Updated: List updated to include Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin.
While most long-time Doctor Who fans will avoid trying to rank the Doctors, the truth is that every Whovian has their favorites. As Jodie Whittaker returns as the Time Lord with a penchant for weird fashions and boiled sweets, we thought it might be fun to take a look back at the Doctor through their regenerations and see who wore the part best. Of course, that opinion will vary depending on when a person discovers the show, their appreciation for the series writing backing the actor, or whims as capricious as the Doctor himself.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: A sprig of celery on his lapel; breathlessness.
Highlight: Uniting his previous selves to defeat his old teacher in “The Five Doctors.”
While charming and affable, Davison had the unenviable task of replacing Tom Baker after a seven-year reign. He also took over the part while appearing on two other BBC programs: the drama All Creatures Great and Small and the sitcom Sink or Swim. His era was marked by a stable of writers afraid of the storytelling complexity the show demanded and a producer looking to make the series more theatrical. Watching him in stories like “The Arc of Infinity” and “The Five Doctors,” he reveals a more vulnerable and thoughtful Doctor, but all too often, the rough scripts and overly lit sets illustrate a Doctor who was, unfortunately, unremarkable.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: Hideous taste, a love for his own voice.
Highlight: His quiet dismay when he learns his companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) was killed due to a Time Lord plot in “The Trial of a Time Lord.”
Following the human and vulnerable Davison, Colin Baker was intended as a return to the crabby, spiteful Doctor of old. After a difficult regeneration, the Sixth Doctor tried to strangle his companion and chose an eye-sore patchwork coat as part of his costume. It is still hard to say which action was the greater crime. According to the actor, the intention was to mellow the Doctor out as he regained his human qualities. Sadly, audiences did not want to see an unpleasant Doctor and the BBC used the situation to put the show on an 18-month hiatus. It returned as “The Trial of a Time Lord” and its verdict cut Colin Baker’s time in the series short.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: Flubbing lines, a quickness to anger.
Highlight: His farewell to his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford) in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” still holds up as one of the great moments in the series’ history.
Despite being first, William Hartnell stands apart from his successors. Designed as a foil for the series’ real main characters at the time, the First Doctor is often crabby, selfish, and heartless. Once his original companions left and he became the lead, many of his rough edges softened. In hindsight, the first few seasons of Doctor Who reveal how he came to love the Earth, but the much slower pace of the stories and mid-’60s production values make many of his stories difficult to enjoy. And while his performance as the Doctor is often enjoyable, it is a very different Doctor Who.
(Photo by BBC America)
Known for: Referring to her companions as her “fam.”
Highlight: Uniting disparate parts of herself to recover from the Master’s use of the Matrix on Gallifrey … and the word salad that immediately followed it.
After Capaldi’s grumpy, grandfatherly Doctor, Whittaker debuted with a youthful vibe and a motormouth reminiscent of some of the other, more clownish predecessors. But clowning around isn’t really the Thirteenth Doctor’s style. Sure, she enjoys her fun – and getting lost in verbalizing her own thought process – but there is a passion (and lots of compassion) to this Doctor and her wanderings. Nearly all of that time has been spent with the same trio of humans, suggesting this Doctor needs more of family unit than ever before. That direct support is important considering the discoveries she made about her past during this incarnation. Admittedly, the writing has not been on her side – leaving the character more of a muddle than she might otherwise be – but Whittaker’s Doctor approaches all of her adventures with the sort of smile and care you want from the character.
(Photo by BBC America)
Known for: A short life, exclaiming “fantastic!”
Highlight: Announcing his plans to rescue Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and defeat the Daleks in “The Parting of the Ways.”
The biggest problem with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor is that we barely got to know him. A prematurely issued BBC press release revealed the actor would leave the series shortly before the revived program debuted. In the States, the series failed to find a broadcaster willing to carry it until after he was gone. And then there is the show itself. Still finding its footing, it goes from the highs of dealing with the Doctor’s PTSD to the lows of farting aliens assuming control of 10 Downing Street. All the while, the Ninth Doctor manically runs from situation to situation, madly grinning with his companion hand-in-hand. His one year of episodes only offers a glimpse of what the actor could have done with it if he had stayed the traditional three years. As we’ve learned in recent years, the nature of the production made it impossible for the actor to continue, but at least he has returned to the part via the Big Finish audios.
(Photo by BBC America)
Known for: Facing the end of the Time War, proper use of a sonic screwdriver.
Highlight: His relief as he realizes he doesn’t have to destroy his homeworld in “The Day of the Doctor.”
Perhaps an unfair ranking as the War Doctor only appeared in the 50th anniversary special, but Hurt’s few moments as a Time Lord are nothing short of magical. According to early storyboards, Eccleston’s Doctor was going to be revealed as the incarnation responsible for Gallifrey’s destruction. But his (understandable) reticence to return to the part led to Hurt becoming a secret regeneration in the Doctor’s life cycle, presenting all the qualities fans would expect from the Doctor on the worst day of his life. From Hartnell’s crabbiness to Davison’s vulnerability, he also echoed the classic series Doctors, becoming their avatar in the grandest of Doctor Who celebrations to date.
(Photo by James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America)
Known for: Appearing when you least suspect it.
Highlight: Revealing to the Thirteenth Doctor (Whittaker) that her favorite part in any encounter is saying “I am The Doctor.”
Jo Martin surprised everyone when her kind-hearted Gloucester tour guide, Ruth Clayton, turned out to be an incarnation of The Doctor from a previous life cycle, seemingly scrubbed from history by the Time Lords and The Doctor’s own mind. Now dubbed “The Fugitive Doctor,” Martin’s Time Lord is filled with a self-confident swagger that usually comes off as misplaced bravado in their other incarnations. But here it enhances one of the most steely-eyed versions of the character ever seen. “Time’s Champion” and the “Time Lord Triumphant” make more sense when you think she’s whispering thoughts into her successors’ ears. Despite only appearing on screen for 15 minutes, the Fugitive Doctor made a huge impression and Martin’s debut left us wanting the rest of season 12 to directly revolve around the Thirteenth Doctor’s search for this missing part of herself.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: Spoon playing; a panama hat.
Highlight: Coolly offering the Daleks the means of their own destruction in their final classic series appearance, “Remembrance of the Daleks.”
Initially presented as a clown, McCoy’s Doctor makes a startling transformation into a master manipulator by the end of the classic series’ final season. Warm and nurturing one moment, the Seventh Doctor could turn on his closest allies — but only if it meant furthering his long-term goals. McCoy reflected the change in the final season with a darker coat and a deepening of his voice, suggesting the Doctor was something older and more alien than we previously thought. Sadly, these ideas were never fully developed as the show entered its long hiatus.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: Kissing girls, claiming to be half human on his mother’s side.
Highlight: Remembering his companions in “The Night of the Doctor.”
Unlike Eccleston and Hurt, Paul McGann’s brief tenure as the Doctor led to a very long association with the character and the most tantalizing of “what ifs” surrounding Doctor Who. As part of an attempt to import the series to the States in 1996, McGann was the first Doctor viewed consciously for his romantic appeal. And he plays that new dimension for the Doctor brilliantly. Sadly, his TV movie is one of the worst Doctor Who episodes ever produced, but it suggests an appealing, brilliant, and vulnerable Doctor you wanted to spend time with every week. McGann would build on the Eighth Doctor via numerous audio adventures, culminating in his brief return to screens in the short prelude scene, “The Night of the Doctor.”
