The Best Place To Start Watching Doctor Who Isn’t At The Beginning

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

matt smith
Matt Smith in Doctor Who

Sometimes, it’s tough to figure out where to start with long-running series, especially when trying to catch up on every episode feels like a full-time job (we’re looking at you here, One Piece). And there is no greater example of this than Doctor Who: the BBC franchise started back in 1963, and it has so far spanned 862 episodes and has had 13 different lead actors. While some say that you should start with the 2005 revival series starring Christopher Eccleston, the real best place for a new Whovian to start is with Season 5 of the revival starring Matt Smith. 

The best place to start with Doctor Who is Season 5 and the debut of Matt Smith as the Doctor.

What makes this such a great place to start if you’re new to Doctor Who? To start with, Matt Smith’s season begins with the bittersweet meeting between the Doctor and Amy Pond, who quickly became a fan-favorite character. We get to see who the Doctor is through her eyes in this season, and she makes for a better audience surrogate than the companions from earlier seasons.

Additionally, while Doctor Who fans fiercely debate this particular opinion, I think the show’s quality dramatically increases in the fifth season because Steven Moffat takes over as showrunner, replacing longtime Who showrunner Russel T. Davies.

Now, Davies is a gifted storyteller who brought us some amazing stories, but his tendency to swing big sometimes resulted in bad finales and worse jokes (yes, Russel, those aliens keep farting…hilarious). Moffat, by contrast, brought in some big concepts and managed to stick the landing as he combined ambitious stories with heartwarming humor.

Doctor Who Season 5 is filled with short story arcs, and incredible one-off episodes, making it a great entry point for new viewers.

And for better or for worse, the fifth season of the Doctor Who revival serves as a kind of soft reboot that acknowledges some of what came before while not requiring new fans to know much about it to enjoy the story. Instead, Moffat worked hard to create his own relatively self-contained mythology, complete with memorable characters and unforgettable episodes (if you can watch the Van Gogh episode without crying, you might secretly be a Dalek).

Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in Doctor Who

The showrunner managed to have his cake and eat it, too: he created one-off episodes and short arcs that are individually rewarding, but that also add momentum to the resolution of season-long mysteries.

Of course, we can’t praise season five as the best place to start for new Doctor Who fans without praising Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor. At the time, his casting was controversial in large part because he was the youngest actor to ever land this iconic role. However, Smith’s youth and vigor combined with his innate acting talents to create infectious enthusiasm, and it’s tough not to watch his onscreen “timey-wimey” antics without a grin so big you could fit a crack in the universe inside of it.

While I touched on this earlier, it’s worth noting that Steven Moffat’s era on Doctor Who is perfect for new fans in large part because the Doctor has amazing companions that we get to see really grow and evolve over time.

As great as David Tennant’s time as the Doctor was, it was dominated so much by his relationship with Rose that we didn’t spend enough time with other companions: John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness is certainly charming, but after he got his own spinoff, we barely saw him anymore. Companions like Martha and Donna were perfect foils for the Doctor, but it felt like they each left the series before we got a chance to really know them.

Doctor Who’s fifth season is full of so much fun and mayhem that even those who don’t know their TARDIS from their Sonic Screwdriver can put a random episode on and never get bored. 

By comparison, the primary Doctor Who companions in Season 5, Amy and Rory, play a very significant role over multiple years, and they have enough interiority that their lives don’t completely revolve around the Doctor (something I honestly can’t say about Rose, despite all my love for her). These companions have fantastic chemistry, both between themselves and with the Doctor, and this gives the show a wonderfully wholesome vibe.

Doctor Who

And “vibe” is the keyword here: that fifth season is full of so much fun and mayhem that even those who don’t know their TARDIS from their Sonic Screwdriver can put a random episode on and never get bored. 

And if we haven’t convinced you to start Doctor Who with season five of the revival, you can always tune into Disney+ in November and watch a new season with built-in nostalgia: David Tennant is making a brief return as The Doctor, and the showrunner will once again be Russel T. Davies. After that, Ncuti Gatwa will take over as the Doctor, and I’m confident he will do justice to this iconic role for the franchise’s 60th anniversary. Until then, go check out Season 5 to discover a charismatic cast, a sensational story, and one fantastic fact: bow ties are cool.