Want to start watching Doctor Who but don’t know where to start? We’ve put together a complete viewing guide to help you understand the basic story, check out the best episodes, and follow the chronological order of all the series’ spinoffs.
Doctor Who is the longest-running science-fiction TV series in the world, launched by the BBC back in 1963. It was revived by Russell T. Davies in 2005, and has become a full-on global phenomenon with four spin-off shows (Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, K9, and Class) available online and in stores. This naturally means it can be quite daunting for new viewers, and that’s not even taking the classic series into consideration.
It’s pretty much impossible to have the “complete” Doctor Who experience, simply because there have been too many tie-ins in diverse mediums. Still, here’s our handy guide to help viewers figure out which episodes are a good barometer for whether or not someone will enjoy the series, where to find the show online (in addition to retail shelves), as well as a complete list of where the tie-ins and specials fit. It focuses purely on the modern series, since the copious amount of content in the classic era could be a little too much at this stage. We recommend that interested viewers follow our guide and then, if they’re up for it, go all the way back to the beginning of the franchise with Season 1, Episode 1: “An Unearthly Child” from 1963.
Where To Start with Doctor Who?
If a viewer is considering trying out Doctor Who, it’s probably not wise to start with the first episode of Russell T. Davies’ relaunch, “Rose” – which, while excellent, is generally considered not a prime example of the show at its best. As a result, we’ve selected four 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. This isn’t to say that these three episodes are the 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.
- “Blink” (season 3, episode 11) – A “Doctor-lite” episode, a standalone story centered around Sally Sparrow (played by a pre-fame Carey Mulligan) and her run-in with an alien threat that became one of the show’s greatest villains.
- “Midnight” (season 4, episode 10) – A “companion-lite” episode, with the Doctor stuck in the middle of nowhere and faced with a terrifying enemy who turns his greatest weapon against him.
- “Flatline” (season 8, episode 9) – With the Doctor trapped inside a shrunken TARDIS, his companion Clara discovers a new menace from another dimension.
- “Rosa” (season 11, episode 3) – A historical adventure in which the Doctor and her friends encounter Rosa Parks, and work to ensure the timeline is not changed to erase a key point in the civil rights movement.
Additionally, here are some beginner picks that former showrunner Steven Moffat and Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith gave:
- 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.
- City of Death (1979) – The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) are 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.
- 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?
- The Doctor Dances (Season 1, Episode 10) – The Child’s plague is spreading throughout 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…
- Blink (Season 3, Episode 11)
Doctor Who Viewing Tips & Notes
Doctor Who is a complicated show full of enough “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” stuff to make even a veteran Whovian’s head spin. For that reason, we’ve also put together a list of tips for watching the series that should help newcomers make sense of certain informational bits that might be confusing at first. We’ve also compiled notes that, first and foremost, stress the importance of Christmas episodes and other specials – as well as address a number of frequently asked logistical questions.
- Doctor Who? is the question, “the Doctor” is the name the character has chosen, and they are usually called “Doctor.”
- Doctor Who is always written as Doctor Who, never Dr. Who.
- The Doctor has a name but will only reveal it in special circumstances, to certain people (viewers do not know it).
- The Doctor is an ancient being who possesses the ability of regeneration into a new form. Originally the Doctor believed there were limits to the number of regenerations, but “The Timeless Children” (season 12, episode 10) has changed that.
- Regeneration can occur willingly or as the result of dire circumstances. Memories generally stay while personality quirks and traits change. However, the Doctor can learn traits from previous incarnations (i.e. not to be too serious).
- Accept that you’re not necessarily going to like any incarnation of the Doctor at first. You are also likely to initially hate every newly regenerated Doctor replacing the previous Doctor. However, they each grown on you with time.
- Similarly, be aware that you will likely not be happy with each new companion at first.
- Christmas Specials are part of the overall story – with lead-ins and cliffhangers to the previous and upcoming episodes/seasons.
- The “Season 2008–2012 Specials” are also essential to the overall Doctor Who story – linking the show’s fourth and fifth seasons.
- Doctor Who has a companion series called Doctor Who Confidential, which shows the making-of/behind-the-scenes of each and every episode. Doctor Who Confidential only aired in the UK but is available in the US as DVD and Blu-Ray releases. The BBC canceled Doctor Who Confidential following the season 6 finale.