(Photo by BBC America)
Known for: Kissing girls (and at least one boy), calling time a “ball of wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.”
Highlight: His determination while punishing the aliens who forced him to return to his Time Lord ways in “The Family of Blood.”
The most popular of the new series Doctors benefits from some of the best scripts ever written in the show’s long history. From “School Reunion” to “Blink” to the final moments of “Journey’s End,” the Tenth Doctor revealed previously unseen depths in the Doctor’s psyche, none more startling than his deeply rooted fear of regeneration and losing his Tennant-ness. He fulfilled the potential for romance first glimpsed with McGann, but took it to a whole new level with his long coat and rail-thin build. He also built on the weariness of Eccleston, becoming “the man who regrets” in the process. And in his wake are plenty of fans who regret that he ever left the show.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: Velvet jackets; Conjuring tricks
Highlight: Revealing a story from his childhood to calm his companion in “The Time Monster.”
Theatrical, yet more contained than just about any other Doctor, Pertwee used the role to break away from his reputation as a variety entertainer and played the part straight. In his era, the Doctor became a patrician hero. Exiled from Time Lord society and banned from travelling through time, he found a family with the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. He could quarrel with them as intensely as the enemies they fought together, but it only reflected his fierce dedication to truth and a sense of righteousness beyond the self. At the same time, he could still have fun building gadgets and special cars, but it reflected as much about Pertwee’s own personality as it did the Third Doctor’s.
(Photo by BBC America)
Known for: Scottish accent, ordering people to shut up.
Highlight: His proclamation that “I’m an idiot in a box, passing through, helping out, learning” from “Death in Heaven.”
Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor strikes an imposing figure as the show’s attempts to conjure up a regeneration closer to Hartnell finally paid off. Often as crabby and menacing as the First Doctor — and as a careless and self-involved as the Sixth — Capaldi also illustrated what the part looks like when a lifelong fan of the show, who also happens to be an Oscar-nominated actor, takes possession of the TARDIS. Admittedly, a number of the storylines during his tenure proved underwhelming, but Capaldi’s performance never ceased to be a delightful return to the days when the Doctor was unpredictable and scary.
(Photo by BBC America)
Known for: Bow ties, devotion to friends.
Highlight: Giving Vincent Van Gogh a moment of peace in “Vincent and the Doctor.”
Unlike Capaldi and Tennant, Smith grew up without Doctor Who. Nevertheless, he found the quirky charm and ancient gravitas of the character so quickly you would think he has vivid memories of the show from when it was in black and white. Choosing to dress and model the character after an eccentric professor, Smith’s mile-a-minute speech pattern and frantically gesticulating hands led the series to its greatest successes in the States. Both young and old all at once, Smith’s Doctor could make you laugh and break your heart within moments.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: A very, very long scarf, Jelly Babies.
Highlight: Shouting “Cockneys!” when asked which tribe inhabits London at the beginning of “The Talons of Weng-Chaing.”
It is fair to say Tom Baker was born to play the Doctor. He’ll also tell you he never really stopped. Giving the Doctor some of his own alien mannerisms and vocal eccentricities, he became the definitive incarnation of the Doctor for decades. His place is well-deserved. Even in the worst stories of his era, Baker’s commitment to an outwardly flippant, but deeply concerned children’s hero never wavers. He also benefited from the continual presence of the show’s best writer, Robert Holmes, who either wrote or rewrote most of the Fourth Doctor tales from 1974 to 1976.
(Photo by BBC)
Known for: Getting his companions to run, check trousers
Highlight: Calming his new friend Victoria with the knowledge that “no one else in the universe can do what we do” during a tense night in “The Tomb of the Cybermen.”
Except for Hartnell, all of the actors who have played the Doctor owe a tremendous debt to Patrick Troughton. Besides being the first person to ever face the scrutiny and potential ridicule of Doctor Who fans by replacing the lead, he also established much of the Doctor’s core persona. The indignant retorts, puckish retreats and grave proclamations of doom uttered by his successors involuntarily — or voluntarily in some cases — echo his performance. With the Second Doctor, we meet the meddler in time who wants to see the universe, learn. and help out. But unlike some of his successors, Troughton’s Doctor was unafraid to reveal he was out of his depth. Some of the best moments in a Troughton story come from his confidence being shattered when he realizes he cannot rewire a rocket or complete a math quiz. At the same time, he could recover that confidence and win the day. Often confounding his enemies and allies alike, he could also center himself to reveal a steely intelligence or a surprising warmth. All of it was delivered with a slight tobacco quality in his voice and a twinkle in his eye. Truly the sort of person you would want to see step out of the TARDIS.
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New year, new TV — that’s what we always say! And with these 11 fresh returning series this month, there’s plenty of it to go around. Whether you feel like scratching that nostalgia itch with Cobra Kai, singing along with Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, or watching your latest binge through your fingers with Servant, January 2021 has all that and more.
What it is: Considering Doctor Who is about nothing less than fantastical adventures through the space-time continuum, it’s difficult to sum up in a sentence or two. Suffice it to say that it follows an alien Time Lord known as the Doctor (who’s been inhabited by a number of actors over the years, and now, for the first time, a woman) and their companions — in the two newest seasons known as “friends.”
Why you should watch it: Doctor Who is making a case for being one of those timeless sci-fi properties that’s earned a devout following akin to Star Wars or Star Trek. The decades-spanning series always finds ways to one-up itself, and with Jodie Whittaker making her grand debut on season 11 as the first female Doctor, there’s never been a better time to jump aboard. Season 12 wrapped after 10 episodes in March 2020, but it’s got one more installment up its sleeve by way of a New Years special (which airs Jan. 1 on BBC America), in which one of the Doctor’s most fearsome enemies is slated to return. Before you watch that, though, we recommend you begin your binge with the 2006 relaunch.
Commitment: Approx. 110 hours (for the first 12 seasons of the relaunch)
What it is: A routine MRI goes awry for the titular Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy) when an earthquake shakes her mind beyond repair. She exits the clinic with the ability to hear people’s innermost thoughts, all communicated through music.
Why you should watch it: Actors don’t come packaged much more charming than Levy, and her skills are put to fabulous use on creator Austin Winsberg’s Emmy-winning series. Flanked by musically gifted co-stars like Pitch Perfect vet Skylar Astin and Glee-turned-Broadway wunderkind Alex Newell — not to mention industry vets Mary Steenburgen, Lauren Graham, and Peter Gallagher — this showstopping series hits all the right notes. Season 2 premieres Jan. 5 on NBC.
Commitment: Approx. 9 hours (for the first season)
What it is: Cobra Kai charts the reopening of The Karate Kid’s infamous Cobra Kai dojo by none other than Johnny Lawrence himself. It makes for a modern-day twist on the classic 1980s film franchise, and now with its new home on Netflix (after an original launch on YouTube Premium), it’s become a runaway hit with fans new and old.
Why you should watch it: Nostalgia has been the name of the game through what has otherwise been an insurmountably difficult year. Luckily, Cobra Kai, from creator Robert Mark Kamen, has it in spades. Featuring committed performances from Karate Kid original players Ralph Macchio as Daniel and William Zabka as Johnny, this reboot feels as comfortable and entertaining as ever, and it’s further brought to life by an ensemble of young actors finding their own footing in the discipline of karate. Season 3 premieres Jan. 1 on Netflix.
