I got the idea for this post from the article Introducing newbies to Doctor Who through online streaming at Kasterborous. I’ll admit I’ve often spent some time contemplating the very topic: which stories would I show to someone to turn them from a non-fan into a fan. Which stories would I show to a Whoob (Who-noob, geddit?) to get them hooked on Doctor Who?
Unfortunately I haven’t yet had the opportunity to put this scheme into practice, but here are thirteen stories—one for each Doctor—I’d show a non-fan to attempt to co-opt them into the fandom. These aren’t necessarily my favourite stories for each Doctor, but they’re the ones I think would most engage a non-fan with the franchise.
The Aztecs — Doctor Who has never done pure historicals quite right since the Hartnell era, and The Aztecs stands out as one of the exemplars of the genre. Apart from being an engaging story, it typifies the Hartnell era so perfectly. Hartnell himself is at his best, while the classical First Doctor companion team of Ian, Barbara and Susan are also a joy to watch. Much of Season 1 has aged exceptionally well, this one included, and remains a highly watchable and entertaining specimen of 1960s Who.
The Tomb of the Cybermen — One of the Cybermen’s greatest and most memorable outings. A lot of fans find this one overrated, and there’s the danger that a Whoob will, too, but if they can’t appreciate Tomb I don’t think we want them in the fandom anyway. I find Tomb a very thrilling as well as nuanced and well-constructed story. The scene in which the Cybermen break out of their ice-tombs, one of the most iconic in the show’s history, is as menacing a sight now as doubtless it was in 1967. The quiet little scenes between the Doctor and his companion, especially that beautiful moment between the Doctor and Victoria, are also really effective. In addition, Tomb features one of the greatest Doctor-companion teams of the Second Doctor and Jamie at their best. It’s also got some brilliant music.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs — I think this is one of the hidden, or at least underrated, gems from the Pertwee era. It’s definitely the story I’d choose to represent the Pertwee era for a Whoob, although I did equivocate between this and Inferno briefly. What’s not to like in Invasion of the Dinosaurs? The uninspiring title rather belies how original and well-written a story this is. It has time travel, mad scientists, political extremism, T. Rexes, a threat to the world, Sarah-Jane Smith and UNIT. The best of Pertwee Who. I can definitely see a Doctor Who initiate loving this.
The Robots of Death — There are a lot of superb stories to choose from to represent the Fourth Doctor’s era, but the best to show to a new viewer, I think, would be The Robots of Death. It’s a terrifying account of a ship’s service robots that turn violently against their masters. In this way it’s rather like I, Robot in space. It’s fast-paced, thrilling and absolutely oozes suspense. At the same time, it’s orthodox Doctor Who storytelling, albeit orthodox storytelling done wonderfully right, which, I think, would be more appealing to a first-time viewer. I chose this over more unorthodox stories from the Fourth Doctor era as something it is more accessible to a new viewer than something like City of Death or Pyramids of Mars.
The Caves of Androzani — I chose Caves with hesitance. There’s a risk involved in showing this one to a someone new to the series. Whovians adore Caves, but there’s the danger a new viewer will find it too inaccessible and confusing, especially if they haven’t got used to the multi-part format of Classic Who. Caves was the first Classic Who story I watched in full, and I’m afraid to say I went away somewhat underwhelmed. Nevertheless, I decided that this story should represent the Fifth Doctor’s era because, really, there’s no better (I mean that in a good way). Despite what I said above about steering clear of unorthodox storytelling, if a new viewer cannot at least appreciate Caves then perhaps Doctor Who is not for them. A new fan should be able to appreciate and enjoy the cerebral storytelling of Doctor Who as much as the orthodox and rompish.
The Two Doctors — There’s not much to choose from in the Sixth Doctor’s era, but luckily it produced one out-and-out classic, the hugely enjoyable romp of The Two Doctors. A new viewer might not pick up on some of the references to the Time Lords, but in spite of this I think they will easily appreciate this very fun and entertaining story. The Two Doctors also, importantly, features one unique and special aspect of Doctor Who as a franchise, which is the capacity to bring back past actors who’ve played the Doctor to reprise their old character, allowing the past and present selves of the Doctor to interact with themselves (himself?). It’s a novelty we Whovians never tire of.
