How to watch Classic Doctor Who!

You want to start watching Classic Doctor Who? Well, you need to understand a few things first:

Stories VS Episodes

Doctor Who from 2005 and the Ninth Doctor onwards bases it’s story structure on one 45 minute block. Occasionally there would be one 90 minute block split in two referred to as a ‘two-parter’ or sometimes an extended special.

Doctor Who in it’s original run from 1963 to 1989 and the 1st to 7th Doctors had a completely different story structure. The norm was for a story to be between 4 and 6 episodes, each around 25 minutes in length. This is where most people get confused, especially when watching on Netflix or buying the DVDs.


This is a DVD cover for the first ever Doctor Who story; An Unearthly Child. This story is made up of four parts, and Classic Who DVDs are set out like this. One DVD box = One story. That’s how a collection of Classic Who DVDs ends up looking like this:

And this isn't even a complete set...
And this isn’t even a complete set…

This stratagem of 5 episodes per story on average means there is a heck of a lot of Classic Who. (See here for a complete list of Who DVDs: ( One way to go through Classic Who is the way I did it. Pick and choose, guess work mostly. I was given the 20th Anniversary Special as my first Classic DVD, and since then have been watching others with no clear routine or structure. This has mostly negatives as uneducated fans can find themselves getting confused, but I was a lonely teenager and read up on Who lore whilst watching the series…

Another way, the way most people tend to do, is pick a starting story (usually The Third Doctor’s first story Spearhead From Space) and move in order through the timeline. This works well, until you get to the missing episodes. During the 70s, when storage of television stories was being changed from from videotape to 16mm film, the original recordings were destroyed to make space. Unfortunately for Doctor Who and many other televisual recordings from the 60s and 70s nobody checked if a copy had been made. There are about 90 episodes still to this day lost. There are many photographs, audio recordings and reconstructions of these missing episodes, but the absolute earliest point at which fans can watch uninterrupted by blanks is The War Games; The Second Doctor’s regeneration story.

My advice for stories, one from each Doctor!

  1. The War Machines
  2. The Enemy of The World
  3. The Dæmons
  4. Pyramids of Mars
  5. Earthshock
  6. The Trial Of A Time Lord
  7. Remembrance of The Daleks


In total it’s about 16 days… Good luck.

A few key tips:

  • Don’t do it all in one go. These classic episodes are designed to be watched one at a time, at Saturday tea time. It’s advised (even by me) that you don’t bulk watch Classic Who. A four episode stint you could probably get away with, but any more than that and even the most devoted fans can find themselves getting bored in the middle bits.
  • Don’t be too harsh on them. Modern TV now is all HD Ready with the latest computer technology. TV shows now are made to be rewatched, be it on DVDs, iPlayer, etc.. TV in the era of black and white was made for one time viewing, they didn’t have the time or money to care about small mistakes. Telly was made in small studios and on a very tight budget, give them some leeway with the visuals and pay attention to the stories.
  • Research. If you want to watch it in chronological order you need to know the correct order. Online demand services like Netflix, iTunes and Hulu don’t have a complete list, and it can be very confusing if you don’t know what came next.
  • Story arc can be tricky. Occasionally Doctor Who would link together a bunch of stories and give them an overarching story. Take Season 16, commonly known as The Key To Time Season. Six stories, 26 episodes and one goal for The Doctor; Recover The Key To Time, an ancient artefact capable of controlling time and space. If I remember correctly all but one of these stories is on US Netflix. Another such arc is Season 23; The Trial Of A Time Lord. The Doctor is put on trial by his own people for meddling in the affairs of other planets, and using evidence from his past, present and future his future lives are forfeit. Definitely don’t try and watch all these ones at once.


And my ultimate advice? Be patient, know the history, and buy the DVDs.


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