Happy 50 Years, Doctor Who!
Even though the good Doctor is technically over 900 years old, his first adventure aired on this date in 1963. Fifty years of television sounds intimidating to catch up with, but time is wibbly-wobbly and easy to manipulate with your Richland Library timey-whimey detector – it goes ding when there’s relevant material! So climb into our TARDIS and let us take you through the best stuff.
When to Start:
The updated series. After years off air, Doctor Who got a modern revamp in 2005 that set the series soon after the Gallifrey time war that left the Doctor as the only Time Lord left (or so he thought – it gets deliciously complicated). Everyone has their favorite Doctor, but Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith brought different balances of brooding, survivor’s guilt, and manic curiosity that perfectly blended the new series’ lighter tone and more serious storylines.
Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways (series 1). Companion Rose Tyler and the Doctor get trapped in a series of brutal game shows that are revealed as tools to keep this world’s people docile and unquestioning. To channel the surge of time energy needed to override the broadcasting, Chris Eccleston reveals the heart of the TARDIS to Rose by kissing her, bonding her with more knowledge than any human should be able to handle. But she revives just in time to see the Doctor regenerate.
Army of Ghosts and Doomsday (series 2). The Doctor’s companions are as hotly debated as the Doctor himself, and Rose really divides fans between love and hate. However, no one can deny the impact she has on the Doctor, so this two-episode arc that rips open the barrier between dimensions and pits the Daleks against the Cybermen ends on a devastating note no matter how you feel about her.
Love and Monsters (series 2). This episode is framed by a vlog from a normal guy who documents how he and a group of people who have also caught glimpses of the Doctor try to find out more about him through the leadership of a gross alien who turns out to, surprise, have a rather nasty motive. Also, this episode uses “Mr. Blue Sky” in a completely unexpected way that makes me laugh out loud every time.
Blink (series 3). As a stand-alone story that focuses on an outsider uncovering an iconic villain and the Doctor reaching out to explain how he can help, this is a great gateway into the series.
Human Nature and The Family of Blood (series 3). The Doctor hides himself from a rogue Time Lord by giving himself amnesia and posing as a teacher at a boys’ school in this two-parter. When it’s time to reveal himself, he has a moment of heartbreaking weakness as he begs to remain human because he never asked to be anyone’s savior.
Runaway Bride (special between series 2 and 3). Here we’re introduced to Donna, the only companion with a stronger personality than the Doctor himself, as a bride who is not so much left at the alter but stolen as food for a spider-witch and pulls the Doctor from the brink of committing genocide by yelling really loudly. (She’s my favorite.)
Turn Left (series 4). What would happen if Donna had never actually met the Doctor? Utter chaos and destruction and time-travel with mirrors to fix things, of course.
Silence in the Library (series 4). The Doctor runs into River Song, space archeologist, whom he’s met before – according to her – and will meet again – according to the TARDIS-printed diary where she keeps track of their timeline. But I can’t tell you any more, Sweeties. Spoilers.
Amy’s Choice (series 5). This is not the first episode with Matt Smith, but it personifies the psychological tugs new companion Amy feels in opposite directions of her life - the lovely, solid, but predictable one with fiancé Rory, or the dangerous, exciting one traveling with the Doctor - both of which feel entirely too real. And a twist ending reveals that the manipulation was not all in her head.
The Angels Take Manhattan (series 7). Rory and Amy fall into an inescapable trap that River Song tries to warn them about while the Doctor broods on the endings and aging of humans. “They send you back in time and make you live to death.”
The Name of the Doctor (series 7). Matt Smith spends all of his last series as the Doctor trying to figure out Clara, his latest companion who turned up making soufflés in a Dalek, as a secretive nanny in Victorian England, and as an outwardly normal girl who can’t work the Internet very well in the modern day. She has no idea what he’s talking about or why he looks at her so hard – until this episode, when she travels to his very core to find how to save him and falls into the stream of time herself. It’s a very satisfying explanation to a conceit that is sometimes frustrating and overly cute throughout the early parts of the series.
When to go from here
Now you’re ready to dive into Doctor Who’s history! The original series aired as story arcs of four or five episodes that were 25 minutes each. Here’s a list of original Doctors and their best stories, in order from most accessible:
The Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker is everyone’s favorite classic reincarnation, and with good reason. He took on adventure with jolly irreverence and an absurdly long scarf and disarmed friends and enemies alike with his fondness for Jelly Babies. The Revenge of the Cybermen serial introduced humanoid robots obsessed with upgrading humanity, while the Key of Time series took the Doctor and his genius companion Roma across history hunting puzzle pieces to save the very fabric of the universe.
The Fifth Doctor. I call him the Yacht Doctor, but Peter Davidson actually wore a cricket uniform during his years in the TARDIS. The Earthshock serial took a surprisingly dark turn when one of the companions discovered the only way to disarm an Earth-destroying bomb was to sacrifice himself to save everyone else. In another episode, the Doctor dropped a line about having only twelve re-incarnations when he spent one to bring someone back to life. It’s a detail fans have argued about ever since.
The Eighth Doctor. Even though he only appeared in a 1996 TV movie, this version of the Doctor captured the hearts of a new generation of fans with the hints of brooding darkness that ran under his enthusiasm. He battled his recurring foe the Master, a rogue Timelord who was bent on making Gallifrey the power of the universe again.
The First Doctor. The Doctor was first introduced as a curmudgeonly old man who has crashed-landed on Earth with his granddaughter Susan, whose strange actions attract the curiosity of two of her teachers. In “An Unearthly Child,” the group stumbles into time travel together, and while Susan is unbearably shrill in times of crisis, her grandpa’s grumpiness and her teacher's everyman viewpoints make exploring history a very enjoyable experience.
Now that you’ve taken a quick tour through time and space in a blue box that’s bigger on the inside, make yourself a nice spot of tea (“the hard stuff – leave the bag in”) and see when the Doctor will journey next.
The 50th Anniversary special airs today at 2:50 p.m. EST on BBC America, but Richland Library has more adventures for you to watch any time. Allons-y!
Melanie G. Says:
The second half of the seventh series, with Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor
Amazon Amazon Says:
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The successful guide to the Doctor's world – now updated and expanded for 2014 and the new Doctor. This lavishly illustrated guide to the Doctor's world is now expanded to i more...
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Doctor Who Theme Tune 2005-2007 By Murray GoldMelanie G. Says:
Doctor Who theme song