Today, one of my co-workers, Maria, informed me that she and her husband watched “Blink” recently and really loved it, and are now going to start watching more Doctor Who. Muahaha! Another mind corrupted! She’s going to be streaming episodes off Netflix, but I recommended to her, if she wanted another good, unconnected episode to watch, that she check out “The Girl in the Fireplace.” I’m very much looking forward to seeing if she really gets into it. She’s an artist and seamstress, so I’m hoping she gets very addicted, if only to see if she starts doing cosplay, because she’d be great at it.
I find it a bit difficult to convince my friends and co-workers to check out Doctor Who for a variety of reasons. First, a lot of people have this idea in their head that they can’t start watching it from the modern series because they need to watch the classic series first, and of course there’s way too much classic series to watch. I try to convince them that they don’t need to do so, citing the fact that I’ve seen less than 1/4 of the classic series myself, but they always respond, “Well, I don’t want to start in the middle.” I think it’s probably just their polite way of telling me to shut up and go away.
Then there are the ones who’ve heard that the show is either a kid’s show or this wacky British show that’s hard for Americans to understand. It’s pretty to disabuse them of the notion that the show is targeted at children, but the second one is harder to argue past. I don’t find British shows to be difficult to understand, but I will admit that I had some problems with Broadchurch at first, because I’d never watched a British crime show and had no idea what things like “DI,” “DS,” and “SOCO.” meant. However, all that became clear in context. British humor and drama (and really, any other culture’s humor and drama) are harder to understand, but I do feel that they aren’t too alien. How do you convince someone to give new narrative and dialogue structure a try?
I think, though, the most difficult problem with enticing new people to give Doctor Who a try stems directly from the thing that’s the strength of the show: the fact that it’s so long-lived (even considering just the modern show) and its mutability. There are seven seasons to choose from and a person coming into it for the first time will usually have heard there are three different Doctors, with very different personalities: which one to choose? Do you start from the first episode of the first season, or from the first episode of the most recognizable/popular Doctor, or from the first episode from the most recent Doctor? I find that people are often scared off simply because it has that level of complexity.
What I like to do is offer them a few sample episodes to watch that demonstrate the quality of the show without requiring background knowledge (beyond knowing that the Doctor is an alien who travels through the universe in a time machine with companions). My two go-to episodes are, as noted above, “Blink” and “The Girl in the Fireplace”; both are completely self-contained. Of course, they are both Tenth Doctor episodes, so I’ve been trying to decide what I would recommend for the Ninth and Eleventh Doctors. I’m really not sure if I would recommend a Ninth Doctor episode, partly because he’s a lot more alien than the other two and partly because his best episodes require some background knowledge. “Rose” might be the only really good episode to recommend, but the old, hammy feel of the Autons could easily turn off a new viewer.
It’s also difficult to recommend an Eleventh Doctor episode, because even when background knowledge is not required, the season’s threads (the cracks in the wall, Amy’s visions of Madame Kovarian watching her, the mentions of the Impossible Girl) tend to infect every episode and could easily confuse the new viewer. I think the only episode that I would choose to introduce a friend to the Eleventh Doctor would be “Vincent and the Doctor.” Maybe there’s something in series 7 that I’m not remembering well enough that would be good (though I kind of doubt it).