Commitment: Approx. 10 hours (for the first two seasons)
What it is: A teen Emily Dickinson was a rebel with gifts and intelligence well beyond her years; Dickinson is the story of how she set out to be the world’s best living poet in ways both unexpected and engrossing.
Why you should watch it: Creator Alena Smith’s hit flagship series with Apple TV+ left us wanting more the minute it started. Why? Well, Dickinson is herself a subject of intrigue, and played by an Oscar nominee like Hailee Steinfeld (who’s also attached as an executive producer), she’s certainly a compelling character. But set to a contemporary soundtrack, sprinkled with millennial-tinged dialogue, and boasting a fast-paced, fantastical, feminist aesthetic that leaves period dramas of yesteryear in its dust, Dickinson is simply unlike anything we’ve seen before — and that’s a good thing. Season 2 premieres Jan. 8 on Apple TV+.
Where to watch it: Apple TV+
Commitment: Approx. 5 hours (for the first season)
What it is: The gods are out to play — and out for blood — in this cult favorite series on Starz. Based on the fantasy novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, American Gods begins by following recently released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), who’s employed by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) as a bodyguard. Diving into a world of dark magic, it is soon revealed that Mr. Wednesday is on a mission to unite the Old Gods against the rise of the New. Now entering its third season, you’ll just have to catch up to learn of their riveting successes and failures in that journey along the way.
Why you should watch it: Few series are quite as engrossingly strange and ambitious as American Gods, and that’s what has us hooked. It’s a timely commentary on the world we live in today, but set against the backdrop of a lurid fantasy epic. And to that we say: more please! Season 3 premieres Jan. 10 on Starz.
Commitment: Approx. 16 hours (for the first two seasons)
What it is: A relationship drama turned coming-of-age comedy turned noir-esque murder mystery thriller turned courtroom procedural, Search Party is everything but definable — and that’s exactly what makes it so good. It’s the story of Dory (Alia Shawkat), Drew (John Reynolds), Elliot (John Early), and Portia (Meredith Hagner), who, on account of their own self-interest and general aimlessness, entangle themselves in the potentially sinister disappearance of their college classmate.
Why you should watch it: Brooklyn-dwelling millennials have been beguiling subjects for many a film and TV creator since Lena Dunham’s Girls, but never before have they been so exactingly (and excruciatingly) brought to life than in Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter’s incisive satire-crime mystery cocktail. And how lucky are we to have two new seasons in a matter of months? Season 4 premieres Jan. 14 on HBO Max.
Commitment: Approx. 12 hours (for the first three seasons)
What it is: Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy’s (Lauren Ambrose) life is turned upside down when a mindless tragedy leads to the death of their newborn. To help aid his despondent wife through her grief, Sean hires a nanny named Leanne (Nell Tiger-Free), against the better judgement of his brother-in-law (Rupert Grint). And it soon enough becomes clear that Leanne has a twisted agenda of her own.
Why you should watch it: Nothing is as it seems in this heady half-hour horror from creator Tony Basgallop and director-producer M. Night Shyamalan. And while Syamalan’s ambitions as a filmmaker at times get the best of him, everything here clicks to make for a taut, stunning freshman series that will leave you on the edge of your seat. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Season 2, which premieres Jan. 15 on Apple TV+.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
Commitment: Approx. 5 hours (for the first season)
What it is: Like Batman before her, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) is an ultra-wealthy heiress who decides to take justice into her own hands on Season 1 of Caroline Dries’ DC Comics series. Rose exited after those first 20 episodes, though, and Season 2 will hand the reins to Javicia Leslie as Ryan Wilder and our titular heroine.
Why you should watch it: With a Season 2 premiere episode titled “Whatever Happened to Kate Kane?” Batwoman knows the main question fans will have going in, and it’s ready to answer it. But as DC’s first-ever black Batwoman, Leslie is making history while kicking some butt in only the way the franchise’s famed caped crusaders can. Season 2 premieres Jan. 17 on the CW.
Commitment: Approx. 15 hours (for the first season)
What it is: With Riverdale, the beloved Archie comics of yore get the CW treatment as a live-action murder mystery-thriller with intense high schoolers played by KJ Apa, Camila Mendes, Lili Reinhart, and Cole Sprouse. In other words, this is not your mom and dad’s heroic redhead.
Why you should watch it: We’ll say it: Riverdale ranks among the best teen dramas to come out of primetime since Gossip Girl, and the viewership and brand ubiquity it has garnered over the years is well deserved. As the classic Archie we know with a heaping serving of sex appeal and a dash of True Detective, what’s not to love? Season 5 premieres Jan. 20 on the CW.
Commitment: Approx. 56 hours (for the first four seasons)
What it is: Euphoria charts the lives of a group of diverse, troubled high schoolers and their rainbow of experiences living in the 21st century — experiences befitting the series title, yes, but others all the more tragic.
Why you should watch it: This dark, gritty, hallucinatory hit from creator Sam Levinson not only marks a career-best, attention-grabbing turn from its Emmy-winning star Zendaya, but it introduces us to a whole new class of Young Hollywood along the way, among them model and actor Hunter Schafer. Mining real-world ailments of drug addiction, sexual abuse, online harassment, and more, it’s not always an easy watch, but it’s a worthwhile one. The long-awaited Season 2 teased its premiere last month with a Christmas special centered on Zendaya’s Rue; part of the special, which centers on Schafer’s Jules, airs Jan. 24 on HBO.
Commitment: Approx. 9 hours (for the first season and holiday special)
What it is: Set seven years after the world has frozen over and become uninhabitable, Snowpiercer charts life on a luxury train as it continues an endless journey around the globe and the social unrest between its upper and lower classes boils to the point of uprising.
Why you should watch it: Much like the train on which it’s centered, Snowpiercer never lets up. Propulsive and pulse-pounding while leaning into its various sociopolitical commentaries, it succeeds in expanding the word so brilliantly captured in Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 feature film of the same name (which itself was based on a trilogy of French graphic novels from the 1980s) while introducing us to new characters and more. Season 2 premieres Jan. 25 on TNT.
Commitment: Approx. 7.5 hours (for the first season)
As the 2010s comes to a close, so do a number of beloved comedy series this month — cheers to you, Schitt’s Creek and Bojack Horseman! But not to worry: The rest of January has plenty of returning fan-favorites, plus an ultra-buzzy sci-fi sequel series decades in the making. Catch up on all that and more in this month’s binge guide.
What it is: Considering Doctor Who is about nothing less than fantastical adventures through the space-time continuum, it’s difficult to sum up in a sentence or two. But just know that it follows an alien Time Lord who’s known as the Doctor (who’s been inhabited by a number of actors, and now an actress, over the years) and his companions — in the two newest seasons called her “friends.”
Why you should watch it: Doctor Who is making a case for being one of those timeless sci-fi properties that’s earned a devout following akin to Star Wars or Star Trek. The decades-spanning series always finds ways to one-up itself, and with Jodie Whittaker making her grand debut last season as the first female Doctor, there’s never been a better time to jump aboard. Season 12 premiered Jan. 1 on BBC America — we recommend you begin with the 2006 relaunch.
Commitment: Approx. 101 hours (for the first 11 seasons of the relaunch)
What it is: Father and son co-creators Dan Levy and Eugene Levy pack in the laughs as the fictional father and son within the Roses, a millionaire mogul family. They are joined by Catherine O’Hara as wacky matriarch Moira and Annie Murphy as the ditzy daughter Alexis. When they lose their fortune, they’re forced to relocate to their sole possession: the town of Schitt’s Creek, which was bought as a gag gift years prior. The ensuing five seasons follows the family as they adjust to their new life and learn to call that small, unfortunately-named town home.
