The Ultimate ‘Doctor Who’ Crash Course for First-Time Viewers
Have you decided to watch all of Doctor Who ahead of David Tennant’s return and/or Ncuti Gatwa’s debut as the Doctor? Fantastic! You’re in for a great time … and also a somewhat confusing one. Luckily, I first started watching with the revival series all the way back in 2005 (dear god, almost 20 years ago), so I can help you out!
I have my limitations, though, so I’m not counting the Big Finish audio dramas! I know they’re good, and they provide more adventures for your favorite Doctors, but they’re a bit beyond the scope of this list. If you saw how many episodes there were, you’d understand. And the same is true of the Doctor Who books and comics.
Even so, buckle up—you’ve got a lot of stories to go through. There’s countless episodes of Doctor Who to explore, as well as a good few “minisodes” which luckily can almost always be found on YouTube. Let’s start at the beginning. (Sure, that seems obvious, but this is a show about time travel.)
“Classic Who” pretty much covers everything from the very first Doctor—William Hartnell, who debuted in 1963 with the episode “An Unearthly Child”—to the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, who led the 1996 TV movie Doctor Who. (Most fans call this production “the TV movie” or “the movie” to avoid confusion.)
Opinion is divided as to whether you need to watch Classic Who to understand the revival series, but personally I think you probably should. All the surviving Doctors, as well as many of their companions, have shown up in the modern-day series.
Doctor Who season 1 (2005)
When Doctor Who returned in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston, the numbering restarted! Say “season 1” to a Doctor Who fan, and they’ll generally know you’re talking about the first season of “New Who.”
“Born Again” (2005)
Season 1 ends with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor regenerating into David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, and season 2 opens with Ten and his companion Rose stumbling out of the TARDIS. But what happened between those two scenes? This minisode, created for the annual charity telethon Children in Need, answers that.
Doctor Who season 2: TARDISodes, “Attack of the Graske” (2006)
Every episode of season 2 came with an online “TARDISode” that was connected in some way to the main storyline. After “The Christmas Invasion,” the Doctor Who team released a Christmas-themed interactive episode for kids called “Attack of the Graske.” It’s unofficially available on YouTube now, but you can easily skip it.
Torchwood season 1 (2006-2007)
The dark, gritty, SEXY Doctor Who spinoff! At least, that’s what it was advertised as. John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness, one-time companion to the Ninth Doctor, was the star.
Doctor Who season 3: “The Infinite Quest” (2007)
There was an animated serial called “The Infinite Quest” in the middle of Doctor Who season 3. Fans aren’t entirely sure where it slots in, though. Some think it should go after the episode “Evolution of the Daleks,” while others think it should go after “42.” Choose whatever option you prefer!
The Sarah Jane Adventures season 1 (2007)
SJA followed the further adventures of investigative journalist and Doctor companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and her own set of companions. It was aimed at a younger audience, and it was very good.
“Time Crash” (2007)
This was another Children in Need minisode, and it had Peter Davison return as the Fifth Doctor! (He’s now Tennant’s father-in-law.)
Torchwood season 2 (2008)
A lot of things happen in this season and many of them are referenced in the Doctor Who season 4 finale, which was basically one big crossover.
Doctor Who season 4 (2008)
Yep, season 4 of the main series featured characters from Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures! It was lots of fun.
The Sarah Jane Adventures season 2 (2008)
In addition to this season there was a 2009 minisode for the BBC’s Comic Relief, “From Raxacoricofallapatorius With Love” which was released as a bonus feature on the SJA season 2 box set.
“Music of the Spheres,” “The Next Doctor,” “Planet of the Dead,” and “The Waters of Mars” (2008-2009)
Now we have the special episodes which aired from Christmas Day 2008 to November 2009. Also in 2008, we got a little BBC Proms minisode called “Music of the Spheres” featuring our old friend the Graske. I’m including it here because it ended up being released on a DVD with “The Next Doctor.”
Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009)
I’ve always found it hard to place Torchwood‘s “Children of Earth” because lots of absolutely horrible things happen to humankind in it, but they’re never brought up again in the main show as far as I know. It fits in here, though.
The Sarah Jane Adventures season 3 (2009)
While everyone else was suffering trauma, Sarah Jane was just doing her thing! This season featured another crossover as the 10th Doctor appeared in “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.”
This was an animated serial featuring David Tennant which aired online before being broadcast on BBC Two in December 2009. It’s easy to find on DVD if you want to check it out.
“The End of Time” (2009-2010)
David Tennant’s regeneration special aired in two parts: The first episode premiered on Christmas Day 2009, followed by the second on New Year’s Day 2010. After that, we were onto Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor!
Doctor Who season 5, “Meanwhile in the TARDIS” (2010)
The Doctor Who season 5 DVD box set came with more minisodes! “Meanwhile in the TARDIS #1” should be watched after “The Eleventh Hour,” and “Meanwhile in the TARDIS #2” should be watched after “Flesh and Stone.”
The Sarah Jane Adventures season 4 (2010)
Matt Smith appeared as the 11th Doctor in the episode “Death of the Doctor.”
