Doctor Who: The Catch Up Guide


August 22, 2014 by srbaldauf

This Saturday (Aug 23rd), Doctor Who returns with a brand new Doctor. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that it’s kind of a big deal around here.

Not to mention, and most importantly, Strax is back!!

But maybe you haven’t watched Doctor Who before. Additionally, you might have limited time and may feel like 104 hour-long episodes is quite a time commitment. And you’d be right. It’s really the difficult part about getting into active shows.

Luckily, I’m here to help. I’ve gone through every episode and ruled on each one whether you need to watch it, if it’s optional but still worth your time, if it’s optional but only really worth it if you become totally addicted (likely), or if you should skip it (Martha).

One more note, you will see more episodes being required viewing in the later seasons. Three reasons. First, a lot more of the episodes are tied together leading up to the finale once Moffat took over. Second, some of them will probably be borderline in the future but for now you probably need to watch them to know what’s going on in the newest season. Third, they’re all pretty good. Onwards.


Series 1 

Of the new episodes. Take it easy older Doctor Who fans. Let’s get started.

1.1 “Rose” Watch it. Obviously. Can’t start the series without meeting the Doctor.

1.2 “The End of the World” — Deep cut. The Doctor and Rose go to watch the end of the Earth. It’s a decent follow-up to get a feel for the show, but it’s not a necessity. You do meet the Face of Boe however, which is eventually one of my favorite reveals of the early series.

1.3 “The Unquiet Dead” — Watch it. Charles Dickens is in this episode. I’m a sucker for the more historical episodes and this one provides another good feel for the show.

1.4/1.5 “Aliens of London” and “World War Three” — Skip them. You can watch this if you really want, but I really don’t like the Slitheens. They aren’t bad episodes, but the Slitheens really ruin it for me. It is important to note, however, that you meet Harriet Jones, MP in this episode.

1.6 “Dalek” — Watch it. This one is a necessity. One of the Doctor’s major enemies pops up in this episode and you need to meet them.

1.7 “The Long Game” — Skip it. The only thing you need to know from this one is that there is a Satellite 5 that broadcasts news to Earth in the future.

1.8 “Father’s Day” — Watch it. You meet a recurring character in this episode and you get a taste of the early seasons and paradoxes.

1.9/1.10 “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” — Absolutely watch it. These are easily the highlight of the first series. Absolutely fantastic. This is the episode that will really suck you in to the show. It’s also the first episode that Steven Moffat wrote.

1.11 “Boom Town” — Skip it. Another Slitheen episode. Enough said. Although Eccleston does a nice job with some of the conflict that is central to the Doctor.

1.12/1.13 “Bad Wolf” and “The Parting of the Ways” — Watch it. Have to watch the finale. Also you get to witness your first regeneration.

I know Eccleston. We knew you for such a short time.

Series 2

Welcome David Tennant. Regenerations are never easy to deal with. You always like the old Doctor. Eccleston was surprisingly great. But the new Doctors always live up to the previous one.

2.0 “The Christmas Invasion” — Absolutely watch it. Hello David Tennant! Such a good entrance.

2.1 “New Earth” — Skip it. We run into a villain from episode #1.2 (which I told you to skip). It is also Tennant’s 2nd episode, so there is that. So your call.

2.2 “Tooth and Claw” — Watch it. Probably not a necessity but it’s a good one. There’s a Torchwood reference (which is important) and it’s another one of those historical episodes I like.

2.3 “School Reunion” — Watch it. You get to meet someone from the old Doctor Who series (Sarah Jane) and you get to spend more time with Mickey. Who I like very much. And it’s a pretty solid episode.

2.4 “The Girl in the Fireplace” — Definitely watch. Big fan of this one. Plus it has a great banana quote. Mildly historical too. Also, it’s another Moffat episode.

2.5/2.6 “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel” — Watch it. It’s actually not my favorite, but this is an important one. Another classic Doctor Who enemy shows up and there’s some important character movements.

2.7 “The Idiot’s Lantern” — Skip it. It is a historical one, but there’s really nothing too special going on here.

2.8/2.9 “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” — Watch it. These are just really good episodes. Do you like mysterious pits and demonic voices? Nothing necessary here but worth it.

2.10 “Love and Monsters” — Deep cut. Most people don’t like this one but I kind of enjoyed it. It also tries out a different narrative approach which will be perfected in an episode next series.