Why you should watch it: We love a success story, and Schitt’s Creek has one of our favorite little-show-that-could narratives of the decade. While always well-received and enjoyed by its niche Pop TV and CBC audience, this Canadian television series didn’t really bloom until hitting Netflix, where its bingeable 30-minute episodes — full, in equal measure, of both humor and heart — were eaten up by American audiences who became eager for more. Cut to 2018 Emmy nominations for best comedy series and lead actors Eugene Levy and O’Hara, and we’ve no doubt that season 6 will wrap the series on a touching — and hilarious — high note. Season 6 premieres Jan. 6 on Pop TV.
Commitment: Approx. 24 hours (for the first five seasons)
What it is: From the mind of Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, The New Pope is a John Malkovich–starring follow-up to The Young Pope, which dramatizes the controversial rise of Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law), the world’s first American Pope.
Why you should watch it: As the first Italian series to be nominated at the Primetime Emmy Awards and the first television series to host its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, The Young Pope is nothing if not cinematic in scope and aesthetic — and led by Law and Diane Keaton on season 1, it’s got the star power to back it all up. Season 2 premieres Jan. 13 on HBO.
Commitment: Approx. 10 hours (for the first season)
What it is: Based on the acclaimed fantasy series by Lev Grossman and from producers Michael London, Janice Williams, John McNamara, and Sera Gamble, The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) after he enrolls in Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy in New York. What follows for the young magician is a collision between our world and a threatening fantasy world with nothing less at stake than reality as we know it.
Why you should watch it: The Magicians has all the straight-up drama that comes with magic, secret academies, and battles between good and evil — and it’s a whole lot of crazy fun, too. Season 5 premieres Jan. 15 on Syfy.
Commitment: Approx. 39 hours (for the first four seasons)
What it is: This British teen dramedy from creator Laurie Nunn tells the story of a high school outsider who, buoyed by the tricks he’s picked up from his sex therapist helicopter mom, begins his own sex therapy practice out of an abandoned bathroom — to booming results.
Why you should watch it: You’d be hard-pressed to find a 2019 series whose ensemble was quite as immediately loveable — though a bit chaotic — as this one. The pitch-perfect cast is led by Asa Butterfield as Otis and a scene-stealing, never-better (if you can believe it) Gillian Anderson as his mother, Jean; the nuances of their fraught and evolving relationship paired with the high school dramas of puberty and beyond make this a must-watch. Season 2 premieres Jan. 17 on Netflix.
Where to watch: Netflix
Commitment: Approx. 8 hours (for the first season)
What it is: With industry-specific dramas pulled directly from Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief (and series executive producer) Joanna Coles’ decades-spanning career, The Bold Type follows the day-to-day adventures of three millennial New Yorkers and best friends who work together at the fictional fashion magazine Scarlet.
Why you should watch it: From Ugly Betty to The Devil Wears Prada, the New York fashion magazine and media industry has proven a fine playing field for high-stakes drama and fantastic wardrobes. The Bold Type dives right in and still finds ways to make this well-documented world newly exciting. That’s largely thanks to a stellar cast led by Katie Stevens as Jane Sloan, one-third of the BFF and co-worker trio that also includes Aisha Dee as Kat Edison and Meghann Fahy as Sutton Brady. Season 4 premieres Jan. 23 on Freeform.
Commitment: Approx. 21 hours (for the first three seasons)
What it is: To catch up on the Star Trek universe as shown in this month’s Star Trek: Picard, we’re recommending you revisit The Next Generation (and perhaps the franchises’ 2002 feature film, Nemesis) for a wintry binge. As the series that first introduced the USS Enterprise’s Captain Picard, played by the legendary Sir Patrick Stewart, TNG sets the stage for the 20-years-later action that befalls the captain after he disassociates from Starfleet.
Why you should watch it: While the Picard creative team, including showrunner Alex Kurtzman, have emphasized that this series will be accessible to newbie Trekkies, a binge of TNG will inform your foundational knowledge of those revisiting the Picard world (including Data and William Riker from the trailer alone) while giving you a fine excuse to watch a classic!
Set 20 years after Picard goes into retirement and isolation, the new CBS All Access series marks the grand return of one of today’s most iconic heroes. The story picks up with the unexpected arrival of Dahj (Isa Briones), a young woman who turns to Picard for help following an enormous trauma, in turn reigniting the former captain’s desire to return to Starfleet. Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard premieres Jan. 23 on CBS All Access.
Commitment: Approx. 132 hours (for all seven seasons)
What it is: Based on the hit book by Lindy West and co-created by Alexandra Rushfield and Aidy Bryant (who also stars), this series puts a feminist, body-positive spin on the classic workplace drama as our hero Annie Easton (Bryant) finds her voice as a journalist and learns to love herself in unexpected ways.
Why you should watch it: Saturday Night Live stalwart Bryant is finally given a star-making vehicle with Shrill, which earnestly and humorously portrays the daily microaggressions plus-size women face in the office and beyond. Season 2 premieres Jan. 24 on Hulu.
Commitment: Approx. 3 hours (for the first season)
What it is: BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett) was once the hottest horse in town, star of a hit sitcom and riding high in Tinseltown. Fast-forward 20 years, though, and he’s a depressive has-been — and our titular protagonist of this hit Netflix comedy.
Why you should watch it: It’s not often that an alcoholic horse and a fictionalized Hollywood full of as many flawed humans as talking animals teaches you about yourself, but this one does — trust us! There’s reason BoJack’s blend of pitch-black humor and weighty human circumstance has gained such a cult following over the last five seasons. The second half of season 6 — the series’ final episodes — premieres Jan. 31 on Netflix.
Where to watch: Netflix
Commitment: Approx. 34 hours (for the first five seasons and first half of season 6)
There’s a lot to binge up on going into this month — so let’s get right to it, shall we? Below, catch our roundup of 15 series boasting Certified Fresh seasons that are returning in October.
Why you should watch it: Few series can claim to have brought the situational comedy into the modern age, but with its fresh, incisive, and most of all hilarious take on contemporary life in New York city — while featuring a pair of gay men and their best girlfriends to match — Will & Grace is one of the series that did. The best episodes of last season prove a) why NBC revived this hit series and b) why it’s still essential viewing all these years later. Season 10 premieres Oct. 4.
Commitment: Approx. 77 hours
Why you should watch it: We’ve seen plenty of naughty comedies in the past, but none of them excavate the triumphs and traumas of pubescent adolescence quite as fearlessly or uproariously as Big Mouth. Season 2 premieres in full October 5.
Where to watch: Netflix
Commitment: Approx. 5 hours
Why you should watch it: Fresh off Amazon’s Emmys-sweep with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, now’s as good a time as ever to go back and discover some other standouts in the streaming service’s catalog. First thing we’d suggest is The Man in the High Castle. Epic and engrossing — not to mention timely — it takes viewers into an utterly foreign world that still hits a little too close to today’s political climate for comfort (the way that so many of TV’s very finest manage to do). Season 3 premieres October 5.
Where to watch: Amazon
Commitment: Approx. 20 hours
Why you should watch it: A refreshing take on Asian Americans for the small screen? Check. Well-earned laughs from a trio of talented young actors? Check. A heaping dose of ’90s nostalgia? Check. And the combined powers of the hilarious Park and Constance Wu (now of Crazy Rich Asians fame)? Check and check. Need we say more? Season 5 premieres October 5.
