved. The spinoff Sarah Jane Adventures was most definitely geared toward children, and it had a much different mood and style. I would argue that Doctor Who is an adult sci-fi, but one that is often family friendly by virtue of its style and overriding message (the triumph of optimisim and intelligence over cynicism and brute force). While I think children will also enjoy it, the nuance, complicated style of storytelling, and sometimes very dark plots are, I am certain, intended for adults.

    But whatever your opinion, if you would ever like your children to sleep again, do not let them watch Blink. The Weeping Angels are possibly the most terrifying villain in television history.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Totally needs a spin-off.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Great article, a really good intro for anyone who’s not ever seen a single episode of Doctor Who (can I borrow your shuttle, as you’ve clearly been living on the moon!). I agree that you should start with NuWho as opposed to Classic Who. Classic Who is rather, shall we say, dated and some people can’t get passed the cardboard sets and bad fashion sense of the companions XD

    I’d disagree with starting with the current season. There’s a lot going on in season 6 that is interlinked with a lot of season 5 (maybe more than we currently realise) and River Song first turns up in season 4. You really need to know what happens to her in season 4, I think, to get the full effect of what is happening to her now, or what was happening to her now… you’ll understand when you watch.

    I’d say just start at NuWho season 1, with Eccleston, view all those episodes up to now and then go back to Classic Who. I’d say skip season 3, but some people really like Martha and Jack *shrug*

    Why do people always say that Doctor Who is geared towards children? It’s not, especially if you compare it to The Sarah Jane Adventures. TSJA is firmly and obviously geared towards children; it is shown during kid’s TV hours and on the Children’s BBC channel CBBC. The child characters bring the show to children’s perspectives and deals with issues that affect, or are seen to affect children such as how divorce or absentee parents affect a child’s life, moving towards adulthood, first love and first loss through death.
    Doctor Who, on the other hand, is shown at a time when most adults will be at home, able to watch and on a normal channel. It’s child characters are viewed through adult eyes, and what happens to them is in relation to the adult, or more adult characters and the show deals with issues that affect an adult’s world, i.e. motherhood, the loss of a child or lover, marriage and betrayal, mental illness.

    However, it IS accessible to all ages, in the same way that The Simpsons is… well, was when it was good :P TSJA is also accessible to all ages. The plots are great, the aliens and villains fantastic, the acting really good and the scripts are brilliant… and the episodes where the Doctor turns up are fantastic; The Death of the Doctor had me in tears! Both are a great shows that all ages can enjoy, but one is made with an adult audience first in mind and a younger audience second, while the other is made with children in mind and then the adults.

  • Kate Reynolds

    I ADORE Doctor Who, and I have to admit that Matt Smith is quickly overtaking David Tennant as my favorite Doctor. Now when I watch Tennant episodes I sometimes want to yell at him to stop angsting. (I also think Rose is too clingy and annoying–I prefer Martha).

    I’ve only watched a handful of episodes of Classic Who and (regrettably) the 1996 made for tv movie which is the only onscreen appearance on the 8th Doctor (I like the Doctor himself and his companion Grace Halloway, but the plot is utterly ridiculous and makes no sense).
    I also LOVE Christopher Eccleston, by the way.

    Anyway! I could gush forever about Doctor Who. I have a group of friends that I watch Dr Who with every Saturday–it went from 2 people to now 6 people. Unfortunately we are now at a mid-season break leaving a LOT of confusion given what just happened in the episode.

  • http://profiles.google.com/spurdin Sunny Purdin

    This is weird. I watched my first episode last night, only going with what Netflix had streaming. Eccleston it was. Maybe I should start with another reincarnation though. 

  • Anonymous

    I grew up watching the old black and white episodes, but Eccleston was where I really fell in love with the series. I think you are wise to start with the 9th doctor (Eccleston) and go forward from there. There is a very pronounced and fairly linear line of character development for the Doctor from Eccleston to Tennant to Smith, and I think the current season is more powerful if you have experienced that.

  • Sean Robert Brattan

    They could interact with the Torchwood of that era. If it was around at the time, I know Queen Victoria set it up but I think it was in the later part of her reign so not sure if that would have co incided with Vastra eating Jack the Ripper.

  • Sean Robert Brattan

    They could interact with the Torchwood of that era. If it was around at the time, I know Queen Victoria set it up but I think it was in the later part of her reign so not sure if that would have co incided with Vastra eating Jack the Ripper.

  • http://twitter.com/WanderinDreamr dreamer

    “In fact, it is a general rule that the Doctors do not engage romantically with any of their companions.” Erm, Rose anyone? I’ll try not to be too spoilery but (and I don’t even like Rose) but that was definetly meant to be a romantic relationship by the end of Tennants era. I’d also advise not starting with season six (the current one) since that assumes you’re familiar with everything that happened with season five and a one shot character who originally appeared in season four. Start at five (which starts with a new Doctor and new companion(s)) or one, I started at one and I had a friend start at five whose doing alright so far and that does mean you can catch up with the current episodes quicker.
    And I never noticed a lack of DW material since Tor.com posts so much each week, not that I wouldn’t like to see even more. :P 

  • http://twitter.com/LAU_Y Yan

    I started with Series 5 (NuWho) then went back to watch NuWho from the very beginning. At first Tennant was my favourite Doctor but after seeing “The Doctor’s Wife” episode I’m slowly changing my mind. I don’t really like Rose as a companion either…Donna is my favourite companion :-)

  • http://twitter.com/AbelUndercity Abel Undercity

    Ferguson put it best: Intellect and Romance over Brute Force and Cynicism!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mynameisemmam Emma M.

