“Doctor Who” 2005-2009: The Skip It/Watch It Guide

Hey, want to catch up on the entire series to date? “Doctor Who”: 2005-2013 can be found in “Liz Tells Frank: The Skip It/Watch It Guides,” now available on Amazon!

So I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for years now, and one nice thing about sticking with it for so long has been seeing more and more Americans get on board with the show — especially over the last year or two, thanks to a big push by BBC America and a high-profile change in star and showrunner.

Like most established series, though, Doctor Who can be intimidating to new fans worried about having a lot to catch up on — a fair concern, given that the show officially premiered in 1963. (That is a long time ago!)

So in 2005 the show was relaunched with a new take on the tale of a man with a magic box that travels through space and time, a new take that would allow new viewers to jump in without needing to be aware of decades of back story. But now 2005 is also a long time ago! And new Doctor Who fans who want to limit their consumption to the modern era still have some catching up to do. Hence, the below (by reader request).

Because I am attempting to tackle four and a half seasons of television here (albeit British-sized seasons), we’re trying something slightly different today. There are two tracks below — the Must See track and the Watch It track. The Must See track is for people looking for the very basic Cliff’s Notes, while the Watch It track assumes that you’re interested in really digging into the show, and just looking to avoid the really stand-alone/sucky stuff. (To be clear — if you’re on the Watch It track, you should watch episodes labeled both Watch It and Must See.)

Warning: minor casting spoilers for the entire series. Also, some personal opinion.

SEASON ONE
1. “Rose”: Must see. I generally feel that every show’s pilot is a must see, but this one is especially essential, as it was deliberately written as an introduction for newcomers. And you get to meet Rose, and Rose is pretty great.

2. “The End of the World”: Watch it. When Who premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel, they showed “Rose” and “End of the World” as a two-parter, and together the episodes work really well. There are also at least two characters introduced who reappear later, and more about the Doctor’s past is revealed. But if you’re in a hurry, you could skip.

3. “The Unquiet Dead”: Skip it. This is more like a Maybe skip it, technically, because I’m actually pretty fond of this one — there are some very cute moments — and it does tie into the season-long narrative quite well. But the actual consequences for skipping it are low (beyond not getting one tiny joke in Season 4), and in theory you’re reading this guide because you DON’T want to watch every episode, right?

4/5. “Aliens of London”/”World War III”: Watch it. I mean, I’m not going to lie to you — the bad guys are some of the show’s most ridiculous. But we get to meet another fantastic recurring character (Harriet Jones, MP Flydale North), and Rose’s home life and personal journey are given equal weight with the world-shaking events that occur — one of new Who‘s most revolutionary changes from the old series, and a quite welcome one.

6. “Dalek”: Must see. Meet the Doctor’s main enemy! Learn more about why exactly the Doctor is so emo! See lots of people murdered! It’s a fundamental episode of the series.

7. “The Long Game”: Watch it. This episode is one of my least favorites (despite cameos from Simon Pegg and Tamsin Greig), but it sets up some big stuff for the final two episodes of the season.

8. “Father’s Day”: Watch it. Pretty much pure stand-alone, but also one of the better episodes of the season and a great Rose episode. Keep your Kleenex handy.

9/10. “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”: Watch it. This two-parter is VERY nearly a must see, for the record, largely because it introduces friend to man, woman and inanimate objects Captain Jack Harkness, who you’ll see quite a bit more of in the future. It’s also a really really great two-parter. Super-creepy and sad and yet somehow joyous.

11. “Boomtown”: Skip it. Okay, I actually kinda dig this episode, as it’s the My Dinner With Andre of the series (pretty much literally). And there are thematic elements which help add some greater emotional depth to the season. But it’s also the Dinner With Andre of the series. Unless you’re heavily invested in Rose’s relationship with her boyfriend (or you’re craving all the Captain Jack you can get your hands on), you can save your time for other episodes.

12. “Bad Wolf”: Watch it. Part one of the two-part season finale is mostly a parody of British reality TV, and doesn’t actually explain the season-long Bad Wolf meme despite the goddamn title. But it’s got a rockin’ cliffhanger that then leads to…

13. “The Parting of the Ways”: Must see. A big epic season finale that’s also powerful on an emotional level (au revoir, Christopher Eccleston). And leads you to…

SEASON TWO
0. “The Christmas Invasion”: Must see. Christmas specials (there are three) get numbered weird. This is the only Christmas special I’ll call a must see, to be completely honest — while those tend to err on the romp-y side, “Invasion” introduces David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, brings back the delightful Harriet Jones MP Flydale North and sets up key elements to come this season.

1. “New Earth”: Watch it. On the one hand, it could be seen as a stand-alone adventure, but really it’s a follow-up to “The End of the World” — and a body-swapping episode! Lots of fun (and yes, a little over-the-top moralizing) is had.