Commitment: Approx. 22 hours
Why you should watch it: Doctor Who is making a case for being one of those timeless sci-fi properties that’s earned a devout following akin to Star Wars or Star Trek. The decades-spanning series always finds ways to one-up itself, and with Jodie Whittaker appearing as the first female Doctor this season, there’s never been a better time to jump aboard. Season 11 premieres October 7 — to get ready, we recommend you begin with the 2005 relaunch.
Commitment: Approx. 90 hours
Why you should watch it: One of cable’s highest rated dramas returns with its season 9 premiere on October 7. Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard’s post-apocalyptic premise of zombies walking the Earth and ending mankind as we know it, the acclaimed series developed by creator Frank Darabont indulges in gore and “what if” fascinations. These are characters brought to life with bone-deep precision from a stable of some of TV’s greatest talents. You just never know when your favorite will bite the dust. (That’s admittedly part of the fun, too.)
Commitment: Approx. 86 hours
Why you should watch it: If you’re a fan of the Greg Berlanti–led DC Comics universe on The CW, then you know what you’re in for here, and you’ll love Black Lightning. But this series goes one step further by being an awesome first of its kind, spotlighting not only black superheroes on the small screen, but LGBTQ ones, as well. Season 2 premieres on October 8.
Commitment: Approx. 9.5 hours
Why you should watch it: You don’t gain an adoring following like that of The Flash without bringing edge-of-your-seat action and suspense, lovable characters and story arcs, and pitch-perfect performances week to week. Season 5 premieres October 8.
Commitment: Approx. 66 hours
Why you should watch it: We’ll say it: Riverdale ranks among the best teen dramas to come out of The CW since Gossip Girl, and it deserves the viewership and brand ubiquity to match. It’s the classic Archie we know with a heaping of sex appeal and a dash of True Detective. What’s not to love? Season 3 premieres October 10.
Commitment: Approx. 25.5 hours
Why you should watch it: Whatever you do, don’t be put off by the series’ title — even if you’ve got one! Starring as Rebecca, Rachel Bloom is a musical genius, concocting show-stopping comedic melodies inspired by the best of Broadway and Top 40 week after week. And as if the comedy’s song-and-dance wasn’t entertaining enough, it’s buoyed by excellent performances and tight, creative scripts that tackle everything from broken hearts to mental health. Last season got especially dark, and we love it all the more for continuing to break the mold. Season 4 premieres October 12.
Commitment: Approx. 30 hours
Why you should watch it: It took until the second season for this DC Comics series to really nail down its tone with star Melissa Benoist and crew, but there’s no doubt that it now ranks as one of the most formidable hour-long outings in the superheroic comics-to-screen universe. Plus some behind-the-scenes trivia: Benoist is fresh off a Broadway run as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. We love a multi-talented Supergirl! Season 4 premieres October 14.
Commitment: Approx. 45 hours
Why you should watch it: Arrow is the series that first kickstarted the DC Comics universe for Berlanti and The CW, and for six seasons now, it hasn’t let up the fun. Season 7 premieres October 15.
Commitment: Approx. 102 hours
Why you should watch it: Creator Kenya Barris is one of those writers who just goes there. Even in what some would call the confines of network TV — which, incidentally, has been seen pushing up against him this last year — he conjures stories in the sitcom structure that are resonant, timely, and fearless. Plus, they’ll make you laugh, too! Tracy Ellis Ross and Anderson are especially show-stealing. Season 5 premieres October 16.
Commitment: Approx. 35 hours
Why you should watch it: As the first Marvel original series venture on Netflix, Daredevil had a lot buzz and high expectations to live up to. We’re glad to report that it did and then some. Certainly among the best-executed comic adaptations for TV to date, it’s gritty, character-driven, and entertaining. Watch the first two seasons followed by The Defenders season 1 before diving into Daredevil season 3, which premieres Oct. 19.
Where to watch: Netflix
Commitment: Approx. 34 hours
Why you should watch it: When Ray Donovan premiered on Showtime in 2013, it promised the arrival of an exciting new anti-hero. It’s since stayed true to that promise and hasn’t let up, bringing us into the hidden underbelly of Los Angelean elite and slowly unveiling the many layers of a complicated and troubled man. Season 6 premieres October 28.
Commitment: Approx. 52 hours
While it seems almost every show you hear about these days is based on a comic book, there is a fairly robust market in the other direction: comic books based on television shows. This has been true since at least the Silver Age of Comics (c. 1956 – c.1970) when publishers like DC Comics, Dell, and Gold Key published monthly titles based on television shows like Leave It to Beaver and The Twilight Zone. In more recent times, you were just as likely to see a cartoon with a companion comic book than not.
Then there are the strange outliers like Masters of the Universe, which initially told its story in the form of minicomics available within the packaging of the various action figures, playsets, and vehicles. The cartoon series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, cherry-picked some of the minicomics ideas for its own continuity, which in turn inspired DC’s Masters of the Universe series a decade or so later.
While many of these titles were quick tie-in comics with little heart, many manage to reflect their sources and turn into successful continuations — or even longer lasting series in their own right. With that in mind, here are five comic book titles which excelled at making what works on TV work in the panels and pages of comic books.
Perhaps the most commercially successful television to comic book transition is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Beginning in 1998, while the show starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (pictured) was still airing, Dark Horse Comics began to publish tie-in comics detailing new adventures. While some stories took place between episodes or between seasons, the canonicity – whether or not they mattered to the television series – was debatable. In 2001, Buffy creator Joss Whedon began an eight-issue series called Fray. It featured a future Slayer named Melaka Fray and was one of the first high-profile stories to be considered canon with the television show.
Both the television series and Dark Horse’s ongoing Buffy comic wrapped up in 2003, but the comic wasn’t dormant for long. In 2007, the company announced a new direction for their Buffy brand: Season Eight. Considered an official continuation of the television series following its season 7 finale, Whedon and writers like Lost’s Brian K. Vaughn, Drew Goddard, and Buffy alumn Jane Espenseon followed Buffy as she directed a band of Slayers, psychics, witches, and other supernaturally inclined allies. The series took on a more epic scale with international ramifications and a “Big Bad” who hoped to end the Slayers and magic itself. The series ran until 2011, when it was replaced with a Season Nine title and spin-offs like Angel & Faith and Spike: A Dark Place.
After the sprawling Season Eight tale, Whedon and his collaborators chose to return to the TV show’s emphasis on the characters. New seasons have continued intermittently with a four-issue Season Twelve set to begin in June. It is slated to be the final canonical comic book season of Buffy, wrapping up a story Whedon began over 20 years ago.
The classic 1960s spy series about an abducted former agent, dubbed “Number 6” by his captors, nearly became a Jack Kirby production when he drew pages for a Prisoner comic book series in the early 1970s. It never materialized, but the pages he produced will soon be available to the public as The Prisoner: Original Art Edition from Titan Comics in July. The collection will include Kirby’s incomplete adaptation of the series pilot and 18 pages of a separate story by writer Steve Englehart and artist Gil Kane.
