Saturday, November 2, 2013

Doctor Who: The Best First Episode For A New Whovian


Greetings, Whovians! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog with a stick of celery in it's lapel. I'm Dave-El and today is another installment of Doctor Who Saturday.

Since July 13th, I've been posting installments of my wacked-out, sprawling Doctor Who story, The Nemesis Who Stole Time which ultimately featured 11 Doctors (maybe a 12th? I'm not saying nothin'), a variety of companions and a bevy of Doctor Who foes such as the Master, Cybermen, Sontarans, Weeping Angels and, of course, the Daleks. It was a lot of fun but I am relieved that it's over. At some point, I will engage in some self indulgence and document the experience as well as review the story itself including real and/or perceived plot holes. Yes, I do have answers for all the plot holes and only once is that answer "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey". But I'm still a bit cream crackered (thank you, Rory's dad, for that expression) from wrapping up that story so that will be another time.

Today I want to talk about bringing someone new into the Whovian fold.

We love Doctor Who, yes we do. We think the show is awesome! We think the Doctor is amazing! And we don't want to keep all of this awesome amazingness to ourselves. We want to share this experience. We want more people to know and appreciate this whole Doctor Who experience.

But question of where to start can be daunting. Let's face it, Doctor Who is wonderful but there's a lot to wrap one's head around sometimes and a person watching for the first time might find it confusing or overwhelming. So it's important to introduce this person via the right episode, one that is easy to jump into but mentally engaging enough to intrigue this potential new viewer that this show is definitely worth following up on.  

If we want to bring a friend over to the lifelong habit-forming wonder of Doctor Who, what is the gateway drug?

At the risk of ticking off the long term Doctor Who fans out there, my first thought on this subject is this: forget the classic stuff. Yes, there are a lot of great episodes to choose from in the classic era but I think its best to start with the Doctor Who that's being made today. Once they've established (what I'm sure will be) an undying love for all things Who, then by all means introduce them to the show's rich and entertaining history.

But I would suggest limits to the selection of modern era stories.

No two part stories. Let's not tax someone's patience on their first go with a nearly two hour Doctor Who story. The best first story is something this is tight and self contained.

Which leads me to this next point:

No story arc or mythology stories. I know a woman from work who's first Doctor Who story was "A Good Man Goes to War". Now I thought it was a great story as a fan of the show but I can imagine that maybe someone new, particularly with no one along to explain things, might have wondered what's going on. Objectively, she saw a show that had a lot going on that had a certain charm: sci-fi action, humor, drama, etc. But this story was in service to larger story arc for the season. I don't know if there was ever a 2nd Doctor Who episode for this person. 

But in focusing on the modern era (since the show's revival in 2005), the question still remains: where to start? Well, I have an idea for what I think would be the perfect first episode but I want to look at a few othere episodes that have certain key strengths that would make them appealing as first episodes for a new viewer.

"Rose". You can't get more new user friendly than the very first episode of the revived series. The whole thing was built for the express purpose of establishing some of the basic parameters of the Doctor's character, the role of the companion and the whole philosophy of Doctor Who. And there are a lot of good things about the episode: Christopher Eccleston immediately sucks you in with his interpretation of the Doctor: eccentric, flippant, determined, arrogant, oblivious and more. And stuff blows up real good!

"The Eleventh Hour". The decks have been cleared: a new Doctor with no companion along for the transition and a new producer/head writer on board. Everything starts fresh. And Matt Smith is a wonder to behold from the first scene on. Yes, stuff has happened before but a new viewer can jump in and find themselves wildly entertained by a story that balances science fiction and whimsy, drama and humor, characterization and action virtually flawlessly.

"Father's Day".  If you want the pendulum to swing more towards pathos than humor, this is a very good story to start. The 9th Doctor and Rose have established a rapport with each other yet they find themselves at odds in a time travel adventure gone awry for a reason that most people who feel empathetic to. 

"New Earth". David Tennant's first regular episode is a fairly self-contained story with threats that are both scary and campy. With a new Doctor on board, the episode is tasked with establishing the new status quo so a new viewer can easily get on the ground floor from here.  

"Planet of the Dead". This special from Easter 2009 almost plays like a Doctor Who movie. It's big and epic in scale with scary alien monsters and action packed derring-do. My only real main concern over this episode? The idea of a person's first Doctor story where the TARDIS barely appears seems a bit off to me. Still, David Tennant's Doctor is great with this movie-like tale.

"A Christmas Carol". There's a lot to hang your hat on here if you are a total newbie to Doctor Who: the basic structure of Charles Dickens' classic novel, a space ship right out of Star Trek, SHARKS!, drama, action, humor, head spinning time travel stuff! Wow! Oh, look! It's Dumbledore for Harry Potter! And that woman from Dancing With the Stars! A new viewer might wonder what the deal is with Amy and Rory given their virtual guest star status in the episode (and WHY is she dressed like that?)

"Space/Time". OK, you're really desperate. You so want this person to watch Doctor Who but you can't seem to convince them to make time to watch a single hour long episode. This short I think is a perfect little primer to give someone a fairly good grasp of how things work in Doctor Who land. Yes, it is all a bit too silly but if time is of the essence, then go for the Hail Mary and toss this one down the field.

And there are other episodes that I think might make a good "first episode" for a new viewer: "The End of the World", "Tooth and Claw", "The Shakespeare Code", "The Fires of Pompeii", "Vincent and the Doctor". But the one that I would nominate as the best episode of modern Doctor Who to give a new viewer a fairly comprehensive grasp of the, the universe of Doctor Who is:

"The Girl in the Fireplace"

Why this one? Here are my thoughts on that:

1) It's self contained.
2) It has time travel AND space travel.
3) It has the future AND the past.
4) It has a big honkin' spaceship AND Versailles.
5) It has humor.
6) It has romance.
7) It has scares and chills.
8) It has action.
9) It has pathos and drama.
10) We have 2 companions who contrast experience and uncertainty.
11) The guest star's character is strong, smart, witty, insightful and sexy as all get out.
12) The Doctor is awesome!

In short, "The Girl in the Fireplace" has every element one might expect to find in a good Doctor Who episode...but in a single, done in one hour package. I must clarify that this is not a testimonial that this episode is the absolute best Doctor Who story ever. But it is my opinion that if you want a new viewer to see all that Doctor Who can be as comprehensively as possible, then "The Girl in the Fireplace" is the way to go.

Next time: OK, you've reeled them in. Congratulations on your new Doctor Who fan. But now they're curious about the show's history.

Where to start?

I'll look at that in next week's Doctor Who Saturday.

Thanks for dropping by and be good to one another. 

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