- Doctor Who DVDs are expensive because they also include every episode of Doctor Who Confidential for the season, plus commentaries, video diaries & more.
- Every episode of Doctor Who (seasons 1 to 8) is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix (in the U.S.), and on BBC iPlayer (in the U.K.).
Our Favorite Doctor Who Episodes
We’ve already shared a few episodes that can whet your appetite for more Doctor Who but which of the Time Lord’s adventures are the overall best? We’d never be so bold as to put together a “best” episodes list – since there are plenty of high-quality installments in the series that appeal to viewers for different reasons. However, we’ve listed our personal favorites below for the sake of discussion.
- “The Pandorica Opens”https://screenrant.com/”The Big Bang”
- “Silence in the Library”https://screenrant.com/”Forest of the Dead”
- “Vincent and the Doctor”
- “The Girl in the Fireplace”
- “The Name of the Doctor”
- “The Time of the Doctor”
- “Human Nature”https://screenrant.com/”The Family Blood”
- “Father’s Day”
Honorable Mentions: “The Girl Who Waited,” “Time Crash,” “Stolen Earth,” “The End of Time,” and “The Day of the Doctor.”
The Complete Doctor Who Episode List
Bolded episode titles are used to highlight exceptional, not simply good, episodes in each season. We have supplied YouTube links to prequel minisodes and other media – where available. However, please note that broken links will be removed and, depending on availability, may not be replaced. That said, many prequel episodes and minisodes can still be found online – via a quick Google search.
Season 1 (2005)
The End of the World
The Unquiet Dead
Aliens of London (Part 1)
World War Three (Part 2)
The Long Game
The Empty Child (Part 1)
The Doctor Dances (Part 2)
Bad Wolf (Part 1)
The Parting of the Ways (Part 2)
Born Again [Children in Need Short] [YouTube Link]
The Christmas Invasion [2005 Christmas Special]
Season 2 (2006)
(Tardisode prequel shorts were made for each episode in season 2)
Tooth and Claw
The Girl in the Fireplace
Rise of the Cybermen (Part 1)
The Age of Steel (Part 2)
The Idiot’s Lantern
The Impossible Planet (Part1)
The Satan Pit (Part 2)
Love & Monsters
Army of Ghosts (Part 1)
Doomsday (Part 2)
Torchwood Spin-off Begins (2 Seasons; 2 Miniseries)
The Runaway Bride [2006 Christmas Special]
Season 3 (2007)
The Sarah Jane Adventures Spin-off Begins [Children’s Show] (5 Seasons)
Smith and Jones
The Shakespeare Code
Daleks in Manhattan (Part 1)
Evolution of the Daleks (Part 2)
The Lazarus Experiment
Human Nature (Part 1)
The Family of Blood (Part 2)
Blink [Read the original short story HERE]
Torchwood Season 1 Finale: (No Doctor but the episode leads into Utopia).
Utopia (Part 1)
The Sound of Drums (Part 2)
Last of the Time Lords (Part 3)
The Infinite Quest [Animated Episode]
Time Crash [Children in Need Short] [YouTube Link]
Voyage of the Damned [2007 Christmas Special]
Season 4 (2008)
Partners in Crime
The Fires of Pompeii
Planet of the Ood
The Sontaran Stratagem (Part 1)
The Poison Sky (Part 2)
The Doctor’s Daughter
The Unicorn and the Wasp
Silence in the Library (Part 1)
Forest of the Dead (Part 2)
The Stolen Earth (Part 1) [Torchwood Appearance]
Journey’s End (Part 2) [Torchwood Appearance]
Season 4 Specials (2008-10)
(Season 4 specials are typically found solely by title on online streaming services, not necessarily as part of season 4 itself)
The Next Doctor [2008 Christmas Special]
Planet of the Dead [Easter Special]
Dreamland [Animated Episode]
K-9 Spin-off Begins [Children’s Show] (1 Season)
The Water of Mars [Autumn Special]
The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (Part 1 and 2) [The Doctor on The Sarah Jane Adventures]
Torchwood: Children of Earth (No Doctor but the episode’s aftermath is referenced in “The End of Time: Part 2”)
The End of Time (Part 1) [2009 Christmas Special]