A second attempt to adapt The Prisoner occurred in the late 1980s when DC Comics released the four-issue prestige miniseries The Prisoner: Shattered Visage. Written by Dean Motter with art by Mark Askwith, the miniseries hoped to answer some of the questions left behind by the television series baffling conclusion; though a text prologue in the collected edition dismissed the finale as a drug-induced hallucination. Picking up 20 years later, former British intelligence agent Alice Drake washes up on the shores of the Village and discovers a lone Villager, a man who resembles the star of the television series, but answers to no name or number. He immediately dubs her “Number 6.” The pair tour the disused Village until the arrival of its former head administrator, a member of Parliament known only as “Number 2” who spent the last 20 years in prison and published a tell-all book about the retirement home for spies. Meanwhile, Alice’s husband has his own reasons for locating the Village, which may or may not have something to do with the stockpile of nuclear weapons left behind by the site’s creator, Number 1.
Askwith’s moody art makes it a compelling, if difficult, read. Though tacitly approved by series creator Patrick McGoohan — Motter was latter told “he didn’t hate it” — fans recoiled from its choice to characterize the final episode as a drug trip and return to the more conventional spy tone of the early episodes. Nonetheless, it maintains the characterization of the McGoohan’s lone wolf ex-agent while leading the final Number 2 into a place of madness. Since it divides fans as much as the series finale, it carries the heart of The Prisoner into its pages.
A new Prisoner comic book series from Titan debuted this week. Written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Colin Lorimer, it begins a new Village tale with a new Number 6.
Like the series upon which they are based, Doctor Who comics share its longevity and ability to weather change. The program’s connection to comics stretches back almost as far as the television series itself, appearing in comic strip form in UK anthology titles like Countdown and TV Comic. But due to strange licensing deals, the first two Doctors appeared with a pair of child companions made especially for the strip, establishing a new and bizarre canon from the word go.
Eventually, successive creative teams of the strip were allowed to use the Doctor’s TV companions and newer artists were more successful at rendering the various lead actors from the television show. Nonetheless, the Doctor Who strip reserved the right to create its own companions and stories while following lock-step with the television show’s major cast changes.
Comic book royalty like Alan Moore, Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, and Happy!’s Grant Morrison worked on the strip in the 1980s. The stories began to look and feel more like the television show, though Morrison’s stories would see the Sixth Doctor adventuring with a talking penguin and reuniting with former companion Jamie McCrimmon. He also offered an alternative origin for the Cybermen in a story which linked up two early Doctor Who television stories.
After the original television series’ conclusion in 1989, the strip continued in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. Published by Marvel’s UK branch at the time, the Doctor — in his Sylvester McCoy form — would find himself appearing in Marvel UK titles like Death’s Head, making him an occasional visitor to the Marvel Universe.
While the strip has continued without pause for decades, dedicated Doctor Who comic books have a spottier history. Marvel occasionally reprinted Doctor Who Magazine strips in comic book format for the U.S. market, but it never took off. Comic book publisher IDW released a number of Doctor Who miniseries in the mid-2000s. Currently, Titan Comics publishes a number of Doctor Who titles centered around the New Series Doctors (and, like the strips, all-new exclusive companion characters) with the occasional miniseries featuring a classic Doctor. In 2015, the individual series crossed over to bring the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors together; though, the earlier Doctors refused to recognize the Twelfth as their future self at first. Titan already has plans to publish Thirteenth Doctor comics alongside the debut of new series star Jodie Whittaker in the fall.
Riding on the success of Batman: The Animated Series, DC Comics quickly put into production a new Batman series, The Batman Adventures, based on the cartoon’s look and tone in 1992. With writing (for the most part) by Kelley Puckett and art by Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett, each issue told a story in the TAS mold, but the most successful Batman Adventures issue was the Mad Love special. Written by TAS scriptwriter Paul Dini and illustrated by executive producer Bruce Timm, the special explored the strange attraction Harley Quinn felt for the Joker, firming an element of the character that now spans into filmland. Thanks to Dini and Timm’s involvement, the special issue was later adapted into an episode of the series, as was a later holiday-themed special issue.
As the animated series was rebranded, so was the comic book series, molting into The Batman and Robin Adventures in 1995. Burchett returned to draw the 25-issue series while Ty Templeton took over as writer. The format finally wrapped up in 2004 when DC began to publish comics based on the then-airing The Batman Strikes! animated series.
Over the course of the Adventures titles, they became one of the company’s few children’s titles to succeed despite a number of initiatives to get kids back into comics. Maintaining the look and feel of the animated series was key to its success and the success of Adventures titles based on Superman: The Animated Series and the two Timm-produced Justice League cartoon series.
Thanks to Hasbro’s relationship with Marvel Comics — which grew from their work developing G.I. Joe characters in the early part of the 1980s — The Transformers comic book predates the 1984 animated series by several months. Their concurrent development meant the two would have diverging concepts for characters, backstory, and even the reason the Transformers crash-landed on Earth in the first place. The early issues of the Marvel series also saw cameos by Marvel characters like Spider-Man. For many longtime fans, the Marvel comic book is the canon for Transformers with a Grimlock known for his disdain of humans and a timeline that never jumped forward to 2005 (as seen in the animated Transformers: The Movie).
Of course, the nature of that cannon is somewhat muddled as British writer Simon Furman would add more material to the U.K.’s weekly Transformer series. He eventually took over plotting duties of the U.S. monthly series, adding concepts like Transformer creator Primus to the lore; in fact, it may surprise those who mainly remember the 1980s cartoon that much of the modern Transformer history — both in the films and current IDW comic books — has its roots in the Marvel comic book series.
Dreamwave Productions began publishing Transformers comic books in 2001, melding the comic book history Marvel created with elements of the classic cartoon. They even had ambitious plans to incorporate the Beast Wars series into a single, sensible canon. Their master plan was not to be, as the company went bankrupt. IDW took over the license in 2005 and started over. Initiated by Furman, the IDW continuity continues to this day with lesser known characters like Cyclonus and Tailgate emerging as fan favorite characters and new toy products like Windblade making successful leaps into pages of the company’s ongoing Transformers comic book. Sadly, it is about to end, as IDW has planned for a major reboot of their Transformers comics in September.
While the five titles listed represent some of the most creatively and financially successful television-to-comics transitions, they are no means the only comics based on TV shows to be found. Series like CSI, Adventure Time, Vikings, The Bionic Woman, Dark Shadows, and Star Trek all found their way to comic book pages. And for at least one reader, they were the best comics to be found. Though often subordinate to their television counterparts, these titles can find unexpected lives and, like The Transformers, feed right back into the main part of the brand. Sometimes, they even breathe more life into a long-departed television show.
(Photo by Simon Ridgway)
Updated to include 2017 Christmas Special “Twice Upon a Time.”
Christmas 2017 saw the end of an era as Peter Capaldi handed over the TARDIS key to the Thirteenth Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, in Doctor Who special “Twice Upon a Time.” As Doctor Who fans know, regeneration episodes are always momentous occasions, if not always great. Some regeneration stories are downright lousy while others announce the arrival of a big, important change — like this year’s introduction of the first female Doctor in the British sci-fi series’ long history.
Based on both the quality of the regeneration scene itself and the story which (generally) precedes it, we present our worst-to-best list of the Doctor Who regenerations.
Due to behind-the-scenes shenanigans and mistreatment by the BBC, Sixth Doctor Colin Baker refused to be part of season 24’s first story, “Time and Rani.” Baker wanted his three-year contract honored with three seasons as the on-screen Doctor. But it was not to be and Sylvester McCoy ended up playing both the Sixth and Seventh Doctor in the regeneration moment, leading to the worst regeneration scene of them all.