Doctor Who season 6 – part 1, episode prequels, “Space/Time,” “Two Days Later” (2011)
Season 6 of Doctor Who was split into two parts with a cliffhanger between them. Some of the episodes—”The Impossible Astronaut,” “The Curse of the Black Spot,” and “A Good Man Goes to War”—were accompanied by “prequel” minisodes that were released online.
“Space/Time” was another Comic Relief special and it takes place between “A Christmas Carol” and “The Impossible Astronaut.” There was also the online minisode “Two Days Later,” which is set after “A Good Man Goes to War.”
Torchwood: Miracle Day (2011)
In the middle of all this we got “Miracle Day” which, like “Children of Earth,” featured some huge, unpleasant things that were just … never brought up in the parent show!
Doctor Who season 6 – part 2, episode prequels, “Night and the Doctor” (2011)
The Doctor Who season 6 box set came with a series of minisodes called “Night and the Doctor,” one of which serves as a prequel to the episode “Closing Time.” There were also online prequels released for “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “The Wedding of River Song.”
The Sarah Jane Adventures season 5 (2011)
This was very sadly the last season of SJA because Elisabeth Sladen passed away from cancer in April 2011.
“Death Is the Only Answer” (2011) and “Good as Gold” (2012)
These two mini episodes were written by children and broadcast on the BBC! Aww!
“Pond Life” (2012)
The wittingly named “Pond Life” was a series of minisodes released online prior to season 7, depicting Amy and Rory Pond’s everyday lives.
Doctor Who season 7, episode prequels and epilogues, DVD minisodes, “Hyperscape Body Swap Ticket” (2012-2013)
Season 7 also came with a ton of online content! The episodes “Asylum of the Daleks,” “A Town Called Mercy,” and “The Bells of St. John” each had a minisode prequel, and the episodes “The Snowmen” and “The Name of the Doctor” had two. There was also a sad little epilogue to the episode “The Angels Take Manhattan” called “P.S.” You should be able to watch them all on YouTube.
Meanwhile, the DVD release of season 7 brought us the minisodes “The Inforarium,” “Clara and the TARDIS,” and “Rain Gods.” And then there’s “Hyperscape Body Swap Ticket,” another BBC Proms minisode. Watch these in the second half of the season, after Clara is introduced.
“The Night of the Doctor” and “The Last Day” (2013)
These minisodes were released just prior to the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.” “The Last Day” takes a look at the Time War, and “The Night of the Doctor” thrilled everyone because it marked the return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor!
If you want, you can actually watch “The Night of the Doctor” between your viewings of Classic Who and New Who, since it ties the two eras together nicely.
“The Day of the Doctor” (2013)
The 50th anniversary episode! This one featured David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, John Hurt’s secret “War Doctor,” and cameos from multiple eras of the show.
“The Time of the Doctor” (2013)
This Christmas special episode features Matt Smith regenerating into Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor.
Doctor Who season 8 (2014)
The Doctor Who team seemed to cool it with the prequels and minisodes at this point. There’s no extra stuff for season 8 as far as I know.
Doctor Who season 9 (2015)
Doctor Who briefly went back to producing prequel minisodes for Peter Capaldi’s second season. The season premiere “The Magician’s Apprentice” has two: one titled “Prologue” and another, longer one called “The Doctor’s Meditation.”
Class season 1 (2016)
Wait, what’s this?! Another spinoff? Yep! Unfortunately, Class, which chronicled the goings-on at Coal Hill School, never made it past the first season.
“The Return of Doctor Mysterio” (2016)
“The Return of Doctor Mysterio” was the only Doctor Who episode to be released in 2016. It doesn’t seem to be assigned to any of the season box sets, but you can get it on DVD/Blu-Ray as a solo episode.
Doctor Who season 10 (2017)
Season 10 gave us Bill Potts, the first lesbian companion to the Doctor. And then, in the Christmas episode “Twice Upon a Time,” the show unveiled Jodie Whittaker as the first ever woman to play the Doctor!
Doctor Who season 11 (2018)
Season 11 was another with almost no supplementary material, so just sit back and enjoy it as-is.
Doctor Who season 12 (2020)
Torchwood had long been off TV screens by this point, but season 12 of Doctor Who saw John Barrowman’s Jack Harkness return for some guest appearances. (There were some other fun surprises I won’t spoil.)
Doctor Who: Lockdown (2020)
When the pandemic hit in 2020, many people associated with Doctor Who got to work creating little supplementary stories for past episodes. It was amazing, but alas it would take a whole ‘nother post to go through each minisode and explain exactly which episode it pairs with. Luckily, the good folks at the Tardis Data Core have put that list together for you.
Personally, I think you should watch “Farewell, Sarah Jane” after the last season of SJA, “Rory’s Story” after the minisode “P.S.,” and “The Best of Days” after “The Doctor Falls.” Those minisodes in particular really add something to the main story.
Doctor Who: Flux (2021)
Flux was basically one story spread out over six episodes, though whether it was successful in its storytelling is really up to you. Whovians have been rather divided about it. But Flux leads us to …
“Eve of the Daleks,” “Legend of the Sea Devils,” and “The Power of the Doctor” (2022)
These are the final episodes for Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor. “The Power of the Doctor” is a tremendous send-off that features multiple older Doctors, many past companions, and a shocking regeneration. What will happen now? Well, unless you have your own TARDIS, you’ll have to wait to find out.
(featured image: BBC)
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