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Overnight Open Thread | Main | The Depression of 1920. [ArthurK]
June 28, 2011

The Only-The-Good-Episodes Guide To Doctor Who

Andy Levy and JohnnyE and other people were asking me about what the good episodes are.

So I guess I'll put together a guide for them -- which ones to watch, which to skip.

I haven't watched them all, but I've watched all the ones that were recommended to me, plus a bunch I just watched.

There are two types of episodes you have to watch for the show: the episodes that are really good, and the episodes that contain important mythology elements (character introductions, character send-offs, etc.) Sometimes these are even the same episodes.

I'm listing all the gotta-watch shows. Obviously, if you see one that interests you (like, you want to see the Doctor meet Shakespeare in The Shakespeare Code), obviously, watch that one.

So, if you want to give this show a try and be like TV's Andy Levy, try these episodes. All should be on Netflix right now.

Start: Out of order, just watch Season 3, episode 11, "Blink." This is a good episode to watch to just see if you have any interest at all in the show. It's a terrific introduction, because the Doctor is barely in it. I know this sounds odd, but basically you the viewer are put in the place of the main character, who's never heard of the Doctor or the TARDIS and who has never suspected the Earth is constantly being invaded by frightening aliens.

And it's got scary monsters, and a neat bit of time-parodox plotting.

Note the Doctor is actually a 900 year old alien who regenerates a new body when he dies (up to 12 times, they've said before, but I think they're going to change that "law"), so the actor you'll see in the beginning of the series is different than the actor in Blink. That actor, David Tenant, begins in season 2.

Also, here's some background about the Doctor you might want to know:

He is an extremely advanced-tech alien who is essentially "magic" in the Arthur C. Clarke meaning (any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic). He is a Time Lord, last of his race, as they were all killed in massive cross-time war called the Time War. They died fighting the Daleks, who look like robots but actually are little mutant bug/slug creatures inside those steel bodies. They are essentially Space Nazis, "exterminating" all inferior life, which is all other life (and sometimes themselves, too).

The TARDIS looks like a 1960s London Police Box because it has a chameleon circuit which changes its appearance to make it blend in with whatever time and place he's traveled to, but the circuit is broken, and seems to believe a 1960s London Police Box fits in everywhere. It is famously "bigger on the inside" than the outside -- telephone-booth sized on the outside, roomy spaceship on the inside.

He's got two major pieces of gear he always uses, a sonic screwdriver which opens locks and programs computers and other tech at a distance, and "psychic paper," a blank piece of white paper inside a credentials wallet that he can project his thoughts to to make it appear like whatever credentials he wants them to be.

He's at least slightly insane, but in the "kind eccentric" kind of way, but he frequently puts his companions into serious danger without seeming to give it a lot of thought.

He basically saves the entire universe three or four times a season.

The show is guns-are-bad stupid, but they claim it's because the Doctor fought in the Time War and killed literally millions so he's a bit dodgy about using any further lethal force. Generally he tries to outwit or trick opponents, or magic-up some super-high tech Deus Ex Machina, but every once in a while he kills people.

He usually gives people a "choice" before he kills them, between violence and peaceful coexistence, and even though he dresses this up as a "choice," it sounds more like an "ultimatum" or "threat." When someone doesn't make the right "choice" he kills them. (Every once in a while someone makes the right choice.)

It's basically aimed at kids but always has been sort of in-between in being silly enough for kids but scary enough for adults. Because it was perceived as so scary it was initially very controversial in England, as kids would have to hide their eyes for parts of it.

If you like "Blink" (and you probably will), start the series in order. I'm bolding the series numbers for particularly crucial episodes.

Season 1

Episode 1, "Rose," intro of the Doctor, the TARDIS, and Rose.

6, "Dalek," reintroducing the Daleks, the Doctor's all-time most famous and furious enemies.

7 "The Long Game," maybe, as it ties in with the season finale and has a guest star appearance from Simon Pegg, but honestly I skipped this one myself and didn't feel I missed anything.

8, "Father's Day," iimportant character development for Rose.

9-10 "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances," best episodes of the season, and pretty creepy stuff.

And he season finale, 12-13, "Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways."

Season 2.

1, "The Christmas Invasion," intro of the 10th Doctor, decent episode too.

Maybe 3, "Tooth and Nail," werewolves and Queen Victoria -- but not as good as it should have been.

Maybe 4 "School Reunion," a so-so episode with big guest appearance from former companion Sarah Jane Smith (RIP -- the actress just passed).

5, "The Girl In the Fireplace," best episode of the season.

6-7, "Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel," decent, reintroduces old foes the Cybermen, also hooks into later episodes.

8, "The Idiot's Lantern," fair-to-good, no mythology parts, so skip if you want to.

And the two part finale 13-14, "Army of Ghosts/Doomsday" -- always have to watch season finales, I think I remember this one being okay.

Season 3.

Okay, start with 1, "The Runaway Bride." It's pretty decent. I think it was a Christmas special between the two seasons.

Then 2, "Smith and Jones," good ep, introduces new companion Martha hubba-hubba Jones.