And as it happens at the beginning of the tale, it only serves as harbinger to a confusing tale in which the newly regenerated Doctor encounters his old schoolmate The Rani (Kate O’Mara) collecting famous geniuses from across the universe. She plans to use their intelligence to power an overmind and recreate the universe in her image. Also, there are chicken people who befriend the Doctor and his companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) and bat creatures with a 360 degree field of view who terrorize them. The behind-the-scenes tale is infinitely more compelling.
Though the Tenth Doctor’s final moment is compelling — right down to his admission that he doesn’t want to go — the two-part tale before it is a cavalcade of executive producer Russell T. Davies’ excesses as a writer. Unsure if he wanted the David Tennant Doctor to go out with the galaxy exploding behind him or as a consequence of a small, humble sacrifice, he tried to do both. The Master (John Simm) returns as a food-obsessed poltergeist held prisoner by a second underdeveloped antagonist (Supergirl’s David Harewood), but both are merely pawns of Time Lord President Rassilon (Timothy Dalton), whose vicious, spittle-infused performance makes you wish he was the lead villain for the entire story.
But then, just as he successfully repels an invasion by his own people, The Doctor agrees to accept death in place of his friend Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins). His willingness to save Wilf is tinged with an uncharacteristic level of self-absorption (leading to a theory we’ll discuss shortly) and another half-hour in which the Tenth Doctor says goodbye to all his friends. Some of these moments, like Wilf’s tear-filled final salute, are effective, but after two-plus hours of story (and a year’s build-up to the moment), the whole affair reeks of self-indulgence.
Unfortunately, the same self-indulgence infects Matt Smith’s swansong as well. Attempting to strike a fairy-tale tone, executive producer Steven Moffat crafts a reason for the Eleventh Doctor to spend 600 years defending a town called Christmas from enemies like the Daleks and former allies as each attempt to wrestle control of a crack in time that will allow the Time Lords to return. Moffat also tries to wrap up a number of dangling plot threads dating back to Smith’s first episode. The overall effect leads to resolutions spoken at Smith’s warp-speed cadence (i.e., the real reason the Silence were after him) and the loss of momentum picked up from the 50th Anniversary Special one month earlier.
Then there is the regeneration itself, which happens over two scenes as Moffat also wants it to be epic and personal. The Time Lords give the Doctor a new life cycle and he uses its power to restore his aged body and defeat the Daleks in a spectacular special effects extravaganza. Then he returns to the TARDIS, delaying the final part of his regeneration to give a speech. Admittedly, it is well written and performed, but it drags out the Capaldi reveal to the point of absurdity.
Like “Time and The Rani” the Fox Doctor Who TV Movie features a regeneration scene near the beginning of the story. In this case, though, Sylvester McCoy reprised his role as the Seventh Doctor long enough for the changeover to make sense to fans, but baffle anyone coming to the series fresh. The regeneration itself employs the program’s first use of digital morphing techniques, but lacks the fireworks of the New Series or the inventiveness of the Classic Series. Director Geoffrey Sax also cross-cuts Paul McGann’s first moments as the Doctor with footage from 1931’s Frankenstein, creating a bizarre thematic tie he immediately abandons for a Jesus parallel just seconds later.
The story tries its best to serve several corporate masters at Fox, the BBC, and Universal — who ended up with a piece of the pie thanks to Steven Spielberg’s very brief involvement in bringing the show to the States — leading to a corny plot that resembles Fox’s M.A.N.T.I.S. more than Doctor Who. It also tries to appease older fans by including McCoy, but as former Doctor Who Magazine editor Clayton Hickman would later observe, the TV movie explains why the Doctor should never regenerate in the middle of a story.
Noted as the best story of Peter Davison’s tenure as the Fifth Doctor — often by Davison himself — the reputation of “The Caves of Androzani” exceeds its merits. The Doctor and new companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) land on Androzani Minor and immediately become involved in a feud over resources between a neighboring planet and an apparent terrorist. The political intrigue quickly grows tiresome, but early on in the story, The Doctor and Peri are exposed to “Spectrox Toxemia,” setting a clock for the Doctor to rescue Peri and, hopefully, himself.
The story’s strength lays in the Doctor’s willingness to die for his new friend. He barely knows Peri, but is willing to move galaxies to save her, which leads directly to the regeneration scene. Already beginning the change, the Doctor struggles to get Peri back to the TARDIS and give her the only remaining toxemia antidote. He barely succeeds and succumbs to the regeneration, but is unsure if it will be successful thanks to the poisoning. After a cavalcade of mid-1980s video effects and cameos from Davison’s former companions, he bolts upright as Colin Baker and creates immediate dread in the audience with his dismissal of Peri and his declaration that the change came “not a moment too soon.”
While not a traditional regeneration, the Tenth Doctor’s “Metacrisis” at the beginning of the episode is considered an official use of one of his original 13 lives. And, oddly, it marks a change in Tennant’s performance as the Doctor. Some of the egotism glimpsed in earlier stories becomes a major part of the four episodes to follow. In fact, it is easy to trace the “Time Lord Triumphant” of “Waters of Mars” and the Doctor’s fear of regeneration in “The End of Time” back to this half-regeneration.
The story itself resolves almost every plot Davies had in motion up to that point. The Doctor and Rose (Billie Piper) reunite, Donna (Catherine Tate) becomes a half-Time Lord hero and Dalek creator Davros (Julian Bleach) damns the Doctor for his own hypocrisy. It leads to a great victory as the Doctor, Donna and the Metacrisis Doctor unite all of his friends to help steer the Earth back to its proper place in the Solar System. But that victory leads almost immediately to tragedy as the Doctor is forced to remove all of Donna’s memories of their time together. While it might seem like a dress rehearsal for “The End of Time,” it manages to do most of what Davies wanted to accomplish there with far more elegance.
Though better known for its status as the 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor” does feature a regeneration. Though, perhaps, not a complete one, as the change from John Hurt’s War Doctor to Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor appears to either be a bit of sly effects trickery or the wishful thinking of the viewer. Either way, Hurt echoing the phrase “wearing a bit thin” from William Hartnell’s final story and creating a double joke about his ears (go back and watch “Rose” for the payoff) leads to the thing the special episode does best: offer the Doctor some redemption.
The story’s consistent theme is the guilt all of the modern Doctors carried for annihilating the Time Lords in the Time War’s last moment. A guilt which became personified in the form of the War Doctor, a regeneration the subsequent incarnations buried deep in their memories. But in finding a way to save Gallifrey, the Eleventh Doctor also redeemed his time as the War Doctor. And even if his ninth and tenth incarnations will forget what transpired and still carry the guilt of killing the Time Lords, the regeneration into Eccleston retroactively begins a redemption arc seven seasons in the making.
The ultimate Jon Pertwee adventure features just about everything the production team could throw at it. The Third Doctor faces his fears as the spiders of Metebelis Three attempt to recover a crystal he took from the planet a year earlier and amplify their mind control powers. To stop them, the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and their UNIT pals cross land, sea, air, time, and space. Episode 2 is almost nothing but a chase scene in which Pertwee drives a speedboat, a hovercraft, a small helicopter, his dependable car Bessie, and a new flying craft known colloquially as “the Whomobile.” Indulgent to be sure, but it all disappears as the Doctor leaves everyone behind to stop the Spider Queen and, from his point of view, embrace death.
And after all the Pertwee era excesses, it all comes down to a lovely scene in the Doctor’s UNIT lab where he genuinely appears to die. Pertwee and Sladen are at their best here. But just as this seems to be the end, another Time Lord appears to reframe the Doctor’s change as a “regeneration” — the first time the terminology is used. After a fairly simple vision-mixed crossfade from Pertwee to his successor, Tom Baker’s curls make their debut.
