The “DOCTOR WHO” Guide by Matthew

[Editor’s note: One of Daemon’s TV readers, Matthew, wrote this Guide to all three series of DOCTOR WHO after I mentioned yesterday that I just started watching series one. (He is also one of the people that convinced me to give Doctor Who a chance)

It is so complete without spoiling anything that I couldn’t just leave it as a comment and had to share it with everybody. Thank you Matthew!]

Doctor Who

The “Doctor Who” Guide by Matthew

As you may have noticed, one of the characteristics of Doctor Who is that it can tell a lot of different types of stories – and this is something the revived version of the series has exploited. As I grew up with Doctor Who (one of my earliest TV memories is the unmasking of a Sontaran, late in 1973) I took this all in my stride, but I suspect that for people who are new to it, it can be slightly disorientating. In many ways, the more you watch, the more you’re likely to get into – and the more you’ll get used to the different types of stories that are told. However, as I’ve said before, Doctor Who has to be suitable for children; so there are places that it will never go (part of the reason that Torchwood exists is to be able to tell different types of stories). Nevertheless, some episodes get about as dark as a show for children can – Doctor Who has never shown much by the way of gore, but it’s never been afraid of death either.

Because of the variety of story types, pretty much every story has its fans and it’s hard to definitively recommend some episodes over others. Personally I admire the ambition of the series in creating a new adventure pretty much from scratch with each new story, and I’m pretty easygoing if it doesn’t quite work. I think of most of the series as being flawed brilliance – with the brilliant bits more than outweighing the flaws. Looking back at the episodes, I always find something to enjoy.

Despite all this I’ll attempt a few recommendations. What follows is a guide to the first three series for someone who doesn’t want to watch all of them. I’ve based it on a combination of my own preferences and what seems to be the consensus amongst fans.

Doctor Who

1-1 Rose – recommended as an introduction to the main characters and themes of the show. I think the story is fun, but it’s pretty slight. The tone of the direction (by Keith Boak) and photography is a bit too cartoony and light for my taste. However, this episode is from the very first production block (the others were 1-4 Aliens of London and 1-5 World War Three) and this style is never used again – so you shouldn’t assume that this is setting the tone for the series. Micky (Rose’s boyfriend) and Jackie (Rose’s mum) and introduced here but come across as a bit two-dimensional. Both actors grow into the parts as the series progresses, however, and many people who hated them here came to love them later on.

1-2 The End of the World – one of my favourites of the early episodes, and recommended for the way it builds the mythology of the Doctor and develops his relationship with Rose. The plot is quite hokey, but I love all the other stuff around it. I absolutely love the final scene.

1-3 The Unquiet Dead – the most like traditional Who (especially the early Tom Baker episodes) and has some quite vocal supporters for this reason. I love the sets and the costumes and Simon Callow’s performance as Dickens, but I’d say this is one you could skip. You do, however, get a bit of background about the rift in Cardiff.

1-4/1-5 Aliens of London/World War Three – affected by the same misjudgement of tone as Rose, quite a lot of fans see this as a low point. I love the stuff around Harriet Jones and Jackie, and Mickey comes off a bit better this time around. Skippable, but 1-11 Boomtown and 2-0 The Christmas Invasion gain something if you’ve seen these.

1-6 Dalek – another fan favourite, and the general consensus is that this is the point where the series really takes off. Pretty much essential viewing in terms of the ongoing story arc of series one. Personally, I find the writing a little clunky in places – but the relentlessness of the action makes up for this..

1-7 The Long Game – a slight curiosity, many fans found this disappointing. I enjoyed it, although it feels like a minor story compared to what follows. Skippable again, but it gains something in the context of the whole series, so watch it if you can. Also, the transition from 1-6 Dalek to 1-8 Father’s Day doesn’t really make sense if you don’t know what happened in The Long Game.

1-8 Father’s Day – sheer brilliance, in my opinion – although too emotional (or sentimental, as they would say) for some. Received some of the highest praise of the series. If you don’t watch this one, the series one finale and much of series two will not make as much emotional sense.

1-9/1-10 The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances – introduces Captain Jack Harkness and worth it for that alone. Easily the creepiest story and the most technically accomplished. A clear fan favourite – many consider it to be the perfect story. I love this one.

1-11 Boom Town – another oddity and a bit of a rest before the finale. Quite unconventional in its plotting, but with great performances. It could be skipped, but I’d say it is worth watching for the way it builds up to the finale and for the stuff about the rift in Cardiff.

1-12/1-13 Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways – the culmination of the series, making it essential viewing. I loved it. Apart from anything else, it sets up some stuff about Jack that impacts directly on Torchwood.

