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The best Doctor Who episodes for new fans to watch (just in time for the 60th anniversary special on Disney Plus)

Check out the highlights from the long-running show

David Tennant as the Doctor in Doctor Who.

How well do you know Doctor Who? Because if you’re a newcomer to the long-running franchise, there’s never been a better chance to jump on board the hit sci-fi series. This month, the first of three new Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials will premiere on the show’s new streaming home, Disney+. Doctor Who season 14 will follow in 2024. Casual fans may see the “season 14” and instinctually think that the show is too impenetrable to get into. But if hardcore Whovians really wanted to scare off outsiders, we’d point out that the show maintains its continuity all the way back to the original series in 1963. Between the first incarnation of Doctor Who and the current one, there have been almost 900 episodes to date.

Don’t worry; you won’t have to watch all of them to get on board with the show. You don’t even have to watch all 13 seasons of the revival series. That’s because Doctor Who has a unique way to reset its status quo every time the leading actor decides that they want to step down. And once you understand it, it’s not that difficult to grasp. Now it’s time for some Doctor Who 101, as well as the most accessible entry points for new fans.

Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor.

Who is the Doctor?

First, the main character’s name is the Doctor, not Doctor Who. It’s a common mistake. It’s also easy to understand why new viewers assume the Doctor is human. Although the Doctor loves coming to Earth and having adventures, he is an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

Two key things separate Time Lords from humans. Time Lords have two hearts in their bodies instead of one. And Time Lords are also very difficult to kill. When Time Lords die, they can regenerate a new body and persona. Thus, the previous persona and body can die, but the Time Lord can live on. This is how the show has managed to keep following the same character for decades. Although the Doctor is primarily male, recent seasons have proven he can emerge from regeneration with a female body and persona.

The Doctor travels the universe in his time machine/spaceship called a TARDIS. However, the TARDIS’ outward appearance has been stuck in the form of a blue Police Box for decades. Visitors to the TARDIS have almost always noted that “it’s bigger on the inside.”

The Eleventh Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, inside the TARDIS.

Do I have to watch all 800 plus Doctor Who episodes to understand it?

No. In fact, you don’t even need to watch every season of the current show, much less the classic series. Doctor Who originally ran for 26 seasons from 1963 to 1989, followed by a 1996 TV movie and a 2005 revival series that has completed 13 seasons, with a fourteenth season coming in 2024.

Because classic Doctor Who is very much a product of its time, it isn’t recommended that new fans start there first. After all, you wouldn’t jump into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons without trying regular Dungeons & Dragons first, would you? Once you know that you like modern Doctor Who, then you can decide whether to start watching the classic series, which is available to stream at Britbox, Tubi, and The Roku Channel. Note that streaming the series on Tubi and The Roku Channel is free with ads.

David Tennant and Billie Piper in The Christmas Invasion.

Where should I start watching the current Doctor Who series?

What are the best Doctor Who episodes to start with? Conventional wisdom says start at season 1, episode 1, Rose. It introduces Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor and his human companion, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). This episode is also generally considered the birth of modern Doctor Who. However, what most guides don’t tell you is that the first season of the revival series is really rough, as the show struggled to find itself again while featuring annoyingly flatulent aliens and many episodes that just didn’t capture the right tone.

That’s why our advice is to skip the first season entirely and start just ahead of season 2 with The Christmas Invasion. It’s seasonally appropriate and the first appearance of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. It only takes one episode to see why Tennant’s take on the Doctor is so popular with the viewers. Tennant also stayed with the series for three full seasons with a few additional specials. In modern Doctor Who, he’s the most valuable player.

The Eleventh Doctor and his companions in The Eleventh Hour.

An alternate starting point

If you’re willing to bypass the entire David Tennant era, Doctor Who‘s fifth season premiere, The Eleventh Hour, has an even better pilot episode than Rose while formally introducing the Eleventh Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, as well as his frequent companions, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan, who went on to star in Marvel‘s Guardians of the Galaxy) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill).

In just under an hour, The Eleventh Hour tells you everything you need to know about the Doctor while offering the show its first real clean slate since the beginning. Like Tennant, Smith also stayed with the series for three seasons and a few specials before giving way to his successor. Smith’s run is peak Doctor Who, even if you decide to skip what came before him.

Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who.

A distinguished older gentleman

Season 9’s premiere, Deep Breath, marks the official debut of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Unlike his three immediate predecessors, Capaldi was 55 when he was cast as the Doctor, becoming the oldest actor to portray the character since the original Doctor, William Hartnell.

Because Deep Breath keeps the Eleventh Doctor’s companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), it doesn’t work quite as well as The Eleventh Hour as a clean entry point. But by this time, the modern Doctor Who series was firing on all cylinders.

Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor in Doctor Who.

The Doctor’s a lady

The next entry point is the arrival of Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, who made her first full appearance in the season 11 premiere, The Woman Who Fell To Earth. This episode also acts like another pilot for the show since the newly female Doctor is the only returning main character.

Whittaker’s run on the show also lasted three seasons,  and it’s largely self-contained, with a few nods to the past and occasional guest stars from the show’s long history to tie everything together.

David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor in Doctor Who.

Tennant again

This week’s new Doctor Who special, The Star Beast, features Tennant once again playing the Doctor for the first of three 60th anniversary stories. However, Tennant is playing the Fourteenth Doctor this time rather than his familiar Tenth Doctor incarnation.

Confused yet? So is the Doctor, and the explanation for his newly retro appearance will be coming. But you’ll have to watch the new specials for that.

Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Doctor Who: The Star Beast.

Where is the current Doctor Who series streaming?

Not sure where to watch Doctor Who? The first thirteen seasons of Doctor Who‘s modern revival series stream on Max. However, all new episodes, starting with The Star Beast on November 25, will be on Disney+. Essentially, the streaming rights have been split. Disney+ will be the streaming home for Doctor Who seasons 14 and forward, while the 13 previous seasons will remain on Max.

Now, you’re ready for some adventures in space and time. And it’s entirely your choice where to begin.

Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell is a freelance writer for The Manual, Digital Trends, Fandom, Yahoo Entertainment, and more!
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