Have you seen Doctor Who but get overwhelmed. After all, 54 years of episodes can be a little much when trying to decide where to start. Plus, you’ve heard that some episodes don’t exist, or are missing or something, and what does that mean if you’re a completionist?! Should you not even try?
Well, if you live in the USA, I’m going to try to help. If you don’t live in the U.S., I’ll do my best to help where I can, but know you have options. Also, there are ways to experience every single episode of Doctor Who, even if it’s missing!
Doctor Who began on November 23, 1963. There are currently 840 episodes of Doctor Who, which cover 276 stories over 36 seasons. Doctor Who is generally divided between two time periods: Classic Doctor Who (1963-1989 plus the TV movie of 1996,) and New Who (2005-current show.)
If you need more details about the basics of who the Doctor is I recommend checking out The Basics of Doctor Who page in the menu above.
Classic Doctor Who covers the first seven versions of the Doctor (not counting the TV movie which is about the Eighth Doctor.) Classic Who stories are told in multi-episode serials. So a single story could be spread out over anywhere from two to six episodes; with one or two stories covering as many as 10 episodes. Each episode is approximately 25 minutes long. Later in the series (around the time of the sixth Doctor,) episodes were expanded into 45 minutes, but serials also covered fewer episodes.
Each Classic Doctor has themes to the types of episodes produced during their tenure, which I will talk more about in another post.
In the U.S. the cheapest way to watch Classic Who episodes is through a monthly streaming service called BritBox. It gives you a seven day free trial and costs $7.00/month. Plus there are other great BBC and ITV shows available through the service. Britbox works on streaming devices such as Apple TV. You can also get your subscription through services such as Amazon Prime, so it would work through any devices where you have a Amazon Prime application available.
Britbox has their own “Where To Start” Classic Doctor Who primer available. It includes one serial from each era of the various Doctors. Many of their suggested episodes are not necessarily the most important when it comes to canon. They are often the most thrilling of the Classic Who episodes. Episodes missing from Britbox include some Dalek-centric stories where licensing is in dispute. However, the Britbox streaming option has the most complete collection of Classic Doctor Who available, all in one place.
There are some, but not all or most, serials available for purchase on services such as VUDU (Walmart,) iTunes and Amazon.
You can find physical copies of most serials on DVD. However, be warned, due to low productions numbers or other various reasons some DVDs can go for hundreds of dollars. One example is the Sixth Doctor serial The Two Doctors. At one point this DVD was selling for over $200. Meanwhile, you could buy and stream it on VUDU for $6.99. At the time, the streaming services did not include all the DVD extras and behind the scenes interviews, etc. However, if you are budget conscious, it’s something to keep in mind.
There are a few serials such as Spearhead from Space and Power of the Daleks that have received Blu-Ray releases. However, these are exceptions. Most stories have not been released on anything other than VHS or DVD. If you do go hunting for DVDs many need to be sought out at used book stores or websites because they are no longer in production.
Also: THE UNITED KINGDOM IS A DIFFERENT DVD REGION THAN THE UNITED STATES! DVDs that work in the U.S. are Region 1, while U.K. DVDs are Region 2. Many pricey DVDs for the U.S. are cheap if you get the U.K. version. However, you need a special DVD player/television or software for your computer to watch and play the DVDs. I have done this for one serial, the Second Doctor serial The Invasion. This was pre-Britbox, and the DVD was over $100. At the time of this article it is still $99. However, I love Cybermen and Zoe Heriot so much I had to watch it. So, I purchased a cheap Region 2 copy, and downloaded special software so I could watch it on my computer.
Classic Doctor Who has serials and episodes (97 to be precise) missing due to a BBC practice of destroying copies of their shows back in the 1960s and 70s. Reruns were not really a thing at the time. If it’s something you are interested in knowing more about I highly recommend hitting up Google, or clicking here to read about it on the BBC official Doctor Who website. Many missing serials were recovered thanks to fans who recorded copies at home, as well as other countries returning copies they had purchased from the BBC to show in their own countries.
Britbox is currently working on their own reconstructions of missing serials. They have also included BBC animated reconstructions such as Power of the Daleks (the first serial of the second Doctor.) However, there are other serials that BBC has released official reconstructions (animated or still photographs in order) of that BritBox does not include, such as The Underwater Menace.