WHATEVER YOU DO SKIP 4, "GRIDLOCK," WORST EPISODE OF ENTIRE RUN. Edit: Some are insisting this is good. They also insist there's some mythology bits here you need to see. I don't agree. That sort of stuff is summed up in the introductory recaps before other episodes, and it's why God invented Wikipedia. One line about a vague prophecy doesn't justify, to me, watching 45 minutes of a bad episode. If you really want to see everything like that, fine, watch the whole series. But this post is specifically for people who want to sample but aren't wanting to commit to watching five or six seasons' worth of episodes.

5-6, "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks," okay episodes; Daleks must be watched on general principle.

9-10, "Human Nature/Family of Blood," pretty darned decent set of episodes about the Doctor deliberately lobotomizing himself so that he has no memory and cannot be found by hostile aliens, good creepy monsters.

11, "Blink," great episode, but you already watched it.

12, "Utopia," a so-so episode that needs to be watched as it reintroduces a villain important in the finale.

13-14, "The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords," season finale. I forget it if it's good. I know the villain's very watchable.

Season 4.

Generally regarded as a snoozer of a season.

1, "Voyage of the Damned." Good fun aboard a Titanic-themed spaceship which is... going to crash into the Earth. A standalone episode. Actually I think this was a special between the last season and this one.

Edit: Rethinking this, while I hate the premise of this episode and I think it's just silly, you have to watch Donna Noble's actual introduction as a companion. So watch episode 2, "Partners in Crime," for the character moments, and try to ignore how dumb-silly the monsters are here. The Doctor and Donna are fun together, at least.

4, "Planet of the Ood," just because the Ood are fun and I think there's a mythology foreshadowing here.

7, "The Doctor's Daughter." I just sort of like this one; it's like 3000 other sci-fi adventure shows before it, but with two twists I like a lot, plus, the return of Martha hubba-hubba Jones. Plus I can't skip every episode this season.

8, "The Unicorn and the Wasp," probably sounds good as the Doctor meets Agatha Christie, but I gotta warn ya: It's pretty dumb. Only for people who really want to see the Doctor match wits with Dame Agatha.

9-10 "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead," best episodes of the season, again by Steven Moffat, who cannot make an error on this show; also contain very important foreshadowing mythology and introduction of one River Song.

Maybe 11, "Midnight," one of those locked-room single-setting episodes they do to save money -- like, you know, how every action show must have that bank robbery/hostage situation episode. Talky, but people seem to like it, I guess for the group dynamics of fear and scapegoating and mob mentality. I thought it was okay.

Then the two part season finale 13-14, "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End." The earth is literally stolen. Gotta watch that.

Now, what happens at this point is that the regular season 4 ended, and David Tenant just made four "specials" through the next year. This is called season 4.5.

The first such special is actually listed as episode 15 at the end of season 4 -- "The Next Doctor" -- and is a very good episode. Just re-watched it the other night. One of the funnest episodes. Good villain, too.

The next special -- go to your Netflix queue, because you have to specifically find this stand-alone episode -- is "The Waters of Mars." Well-regarded. People seem to like it more than I do. I'm not sure I get why. But nothing wrong with it. Just average-to-good.

Another stand-alone one you'll search for is "Planet of the Dead," which is a lame episode, but I like the companion here. Not sure if I can recommend it just for that. This smells like a skip.

Finally comes the real season capper for David Tenant, another stand-alone you have to search for as a free-standing episode, "The End of Time Parts 1 and 2." With guest star Timothy Dalton, and others. Average to good, but must be watched, as this is the end of the line for the 10th Doctor.

Season 5: Steven Moffat now takes over the show as showrunner.

Episode 1, "The Eleventh Hour," introduces the new Doctor, and new (extremely popular) companion Amy Pond. The story is good, but Moffat cribs a bit from his previous writing (and does some more cribbing in later). Edit: removed an ill-considered saying-too-much-about-this-episode semi-spoiler.

2, "The Beast Below," is a fun, weird, creepy episode. I'm told it rips off a ST:TNG episode pretty bad, though.

3, "Victory of the Daleks" is an awesome Dalek epsiode. Guess who is about to deploy Daleks as part of his army? That's right -- Winston Churchill.

4-5, "Time of the Angles/Flesh and Stone" is a reprise for the Weeping Angels from "Blink." Good, but not nearly as good as Blink. Sort of straining a little. Includes important mythology clues, plus River Song.

Maybe 7, "Amy's Choice," is an oddball episode that sort of goes nowhere but is still worth your time. Or not. Definitely skippable.

10, "Vincent and the Doctor" has Vincent Van Gogh and is very good. Neat idea about Van Gogh's lunacy. Partly caused by (or the cause of) his ability to see invisible monsters that no one else, including the Doctor, can see.

11, "The Lodger." Good episode.

12-13, "The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang." The Season 5 finale, of course a must-watch.

Edit: There is another Christmas special which I'm not sure is available yet called "A Christmas Carol." It might be available as a standalone episode. If so, give it a watch. It's a cute re-spinning of the old Dickens story.

And that's it. At that point, you're up to the current season, which just ended, but the DVD's for it will be out in weeks. The new season is strongly-interlocked plot-wise and I don't even know where they're going with it yet (they stopped mid-season for hiatus) so I can't say any of them are skippable. I don't know yet.

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posted by Ace at 01:48 AM

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