❉ Jim Sangster is your guide to watching every episode of Doctor Who in order.
Though Doctor Who came off the air in 1989, it refused to die completely. Firstly, there’s the 1993 charity two-parter Dimensions in Time. It’s a reunion episode with lots of Doctors and companions, all played out on the set of EastEnders. Now, for various reasons, the continuity just doesn’t fit with what happened in EastEnders and plenty of folk will also insist that this “doesn’t count” within Doctor Who either. But for the other 99% of the viewing audience, this was what Doctor Who always looked like and they didn’t really see any difference.
In 1996, we witnessed an attempt to reboot Doctor Who as a glossy TV movie, co-produced with an American company. At the time, and for many years after, some gatekeepers would tell you that it too “didn’t count” – but it did and this should definitely be on your list.
Finally, in 1999 there was a four-part mini-story again made for charity, The Curse of Fatal Death. There was no pretence that this was “real” and even its writer was at pains to point out that it “didn’t count”, but it introduced five – FIVE – brand new alternative Doctors, a hilarious new Master, one of the best companions-that-never was and a slew of rather good jokes. It also gave us TV’s first ever Doctor Who story to carry the words “By Steven Moffat” on the opening titles.
By the early 2000s, when it looked like Doctor Who would never come back to TV, the BBC’s online team devised a brilliant new way of continuing the Doctor’s adventures win an animated serial called Scream of the Shalka. Sadly, just as it was about to be unveiled, Russell T Davies announced that Doctor Who was coming back to TV after all, so this became quietly forgotten. Should you choose to hunt it down, it was commercially released on DVD and contains many elements that would be carried over to the future TV series.
So by now, you should be ready to make a start with the big 2005 Doctor Who reboot as you line up Rose. This is a much easier proposition and if you’re frightened or put off by the huge back-history of the show, there’s no shame in starting a mini-pilgrimage here. Most stories tend to be either stand-alone single episodes or two-parters, but a few seasons like to mess with your mind as to what actually constitutes a story, so it’s up to you whether you want to ration yourself to one episode per day or to binge through entire adventures.
From now on, there are no missing episodes and everything is available in modern 16:9-o-vision, but there are plenty of episodes you might still have missed out on. Bridging the gap between the end of Series One and the first Christmas Special is a little mini-episode made for Children in Need featuring just the Doctor and his companion reacting to the events of the previous series. For Series Two, BBC Online produced 13 very short “TARDISodes” for viewing on mobile phones. As such, they’re low-resolution but you should be able to find these on YouTube, though they really are just teasers for the main episode. Another charity episode, Time Crash, popped up between Series Three and Four, boasting two Doctors.
Be warned, watching all of the mini-episodes from the modern era can fill an entire night’s viewing. While most of these are fairly inconsequential, there are three that are fairly essential viewing: Pond Life, which preceded 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks; Demon’s Run Two Days Later, which was released before the 2012 Christmas special to explain the surprising fate of a minor character from series six; and Night of the Doctor, a punch-the-air-brilliant mini-epic released in the run-up to the 50th anniversary special, which you should try hard to avoid knowing anything about in advance!
By the point, you might be settling down to watch the episodes on Netflix. Be warned, these are often cut-down versions to fit a 45-minute timeslot (even if the broadcast versions were longer) and from Series Six onwards they feature an odd “Previously on” pre-titles sequence that was not part of the original broadcast. Also, some of the Christmas episodes are missing from their available lists. The episodes might still be available on iPlayer in the UK, or on Britbox internationally, so that might be a better option if you don’t have the DVD or bluray box sets to hand. Additionally, there are lots more mini-episodes that popped up from Series Five onwards; some were launched on the BBC website before finding their way onto DVD and bluray, while the series box sets often contained additional mini-episodes per series.
VIEWING NOTE #1
Here we find our biggest batch of supplemental material. Firstly, CBBC produced two series of animated episodes starring David Tennant’s Doctor – The Infinite Quest and Dreamland – which you can add if you wish, even if they (altogether now) “don’t count” towards the official list. From Season Two onwards, you might have also followed two spin-off shows, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. While Torchwood starred a member of the regular cast from Series One, there was actually very little cross-over into the parent series, but The Sarah Jane Adventures featured four episodes that starred the Doctor. Neither of these should count towards your official pilgrimage either, but it might help to watch a few episodes from each if only so that you recognise a few characters who pop up in the final story of Series Four.
One episode a day of modern Who will see you complete your pilgrimage in just under 21 weeks, though you’ll probably find yourself bingeing through way quicker than that. But even if you include all the supplemental material, you could easily pace yourself and still have the entire extended pilgrimage from 1963 to the present day completed within 18 months. Ta-dah!
And as you’re sitting back feeling relieved and self-satisfied, some inconsiderate swine will mention that there were loads of fan-made spin-off videos in the 1990s featuring Autons, Sontarans and erstwhile UNIT solders. There were also two long-running ranges of original novels, three BBC Radio serials plus the entire audio drama output of Big Finish, incorporating new adventures for all the old-series Doctors, an entire unseen history of the Paul McGann incarnation, box sets starring David Tennant and his companions, plus lots of “lost” and “what if” stories too. Your journey’s only just beginning after all!
❉ From 2020, Britbox will carry all surviving episodes of Doctor Who, and other streaming services such as HBO Max will stream the modern era.
❉ Jim Sangster is an author, TV historian and regular contributor to Doctor Who magazine. He’s also been a talking head on numerous documentaries, including contributions to the Doctor Who DVD range. He lives alone, surrounded by Daleks.