Watching Doctor Who For The First Time? Here's 5 Things To Know First

Doctor Who Thirteen and her companions

A series as iconic and historic as Doctor Who can be intimidating to anyone who’s looking to start the journey on their own terms. With almost 60 years of history, and an episode list that spans several actors playing the role of The Doctor, one needs to take the correct approach when trying to get into the world of this time traveling hero.

So, in the name of easing your efforts to get into the Doctor Who fandom, we here at CinemaBlend would like to give you a guide to five things you need to know before starting the BBC’s landmark sci-fi series. While you’ll learn all of these things as you watch the series, and with greater detail, this is the basic bedrock of the Whovian fandom.

There’s never a bad time to start learning about Doctor Who, so let’s get underway and build the foundation for what could be your next, major fandom.

Doctor Who The Thirteenth Doctor and The Tardis

Who Is The Doctor In Doctor Who?

In the storied race of humanoid aliens known as the Time Lords, The Doctor is the odd person out. With their species more focused on politics and war, as well as a strict policy of non-interventional time travel, our hero is someone who doesn’t so much want responsibility, but rather enjoys keeping order in their own chaotic way. They could have been president of Gallifrey, but instead, The Doctor likes to hang around with (mostly) humans, going where they're needed the most, when they're needed the most.

The Doctor In A Nutshell

The Doctor, Doctor Who’s central protagonist, is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Traveling in a vehicle known as the Tardis (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), The Doctor can travel to almost any place at any time, in the name of preserving the proper timeline of universal events. With a wide breadth of universal knowledge, and a vehicle that's "bigger on the inside", you can count on The Doctor to almost always know how to save the day.

Their Many Regenerations

When a Time Lord is on the verge of death, they can cheat the Reaper with a trick built into their biology. Known as a Regeneration, The Doctor can channel an extremely dangerous surge of energy that rewrites their biology, changing their appearance. Which, of course, is the explanation for how, over the decades of Doctor Who history, new actors have taken on the mantle of being The Doctor.

Doctor Who The Thirteenth Doctor and her current companions examine evidence

What Is A Companion On Doctor Who?

Traveling through time can get lonely in the best case scenario, and downright corrupting in the worst. (The best example of that latter example can be seen in the Tenth Doctor special, "The Waters of Mars.") Which means that if The Doctor is going to be an effective crusader for a more peaceful universe, they’re going to need a Companion along for the ride.

The Concept Of A Companion

Acting as a force of balance for The Doctor’s fantastic abilities and access to all of time and space, Companions help ground Doctor Who’s central hero. Offering a window of normalcy and mortality to the nigh immortal Time Lord, the Companions also act as friends and confidants to The Doctor, and vice versa. Though in some special cases, the Companions The Doctor travels around with turn out to be more important to their own life path than others.

Companions Can Cycle Out At Irregular Intervals

While Companions can come from various races, planets, and species, their life spans almost always are dwarfed by The Doctor. As such, these friends of Gallifrey’s rogue hero tend to come and go at irregularly paced intervals, leaving The Doctor on the search for new friends from time to time. Though, in some cases, they manage to make their way through an adventure without a stable Companion, taking someone local along for the ride. Much like the concept of Regenerations, the departure of Companions can sometimes be bittersweet, and other times downright devastating.

Doctor Who The Master in their various forms

Who Are The Most Infamous Villains On Doctor Who?

Every hero needs a villain, and Doctor Who certainly has a deep roster of adversaries that The Doctor has faced off against. But out of those various baddies, there are a couple that are more infamous than others, as they’ve provided the most difficult challenges for The Doctor. This isn't nearly the entire rogue's gallery of Doctor Who villains, but these three are the most important.

The Daleks And The Cybermen

Genocidal alien races that want to make the world in their own image, the Daleks and Cybermen are classic Doctor Who villains that have continued to be a pain in the Tardis for The Doctor. As Daleks want to exterminate any life they see as inferior, while Cybermen want to convert those who are different to their cyborg biology, they are the basic antithesis of The Doctor’s personal philosophy. Which leaves room for the ultimate villain in the Doctor Who canon.

The Master

As if Daleks and Cybermen weren’t enough of a pain, The Doctor has their own version of Moriarty to go along with their Sherlock Holmes: The Master! Another rogue Time Lord, The Master uses their abilities in the name of chaos and evil, goading The Doctor into several conflicts over the course of Doctor Who history. No one knows how to hurt The Doctor better than The Master, no matter their form or alias at the time. Many have argued what their exact relationship may be, and the canon has given many valid explanations. But all you really need to know is that The Doctor and The Master are the Batman and Joker of the Doctor Who history.

Doctor Who The First Doctor and The Ninth Doctor side by side

Watching Doctor Who: Where To Start

With all of the background you’d need to start watching Doctor Who, now’s a good time to learn about where you should start your studies in Time Lord history! And, luckily, there’s two different paths you can take, depending on how much time you’re looking to invest. Of course, this is where any good guide will warn you, there's bound to be obstacles that will prevent a truly complete picture.

The Classic Series (1st Doctor)

If you’re looking to get yourself a total education in all things Doctor Who, you’ll want to start at the very beginning. The original series debuted in 1963. William Hartnell’s First Doctor, debuting in the series’ first episode “An Unearthly Child”, is the point you need to start at if you’re going to take the full journey. Though it should be noted, pieces of the first two Doctor’s canon have gone missing to the sands of time.

The Modern Series (9th Doctor)

Should you be looking for a way to get into Doctor Who that doesn’t involve inconsistent sources, additional subscriptions, or the odd physical media rental/purchase, you’re going to want to start with the modern run of the series, which originally began airing in 2005. Beginning with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, you can learn the basics of the series, as well as some key points of past history as the resurge.

Doctor Who The First 12 Doctors lined up in the stars

Where To Watch Doctor Who

And now, the question that must be asked, as well as answered, in order to help you work your way into the Doctor Who universe: where do you watch the series? Well, depending on the path you choose, there are varying options. Again, depending on where you want to start, and how deep you want to go, you're going to have to do a lot of planning.

The Classic Series

The first seven Doctors can be found throughout several sources. You can search out these episodes through physical media purchases, or rentals if you’re lucky enough to have a source that provides them. (And physical media is almost certainly the only way to watch the Eighth Doctor’s TV movie event.) But if you’re a streamer, subscription service BritBox and free streaming service Pluto TV both offer the bulk of The Doctor’s classic adventures as well.

The Modern Series

Needless to say, it’s much easier to watch Doctor Who’s modern era, as it’s more readily available. Physical media/box sets are available to provide you with the entire modern run of The Doctor, as well as digital rentals/purchases on Amazon. But as soon as HBO Max launches, it’ll be the streaming home for the modern Doctor Who series, with the first eleven seasons available upon launch.

All of time and space are at your fingertips, with your future in the Whovian fandom almost assured. No matter which method you choose, or when you choose to start, you’ll be ready to tackle Doctor Who with ease grace with these basic facts. Which is all the better, considering this most recent incarnation of The Doctor, played by Jodie Whitaker, has been an interesting run to follow for fans old and new.

It looks like you'll have plenty of time too, as the next season of Doctor Who looks like it'll be delayed, due to current events. But when the good Doctor returns to do battle with whatever or whomever stands in the way of themselves and their Companions, you'll be able to catch it on BBC, BBC America, or whomever provides Doctor Who in your territorial TV market.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.