Best Doctor Who Episodes for Newbies

Published: September 18, 2014

You've heard of Doctor Who. Isn't that the old British TV series about people wearing scarves? Maybe you've seen the TARDIS referenced elsewhere in pop culture or have heard your nerdy friend giggle at the sound of theremin music. So you've decided to give it a shot, see what all the fuss is about. But where to start? As you'll soon come to realize, there are over 50 years of backlog to catch up on. Do you start at the 1960s pilot? Do you start with the 1990s re-launch movie? How about the pilot for the modern era in 2005? No, no, and no again. As with any good time travel story, we start in the middle! Here is my list of the top ten episodes to begin with for those wholely unfamiliar with Doctor Who.

I'll give a rating from 1 to 10 for each episode for the amount of backstory that you, the viewer, will need to know going into each one. My Newbie-rating:

1 = Doctor... Who?

10 = Brush up on the family trees of the high-lords of Galifrey if you want to stand a chance here

I'll also indicate just which era each episode comes from, Classic Who (pre-1990) or New Who (2005 to present)

  1. Blink - Episode 10, Season 3 (New Who)

    "Blink" has received nearly universial critical acclaim since it first aired in 2007. It was penned by then-writer, now showrunner, Stephen Moffat. It stars the lovable David Tennant as the Doctor and Freema Agyeman as Martha- his companion, but more on these roles later. Actually, the Doctor and Martha take up very little screen time and don't really drive the plot in any meaningful way. The entire episode plays with the ideas of cause-and-effect, quantum mechanics, our darkest childhood fears, and unseen horror in a way that no episode before could. In addition to being one of the best, this episode is also one of the lightest in terms of Doctor Who "mythology".


    Newbie rating: 1, watch with the family, friends, pets, everyone will have a great time.

  2. Midnight - Episode 10, Season 4 (New Who)

    Midnight also stars the charismatic David Tennant as the 10th Doctor (more on the numbering later!) with practically no mention of the companion. This will help to acquaint you with the Doctor's mannerisms, style, and charisma without exploring any larger arcs or character developments. Midnight is another "unseen terror" style episode that strikes at some of our inner-most fears: the fear of being replaced. This is the very definition of a "box episode" in that is a very stand-alone story and in that it takes place all inside of a tiny one room ship. Fear, jealousy, suspicion, ingenuity, and brilliance are all on display from the Doctor in this episode that will have you biting your nails until the very end. 


    Newbie rating: 3, you need to be aware that the doctor is a time traveling alien by this point

  3. The End of the World - Episode 2, Season 1

    The 9th Doctor (the numbers will be explained later, you're not ready!) took to Rose and they quickly became friends. In "End of the World" he takes Rose to see what no human will ever see: the end of our planet. This episode is important for something more, though. This is our first glimpse into exactly what the Doctor has been running from all these years. Rose is watching her planet burn, but the Doctor reveals that he has seen the same fate befall his own- but with much more significant fallout. How significant? Well you'll just have to wait and find out!


    Newbie Rating: 1, It's the second episode of the series!

  4. Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead - Episode 8 & 9, Season 4 (New Who)

    Let's begin to branch out just a little now and explore an  episode that includes a bit heavier contribution from a companion, Donna. Another David Tennant and Stephen Moffat episode and another unseen horror. This is starting to become a trend. This two-parter shows just how important a good companion can really be- both for us, the viewers, and for the imperiled characters in the story. "Silence/Forest" take place in an abandoned library that houses information for more important than books- and some things for more terrifying. This episode, and its mystery woman, also serves to clue the viewer in on just how deep some of the larger story arcs can run. Just who is this myster woman? "Spoilers, dear"


    Newbie rating: 3, Same as before, just remember he's a time traveler and they're not on Earth

  5. The Eleventh Hour - Episode 1, Season 5 (New Who)

    Okay, I think you're ready to get into some Doctor Who mythology. David Tennant is great as the Doctor, isn't he? Well he's not the only actor to portray the Doctor. He is one of only 13, in fact. Let's test the waters a little bit, moving from one charismatic lovable Doctor to another. Eleventh Hour is the first episode to feature Matt Smith in the titular role (as the eleventh Doctor) and the first for showrunner Stephen Moffat. In addition to being an exceptionally well-written episode, "Eleventh" was specifically intended to be a starting point for those new viewers who were not drawn into the series from the beginning. You will be introduced to things like regeneration, sonic screwdrivers, the Doctor's quirkiness, and a brief history of the Doctor himself. Oh, and don't worry why the episode starts with a crash- that's a question for another time. Hold on to your seat, though, because it's going to get weird from here on. 

