In the months before I moved to London back in June 2014, one of my favourite ways of keeping my excitement in check was researching my new home. By far my favourite field of study was catching up on UK pop culture, which basically meant that I spent six months sitting down to watch any British movie or TV series I could get my hands on.
It was around this time that, to my great surprise, I found myself falling head over heels for a show I’ve since come to understand is less a form of entertainment and more of an institution here in Blighty, namely, Doctor Who.
For those of you who have never considered watching Doctor Who, you’re probably picturing men in scarves spouting technobabble whilst being chased by people in rubber monster suits. Basically, something with pretty limited appeal outside of the geek niche.
But Doctor Who is much more than that, as its huge popularity in the UK and abroad can attest to. Fans of the series will be quick to point out the quality of writing across the vast majority of episodes since its relaunch in 2005, and the top notch performances by both up and coming and veteran British acting talent.
They’ll also probably mention the improved production values and increasingly cinematic feel of the camera work, as well as the always excellent scoring (it has easily one of my all-time favourite soundtracks). In short, there’s a lot more to Doctor Who than meets the eye.
With Series 9 on its way this month, now seems like a great time for me to convince those of you yet to join the Doctor on his adventures through time and space to start tuning in!
Before we move on to the main event, I should probably bring you up to speed on the basic premise of the series. Our main character is called The Doctor – he’s a centuries old alien, the last of an ancient race known as the Time Lords.
As his species would suggest, our man is a time traveller, a feat he accomplishes using a time machine/spaceship called a TARDIS, which due to a technical glitch, resembles an old fashioned police box (a blue phone booth, basically).
The Doctor is a fairly enigmatic figure. His real name has never been revealed (hence the title of the show), and much of his life prior to his arrival on Earth remains a mystery.
That’s another thing: he’s fairly fond of our planet, and he tends to bring human companions along on his escapades, many of which involve saving the world (if not the entire universe).
Heroic chap that he is, The Doctor has made the ultimate sacrifice more than once whilst fighting the good fight, something made possible by his natural ability to regenerate at the moment of death into a new version of himself.
This newly reborn Doctor not only tends to differ wildly in age and appearance to his past self, he also usually possesses a different personality as well. Since the series began way back in 1963, we’ve met 13 different incarnations of The Doctor, each of whom reflected a unique spin on the character’s core identity.
That’s about all you need to know, but one last thing before you read on – the following list contains is filled with series regular River Song’s favourite word, which is to say, “Spoilers!”
Doctor Who can be scary. True, it’s not a horror show in the strictest sense, but a large part of its appeal is that occasionally there are episodes capable of driving adults and children alike to seek shelter behind the couch until the monsters leave the screen.
Viewers have been given the heebie-jeebies by all sorts of unsettling interstellar invaders over the years.
During the Ninth Doctor’s tenure, the creepiest moments belonged to the gas mask clad children roaming London during The Blitz. Whenever one of these terrifying tykes asked, “Are you my mummy?”, goosebumps were never far behind.
And who could forget the Weeping Angels? Living statues capable of movement only when unobserved, the Angels would go on to bedevil both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors.
Operating on the principle that less is often more, they kept viewers hearts racing just as much when they weren’t on screen as when they were.
Most recently, the Twelth (and current) Doctor faced off against the grand daddy of all nightmare creatures: the monster under the bed. This may sound a little silly (more on how gloriously silly Doctor Who can be later), but by subjecting the Time Lord to a primal fear most of us experienced as children, the series was able to tap into an elemental type of fright that could make even a jaded horror buff feel the suspense!
Do you like cliffhangers? Episodes that end leaving you on the edge of your seat, breathlessly waiting to see how the story will continue in a week’s time? If the answer is “yes”, then Doctor Who has got you covered.
The past eight seasons have been filled with so many unbelievable “To Be Continued…” moments, it’s almost unfair to single out only a few.
There was the time the Ninth Doctor declared to companion Rose Tyler that he would come to free her from the Daleks, even as the nefarious salt ‘n’ pepper shakers prepared to attack.
With The Doctor utterly outgunned, completely defenceless and lacking anything even resembling a plan, the chances of his rescue mission working out for the best seemed slim at best.
Then there was the return of series archfoe the Master. A childhood friend of The Doctor before he went insane, the Master was believed to be a casualty of the war that wiped out the Time Lords.
However, to the Tenth Doctor’s extreme regret, it transpired that the Master had indeed managed to escape this fate, and after regenerating into a younger, healthier body, he departed in the TARDIS ready to wreak havoc on the Earth!
Without doubt the incarnation of The Doctor who has survived the most cliffhangers is the eleventh. Many of these tension-builders have been series highlights, with the destruction of the entire universe standing as the most spectacular, in both scope and execution.
That said, it’s hard to go past the moment towards the end of the Eleventh Doctor’s run, when he entered his own time stream to save Clara (another companion). This shadowy world was populated only by The Doctor’s past selves, and after viewers were shown glimpses of the past 10 versions of the Time Lord, another figure inexplicably appeared.
