Doctor Who holds the distinction of being the longest-running science fiction television series in the history of television. It premiered on the BBC in 1963 and ran continuously, through seven stars and 26 years before being cancelled at the end of 1989. In 2005, the BBC revived the series, and it’s been climbing in pop culture status ever since. Chances are you’ve heard someone mention it in conversation at least once, and you might have even flipped past a rerun one night, but didn’t stop to watch. Rest assured, though, if you’re a fan of science fiction storytelling at all, and you’re not watching this show, there’s a gaping hole in your world.
OK, so it’s essential viewing. It’s cool. It’s legendary. It’s something you really should be watching, but all this brings up a rather obvious question: What in the hell is Doctor Who?
There’s no easy way to explain this, so we’ll just have to take a deep breath. Ready?
Doctor Who follows the exploits of a time traveling alien who has no name to speak of other than “The Doctor.” The Doctor has been played by 11 different actors over the course of nearly five decades (currently it’s Matt Smith), and each change in casting is written into the story as part of the character’s alien biological makeup. He’s an alien, you see, so if he’s mortally wounded he can simply regenerate into another incarnation. The Doctor’s purpose in life is to travel in his time machine, the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension In Space), a blue police call box from the 50s that’s much bigger on the inside and can go anywhere in time and/or space. He often travels with companions. They have adventures, fight enemies, tell jokes and promote general mayhem. It’s wonderful.
Interested? Good, but it’s a rather daunting task to tackle a program with so much history in it. Where, after all, do you begin? Luckily, you can become well-acquainted with Doctor Who with only a moderate amount of back-viewing. The new season, the sixth since the series revived, is set to debut in April, which should give you just enough time to hunt down these 10 Doctor Who stories, all of which will give you a firm grounding in the tone, plotting and general feel of the series.
|The Doctor gets a handle on things.|
The very first episode of the revived series introduces The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) as he works to save a
shopgirl (Billie Piper) from an army of living mannequins animated by an alien consciousness. It’s funny, it’s action-packed, and it’s delightfully whimsical. The perfect starter to a strange journey. London
|The Doctor meets an old enemy.|
The Doctor (still Eccleston) and Rose (Piper) encounter a wealthy collector of alien artifacts in the not too distance future, who just happens to have what might be the last living specimen of the Doctor’s greatest enemy, an alien race who knows nothing but destruction. It’s a perfect introduction to the Doctor’s darker, more frightening side.
|The Doctor must say goodbye...for now.|
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways,” 2005
Eccleston’s final story as The Doctor is a two-part tale that pits him once more against his ultimate enemies, and forces him to make a daring choice. It’s an excellent goodbye to the Ninth Doctor, as well as a prime example of how epic Doctor Who can get.
|Yes, that's a skeleton in a spacesuit. Hard to explain...just watch it.|
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” 2008
The Doctor (Tennant) and companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) encounter shadows that feast on human flash in the middle of a deserted planet that’s one big library. This episode also introduces one of the more important modern Doctor Who characters, River Song (Alex Kingston).
|The Doctor ponders just how big a contact lens can get.|
“The Eleventh Hour,” 2010
The first episode for Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith, his companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), and new executive producer Steven Moffat shows the Doctor facing off against a new and mysterious threat, and the looming doom of the universe preparing to break apart. It’s the kick-off to one of the most satisfying storylines of the series, and breathtakingly funny at the same time.
|The Doctor, Amy and Van Gogh...pre-ear slicing.|
“Vincent and the Doctor,” 2010
The Doctor and Amy visit Vincent van Gogh, who’s being harassed by an invisible chicken creature. I think I’ve said enough.
|The Doctor faces his greatest challenge, a cube much harder to solve than a Rubik's.|
“The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” 2010.
The payoff of the story that began with “The Eleventh Hour.” The stakes have never been higher, and the series has never been better.
Doctor Who returns to BBC and BBC America this April.