2.11 “Fear Her” — Optional. This is a nice episode. Nice story. Touches on loneliness. Tennant being excellent. Skip it if you’re in a hurry but I do enjoy this one.

2.12/2.13 “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday” — Watch it. I’m not a huge fan of Russell Davies’ finales, but he does do a good job handling Rose here, who really improved through the second season. Obviously necessary story-wise as well.

Series 3

I think it’s important to point out that they DID NOT put the companion on the DVD cover. Martha.

What to say about season three? Martha. Ugh. Looking through the episodes though, I was surprised at how many of them were worth watching though. And really, Tennant carries the show still.

3.0 “Runaway Bride” Watch it. I considered making this one optional but there’s two important things here. You meet an important character for the show and it touches on why exactly the Doctor needs to have a companion with him.

3.1 “Smith and Jones” — Skip it. It’s hard for me to recommend skipping an episode where you meet a new companion. But it’s Martha. And she’s the worst. Martha is a med student. She has a crush on the Doctor. All you need to know about Martha ever.

3.2 “The Shakespeare Code” — Watch it. This will introduce you to Martha anyways and we get to see Shakespeare. Hell yeah historical episodes. Shakespeare is fun, lots of good quotes, plus an appearance by Queen Elizabeth.

3.3 “Gridlock” — Optional. Not really a necessary episode but it’s not bad either. Also it has some important Face of Boe stuff, which builds toward the reveal I mentioned earlier. You do need to know one thing from this episode: (SPOILER if you’re going to watch it) the Doctor is told that he’s not alone by the Face of Boe. It’s not really a spoiler overall but you do need to know it.

3.4/3.5 “Daleks In Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks” — Watch it. We get to see 1930’s New York, which is pretty fun. The first half is okay. The second half is really good. Andrew Garfield (the newer Spider-man) is also in it if you’re interested.

3.6 “The Lazarus Experiment” — Skip it. Do not watch this one! It will make you feel sad about Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes in the BBC Sherlock). It will make you hate Martha even more (so worthless!). It also makes you hate Martha’s family (which is inevitable, really). Only key thing: a scientist kinda-sorta figures out how to reverse aging.

3.7 “42” Deep cut. Really no need to watch this episode. The Doctor and Martha are on a ship hurtling towards the sun. The Doctor needs to save them. Pretty standard fare. It is, however, an okay episode so watch it if you really want to.

3.8/3.9 “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” — Definitely watch it. There’s some very important plot stuff here. You also get an interesting change to the format in these episodes. And Tennant does some of his best acting in these episodes.

3.10 “Blink” — Absolutely watch it. “Blink” is the episode that everyone will tell you to watch. It’s Moffat again and it’s one of the better episodes in the entire series. Interesting story. One of the best Doctor Who enemies. Don’t miss this one.

3.11/3.12/3.13 “Utopia”; “The Sound of Drums”; and “Last of the Time Lords”– Watch it. There’s some flaws here but they are important episodes. I really like the character of The Master, but I felt like he could have been written better. Could be better, could be worse. But definitely necessary. And the Face of Boe revelation.

Series 4

This is the season that really made me a big fan of the show. I really enjoyed the first three series, but Donna and Tennant were perfect. I’d recommend watching every episode in this season but that kind of runs against what I’m going for here.

Yes it does, Tennant!

4.0 “Voyage of the Damned” — Optional. Not bad. It’s pretty average as far as the Christmas specials go, but it’s an enjoyable episode.

4.1 “Partners in Crime” — Stretch watch it. You kiiiind of have to watch this one. It brings Donna in as companion, who is perfect with Tennant. So this establishes some of the rapport, which is important. But as an episode, it’s okay.

4.2 “Fires of Pompeii” — Watch it. “Fires of Pompeii” is a good episode and it gets into the idea of fixed points in time, which will be important. At least until Moffat starts getting all timey-wimey.

4.3 “Planet of the Ood” — Optional. This one depends on your interest in the Ood. It’s a solid episode and you’ll learn a lot about the Ood. But necessary? I don’t think so.

4.4/4.5 “The Sontaran Strategem” and “The Poison Sky” — Optional again. You get to meet the Sontarans, who I like and you’ll see more of. Then again, Martha returns. So points against. Decent story. So your call on this one again.