Doctor Who

2-0 The Christmas Invasion – first appearance of David Tennant as the Doctor. A good fun Christmas romp with some serious undertones. Plenty of references to Torchwood One (ie the London one, not Torchwood Three in Cardiff). Watching this will help explain why Jack has a hand in a jar in Torchwood.

2-1 New Earth – a bit of a mess, but a fun mess. Very enjoyable if you can suspend disbelief, but skippable nonetheless. Forms a loose trilogy with 1-2 The End of the World and 3-3 Gridlock.

2-2 Tooth and Claw – tightly plotted and exciting, generally well regarded. Maybe not as emotionally affecting as some of the other episodes, but very entertaining. Includes some background information about Torchwood.

2-3 School Reunion – hard for me to judge with anything like objectivity as this concerns the return of Sarah Jane Smith, who was The Doctor’s companion when I first watched the show (between the ages of 4 and 7). I think it’s wonderful, although very much a character piece. Sets up Mickey’s arc in this series.

2-4 The Girl in the Fireplace – more technical perfection from Steven Moffatt (who wrote The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances). Highly recommended, although it gets some flak for its handling of the emotional dimension.

2-5/2-6 The Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel – a big blockbuster style sci-fi action adventure. Some fans were disappointed, I enjoyed it greatly although it’s not the most intellectually stimulating of stories. Mickey is great in it. Pretty much essential viewing if you’re going to make sense of the finale. Re-introduces the Cybermen to the series, thus providing some background to the Torchwood episode Cyberwoman.

2-7 The Idiot’s Lantern – good fun and quite creepy, but a fairly run-of-the-mill episode, skippable.

2-8/2-9 The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit – a tense space-base set thriller. Very atmospheric and well acted. Recommended.

2-10 Love and Monsters – a “Doctor light” episode filmed at the same time as 2-8/2-9. Take a sideways look at the character, and is quite experimental in structure. A bit of a love/hate episode (I’m firmly on the love side). Quite similar to the Torchwood episode “Random Shoes” (which it pre-dates). I think it’s worth watching if only for Jackie Tyler, who is wonderful in it.

2-11 Fear Her – a last-minute replacement for a script that fell through, this is a bit undercooked. Lots of wonderful moments, but doesn’t quite gel. Skippable.

2-12/2-13 Army of Ghosts/Doomsday – the second series finale and every bit as wonderful and moving as the first, in my opinion. Essential viewing as it wraps the series up. Also features Torchwood One and what Jack calls (in the first episode of Torchwood) “The Battle of Canary Wharf”.

(Torchwood Series One fits in here)

Doctor Who

3-0 The Runaway Bride – another fun Christmas romp, which runs out of steam somewhat towards the end. Some brief mentions of Torchwood. Introduces the character of Donna Noble, who will be back for Series 4 in the spring. Also shows us a side of the Doctor that we will see more of during the rest of Series 3.

3-1 Smith and Jones – good solid introduction of the new companion Martha Jones, who will be appearing in Torchwood series 2.

3-2 The Shakespeare Code – historical romp with Shakespeare and witches. Good fun and with excellent performances, but I’d say you could skip this one.

3-3 Gridlock – bonkers sci-fi in the manner of 2000AD/Judge Dredd or JG Ballard. I love this one to bits although it make precious little sense. Quite important to the series arc, in reiterating some stuff about the Doctor and his home planet.

3-4/3-5 Daleks in Manhatten/Evolution of the Daleks – lots of good things in this, but doesn’t really come together plot-wise. Skippable.

3-6 The Lazarus Experiment – solid, if not spectacular. Sets up some of the season arc, though, so worth watching for that.

3-7 42 – a fairly straightforward sci-fi suspense thriller, but well-done and enjoyable. Moves on the season arc a bit, as well.

3-8/3-9 Human Nature/The Family of Blood – some of the best TV I have ever seen. A brilliant script from Paul Cornell (Father’s Day) combined with exceptional performances and great direction.

3-10 Blink – Steven Moffat again, technical perfection again. Probably the scariest episode, this is the “Doctor Light” episode in series three. I’m not as huge a fan of it as some people – but it is very clever and does what it does flawlessly.

3-11/3-12/3-13 Utopia/The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords – Jack is back in these episodes, and they follow on directly from “End of Days” making them pretty much essential viewing for Torchwood fans. Utopia is generally loved by fans, the last two episodes are more divisive. I think the whole thing is superb, although not flawless. Nevertheless, I loved the sweep and ambition of it all.
Utopia is definitely best watched after Human Nature/The Family of Blood – it would be a spoiler to say more, but trust me.

Again, even though you can skip episodes (and every story will work on its own) I still think the best thing to do is watch all of them.