This man turned out to be the product of a past regeneration we had never before been privy to, a version of The Doctor who broke his code of ethics and betrayed all that he stood for. It’s a shocking twist worthy of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who it was designed to celebrate, and it left fans utterly shell shocked.
Unlike other sci-fi shows which play things deadly serious at all times, even the most sombre episode of Doctor Who is bound to make you laugh at least once before the credits roll. The British have a well-earned reputation for writing great comedy, and that’s certainly something that’s carried over to this series.
No matter which incarnation we’re talking about, The Doctor always possesses a razor sharp wit capable of serving up some priceless one liners and retorts, and his companions are rarely ill-equipped in this department either.
Whether it’s bantering with each other or joining forces against a common enemy, the Time Lord and his friends are always entertaining to watch.
It’s not just them either. Many of the bad guys are capable of eliciting the odd chuckle here or there, and the series isn’t above gently poking fun at some of its iconic villains and their various idiosyncrasies, either.
Fair warning though: if the odd bit of silliness isn’t your bag, then Doctor Who is definitely not the show for you.
The last eight seasons have been sprinkled liberally with nonsense and whimsy, and there’s no sign that things are about to change in this regard. There’s been an appearance by Santa (honest to God, Santa), Benny Hill Show call backs, cannibalistic garbage bins and more.
Some viewers might call this cheesy, but really, this lighthearted fun is part of the charm of the show, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A big lump in your throat. That’s what you’ll find developing as you watch some of the more emotionally charged episodes of Doctor Who.
It’s a stronger person than me who can watch the moment when Rose Tyler’s father lays down his life in an act of unheralded heroism without going misty eyed.
Similarly, if you learn the final fate of companion Donna Noble (stripped of her star-touring memories and condemned to her former mundane life) and feel nothing, chances are you’re a robot.
Yes, make no mistake: Doctor Who is one of the most affecting TV series you’ll ever come across.
Take the heartbreaking farewell between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, separated forever across two universes. It’s easily the equal of anything you’ll see in so-called “legitimate” drama. The moment where The Doctor’s hologram cuts out before he can finish his goodbye? Oh, the pain!
Or what about the conversation between the Eleventh Doctor and companion Amy Pond, just before he prepares to launch himself into the Sun and re-start all of creation (it makes more sense in context, trust me).
The obvious affection the two characters have for each other, the playful teasing of Amy by the badly injured Doctor, and his eventual valiant act itself all combine to tug quite viciously at the ol’ heartstrings.
The Eleventh Doctor is also responsible for my own number one,“I’m not crying! There’s something in my eye!” scene, set shortly before his regeneration.
Having at last reached the end of both his extremely long life span and his regeneration cycle, The Doctor has become a dementia-addled old man still resolutely committed to protecting a small town (not to mention a portal housing the long-lost Time Lords) from his old enemies.
As the Daleks outside hunt for the elderly Doctor, Clara rests on his lap and reads him a symbolism-heavy poem, before the Time Lord willingly walks to his final death at long last.
If that’s not enough, Clara’s subsequent plea to the Time Lords to save The Doctor’s life is so beautifully worded you’ll be a sobbing wreck in no time.
These tear-inducing events aren’t always big, earth-shattering moments, though. Something as small as the Twelfth Doctor’s forgiveness of Clara, even after she monumentally betrayed him, generated more than its fair share of feels, in large part because we finally got to see past the thorny exterior of this particular version of The Doctor.
Here we are at the last item on the list, and we’re wrapping up here for a reason. You see, for all that I love Doctor Who for each of the reasons outlined above, at the end of the day, what I love most is how uplifting it is.
Sometimes this takes the form of dashing feats of derring-do. As I’ve mentioned several times already, the show is full of dramatic rescues, and none was more impressive than when the Tenth Doctor smashed through a mirror on a white stallion to rescue the Madame de Pompadour from killer robots in 18th Century France.
(Sidenote: There is nothing about that last sentence that I do not love.)
Other times, this inspiring quality manifests itself in grandstanding speeches about the miracle that is life and the wonder inherent in the universe. For a great example, look no further than the scene where the Eleventh Doctor lectured a parasitic planet (complete with an evil face) about the virtues of love, loss, joy and sadness, before he offered up his own memories of these emotions as food for the monstrous creature.
And then there are those times when Doctor Who makes you want to cheer for the simple reason that what you’re watching is just plain awesome.
The ultimate instance of this is unquestionably the moment when all thirteen Doctors teamed up (another 50th Anniversary treat) to rewrite time and save their home planet from destruction. Call it fan service if you want, but c’mon: it’s all the Doctors! Together in one scene! All of them! But I digress…
So there are my five reasons why you owe it to yourself to check out Doctor Who. Series 9 kicks off on 19 September, and depending on where you are in time and space, you should be able to catch up on series 1 – 7 before then via Netflix (you’ll have to find Series 8 elsewhere, though, I’m afraid).