4.6 “The Doctor’s Daughter” — Hell no. The Doctor’s Daughter” is the WORST episode in the entire series in my opinion. It’s a decent concept that gets completely wasted. The story seems utterly pointless and completely lacks the scales that’s implied. And it has this really weird plot line with the Doctor’s female clone/daughter.

4.7 “The Unicorn and the Wasp” — Watch it. Agatha Christie pops up in this (historical!) one. Probably not necessary but it’s a fun episode.

4.8/4.9 “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” — Absolutely watch it. Moffat again. These episodes are definitely in the top ten. One of the sneaky best villains of the series. And you meet River Song who is 1) excellent and 2) an important character.

4.10 “Midnight” — Watch it. Midnight” is a stand-alone episode and it may be one of my favorite Tennant episodes. It’s a little bit more intimate than most episodes (in that it has a fairly small focus) and it makes for one of the more intense episodes of the series.

4.11/4.12/4.13 “Turn Left”; “The Stolen Earth”; and “Journey’s End” — Watch it. These three-part finales are rough, time-wise. The first episode is so-so but it’s needed, plot-wise. As far as the story goes, this finales a bit iffy (as most Davies’ finales are), but it has quite a few high points. Doctor-Donna is amazing. The ending is a little bit weird (and other feelings that I won’t spoil), but overall it works.

The Specials

After Series 4 and before Series 5, Doctor Who spent a year just doing four specials with Tennant. So they’re here.

“The Next Doctor” — Optional. The Christmas special has its good bits. David Morrissey is pretty excellent and he has a solid emotional story arc here. You can skip it if you want, but I’d recommend it.

“Planet of the Dead” — No clue. I’ve actually never seen this one. For a long time, I didn’t even realize I’d missed it. Luckily, it was on TV so it’s now in my DVR. I guess I’ll let you know after I’ve seen it…

“Waters of Mars” — Watch it. This is a really good episode. Solid writing. Interesting supporting characters. Some vital glimpses into the Doctor’s current state. All setting up for the next special.

“End of Time” — Definitely watch it. This is the end of Davies’ reign on the show as well as Tennant’s. Like all Davies’ finales, I’ve got some issues with it, but it’s pretty good. And Tennant’s goodbye will never NOT tear at my heartstrings.

Series 5

And now we get to Moffat’s reign. You’ll notice an obvious boost in production value right away. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of the Moffat era. I think the episodes are stronger top-to-bottom with less of the variability from the Davies era. With that said, there are some issues that pop up again and again and I can understand why some people prefer the earlier series. And there are definitely some flaws in the most recent seasons, but Series 5 is my favorite overall.

5.1 “The Eleventh Hour” — Absolutely watch it. The introduction to Matt Smith is fantastic. There’s a lot of important plot stuff set in motion here too. But Matt Smith does an amazing job jumping in after a very difficult goodbye to David Tennant.

5.2 “The Beast Below” — Optional. “The Beast Below” is a solid enough episode. But if you’re going to skip any from this season, this is probably one of them. Has a bit of Amy/Doctor bonding, but you don’t neeed to see it.

5.3 “Victory of the Daleks” — Optional. I mean, I told you I was helping you cut down on the number of episodes to get caught up, and this is getting tricky. I like this one again. Churchill is in it! Also, a bit of an unnecessary Dalek reboot. So I’d recommend watch it but you can probably get away with not seeing it.

5.4/5.5 “The Time of the Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” — Watch it. Important plot stuff. Plus you really don’t want to skip any episodes with Weeping Angels, do you?

5.6 “The Vampires of Venice” — Optional but probably. Lot more Rory in this episode, and I love Rory. If you’re really really really pressed for time, you could probably skip it though.

5.7 “Amy’s Choice” — Optional. The Dream Lord is in this episode and it’s pretty cool as a whole. Not quite necessary and not quite good enough to get it a definite watch. So your call.

5.8/5.9 “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood” — Watch it. The Hungry Earth” and its follow-up are excellent episodes. Key plot thingys happen as well. But it’d be worth it even without them.

5.10 “Vincent and the Doctor” — So much yes. Vincent and the Doctor” is a masterpiece. Definitely the most emotionally impact the show gets at any point. Yes, even more than Tennant’s goodbye. So good. It’s making me emotional. We better move on.

