How to watch classic Doctor Who

Doctor Who opening titles, 1963

Watching William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, or even any of the classic Doctors isn’t quite the same as watching Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, or Matt Smith.  Doctor Who since its revival in 2005 is incredibly fast-paced compared to the original series.  It has to be in order to compete with the kind of distractions we have in the twenty-first century that no one would have conceived of 49 years ago, or even 23 years ago when Doctor Who ended.  Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of classic Doctor Who.

Take it s-l-o-w-l-y

The Ship arrives on MarinusClassic Doctor Who was a serial drama, meaning the stories were meant to be watched episodically with week-long breaks between each part.  The breaks are important, because there’s a chance you might get bored if you tackle an entire serial all at once, even with the best stories.  That’s not calling classic Who bad, but it’s an acknowledgement of how they were originally watched, so take a fifteen or twenty minute break between episodes, especially if you’re watching a story with more than four parts.

Forget what you already know

The SensoritesWhether we realize it or not, most of us have a lot of Doctor Who baggage that we bring with us when we sit down to watch classic Who.  We know, for example, that the Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.  We know that Time Lords regenerate from time-to-time, and we know that the TARDIS is more than a mere machine.  And if you’ve dipped into the expanded universe of Doctor Who, there’s a whole other level of the Doctor Who mythos you bring with you.  Usually it’s best to forget most of what you already know, especially if you’re watching really early Doctor Who, and focus on the story without worrying too much about everything else.

Don’t be too critical of classic Doctor Who

Ian the warriorClassic Doctor Who has something of an unfair (usually) reputation of having wobbly sets and sometimes questionable production values.  But the earliest production team only had a budget of £2,000 (about £33,000 in 2010) per episode that had to pay for everything with, meaning they often had to get creative, and “beg, borrow, and steal,” in the words of Verity Lambert.  (I don’t know what it costs to produce an episode of modern Doctor Who, but I imagine more than £33,000 is spent every time Steven Moffat exhales.)  Focus on the positive aspects of what they accomplished with very limited resources.

Your tips

Weatherninja on Reddit says, “I have been watching classic Who a lot lately. Here is my advice. Take your time! It got to the point where I was watching classic Who almost any chance I could get. I would even switch Doctors to keep a “fresh” feel. Too much classic Who, though, has kind of burned me out. I’m taking some time off from it, just so I can appreciate it again. I can watch the modern stuff just fine, but I’m burned out a bit on classic right now. Don’t make my mistake. Space out your serials as well as episodes in the serials. You’ll appreciate it more!”

Sharon Essex in the Facebook comments below suggests, “Don’t feel you have to start from the very beginning and don’t feel obligated to watch them all. Classic Who, like a fine wine, is meant to be slipped, not gulped.”

Have other suggestions on how to get the most enjoyment out of classic Doctor Who? Let us know in the comments.

Daniel Lestarjette

Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)

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