We recently noticed, that there are a slew of online articles. In relation, to how to approach watching the original series of Doctor Who (1963-89), as a newbie. Especially, if coming from the post-2005 series.
Some of these, turn the back-catalogue into a byte-sized approach. Featuring, 1-or-2 adventures; from each Doctor. The issue with this, though – is that it condenses the rich back-story a little too much.
Others, give recommend watching from a specific episode; which is the first to feature direct origin/character background on the Doctor. The issue with this approach, though – is that it skips the Hartnell era and much of the Troughton era (it wasn’t until the end of the Trougton era, that the Time Lords were first brought in!).
Some advocate watching as many old episodes – as possible, in the original intended running order. Again, problematic for some, as the show’s painfully slow pacing and over-reliance on dialogue driven drama is a world-away from the 1 epi/story, MTV flash-cut driven, new series.
Bearing all of this in mind – and the fact that everyone coming to the old series, from new; want different things out of Old Who.
Here is our guide – to watching old Who, from a few different approaches :
1) Watch the whole series from start-to-finish.
You take in the whole rich backstory and see the progression and evolution of the character/show from the very beginning.
It could take you a while and many of the early episodes are missing. Nb. You can get brilliant fanmade audio recreations, with screencaps (check out Dailymotion for more details) and the few bits of actual footage which do still exist. However, some will find these boring to sit through. Here is one recreated example, Hartnell’s excellent The Dalek’s Masterplan.
For a guide to all of the episodes, check out our full original episodes section, here.
2) Watch everything from a certain point in the show, when the Doctor’s backstory and origin began to be fleshed out.
The covers a period from when there are no more missing episodes. It won’t take aslong.
Misses out the whole Hartnell era and much of the Troughton era.
This would be Second Doctor’s final adventure; The War Games – onwards, when the Time Lords were finally named and revealed.
See our original episodes section, for more on episodes.
3) Watch a small number of recommended episodes – of each Doctor, to get a flavour.
The byte-sized approach to the back catalogue. It won’t take as long.
You’ll miss out on some really great episodes and the progression and the development aspects.
The quick fix, maybe even useful as a tip-off point to introduce the catalogue. Here are our recommends.
Old Who ratings system explained here.
The First Doctor
For the first Doctor, we wanted to avoid the long period romps and the sci-fi pot-boilers of the first 2 seasons and concentrate on specifics. With some later classic episodes missing, it reduced the available choice – somewhat.
The Edge Of Destruction is an unsettling and short 2-parter, which defines the relationship between the Doctor, Susan and their human captives; Ian and Barbara. Much better, than the unfocused; An Unearthly Child.
Of course, Hartnell versus the Daleks had to be in here. The Daleks were chiefly responsible, in making the early show a hit.
Out of the 3 x Hartnell/Dalek adventures; The Dalek Invasion Of Earth best captures the Doctor’s battle against his mortal enemy, in a pacy and exciting manner. Set against a backdrop of swinging London and proper on-location footage.
The Daleks is another classic but spends much of it’s running time on long unpaced dialogue scenes and The Dalek’s Masterplan is another 10-part epic but is sadly – mostly missing.
The Time Meddler 🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
This is the Doctor’s first meeting with a fellow Time Lord (although the term is never used and the backstory is not touched on). The Meddler forms an early nod to a “Master-style” character and is brilliantly played by Carry-On starlwart; Peter Butterworth. There is much humour between Butterworth and Hartnell.
The Tenth Planet⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The First Doctor’s final story and first altercation with the Cybermen. Is a touching end, to an older and weary First Doctor’s reign and we witness – the first of many regenerations.
The Second Doctor
For the Second Doctor, we wanted to pick the best of the many Troughton monster showcases; which permeated the Troughton years. Unfortunately, with so many classic episodes missing. We tried to select these from the remaining available.
The Tomb of the Cybermen ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
In a difficult toss-up, between 2 excellent Troughton/Cybermen-adventures; The Moonbase and The Tomb Of The Cybermen. We plumped for The Tomb Of The Cybermen. Simply because it is a complete Troughton adventure and Moonbase is sadly incomplete.
The Tomb Of The Cybermen showcases Second Doctor – Partick Troughton’s humour, ingenuity and ability to think on his feet, as he is attacked by hordes of waking Cybermen.
The Web of Fear⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Web of Fear marked the Troughton Doctor’s second and highly memorable altercation with the Yeti. It also marked the first apperance of future UNIT Brigadier; Lethbridge-Stewart.
Part 3 is sadly missing but The Web of Fear is such a good episode, it is presented here anyway; as the only incomplete adventure featured.
The War Games⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Second Doctor’s final turn, gives Troughton the chance to mount a spirited court defence against; The Time Lords – who are finally named and shown for the first time.
