Written by Randy Allain
Just over a decade ago, it was easy to be a Whovian.
Doctor Who was shiny and glossy; no longer a low-budget oddball. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan rocked magazine covers and charmed their way into our lives with hipster cool and madcap sci-fi adventures.
Those of us who were a few years behind could binge the lighter, zippier, and more contemporary “New Who” seasons over on Netflix. We were free to fall in love with David Tennant and his signature Chucks.
Plus, the 50th anniversary celebration was coming, and not even decades of lore could keep us away. We were bombarded with retrospectives and explainers from the BBC. Everyone was invited to the party, and it was an absolute banger.
We buzzed and speculated about the next Doctor, and some of us were eager to see the show evolve with a bold and diverse casting decision.
We got… an older white guy. Despite Peter Capaldi’s acting chops, the announcement didn’t strike the right chord with many fans.
Capaldi came in as a grumpy eccentric with all of the necessary gravitas, but his first season disrupted the formula. Our Doctor Who party started to thin … and thin some more. By the time they figured out how to use Capaldi’s noteworthy talent, the party was just a few of us huddled up in a corner.
About this time, they announced a new Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker – the first female Doctor! This was exciting news, and it even manufactured a little buzz. Sadly, the new guard under Chris Chibnall never quite captured the right vibe or energy. They overstuffed the TARDIS, and the party never got going. Whittaker’s Thirteen never got a chance to shine.
Nevertheless, I had a great time with Whittaker, and I think it would be a mistake for anyone to pick up the show again without at least acknowledging what her run as The Doctor brought to the character.
I like to call Thirteen “The Family Doctor,” because she never treated her companions like accessories and she helped all of them achieve some form of personal and emotional growth. It’s an important chapter in The Doctor’s development, and as far as I’m concerned, her growth is a big part of the reason David Tennant’s Doctor is coming back to reconnect and atone for the way things ended with Donna Noble.
As much as I’d love to see all returning Whovians become completionists who’ve enjoyed every nose crinkle and disarming stream-of-consciousness ramble that Whittaker has to offer, I know there is a lot of content out there and not nearly enough time. With that reality in mind, I’ve curated some options to help you add a dose of Thirteen to your Doctor Who canon.
If you really can’t find the time to watch any Whittaker episodes, at least take a few minutes to understand the concept of “The Timeless Child.” This was the central mystery of Whittaker’s run, and it turns out that our beloved Doctor is not only a very special Time Lord, but the progenitor of the entire race. It’s … a lot. Thankfully, most of The Doctor’s memory of this time remains hidden away in a fob watch, deep in the heart of the TARDIS.
I don’t think the new series will linger on this concept or unlock the fob watch, but it’s possible that this mystery could shed some light on whatever timey wimey shenanigans explain David Tennant back into existence in the 60th anniversary specials.
Also, if you really can’t watch even ONE Whittaker episode, at least hop into episode 12.11 “Revolution of the Daleks” at the 8.5 minute mark and catch the three-minute sequence of Thirteen trying to stay sane in a space prison while joking around with a murderers’ row of Doctor Who creatures.
Willing to go further? Let’s talk about some specific episodes.
If you are only going to catch one episode from the Whittaker era, I recommend 12.5 “Fugitive of the Judoon.” This is a self-contained and relatively tidy episode of Doctor Who. You get a fun time with Thirteen, a juicy revelation, and a very fun surprise cameo from the past. You also get a sense of what sort of mysteries are lurking in The Doctor’s past as the Timeless Child. When they tease the concept of the “Lone Cyberman,” just ignore it. You don’t need to know.
At this point, you are in pretty good shape to reunite with David Tennant later this month, but if I can entice you to do a little more homework, please read on.
If you are willing to bookend “Fugitive of the Judoon” with a couple of other episodes, please take the time to watch Jodie Whittaker’s first episode: 11.1 “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” Jodie has a great time, you learn about her tech skills, and you get a strong emotional basis for each of the three companions.
Then, check out Jodie Whittaker’s farewell in 13.9 “The Power of the Doctor.” This episode will let you bask in the glow of Sacha Dawan’s unhinged portrayal of The Master. You won’t understand why he’s back in the picture, but don’t worry, I don’t understand it either. More importantly, you will get to see The Doctor leave behind a bunch of healthy, well-adjusted companions. She even makes peace with a pair of Classic Who companions. Of course, the episode ends with the reveal of David Tennant as a new iteration of The Doctor.
Honestly, this is the most essential info you need moving forward, but if you’d like to spend a little more time with Thirteen, here is a quick snapshot of my remaining top 10 episodes, in chronological order. Watch one of them. Watch all of them. Whatever sounds fun!
1. 11.3 “Rosa” – Check out this well-intentioned and well-received history episode (though it could do more to acknowledge Rosa Parks for her activism beyond the famous bus ride).
2. 11.6 “Demons of the Punjab” – Enjoy this genuinely moving love story set against the backdrop of the Partition of India.
3. 11.8 “The Witchfinders” – Watch Alan Cumming have a great time while The Doctor challenges the patriarchy.
4. 11.9 “It Takes You Away” – Feel all of your feelings while The Doctor teaches a godlike entity about building healthy relationships.
5. 12.8 “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” – Hang out with a host of British Romantic writers and some ghosts.
6. 12.10 “The Timeless Children” – Lose yourself in Sacha Dawan’s menacing charm as The Master (and a whole lot of myth-building exposition).
7. 13.7 “Eve of the Daleks” – Buckle up for a wibbly-wobbly time loop (and, unfortunately, a dude telling two women about their feelings).
Thank you, returning Whovian, for sticking with me this long! If you are still in at this point, I think it’s time to consider going back to watch as much of the Whittaker era as you can! At the very least, check out the six-episode “Flux” run at the start of Season 13.
Welcome back to the party, and I’ll see you on November 25th!