My Doctor Who fandom was born relatively recently, when Netflix instant-watchability landed the TARDIS in our family room.
Yes, I grew up in the 1980s and became a budding science fiction geek in the shadow of Star Wars, consuming all things wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey spacey. And yet this time-traveling alien-thwarting ultimate technogadgeteer adventurer I happened upon every so often flicking past our local PBS station was … well, he was just too weird. And cheesy. And so very British. I’d see Tom Baker’s wild hair and goofy hat and that scarf, and it just didn’t seem all that science-fiction-y, so back to my Kenner figures I’d turn.
I became aware of the series’ regeneration during the Battlestar Galactica years on Syfy, when our DVR would regularly capture the show’s closing moments. One in particular stuck with me – I would later find out it was the end of Planet of the Ood – and when Netflix instant-watch capability reached our house, I decided it was time to give The Doctor a shot.
Knowing the series’ long history, I asked for advice on where to start, and the unanimous recommendation was to start with the Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston series which marked the show’s return to TV after a decade’s absence.
I could not have fallen in love with the show more quickly. My wife and daughter watched with me from time to time but really didn’t get hooked until I’d moved onto the next season and the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant.
We’re travelling with Matt Smith now, of course, but I’ve also finally begun going backwards along The Doctor’s timeline as well: Over the weekend, I watched my first pre-Eccleston epsisodes, again via Netflix instant watch, which offers a great selection of the 1960s- through 1980s-era serials which have been DVD-stitched into movie-length presentations. (I went with the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and City of Deathand The Pyramids of Mars, the latter in part because it included Sarah Jane Smith.)
Naturally, I’m utterly digging it, and I can’t help but think it’s because I came to the series the way I did. While I can appreciate classic science fiction, I confess that the dated appearance of the 1970s series would have made it tougher for me to become so quickly addicted to the show. And now, when I watch those earlier episodes, I’m much less distracted by the visuals of the era because I know the characters and their history, and it makes those shows more richer in the watching. I’m looking forward to popping back and forth through the series and seeing the different takes on The Doctor and his adventures and the origins of his longtime enemies.
Netflix instant watch is an evolving menu, with television shows and movies constantly shifting from view-on-demand to DVD-only availability, but there’s a lot of Doctor Who for the enjoyment.
As of today, you can watch nine of the eleven Doctors instantly. A sampling:
- First Doctor (William Hartnell) – The Aztecs (1964)
- Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) – The Mind Robber (1968)
- Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) – Spearhead from Space (1970)
- Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) – The Pyramids of Mars (1975)
- Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) – The Caves of Androzani (1984)
- Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) – The Curse of Fenric (1989)
The Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors (Eccleston, Tennant and Smith) are bundled in the current serial collection, which covers the seasons from 2005 through 2010. (Most of the in-between episodes, like the Christmas specials and the episodes marking Tennant’s final appearances, are available instantly as standalone shows.)
The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) is technically instantly watchable in the last few minutes of The Caves of Androzani, but his adventures like 1986′s The Trial of a Time Lord are currently on DVD only, as is the 1996 movie which marked the only appearance of the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann.
Still, seriously: How cool is that? Almost a half-century of Doctor Who at your beck and call. It’s like living in the future.
Or having a TARDIS key.