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy — Perhaps not everyone’s first choice, but I have personal experience on my side to back me up. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was one of the first Classic Who stories I watched, and I recall being gripped from start to finish. It’s one of the more cerebral, quirky, experimental Doctor Who stories which nevertheless work really well and have great appeal to a first-time viewer. It’s not a complex plot at all, but there’s something about it that keeps even a viewer unacquainted with Doctor Who mesmerised. It’s a great representation, I think, of Doctor Who’s capacity for experimental and surreal storytelling, something Big Finish have taken up with gusto (if your Whoob ever gets that far).
The Chimes of Midnight — No, I do not condone forcing innocent unsuspecting Whoobs to watch the TV Movie. I may be cold but I do have a conscience. I kid of course. The TV Movie is not that bad, but I feel it’s not the best representation of the Eighth Doctor, so I’ve chosen the Big Finish audio classic, The Chimes of Midnight, instead. Doctor Who is not just a television show, it’s a whole multi-platform franchise, and there is a treasure trove of Doctor Who in audio that is as good as anything made for the television. I think, once your Whoob has reached the Eighth Doctor, it would be a good place to introduce them to the world of Big Finish, and what a better story with which to do so than the absolute masterpiece, Chimes? I’ve never had the pleasure of introducing new fans to Big Finish before, but I’ve heard of people’s wonderfully successful experiences in getting their friends to listen to Chimes as a way of introducing them to Doctor Who on audio. You can’t go wrong.
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances — The Empty Child two-parter is the best thing to come out of the Ninth Doctor’s solitary series, and arguably the best thing Steven Moffat has ever written. It’s simply a masterpiece, thrilling, skin-crawling, suspenseful and absolutely captivating. Watching this story at the age of 10 is one of my earliest and most vivid memories of Doctor Who—it was terrifying and rather scarred me as a kid, but I trust your Whoob is older than 10 and can appreciate how astonishingly well made and well written The Empty Child is without being scared off Doctor Who as I was.
Blink — What else than the universally-acclaimed classic, Blink, to represent the Tenth Doctor’s illustrious era. I realise that Blink is very much a Doctor-lite story, which, of course, is part of its genius, but I don’t think that matters as we’re not so much concerned with introducing the individual Doctors to new viewers as with introducing them to Doctor Who in general, using thirteen stories to represent each Doctor’s era. Blink introduces the revived series’s masterstroke of a new monster, the terrifying Weeping Angels, which are perfectly presented and featured in this episode. Blink makes perfect use of New Who’s standard 45-minute format, a superb exemplar of what New Who can do in a single episode time-frame. Sally Sparrow was a wonderful, endearing character, who, in this Doctor-lite episode, shows New Who’s capacity for quality characterisation and character drama.
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang — This is Steven Moffat with the safety wheels off, and it’s glorious. I think Pandorica is a brilliant example of the Moffat style as distinguished from the RTD style—it’s unlike any previous finale, revelling in the timey-wimey and clever, unexpected plot devices. It’s simply a walloping, profoundly entertaining romp, albeit a romp which indulges in the clever and the intelligent. Matt Smith is at his absolute best here; he truly shows off his abilities and his range, high points for Matt including the blood-pumping speech on Stonehenge as well as his heartfelt (coded) farewell to little Amy in her bedroom.
The Day of the Doctor — Surely this list would be incomplete without Doctor Who’s magnificent 50th anniversary special? The Day of the Doctor is supposed to represent the War Doctor, but it’s also just too good and too important not to include. The Tenth Doctor returns, along with a mysterious heretofore unseen incarnation of the Doctor. A Whoob might not understand the plot, including the references to the Time War, and, admittedly, this is overwhelmingly a great masquerade of fanwank rather than a feature that’s supposed to appeal to a general audience. It was the one time the producers were allowed to make something that appeals squarely to the fans. But I don’t think that matters by now, given how far your Whoob will have come. They should be so hooked on Doctor Who that they can enjoy The Day of the Doctor for what it is, or at least should be able to work out the Time War references from context.
Mummy on the Orient Express — In my opinion Mummy is easily the best story from Series 8 (and thus the Twelfth Doctor’s era). Like Blink, it makes perfect use of the forty-five minute format, an exceptionally constructed self-contained episode. It’s forty-five minutes of totally absorbing and thrilling viewing. Peter Capaldi, easily the best actor ever to play the role of the Doctor, is in positively blazing form in Mummy. There’s not much else to say other than that it’s a superb display of the talents of all involved, especially the writer, Jamie Mathieson, who is shaping up to be the next big thing in terms of Doctor Who writers.