The Third Doctor
For the Third Doctor, we were blessed with the amount of quality adventures. It was a tough choice to whittle down the Pertwee years. Especially as 1 of the spots had to be filled with The Three Doctors anniversary special. We needed a “Doctor-v-Master” episode in there, so we plumped for The Sea Devils.
Spearhead from Space⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The newly regenerated Third Doctor bounces back, in full Technocolour. To fight a deadly alien plastic, in an action packed opener.
The Sea Devils⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The best of the “Doctor versus the Master” stories, from the early Pertwee years. Watch out for the duo sword-fencing and the sea-exit of the Sea Devils, in an action-packed nautical tale.
The Three Doctors⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Third Doctor teams up with his 2 former selves – in this anniversary special; to prevent a dangerous ex-Time Lord. Much fun is had, in the interplay between Third and Second Doctors.
The Fourth Doctor
For the Fourth Doctor, we had too many episodes to choose from. Nearly all of the first 3 Baker years, are classics in their own right – we chose 4 adventures from these.
It was tough trying to whittle away some classics, until we were left with a byte-size showcase of Tom Baker’s best. In the end, we couldn’t get below 7.
The Ark in Space⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Tom Baker stamps his authority all over the role, in only his second full appearance; in this creepy Alien-style tale of humans under siege, by giant egg-laying insects.
The Fourth Doctor debates whether to kill his mortal enemy – for good; in a clever Dalek prologue, in Genesis Of The Daleks. We also meet their twisted creator; Davros.
Pyramids of Mars⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Fourth Doctor resolutely battles an exiled Egyptian god and takes part in the Games Of The Gods – on planet Mars, in an ode to Hammer Horror; in the Pyramids of Mars.
The Brain of Morbius⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Another Hammer Horror/Frankenstein tale. Tom Baker is in fine form here, as he tackles the Sisterhood, the brilliantly deranged Doctor Solon and his pieced together creation – the exiled Time Lord criminal; Morbius.
Horror of Fang Rock⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Fourth Doctor mounts a desperate stand,against a shape-changing alien, in a lonely lighthouse. In the claustrophobic, and effective shocker; The Horror of Fang Rock.
City of Death⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Fourth Doctor takes in the sights and sounds of Paris, whilt trying to prevent the theft of the Mona Lisa by an alien, in this humourous Euro-heist caper.
The Fourth Doctor begins to feel his own generational weariness, in a cross-dimensional and hauntingly staged tale of decay and entropy.
The Fifth Doctor
With quality seriously lacking in the Davison era. There are few highlights on offer. What there was, is covered below.
The Fifth Doctor finally nails his more humanistic approach, in this Cyberman-invasion tale; set against the backdrop of a threatened pre-historic Earth.
A full catalogue of anniversary highlights of the first 20 years.
The Fifth Doctor spectacularly bows out, after locking horns with the enigmatic warlord; Sharaz Jek.
The Sixth Doctor
The Sixth Doctor era was a strange time for the programme. The show was in flux and undergoing a radical transition from previous eras. As a result, of this bold attempt to move the show on. The Sixth Doctor era did showcase a few rough gems – amongst a sea of mediocrity.
The Two Doctors⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The arrogant Sixth Doctor finally finds his feet with help from his Second incarnation.
Revelation of the Daleks 🔵🔵🔵🔘⚪
The Sixth Doctor’s era reaches a pinnacle of uber-violence and gore, as he battles the Daleks and goes head-to-head with Davros.
The best of the Trial Of A Timelord story arc, sees the Sixth Doctor recounting an old adventure whilst being tried in court for meddling in other races affairs.
The Seventh Doctor
The Seventh Doctor era was the last in the main series. This Doctor, was almost the renaissance man, undergoing a character change around season 25 intended to take the show forward into the 90’s. It didn’t unfortunately save the show from the axe.
It was however, the well thoughout 25th anniversary season; from where the majority of the Seventh Doctor’s best episodes, stemmed from.
The Seventh Doctor finally reveals his true darker nature as he wields a mythical and feared Time Lord weapon against the Daleks.
The Seventh Doctor takes part ina race to the prize against the Cybermen and the Fourth Reich, to recover a powerful crashed meteorite.
The Curse of Fenric⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Seventh Doctor faced an ancient evil and companion Ace is given a full backstory treatment, aet against the backdrop of WWII.
The Eighth Doctor
The Eighth Doctor era only spawned one adventure and it was not a classic, having been reinvented to sell an American TV series. It did, however – introduce a promising new incarnation of the Doctor.
Not a classic by any means but as the only official Eighth Doctor TV adventure, it gives an insight into the new incarnation.