Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the Doctor. If you’re new to Doctor Who and are about to tune into the latest specials, here’s everything you need to know.
“Basic stuff first,” as somebody once said. The Doctor is a Time Lord and travels around through time and space in a machine known as the TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It looks like a phone kiosk – specifically an old police telephone box from the 1950s. This may seem odd if you’re new to Doctor Who, but it actually makes a lot of sense; the TARDIS is meant to disguise itself wherever it goes, and in a past adventure it got stuck in the form of a police box, and the Doctor never changed it.
The TARDIS is also bigger on the inside. Nobody quite knows why, but it’s a product of the temporal engineering from the Doctor’s home planet Gallifrey. There used to be loads of TARDISes on Gallifrey, and the Doctor stole this specific one in order to flee from his own people.
Now, this may sound like an intriguing plot point if you’re new to Doctor Who (and it is) but don’t get too excited about the Time Lords. Because, alas, they were wiped out by another of the Doctor’s race known as the Master – an old friend of the Doctor’s, before he went rogue.
There is one thing about the Time Lords, though, that might intrigue (and confuse) you if you’re new to Doctor Who. Whenever they die, they have the ability to save themselves by ‘regenerating’ their bodies, which simply means that they change every cell and adopt a brand new physical appearance, even changing gender on some occasions. Typically, a Time Lord has 13 lives, so cannot regenerate beyond this limit.
But, in real world terms, this is one of the reasons why Doctor Who has lasted so long. Whenever an actor has decided to move on, they’ve simply swapped-out with a new one. The most recent regeneration happened in 2022 when the Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker died at the hands of the Master and was replaced with… well, this is where things get a bit complicated.
If you’re completely new to Doctor Who, the fact that David Tennant is the current Time Lord shouldn’t baffle you. But the thing is, David Tennant has played the Doctor before. He took over the role from Christopher Eccleston in 2005, and remained the incumbent Time Lord until 2010. So the fact that he has returned is a bit of a head-scratcher. This isn’t a flashback – he is legitimately the Fourteenth Doctor. Jodie Whittaker regenerated into him.
It remains to be seen if this plot point will be addressed in the latest specials. But the BBC is presenting these episodes as a brand new iteration of the show, or a soft reboot if you will. So if you’re new to Doctor Who, this will be a perfect jumping-on point; you won’t need to have memorised the entire back catalogue of the Doctor’s travels. Indeed, for many viewers on Disney+ around the world, these Doctor Who episodes will be the first they’ve ever seen.
At the same time, if you are new to Doctor Who and want to explore some of the Time Lord’s past adventures, the vast majority of them are available in the Whoniverse, which is the term given to all of the Doctor Who TV media and is accessible on BBC iPlayer. You can read Lovarzi’s recommendations on which stories to watch here.
In the meantime, some of you who are new to Doctor Who may be wondering about the character of Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate. She’s the red-haired character who’s appeared in the recent trailers, and she has a long history with the Time Lord. Indeed, she was with the show during David Tennant’s first era, and she didn’t leave in the happiest of circumstances.
This all took place in a 2008 episode called ‘Journey’s End.’ Donna absorbed the Doctor’s consciousness, effectively becoming half human and half Time Lord. And this was unsustainable; this so-called metacrisis was burning her mind, and the Doctor had to wipe her memory in order to save her life. So when he left her, Donna Noble had no memory of the Doctor or her travels in the TARDIS.
And this is the same Donna Noble that the Doctor encounters in the new episodes. She has been happily living her life and still has no recollection of her old friend or her past adventures. But, presumably, she will still be in mortal danger of remembering him – as in, her mind will burn if any of her memories come back. So it’ll be interesting to see how the Doctor circumvents this problem.
Finally, if you’re new to Doctor Who you may be wondering about the other actor who has been teased in some of the publicity and the trailers. This is Ncuti Gatwa, who will be playing the Fifteenth Doctor as of Christmas 2023. In fact, he has already filmed his first full series as the Doctor and is currently shooting his second! So he’s an upcoming Doctor and (somehow, someway) will take over from David Tennant during the 60th anniversary specials. But again, it’s not clear how this transition will take place.
What we do know, however, is that the new episodes will feature an old enemy of the Doctor’s in the shape of the Celestial Toymaker, who hasn’t been seen on screen since 1966. But again, don’t be fazed if you’re new to Doctor Who. You won’t require any prior knowledge of this character to enjoy the ride.
So there we are. Do tell us – if you’re new to Doctor Who, what is it about the series that intrigues you the most? And if you’re a confirmed fan, what advice would you give to someone taking their first steps in the Whoniverse? Let us know in the comments below.