2. “Tooth and Claw”: Watch it. Pretty goofy on the surface (werewolves! Queen Victoria!) but bigger than that.

3. “School Reunion”: Watch it. This is about as close as the show ever gets to embracing its pre-Eccleston past, bringing back old companion Sarah Jane Smith, who is the best. And Anthony Stewart Head is the bad guy! There’s a lot to love.

4. “The Girl in the Fireplace”: Watch it. The second-finest episode Steven Moffat ever wrote, prior to him taking over the show in Season 5, and the Doctor gets snogged! Also a nice knotty use of time travel.

5/6. “Rise of the Cybermen”/”Age of Steel”: Watch it. Features an ultra-campy villain and the kinda-boring Cybermen, but key to the season narrative and so very hard to skip.

7. “The Idiot’s Lantern”: Maybe skip it? It’s technically a stand-alone episode that you can give a pass without damaging your understanding of events. It’s also the Doctor and Rose at their ultimate cuteness. I leave the decision in your hands.

8/9. “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit”: Must see. If you want to give people a crash course in what’s great about Doctor Who, this two-parter ought to do the trick. A James Cameron-esque action film that’s genuinely exciting.

10. “Love and Monsters”: Skip it. A stand-alone, Doctor-light episode that features a really charming performance by Marc Warren, but isn’t essential viewing.

11. “Fear Her”: Skip it. The first thirty or so minutes are fine. The last ten are kind of unbearably stupid. You’re better off just moving on.

12/13. “Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday”: Must see. In which we say goodbye to Rose Tyler. Given that she’s been the emotional center of the show for the last two seasons, that makes this two-parter kinda important. (It’s also pretty good.)

SEASON THREE
0. “The Runaway Bride”: Watch it. Not exactly essential, but introduces future companion Donna and also contains a great deal of action as well as moping over Rose, which is pretty cathartic.

1. “Smith and Jones”: Watch it. Meet Martha Jones! She will be our companion for this season. She grows on you. This episode is largely spent introducing her, but there’s also some cool drama to it.

2. “The Shakespeare Code”: Watch it. If only because Shakespeare is one flirty bitch.

3. “Gridlock”: Watch it. A follow-up to “End of the World” and “New Earth,” and a very tight, interesting episode with larger implications for the season. Also, this happens:

4/5. “Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks”: Skip it. Skip the HELL out of this. The 1930s period stuff is kinda fun, but it’s badly paced and dumb as a box of rocks with all the smart rocks removed.

6. “The Lazarus Code”: Watch it. Mark Gatiss guest-stars and is delightful, some important tech is introduced and the Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow. Hooray for that.

7. “42”: Skip it. There’s a bit of story that connects to the season-long arc, but it’s ultimately disposable and not at all engaging.

8/9. “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood”: Watch it. The thing with this season is that at least three episodes are kind of terrible, but then of the ones that aren’t terrible, many are FANTASTIC. This is a great two-parter that is pretty much stand-alone, but it’s a fantastic premise (the Doctor changes into a human to hide from an enemy, and ends up falling in love) and really well-done.

10. “Blink”: Must see. One of the best episodes of new Who yet. Guest star Carey Mulligan is so charming, the baddies are terrifying, and it’s also so clever. This would be the best Moffat-written episode, for the record. It’s great.

11/12/13. “Utopia”/”The Sound of Drums”/”The Last of the Time Lords”: Must see. Unexpected three-part season finale is unexpected! Pretty much a season’s worth of drama is contained within — some of it more over the top than necessary, but it’s still pretty epic. And more Captain Jack! Hooray!

SEASON FOUR
0. “Voyage of the Damned”: Skip it. The Poseidon Adventure episode, and it’s a pretty solid disaster movie, but non-essential except if you like seeing the Doctor in pain and/or you like Kylie Minogue. Okay, well, there is a nice scene where the Doctor admits that he’s adopted Earth as his home, and Kylie wears a really cute pair of boots, but still, non-essential.

1. “Partners in Crime”: Watch it. The return of Donna Noble! The cutest villains in the show’s history! And it ends with a very exciting TWIST.

2. “The Fires of Pompeii”: Skip it. I mean, a decent episode with some clever moments, but kind of inconsequential on the whole.

3. “Planet of the Ood”: Watch it. You liked the Ood in Impossible Planet? Well, here’s a whole episode devoted to them! And it’s actually pretty compelling.

4/5. “The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky”: Watch it. The best way to describe it is “solid” — good character work, decent action, plus a proper introduction to UNIT, a major force to come.

6. “The Doctor’s Daughter”: Skip it. This episode no es bueno. Features some stunningly bad logic (CLONES ARE NOT KIDS), very shaky ethics and largely out-of-character behavior.

