Everything You Need to Know to Start loving ‘Doctor Who’

Happy, happy! Joy, joy! One of this TVWriter™ minion’s all-time favorite shows returned for a new 50-something season last Sunday night.

Yeppers, I’m talking about Doctor Who, and if you haven’t been a regular viewer of the Doctor and his sorry, her, adventures for lo these many years, do yourself a huge favor and become one.

To get started, we recommend you use AVClub writer Caroline Siede as your guide:

A timey-wimey guide to the modern era of Doctor Who
by Caroline Siede

For a while, getting into modern Doctor Who was easy. The long-running BBC show is broken up into two distinct eras: The “Classic Era,” which ran from 1963 to 1989 (followed by a mid-’90s TV movie) and the “Modern Era” (or “NuWho” as it’s sometimes called), which kicked off in 2005 with a soft reboot and is still ongoing. Since the revived show was explicitly designed with new viewers in mind, anyone curious about the series could simply start with season one and go from there, while relying on any number of guides (including The A.VClub’s) to explain the far more convoluted Classic Series. But things have changed since then. NuWho will soon have been on the air for 13 years, 11 seasons, and five central Doctors. It’s now an intimidating beast in and of itself. For those who want to get a better grasp on modern Doctor Who before tuning in to watch the first female Doctor make her debut, here’s everything you need to know.

Doctor Who 101

Despite its title, Doctor Who centers on a character simply called the Doctor. (“Doctor who?” is the question usually posed after he introduces himself.) An eccentric Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, the Doctor fled his home planet to pursue a life spent seeking thrills and righting the universe’s wrongs. The Doctor travels through time and space in a ship called the TARDIS, which stands for “Time And Relative Dimension In Space.” Bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, the Doctor’s shape-shifting TARDIS is permanently stuck as a blue police box, which serves as a dual reminder of the show’s fundamental Britishness and the Doctor’s core desire to help people. Thanks to his (soon to be her) Time Lord heritage, the Doctor is able to regenerate into a brand new person to avoid death. Originally invented as a way to continue the show after the retirement of its elderly lead, regeneration has since become a defining element of Doctor Who. Each NuWho Doctor gets their own distinctive TARDIS interior as well as their own sonic screwdriver—a catchall tech gizmo that does whatever the show needs it to do at the moment.

Though consistently known simply as the Doctor, each regeneration is commonly identified by number as well. The Classic Era of the show featured the First through the Eighth Doctors (again, check out our previous Doctor Whoprimer for more on that), while NuWho features Doctors Nine through Thirteen and beyond. While the Doctor always maintains core qualities of curiosity, compassion, overconfidence, and a mischievous desire to break the rules, each regeneration has their own unique personality, which gives the show a chance to refresh itself every few years. Doctor Who also gets a softer reset each time it introduces a new companion—the human friends and allies the Doctor temporarily adopts as his traveling cohorts. The introduction of a new Doctor or companion generally means a reintroduction to the basic tenets of the Doctor Who universe as well, which make those easy places for new fans to jump aboard….