No matter what audio copies of ALL missing episodes exist. Even if you cannot watch the episodes you can still listen to the audio versions of the episodes. Many of them include linking narration by actors who were involved in the episode, and describe what might be occurring while there is no dialogue. You can find these on Audible.com or other audio book websites, as well as Amazon.
If you would like to watch reconstructions one option is to purchase official BBC DVDs from ebay, Amazon and other websites (which can get pricey at times, depending on availability.) Another option is the website DailyMotion. This French streaming website hosts unofficial reconstructions created by amateur production companies or fans, such as Loose Cannon Productions. Sometimes these reconstructions use clips or stills from other stories to fill in gaps and make the episode more exciting or watchable. Most use still photographs from the actual episodes. The audio comes from the same audio available to listen to; with or without linking narration.
It can get tedious at times if you try to watch all of Classic Doctor Who in exact order. This is especially true during seasons 3-5 where so many serials are missing and you have to listen to audio or watch reconstructions. Classic Doctor Who is strictly in black and white until the first episode of the third Doctor called Spearhead from Space. I personally recommend changing up from Doctor to Doctor while watching to get a feel for each actor and time period; especially if you get bogged down watching just one Doctor after a time.
That Eighth Doctor Guy:
The Eighth Doctor, portrayed by Paul McGann, was shown only twice on television. The first was a TV movie created in 1996, meant to see if the series could be rebooted for a more American style audience. The movie takes place in San Francisco, is more violent and bends a lot of the Doctor Who canon in ways that makes many Classic fans uncomfortable.
This movie is only available on DVD and Blu-Ray. There are no sites that legally stream the Doctor Who TV movie.
The Eighth Doctor’s second appearance was in a short for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who called The Night of the Doctor and tells his regeneration story. It is available for free on YouTube, BBC websites, etc. If you have not seen this short I recommend not watching it until AFTER watching the Eleventh Doctor episode The Name of the Doctor, since it’s full of spoilers.
If you enjoy the Eighth Doctor I recommend you check out the BigFinish audio productions, which expand greatly on the Eighth Doctor’s adventures and are considered canon after The Night of the Doctor minisode mentioned most of his companions from his audio adventures.
New episodes of Doctor Who, beginning in 2005 with the episode Rose are available for streaming through Amazon Prime. They cover the adventures of the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, War Doctor and Twelfth Doctor. The new Thirteenth Doctor adventures are scheduled to air in the fall of 2018.
If you have a prime membership, then congrats, you already have access for all of the Doctor’s adventures for the Ninth through the Twelfth Doctors! MANY OF THE CHRISTMAS SPECIALS ARE NO INCLUDED IN PRIME! Some are, however, beginning with the 50th Anniversary episode, Day of the Doctor and the Christmas Special Time of the Doctor, you have to pay extra for those episodes. Depending on sales happening you may find them cheaper on other streaming services such as VUDU or iTunes who also have the New Who catalog available in a purchases by season or episode format. You want these episodes because of big reveals/key characters and the regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor into the Twelfth Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor into the Thirteenth Doctor.
Doctor Who is NOT available through Netflix, Hulu or other monthly subscription websites. Since Netflix was how I was introduced to New Who and Hulu to Classic Who the loss of these services was very “traumatic” which sent me on a DVD purchasing spiral for over a year until BritBox was launched.
All of New Who is available for DVD or Blu_ray purchase. The BBC has also begun releasing steel book version of the these releases, starting with the 2005 season.
How to keep track of it all:
However, I have discovered phone apps are the easiest and most useful ways of keeping track of what you have and have not read.
There are several TV tracking apps, however the one that I use is TV Time. It has both a website interface as well as an iTunes and Android app available. It can link up with your social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook, has various levels of privacy settings, and includes interactive features such as episode comments, meme creators, video reactions and quizzes. Also, you earn badges which can add a game element to using it as well. While it does not include any Big Finish audio adventures, minisodes from the web or the TV movie, it does have all the Classic Who episodes in order as well as the New Who episodes and Christmas specials.
These are all the things I’ve found when it comes to watching Doctor Who in the United States, over the last fives years or so. Is there anything I’ve left out? Let me know in the comments below.
This post was originally published January 1, 2018. It was updated to reflect new choices and selections.