The New Whovian’s Guide to Classic Who

No one ever knows what to do with Doctor Who. If you have never watched the show before but want to, you'll find yourself slapped in the face with hundreds, if not thousands of hours of content.

All of it is messily separated into classic episodes and the 2005 relaunch, minisodes, Christmas and anniversary specials, and radio plays. There's also an overwhelming number of books and audio books that sometimes don't even have anything to do with the show.

Even seasoned veterans sometimes struggle to find their way through these treacherous waters. So, if you struggle to know where to go, you are not the only one in this pickle.

First things first, though. If you are just getting into the show, you should know that starting with the classic episodes is not a great idea. Bright-eyed and enthusiastic would-be Whovians should always begin the journey with the 2005 relaunch (or NuWho).

Only those who are tried and tested and have survived the camp, cringe, and the charm of NuWho should take up the daunting task of binging the classic episodes. But that, of course, is just my personal opinion and you are free to approach the show as you wish.

Things to Keep in Mind

Classic Who is not NuWho. And I mean that in the best and wackiest ways possible. Classic Who features odd transitions, near-fickle genre changes, and bizarre and fantastic foes. If you are approaching the show with the exact expectations as you would a NuWho episode, don't.

The classic episodes existed before CGI and were produced on a strict BBC budget. This left little room for experimentation with visual effects. But they more than make up for it with, well, everything else.

If NuWho is experimental, Classic Who is rebellious. Nothing and no one is sacred. It takes brilliant liberties with genres and characters. It is also often not as politically correct as one would perhaps like.

But it is mesmerizing even in its eccentricities. While there are things you will have to forgive and forget, there's still a lot left to adore.

But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you must treat it all with immense reverence. After all, this is where the Doctor's long voyage began.

It is, as they say, OG — the Classic, the beginning of his journey across time and space. And one cannot but stand in awe of it.

So, Where Do You Even Start?

Unlike NuWho, Classic Who does not have a single recommended starting point. Made in an era before binge-watching existed, the seasons are divided into story arcs that each span several episodes.

So, you can start almost anywhere, depending on your preferences. Pick a Doctor, a monster, or a storyline you fancy, and you can just go from there.

There are, of course, recommended starting points, but it's all heavily subjective. That said, here are the ones I'd personally recommend:

Terror of the Zygons (Tom Baker. Season 13. Episodes 1–4)

We will begin with a usual suspect. Tom Baker, of course, is one of the more popular Doctors from the classic era. This story arc has some of the series' most iconic episodes, including “Genesis of the Daleks” and “Ark in Space.”

The arc follows Sarah Jane Smith, a companion extraordinaire, as she and the Doctor take up a mission assigned to them by the Time Lords. To top it off, they do it all without the help of our beloved and baffling blue box.

The Invasion (Patrick Troughton. Season 6. Episodes 11–18)

The Daleks may be hailed as the archnemesis of the Doctor, but it is the Cybermen who take the cake when it comes to sheer drama. And nothing is more dramatic than watching an army of newly upgraded Cybermen emerging in hordes from the sewers to launch their first invasion of London.

As if that wasn't enough, this 7-episodes-long story arc also features another menace, a villain whose eeriness tends to run a cold finger down your spine. Tobias Vaughan is a joy and a terror to witness even before the Cybermen are revealed in the latter half of the story arc.

Caves of Androzani (Peter Davison. Season 21. Episodes 17–20)

This story arc marks the beginning of the end of Peter Davison's Doctor. And it is a farewell that you do not want to miss. While the end of his run may seem like an odd point to start, it is also the moment one gets to witness Davison's Doctor in all his glory.

The story arc involves a thrilling tale full of corrupt officials, political intrigue, and cold-blooded arms dealers. However, it is also a story that reminds you of who the Doctor really is — a healer, guardian, martyr, and hero.

Arcs You Don't Want To Miss

Can't be bothered to watch it all? Well, I don't blame you. Consuming 550+ episodes worth of content is a challenging task. If you'd rather get a feel for the overall show without diving headfirst into the madness, here's a list of all the brilliant and momentous arcs you can watch:

An Unearthly Child

This is where it all began. Our first meeting with the unearthly, beautiful, maddening individual we fondly refer to as the Doctor. We also meet the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, in the first episode before the story launches into an adventure that takes us across space and time. Beyond the first episode, the magic tends to wear off a little, so if you want to skip the other three episodes, know that you won't miss out on much.

The Daleks

This series of episodes follows the first appearance of our favorite exterminators — the Daleks.

The Tenth Planet

These episodes follow the first appearance of the Cybermen. It also tells the tale of the Doctor's first regeneration. Unfortunately enough, most of the final episode is missing. Except for the part where you witness the Doctor regenerate for the first time. Coincidence? I think not!

The Curse of Peladon

A fan of stories of courage, loyalty, and rebellion in space? Well, you'll love this one. Doctor Who took a page straight out of Star Trek's books in this iconic storyline featuring aliens, space alliances, and political intrigue. This places the arc pretty high on my list of episodes to not miss.

The Three Doctors

The Tenth Anniversary Special records the beginning of a tradition. In this episode, Whovians worldwide witnessed the chaos and the sheer glory of having multiple incarnations of the Doctor interact on screen for the first time.

Planet of the Spiders

This one's iconic for one reason and one reason only — to properly introduce the audience to the concept of regeneration.

Genesis of the Daleks

The Time War, in all its mystery and madness, was first introduced in this series of episodes. That isn't all, though. These episodes also follow the “birth” of the Daleks and record the first on-screen appearance of their creator — Davros.

The Deadly Assassin

The Master returns in this classic series that is often hailed as one of the most critical Time Lord tales since their introduction to the show.

The Invisible Enemy

While people don't usually recommend this arc, I still suggest you not miss it, especially if you are as big a fan as I am of K9, the Doctor's loyal companion. Fans were introduced to the canine droid in season 2, episode 3 of NuWho, leaving many of us hungering for more. This is the arc that introduced him to us for the first time.

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