5.11 “The Lodger” — YES! The Lodger” is a top 5 episode for me. It would probably be number one with a stronger villain. James Cordon is in this episode (he’s taking over the Late Late Show for Craig Ferguson after Colbert next year and he’s excellent in Hulu’s “The Wrong Mans”). Anytime James Cordon is in a Doctor Who episode, you watch it. I don’t care what you’re doing. I don’t care if you’ve seen it. You watch it. Because it is a fucking joy.

5.12/5.13 “The Pandorica Opens” and “Big Bang”– Watch it. The Pandorica is the best finale Doctor Who has managed. Unlike some of Moffat’s later work, this one ties most things up pretty cleanly. It’s also very intricate and very well put together. And there’s a fez. Both parts of the finale are distinct and excellent.

Series 6

Another very good season but definitely some variability and cracks showing in Moffat’s previously (mostly) perfect story-telling.

6.0 “A Christmas Carol” — Watch it. It’s a good take on a classic Christmas story. Worth your time. Also, Dumbledore. Or Gambon for you Top Gear fans.

6.1/6.2 “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”  Definitely watch it. The start of this season is brilliant. The Silence are probably the best villains on the show (in theory, not so much in practice). All around, pretty great episodes. You will enjoy it.

6.3 “The Curse of the Black Spot” — Optional. This episodes fun and interesting, dealing with a ghost on a pirate ship. It also has Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey (Hugh Bonneville!). It’s not a necessity and it’s not so good you have to see it, but it’s worth your time.

6.4 “The Doctor’s Wife” — Optional. I lean towards skipping this episode. It’s got some great banter and a solid premise (the TARDIS as a person). Most people really like this episode. It just doesn’t quite do it for me. So toss up.

6.5/6.6 “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People”– Watch it. These episodes, however, do do it for me. I really like any sci-fi that uses the futuristic setting/technology to try to explore human nature. These episodes do a better job in that regard than just about any episode in the series (along with “Midnight“). Also, plot stuff again.

6.7 “A Good Man Goes to War” — Watch it. A Good Man Goes to War” is pretty great. I’m kind of afraid to watch it again because I don’t want to pick holes in it. But first time through, it’s a fun one. Definitely watch it. Also, major reveal. Unless you figured it out ahead of time.

6.8 “Let’s Kill Hitler” — Optional. I’m torn on this episode. On the one hand, it’s kind of important for the plot. On the other hand, it kind of diminished “A Good Man Goes to War” for me. It felt like too quick of a follow-up and the tone is a strange clash. Actually–Watch it. The plot is more important than I first realized.

6.9 “Night Terrors” — Optional but watch it. Night Terrors” is one of the creepier episodes. I liked it and I hate (HATE) horror movies/stories. No real plot stuff but this is a strong stand-alone episode.

6.10 “The Girl Who Waited” Optional. I feel like I’m in a tough spot with this season. All of the episodes are good on their own. There’s no real reason to skip any of them. But you could. So I don’t know if you want to come back and watch them? Maybe you’ve been sucked in enough by now that you’re just watching all of them? I mean, Matt Smith is pretty fun. So enjoy him.

6.11 “The God Complex” — Optional. This is similar to the last couple. Another strong stand-alone story. Not really necessary though. Worth your time but it is skippable if you’re really trying to get to the new series.

6.12 “Closing Time” — WATCH IT. James Cordon is back. Which means you’re watching it. This might be my favorite episode. Stormaggedon, Dark Lord of All. If that’s not enough to suck you in, it should be. (It’s also probably the opposite of what you’re thinking). I love this episode. 

6.13 “The Wedding of River Song” — Watch it. This episode is…okay. It’s just not as clean and tidy as the Pandorica. You can find holes if you really want to. It’s still fun though. And obviously as a finale it’s got a lot going on plot-wise.

Series 7

Oh season 7. Most people didn’t really like this season. And they aren’t wrong. There’s some definite issues and it maybe would have benefited from have two distinct, more fleshed-out seasons. But that’s not the way things played out. I was surprised going back through just how many of these episodes I really liked though. Sort of a case of the sum not equalling the parts.

7.0 “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” —  Optional but highly recommended. This is another really good Christmas special. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Definitely worth watching.

