With less than a month to go until Doctor Who‘s big 50th Anniversary Special, the advertising and build-up to the big day has really kicked off. There was that ’50 years’ trailer which was shown after Atlantis a week ago, with another trailer – this one with footage of the special – and a rumoured mini-episode still to come.
All of this extra attention on the show could attract new fans who, overwhelmed with episodes, may be unsure of where to start watching, or even understand what it’s about. Well, basically it’s a sci-fi show about a time-travelling alien, and each episode could be set in any time, place or genre. You could start with the Ninth Doctor’s first episode, ‘Rose’, and go from there, but be prepared for some very inconsistent quality (in the first series there’s a really good World War 2 two-parter, but there’s also farting aliens. So…). Or you could start slightly later with the Eleventh Doctor’s first episode, ‘The Eleventh Hour’. You would catch up faster, and there’s a lot of good episodes there, but there’s also a long story arc involving one character which isn’t quite as good as it could have been.
There we go, done. Boom, sorted. Off you go.Have fun!
The rest of this blog post is for those who may have once been fans but gave up watching, having had enough of the increasingly, and rather unnecessarily, complicated storylines that made up much of Series 6. For those who watched the finale, in which all of time happened at once, with Winston Churchill riding on a mammoth, the leader of the Silence being quickly defeated somehow and River Song killing/marrying the doctor at the same time, though he’d actually faked his death, despite repeatedly being told that he really, actually, honestly, seriously was going to die, really this time, and oh for God’s sake.
After watching that, I can’t really blame people for throwing their hands up in the air and going ‘I give up! I quit! Fuck this show, no more!’ But it’s gotten better, honest. The overarching storyline has gotten simpler and, in Doctor Who logic, actually makes some sense. None of the episodes (though, of course, this is very subjective), have been awful, and a few come close to being classics. A lot of them have been fun, standalone adventures, instead of head-hurting, nonsensical, overstuffed crap like ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’*. And if you have been away from the show for a while and start watching the special, you might be a little confused.
*(For any Doctor Who newbies still reading this, yes, there really was an episode called ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’. And no, no they didn’t kill Hitler. I know, what a waste. And yes, that Winston Churchill on a mammoth thing really does happen, but don’t let that put you off. Also, why are you still reading this? There’s spoilers everywhere, go! Go!)
So, here’s a quick, spoiler-free summary of every episode in series seven. In all, there’s only about 5 or 6 episodes that you absolutely should watch. They aren’t necessarily the best ones, but they are the most story-heavy. The rest of the series is also a rather good, a fun mix of adventure, horror, noir, Victorian silliness and dinosaurs.
I’ll try to keep this short, but no promises, alright?
ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – MUST WATCH
Yes, the Daleks are back again, and this time the Doctor is surrounded by them, first in a sort-of Dalek Parliament, then in an insane asylum for Daleks who’ve gone a bit loopy. How will he escape? Why are Amy and Rory bickering so much? Who’s that girl in the red dress making soufflés? Is she important (hint: yes)?
DINOSAURS ON A SPACESHIP
There’s dinosaurs. On a spaceship. In space. To find out why, the Doctor’s brought along some friends from all over history, including an Egyptian Queen – it’s not just Amy and Rory this time. Also, Mitchell and Webb guest-star as sarcastic robots. As you might have guessed, this episode doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s really, really fun. Unlike ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, this ridiculous episode title delivers on its promise. Also, there’s dinosaurs.On a spaceship.
A TOWN CALLED MERCY
The Doctor visits the Wild West to find a town under threat from a gunslinger looking for justice. The gunslinger is also a robot, because this is Doctor Who, and his motivations may not be as sinister as everyone first thinks. A standard ‘Doctor must stop bad alien’ story turns into something a bit more complex and less morally black-and-white. It also has the cinematography and production values of a proper Western movie, despite the show having a reduced budget this season.
THE POWER OF THREE
Bear with me on this one, as the plot synopsis doesn’t sound that great. A bunch of cubes appear all over Earth. The Doctor appears to investigate, but is flummoxed when he can’t figure out what they do. So, he must wait on Earth with the Ponds, living life like a normal person, one day at a time, until the meaning of the cubes becomes clear. This is a slow episode. A budget-saving episode. There are some good bits in it, like the Doctor spending some quality time with the Ponds and Rory’s dad. However, so much of the episode is spent waiting and building up the mystery of the cubes that when they do do something and the Doctor must spring into action, there’s only about 5 minutes left, leading to a horribly rushed ending.
THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – MUST WATCH
The Doctor and the Ponds enjoy a holiday in New York. Rory walks off to get coffee in Central Park and suddenly finds himself in the 1930s, in a building full of those familiar foes, the Weeping Angels. In the present, the Doctor is reading a pulpy 1930s detective novel, when suddenly he reads Rory’s name. What follows is a twisty-turny, timey-wimey, spooky-scary horror-noir that shows how wonderful it can be when complicated, head-scratching storytelling is done right. A gripping, emotional farewell to Amy and Rory, with one moment that’s either utterly stupid or utterly brilliant depending on your reaction to it.
If you’re in a rush, you could skip this one, I suppose, as it’s unlikely that Amy and Rory will be mentioned at all in the 50th special, but it would be nice to find out how they left the show, wouldn’t it?
Hey, remember when I said a few paragraphs ago that I’d try to keep this short? Well, that failed, didn’t it? We’re not even halfway through series seven! Be sure to read part two, as we haven’t even seen the new companion and the real meat of the story yet.