7. “The Unicorn and the Wasp”: Skip it. A fun romp — worth checking out if you’re a big Agatha Christie fan — but a standard-issue stand-alone murder mystery.

8/9. “Silence in the Library”/”The Forest of the Dead”: Must see. This wasn’t initially a must see, but then a character introduced here became the lynchpin of Season Six. Beyond that, though, it’s a solid two episodes again written by Steven Moffat, with some properly spooky moments.

10. “Midnight”: Watch it. A stand-alone, technically, but one of the greats. A really fantastic bottle episode that gets really dark and creepy.

11/12/13. “Turn Left”/”The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”: Must see. First things first — “Turn Left,” an alternate universe look at how badly Earth needs the Doctor, might be one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. And then it leads into the season finale two-parter and things get ridiculous on an epic scale. Not all of it works, and some of it is a damn tragedy. But it’s the closest Who ever gets to grand opera (in space).

THE GAP YEAR (A.K.A. “LET’S GET ANOTHER YEAR OUT OF DAVID TENNANT WHETHER HE LIKES IT OR NOT”)

“The Next Doctor”/”Planet of the Dead”/”The Waters of Mars”/”The End of Time”: Skip it. This series of specials are pretty grand in scale, but the narrative arc is basically “The Doctor gets so fucking emo that he’ll either have to regenerate or start a band” and none of the adventures are good enough to overcome that.

I suppose you might want to watch “The End of Time,” which does include some bonkers moments courtesy of John Simm and Tennant regenerates at the end of it. But the more efficient and less-full-of-plot-holes approach might be to to skip to approximately 52 minutes into “End of Time, Part 2.” That’ll get you there just in time for the TWENTY MINUTE “so long, farewell” montage to the Russell T. Davies era of Who, which is excessive and a touch masturbatory but also kinda sweet, if you’ve really stuck with the show up until this point.

And then two of these guys take over!

Not the guy on the left. He's on a different show. Just to be clear.

Opinions vary on how successful they’ve been (from “very successful” to “all right.”) But while it’s definitely a very different kind of romp, it’s still a show about a man with a magic time-traveling box. So that’s all right.

Image above via Get Out Of There, Cat.

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on July 6, 2011, in Skip It/Watch It Guide, Some Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I love that picture of Cumberbatch, Moffet, and Smith. Moffet is one of the best television writers ever, and I’m really happy he’s getting so much work.

  2. I would say s04e02: “Watch it”. It answers a frustrating question about the thing with time traveling and changing history, a question that any rational being should’ve asked by now (among other things like WHY THE HELL ALL BAD THINGS HAPPEN WHEN THE DOCTOR IS AROUND???). Good girl Donna.

  3. My friend introduced me to Dr. Who and I really want to make sure I watch good episodes so we can discuss it together. Really helpful lists!

  4. Thank you so much for this! I really began to love this show thanks to you.

  5. Please tell me there’s a 2010-2013 edition of this in the works? I can’t tell you how helpful this was in upping my geek street cred while avoiding the time suck of watching every episode of every season. I do so love David Tennant but would be willing to give Matt Smith & Peter Capaldi a go if I didn’t feel like I had to ingest large quantities of them.

  6. Wow, it really kinda stuns me that you’d give The Waters of Mars a “Skip it”. It’s one of my favourite Tennant episodes. Terrifying villains, Doctor out of control, utterly terrific performance by Lindsay Duncan.

    I’m a diehard fan of Series 5, Eleventh Hour is my favourite episode of Who, ever. And Time of Angels, Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang are all masterpieces in their own right. So I hope they all get “Must See” ratings.

    • I would say “Waters of Mars” is the best of the Tennant specials; I just find them really frustrating on a number of levels and ultimately non-essential viewing. Lindsay Duncan is brilliant, though, you’re totally right.

      The Season 5 guide exists in the SI/WI book, so I can tell you that the entire season does not get a Must See, but those episodes you mention are highly ranked. πŸ™‚

      • I bought the book after reading this article, actually! It’s been rather useful, though I was hoping Community would show up as it’s a show I’ve always really, really wanted to watch but heard there are bad spots in it.

      • When I was putting that edition together, “Community” was still in flux, which is why I didn’t include it — but that’s a great suggestion for a future version! And thanks for buying it! You’re a very good person for doing so. πŸ™‚

  7. The end of time is a must see. Just to make it clear.

  8. Andrew Johns

    Fires of Pompeii has to be a “watch it” episode now, surely? πŸ™‚

  9. the episodes that you skip are great , especially the Specials

  10. Thank you for this list, I am currently using it to make my way through and your recommendations are truly helpful I’ve bookmarked your page!

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