Saturday, August 23, 2014

Still Life With Robin: It's Doctor Who Day

Photo by Sceptre via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

I’ve devoted two columns in August (  and ) to my complaint about this month’s lack of an iconic holiday. Somehow it totally slipped my mind that the 23rd of this month (that is to say, TODAY) is the chosen date of an incredibly iconic phenomenon, one of worldwide –no, trans-galactic!-- proportions. Today marks the premiere of the new season of Doctor Who. “Doctor … Who?” you might ask, if you have been away from all media outlets on Planet Earth for the past half century. A quick crib-sheet for those not up to speed: Dr. Who is the twelfth Time Lord of the long-running British sci-fi series, and he will be regenerating at 8 PM  tonight on BBC America.

If you have not been among the legions of fans breathlessly awaiting this event for months on end, it’s not too late to catch up with the voyages of the TARDIS (that’s the Doctor’s time-traveling ship in the shape of an old-style British police call-box). For anyone up for the challenge, it should not take more than the viewing of a half dozen to a dozen episodes to absorb most of what you need to know to be ready to meet the new Doctor. Just set your recording device for tonight’s episode and save it until you have a grounding in the basics: who the main characters are and how they travel in time and space. You might want to pre-game by picking up the essential jargon (Gallifrey; sonic screwdriver, Daleks, and other “timey-wimey stuff”) online: visit

Here’s my personal selection of Ten Essential Episodes for getting into the Doctor Who universe:

A good place to start is with the 2005 reboot of the series, with the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, and his first companion, Rose Tyler. It’s fast, funny, and covers all the main bases of the franchise.

School Reunion
The Doctor and Rose investigate strange events in a school cafeteria – with the help of Sarah Jane (a companion from the 1973 – 1976 series and K-9 the robotic dog, who first appeared in 1977.

Smith and Jones
David Tennant, by far the most popular Doctor of the show’s 50 year run, gets a new companion in medical student Martha Jones, when her hospital is suddenly transported to the moon.

This episode introduces a new threat, the terrifying “weeping angels” whose touch instantly throws their victims back in time.

The Runaway Bride
This episode introduces Donna Noble, who though she is swept into the action unwittingly, will go on to become arguably one of the most intrepid and independent of all the companions. (She's the only one who never seems to be even a teensy bit in love with the Doctor.)

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
These two episodes are both essential to the story arc of River Song, whose time travels keep intersecting with those of the Doctor and his companions (in this case, Donna Noble) in mysterious and crucial ways.

The Fires of Pompeii
If you decide to watch just one full episode before watching the premiere of the new season with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, you might want to see this one, in which Capaldi plays a merchant living with his family in ancient Pompeii, around the time of the volcanic disaster – which, as the Doctor is to discover, is not really caused by the natural action of the volcano.

The Eleventh Hour
This episode introduces the eleventh doctor, played by Matt Smith, as well as a new companion, Amy Pond, who first met the Doctor after the TARDIS fell into her back yard when she was a small child living in Scotland. He tells her he has to go and will be back shortly, and then fourteen years later he turns up again, and as the saying goes, “complications ensue.”

The Snowmen
Your best introduction to Clara, the current companion, who helps the Doctor save the earth in this two-hour Christmas special, with Matt Smith as the Doctor.

Rather than watch all or some of these selected episodes, you might prefer to take a speed course in Doctor Who by watching this short Youtube film, which explains everything you need to know in just fifteen minutes. Or take a look at this even more accelerated version by two super-fast talkers, who manage to cover the same ground in less than half the time: You will feel as if you have traveled 50 years in just six minutes!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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