7.1 “Asylum of the Daleks” — Watch it. There’s a little bit of questionable stuff going on here (looking at the Amy and Rory subplot), but it’s a pretty enjoyable episode as a hole. Plus you get to meet a recurring character.

7.2 “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” — WATCH IT. Dinosaurs. In Space. That’s literally the title of the episode. Don’t even pretend like you aren’t going to watch that. If the idea of dinosaurs being in space doesn’t get you excited, then I’m not really sure why you’ve read this far. Also, Rory’s dad is pretty great too (And he’s Arthur Weasley. I know our base.)

7.3 “A Town Called Mercy”– Optional. I like this episode. It’s kind of Western-y. Probably worth your time. But you if the Western idea isn’t for you, you can skip this one.

7.4 “Power of Three” — Optional. “Power of Three” felt like kind of a throwback to the Davies era to me. Which didn’t really do it for me. Not bad and it moves along the Ponds plot, but I’d call this one a tossup.

7.5 “The Angels Take Manhattan” — Watch it. You have to watch this one. It’s got a couple of hiccups but it’s vitally important. I won’t spoil anything.

“The Snowmen” — Watch it. Another Christmas special! (There’s a few this season). I liked this one quite a bit. Of course, there’s a heavy dose of Strax, so you know it’s worth it. Strax is the fictional equivalent of James Cordon. Never miss an opportunity to spend time with Strax. Oh yeah, there’s plot stuff too. But come for the Strax.

7.6 “The Bells of Saint John” — Watch it. Not my favorite but it sets up the entire second half of the season. And brings in Clara.

7.7 “The Rings of Akhaten” Watch it. Lot of Clara backstory. And you’ll need an understanding of her for the rest of the season.

7.8 “Cold War” — Optional. The Doctor gets stuck in a submarine during the Cold War. It’s interesting. It brings in a classic Doctor Who character. But you can probably skip it if you want to. Plus Davos from Game of Thrones.

7.9 “Hide” — Optional but recommended. It’s another ghost story episode and one of the better ones on the show. Don’t need it. But it’s one of the stronger episodes in this season.

7.10 “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” — Watch it. Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” has an interesting story and it’s important to the plot. So watch it.

7.11 “The Crimson Horror” — Watch it. Crimson Horror” is excellent. Strong episode. I’m really running out of different ways to say that it’s a good episode at this point.

7.12 “Nightmare in Silver” — Watch it. I enjoy this episode quite a bit. Matt Smith gets to have quite a bit of fun in this one, and I’d say that’s enough to require watching it.

7.13 “The Name of the Doctor” — Watch it. It’s the finale. Honestly, it’s got a lot of issues. But you need to see it to understand what’s going on. And it set things up for the “The Day of the Doctor“.

“Day of the Doctor” — ABSOLUTELY WATCH IT. Okay. David Tennant AND Matt Smith. Interacting with each other. And John Hurt as the War Doctor. It’s fantastic. As much as the seventh season was a bit rocky, this made up for all of it. It’s excellent.

“Time of the Doctor” — Definitely watch it. Time for another regeneration and you’re all caught up. The Christmas part of this Christmas special seems a bit tacked on. It’s up and down, but it’s definitely got it’s moments. And Matt Smith gets a fitting send-off.

And with that, you can watch the newest season and go back to catch up on any that you’ve missed. I did my best to cut it down, but there’s still a lot. Sorry. The shows pretty great.

Good bye Matt Smith. Miss you.


9 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Catch Up Guide

  1. kbaldy15 says:

    This was very thorough. While I don’t remember the episodes solely by their number, I think I did a fairly good job of tracking which ones were which just by your brief descriptions and recommendations. Well done. That being said–everyone should watch all of them. The bad episodes make you appreciate the good ones more. Martha makes you appreciate everything more.


  2. baldaufbr says:

    It’s a bit cruel, if you ask me, sending people into 7.5 with nothing. (SPOILER I was W. R. E. C. K. E. D. after watching this.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] tremendous event, I’ll be doing a sort of review to follow-up to Shane’s post (link here). Disclaimer: I won’t be talking a whole lot about the episode itself (plot, villain, etc) […]


  4. Thanks for the watch/skip guide. I found this useful!


  5. Mike Kerns says:

    This is essential for a noob that doesn’t have the time for 100+ episodes. Thank you.


  6. harry billing says:

    please include season 8 s


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