The End of Time (Part 2) [New Year’s Special]
Season 5 (2010)
The Eleventh Hour
Meanwhile in the TARDIS Minisode 1 [Available on Season 5 DVD]
The Beast Below
Victory of the Daleks
The Time of Angels (Part 1)
Flesh and Stone (Part 2)
Meanwhile in the TARDIS Minisode 2 [Available on Season 5 DVD]
The Vampires of Venice
The Hungry Earth (Part 1)
Cold Blood (Part 2)
Vincent and the Doctor
The Pandorica Opens (Part 1)
The Big Bang (Part 2)
A Christmas Carol [ 2010 Christmas Special]
Season 6 (2011)
The Impossible Astronaut (Part 1) [Prequel Minisode YouTube Link]
Day of the Moon (Part 2)
The Curse of the Black Spot [Prequel Minisode YouTube Link]
The Doctor’s Wife
The Rebel Flesh (Part 1)
The Almost People (Part 2)
A Good Man Goes to War (Part 1)
Let’s Kill Hitler (Part 2) [Prequel Short YouTube Link]
The Girl Who Waited
The God Complex
The Wedding of River Song [Prequel Short YouTube Link]
Death is the Only Answer [Doctor Who Confidential Short] [YouTube Link]
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe [2011 Christmas Special] [Prequel Short YouTube Link]
Good as Gold [Blue Peter Short] [YouTube Link]
Night and the Doctor [DVD Minisodes]: Due to wobbly wobbly timey wimey stuff these minisodes cannot be placed exactly in the episodic timeline but are best watched at the end of season 6.
Bad Night [YouTube Link]
Good Night [YouTube Link]
First Night [YouTube Link]
Last Night [YouTube Link]
Up All Night [Daily Motion Link]
Season 7 (2012)
Asylum of the Daleks [Prequel Short Amazon Link]
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
A Town Called Mercy
The Power of Three
The Inforarium Minisode [Available on Season 7 DVD]
The Angels Take Manhattan
P.S. [Season 7 Mid-Season Finale Deleted Scene] [YouTube Link]
Season 7.5 (2013)
The Bells of Saint John [Prequel Short YouTube Link]
The Rings of Akhaten
Clara and the TARDIS Minisode [Available on Season 7 DVD]
Rain Gods Minisode [Available on Season 7 DVD]
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Crimson Horror
Nightmare in Silver
The Night of the Doctor [50th Anniversary Prequel Minisode] [YouTube Link]
The Last Day [50th Anniversary Prequel Minisode] [YouTube Link]
The Day of the Doctor [50th Anniversary Special]
The Time of the Doctor [2013 Christmas Special]
Season 8 (2014)
Into The Dalek
Robot Of Sherwood
Kill The Moon
Mummy On The Orient Express
In The Forest Of The Night
Death In Heaven
Last Christmas [2014 Christmas Special]
Season 9 (2015)
Season 9 Prologue Minisode: [YouTube Link]
The Magician’s Apprentice Prequel: The Doctor’s Meditation [Daily Motion Link]
The Magician’s Apprentice (Part 1)
The Witch’s Familiar (Part 2)
Under the Lake (Part 1)
Before the Flood (Part 2)
The Girl Who Died (Part 1)
The Woman Who Lived (Part 2)
The Zygon Invasion (Part 1)
The Zygon Inversion (Part 2)
Sleep No More
Face the Raven
Heaven Sent (Part 1)
Hell Bent (Part 2)
The Husbands of River Song [2015 Christmas Special]
Class Spin-off Begins (1 season)
Looking for Pudsey [Children in Need Minisode Cameo] [YouTube]
The Return of Doctor Mysterio [2016 Christmas Special]
Season 10 (2017)
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land
The Empress of Mars
The Eaters of Light
World Enough and Time
The Doctor Falls
Twice Upon a Time [2017 Christmas Special]
Season 11 (2018)
The Woman Who Fell To Earth
The Ghost Monument
Arachnids in the U.K.
The Tsurunga Conundrum
Demons of the Punjab
It Takes You Away
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
Resolution [2019 Holiday Special]
Season 12 (2020)
Spyfall, Part 1
Spyfall, Part 2
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
Fugitive of the Judoon
Can You Hear Me?
The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Ascension of the Cybermen
The Timeless Children
Revolution of the Daleks
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos [2021Holiday Special]
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