    Newbie rating: 2, Time travel, you say? 

  6. Genesis of the Daleks - Episode 4, Season 12 (Classic Who)

    Oh Tom Baker, you'll always be the face of Doctor Who for so many viewers. If you know one thing about Doctor Who from pop culture, it's the TARDIS. If you know a second it's the Daleks. To really understand the Doctor's most infamous villain, we have to go back to the beginning, at least the beginning for the Daleks. "Genesis" deals with the construction of a master race of xenophobic murder machines. The Doctor has to face questions of genocide and whether murder, even if it murder of an evil being, is ever justified. This is an incredible episode that has ramifications throughout the entire history of Doctor Who, and a great way to introduce both Classic Who and the Daleks.


    Newbie Rating: 5, Not an episode you can jump right into. But you've learned enough by this point. I believe in you.

  7. The Waters of Mars - Episode 3, Winter Specials '09

    Why does the Doctor travel with a companion? What happens when he travels alone? These answers may not be evident to those not entirely familiar with the series. "Waters of Mars" sees the Doctor visit the first humans to colonize Mars. This episode is first to really explore how the Doctor can change when he is left alone with his thoughts. By this point, we know that he is a Time Lord, and the last of them at that. What does this mean, though? How much power does he really have over time itself? Is the Doctor really the "Time Lord Victorious" as he will claim? You'll have to watch and see. 


    Newbie Rating: 3, You'll need the context provided by the previous two episodes to really understand the weight of this story

  8. The End of Time - Christmas Special, 2009

    In this bohemouth of a two-parter, the Doctor faces perhaps his most significant challenge yet- stopping the end of the Universe. This episode delves deeper into Doctor Who mythos than every before, but I think with the 7 previous stories you will have no trouble following along. An alien psychic warns the Doctor that he will face his most fear compatriot- The Master. But is The Master acting alone? Or is he simply the herald of a far greater threat? What does the Doctor do when the biggest threat to life in the Universe is a Time Lord (or Lords)?


    Newbie Rating: 6, Returning villains and deep fallout from the Time War

  9. Day of the Doctor - 50th Anniversary Special

    So you're familiar with the Time War now? You understand that they cannot be allowed to re-enter our Univrse and bring their eternal war with them. But, why is the Doctor so afraid of the Time Lords? Who was the Doctor in the Time War? What did he do? Well, he was the man responsible for activating The Moment and destroying the entire armies of both Daleks and Time Lords, ending the war once and for all. His punishment? Living. Or at least that's how we thought it happened. Day of the Dr. explores just who the Doctor was and what he did in the war, with some help from a couple of friends. 


    Newbie Rating: 8, beginners had better stay clear

  10. Listen - Episode 4, Season 8 (New Who)

    Listen is a great episode to end with. By this point, you are familiar with the Time War. You've mastered just what makes the Doctor tick. Sometimes he forgets his past, sometimes he's ashamed of it. But always he is running from it. But, what truly scares him? What terrifies a man who has spent the last 2000 years trying to bring a little light to people's lives? Darkness. Listen is a great story about exactly what is hiding in the darkness. Something far scarier than monsters or ghouls. 


    Newbie Rating: 5, the story is great if it's your first episode or your 200th. But some loose ends tie up quite nicely if you've seen Day of the Doctor

I thank you all for reading this list of mine and I hope that you will consider watching Doctor Who. If the task had seemed to tough before, I hope that I was able to make it a little more bite-sized. Thank you all for reading, I'm off to watch some TV.


*All images copyright to the BBC and no infringement was intended. Educational purposes only. Please go watch their shows!