    MORE DOCTOR WHO POSTS! ALL THE TIME! ALWAYS! FOREVER! I have nothing of value to add, other than sheer giddy excitement.

  • Anonymous

    Yes!!!
    DONNA!!!

    I’ve gone back and started watching the old school Who with Sarah Jane Smith, and I’m finding out that Donna and Sara Jane are cut from the same cloth.  Neither of them are afraid of giving their doctors any sass, and spot things that he misses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000360629143 Tiffany Nguyen

    although to the new converts i would recommend if you’d watch from series 1 with Cris Eccleston, than just watching the current season. or else it won’t make alot of sense, and they would think every companion is all over the Doctor.(sorry Amy!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000360629143 Tiffany Nguyen

    but with doctor 10 and Rose, they were the best of friends, and Rose was willing to be by his side as a true friend, nothing sexual about that!

  • Anonymous

    madeshopping.net

  • Anonymous

    tinyurl.com/2a7usxg

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elissa-Mahatma/100001046160860 Elissa Mahatma

    Blink was the first episode that I ever saw and I totally agree, don’t let young children watch it, it’ll scare the crap out of them! I honestly can’t look at statues the same way ever again, but I can’t fault the episode because it was that creep factor that drew me in and convinced me to keep following the rabbit hole!

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    According to Wiki, the Torchwood institute was set up in 1879. Jack the Ripper was 1888. So that would work.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    According to Wiki, the Torchwood institute was set up in 1879. Jack the Ripper was 1888. So that would work.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Tenth did almost confess that he loved Rose in New Earth and gave her a shaggable replacement that would grow old with her. Didn’t he also say he loved her as he left her?

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    I think Amy’s just highly sexed XD

  • http://twitter.com/WanderinDreamr dreamer

    Spoilers for the end of season four (avert thine eyes if you haven’t yet seen it staff!) but 10.5 stays with Rose in the alternate universe and, when she asks the Doctor what he said to her at the end of season two, 10.5 whispers it to her and she looks very pleased about it, nothing short of “I love you” probably would have had that impact. Plus, with Martha the Doctor was moping around so much that he didn’t realize she had fallen for him (and he definitely noticed when Amy had a thing for him) and he says to Donna that he wants someone with him whose just a friend, nothing romantic at all.
    TL:DR, there is plenty of evidence that both of them had feelings for each other, both the way Rose and Ten acted around each other and how Ten treated other women afterwards, there’s quite a bit that seems plain to me, no needing to twist around what someone is saying/doing or anything. 

  • godiyeva

    While Dr Who has only recently become a phenomenon in America (as far as I can tell!), in Australia we grew up on endless repeats. I guess it was cheap. If anyone is wondering where to start with the glorious cheesy banquet that is the classic series, you can’t go past this award-winning (no really! it got an award at Swancon) introduction… the modern woman’s guide to classic who.
    http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/tag/modern-womans-guide/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Becky-Topol/598776741 Becky Topol

    Oh you spoiling heathen.  I just started season 5 and didn’t know who Song was.  I threatened all my friends with death if they told me and now I know and can never un-know and…aaaarrrrggghhh!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laura-Cradick/639821900 Laura Cradick

    If you want to watch this, and have Netflix, it’s all up there on Stream (except, of course, the current season). Even Tennant’s season where he only did three episodes (he was on stage for Hamlet, starring, during that time, so they took a break, although it was planned even before Tennant took the part of Hamlet).

  • Russano Greenstripe

     I was about to protest the lack of Cybermen as well; heck, their first appearance is also the cause of the Doctor’s first regeneration!

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Which series was that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Esther-Rosenfeld/1839696971 Esther Rosenfeld

    Got into the show with Doctor Nine and have been loving it ever since. Matt Smith is charming and very believable as a 900 year old time lord.

    People and places I wanna see the Doctor travel to:

    1. C.S. Lewis – A big box with another world inside of it–inspiration?
    2. Alfred Hitchock – Imagine the Doctor drops in on the shooting of a movie but something suspicious is going on around the studio…
    3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- Would psychic paper work on the creator of Sherlock Holmes?
    4. Mark Twain – Because “a man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.”
    5. Feudal Japan – Because it would be AWESOME.
    6. Leonardo Da Vinci – Need I say more?
    7. New York’s Lower East Side cica 1914 – Yiddish theatre, Orchard Street…8. Ian Fleming – Bond. James Bond.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Esther-Rosenfeld/1839696971 Esther Rosenfeld

    Donna is my favorite companion so far as well. Amy is all right as long as she has Rory’s personality to bounce off her own. But hands down, Donna’s fiesty attitude and snappy remarks put her in a league of her own.