Most Doctor Who fans agree that the first episode of the 2005 Russell T. Davies reboot is not a prime example of Doctor Who at its best – and could be off-putting to viewers who are testing out the show for the first time. As a result, we’ve selected three Doctor Who episodes that offer a good sample of what potential viewers can expect from the series – without spoiling too many of the larger story arcs and twists.
That said, as Matt Smith once mentioned while talking about season seven of the series, Doctor Who is about “evolution and regeneration.” Anyone even remotely familiar with the show knows that The Doctor changes form (and actors) from time to time and companions come and go every few seasons. For that reason, our featured episodes will contain mild spoilers for the timing of certain Doctor and companion exits but nothing that will undermine the moments when they actually happen.
If you want to avoid even the most basic spoilers then our best recommendation is to just start at the 2005 relaunch, with Season 1, Episode 1: “Rose,” but keep in mind that the series premiere isn’t representative of the larger show’s quality. Anyone that chooses to start with the premiere should plan to stick with the series for several episodes – to get a much better sense of why Doctor Who is a worthwhile endeavor.
For viewers who aren’t overly-concerned about having a vague timeframe for when a new Doctor might be en route or when a companion might leave the series, below are three Doctor Who indoctrination episodes. This isn’t to say that these three episodes are the absolute best but each one will, for the most part, provide a solid standalone story experience and should help prospective Doctor Who viewers get a sense of the show - without the need for a lengthy canon rundown or, more importantly, overarching series spoilers.
That said, if at any point you’re feeling like Doctor Who might be a fit – forget about our subsequent recommended episodes and jump to the 2005 premiere.
- Blink (Season 3, Episode 11) – A “Doctor-lite” episode. An entirely standalone story centered around Sally Sparrow (played by a pre-fame Carey Mulligan) and her run-in with one of The Doctor’s most feared enemies.
- Midnight (Season 4, Episode 10) – A “Companion-lite” episode. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, The Doctor must battle a terrifying enemy who turns the Doctor’s greatest weapon against him.
- Love & Monsters (Season 2, Episode 10) – A “Doctor-lite” episode. Elton Pope (played by Marc Warren) recounts The Doctor’s impact on a group of strangers as well as the love story that grew out of them all coming together to share their experiences.
It’s hard to imagine any would-be Whovian not seeing the promise in the series after “Blink.” Assuming we’re correct, save “Midnight” as well as “Love & Monsters” for in-context viewing. Like any quality piece of television drama, Doctor Who episodes are most enjoyable as part of a planned out seasonal arc.
Additionally, here are some beginner picks that Moffat and Smith gave:
1. The Ark in Space (1975) – The Doctor and his companions Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) are on a seemingly deserted space station many years in the future. Station Nerva is not as empty as it appears, though; onboard are the cryogenically preserved survivors of Earth’s destruction, as well as an insect-like alien race, the Wirrin, which are determined to use the humans–and the Doctor–as hosts to grow their monstrous larvae.
2. City of Death (1979) – The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) is pitted against a time-traveling alien (Julian Glover) whose body, fragmented by an accident, spurred evolution millions of years ago. Written by “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author Douglas Adams.
1. The Empty Child (Season 1, Episode 9) - The Doctor and Rose travel back to London in 1941, at the height of the Blitz. A mysterious cylinder is being guarded by the Army, while homeless children (living on the bombsites) are being terrorized by an unearthly child. Rose meets the dashing Captain Jack Harkness – has she found a hero even better than the Doctor?
2. The Doctor Dances (Season 1, Episode 10) - The Child’s plague is spreading throughout the wartime London, and its zombie army is on the march. The Doctor and Rose form an alliance with intergalactic con-man Captain Jack, but find themselves trapped in the abandoned hospital. The answer lies at the bombsite, but time is running out…
3. Blink (Season 3, Episode 11)