Seemingly learning from the two previous New Series regeneration stories, Moffat crafts “Twice Upon a Time” as a fitting send off for Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor while investigating, in part, the First Doctor’s (David Bradley and Hartnell) fear to regenerate. Reuniting with a form of Bill (Pearl Mackie), the Doctor gets two great sparring partners while, for once, not facing a merciless foe. Also, in saying goodbye to the program, Moffat offers a new and hopeful perspective on his “Doctor of War” fairy tale. While somewhat lacking in the plot department, the episode showcases the strengths of Capaldi, Mackie, Bradley, and guest star Mark Gatiss as performers. Also, in making a point of the First Doctor’s chauvinism, the story highlights how far the program has come as whole in light of the coming regeneration.
Built of stock parts — like the Doctor having time to speechify, the TARDIS console exploding from the energy dispersal, and the new Doctor hanging by her fingers as the TARDIS malfunctions — the regeneration scene still does good things with those standard elements. The Doctor’s speech to his next self is a grand affirmation of being kind; the key thing he learned in this life. It also manages to do it with brevity — though the point about his real name is belabored. Whittaker’s first moment as the series’ first female Doctor is just brilliant: a smile to indicate just how much of a change occurred this time and that, perhaps, the Doctor has finally let go of the last few centuries of pain.
While not as long as “Planet of the Spider,” Tom Baker’s final story as the Fourth Doctor is equally epic. It is also surprisingly elegiac as Baker’s tomfoolery gives way to a broody, sad, and suddenly old man painfully aware that a change is on the horizon. In fact, it takes literal form in the shape of The Watcher, an in-flux personification of his next incarnation. The plot involves the Master (Antony Ainley at this point) making a mistake and exposing the universe to an untenable amount of entropy. The two form an uneasy alliance which the Master then uses to extort dominance over all creation. The Fourth Doctor makes the ultimate sacrifice to stop him.
Dangling from a radio telescope somewhere in England, the Doctor knows his time is at hand and recalls all the companions he traveled with during this incarnation. He also remembers key villains like The Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall), Davros (Michael Wisher) and a previous incarnation of the Master. Once he finally falls to Earth, his recently acquired new companions surround him as he offers one last Baker smile. The music swells triumphantly as the Watcher merges with the Doctor and Peter Davison takes Baker’s place.
While the story serves as a preview of what the show will be for much of the 1980s, it is also a fitting tribute to Baker and his seven years in the role.
After almost 20 years playing the Eighth Doctor in Big Finish audio dramas, Paul McGann knew his character better than most when he was invited to appear in a short preview scene for the 50th Anniversary. And the effortlessness of his performance comes through as he revels in his romantic persona at first, but soon switches to a false bravado as death stares him in the face. Finally, he resigns himself to the knowledge that his next self will not be a Doctor, but the man the universe needs to end the Time War. By the time the lighting effect ends and archival footage of a young John Hurt takes his place, McGann’s long years in the part suddenly seem far too brief.
While somewhat slow to modern eyes, “The Tenth Planet” is a cornerstone Doctor Who story. It sets up a premise the show would use extensively for the next three seasons: the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions – in this case Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills) — find themselves in an isolated science station in Antarctica. The science team is tired and frazzled, but on the brink of a huge discovery: a second Earth-like world within the Solar System. Soon, everyone on the base faces the menace of an implacable alien force. In this case, it is the Cybermen, making their first appearance in a primitive form the new series made great use of during the recent season 10 finale. The Doctor must use his wits and his compassion to save the day.
And while his successor would find himself in similar circumstances time and again, the First Doctor’s constant complaint of fatigue and his complete disappearance in Part 3 tells you something is wrong. While he first dismisses it as his old body “wearing a bit thin,” by the end, it is clear he is dying. But just as he leaves Ben and Polly to rush back to the TARDIS, he says something deeply prophetic: “It is far from being all over.” When the two catch up with him in the console room, he is splayed on the floor. Console switches move of their own accord and the Time Rotor shifts into gear. Thanks to the primitive vision mixing, the still, lifeless Doctor seems to vanish in a burst of intense white light. When it subsides, the frail white haired grandfather is no more. In his place: a hobo with a Beatles mop top. With this change, Doctor Who was forever altered.
Patrick Troughton’s final story as a Doctor Who regular is a sprawling epic of petty aliens, bewildered soldiers from multiple eras, and a mystery War Chief whose manner rings all too familiar to the Second Doctor. Spanning 10(!) 25-minutes episodes, “The War Games” takes the Troughton Doctor to just about every emotional space he could go. It also put him in the middle of a crisis he could not solve without the aid of his people, the Time Lords. Then, finally, it took him home.
Part 10 features the first appearance of the Doctor’s home world (which would go nameless until 1973’s “The Time Warrior”) and the truth about our favorite time traveler: He stole the TARDIS when he first left home and broke the Time Lords’ rule banning interference with the development of other worlds and times. Consequently, they put him on trial. Troughton gives a rousing speech, but the die is already cast and the Doctor accepts his sentence. He must regenerate — referred to within the story as “changing his appearance” — and accept exile on Earth in the 1970s (or 1980s depending on who you ask) until the Time Lord tribunal considers leniency. The episode’s final shots of a now faceless Doctor protesting his fate, and moaning in agony, are some of the most haunting in the black-and-white era of the program.
But balancing out all the prime regeneration story aspects of epic storytelling, emotional resonance, technical accomplishment, and epochal change, is the New Series’ first season finale, “The Parting of the Ways,” which comes out on top. Reeling from the revelation that the Daleks survived the cataclysmic end of the Time War, Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor announces his intention to rescue his friends and end the Dalek threat all the while flashing his unsettling smile. Eccleston is finally comfortable in the role, bringing menace and whimsy in equal measure as he outsmarts the Daleks for most of the episode. But at the end of the day, Rose Tyler must save him from the Daleks by looking into the very heart of Time Vortex and scattering their atoms across time and space. The Doctor, in turn, saves her by absorbing the Vortex energy already burning her into dust.
With the crisis averted, the Ninth Doctor does his best to prepare Rose for what’s about to happen. But in that attempt, he realizes something no other Doctor ever noticed as their end came: He was fantastic! The first regeneration of the new series is framed as a victory. The Doctor has set aside some of his war wounds and stands proud as he is consumed by regeneration energy. When the light show ends, the Tenth Doctor emerges with a new sense of hope and a bewilderment about his teeth. Ultimately, nothing could prepare Rose — or the audience — for that. Though most fans knew Eccleston would be gone by the season’s end, the scene was still surprising in the way it rethought regeneration.
Did you think another regeneration was best? Take our poll below or tell us in the comments!
This week on streaming video, we’ve got a couple of fan favorite TV shows, a new adventure for Pee-wee Herman, some notable smaller films, some classics, and more. Read on for the full list.
One of the most influential horror films ever made, Robert Wiene’s silent masterpiece about a sleepwalking killer boasts some of cinema’s most expressionistic set design.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Want to catch up on the good Doctor’s adventures? Beginning on March 27, Amazon Prime will have seasons one through eight, as well as all the holiday specials, available to stream. If you can’t wait that long, you can always pay for them now.
Available March 27 on: Amazon Prime
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan star in this comedy about a British woman and American tourist who decide to stay together after a brief encounter results in a pregnancy.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Available now on: Amazon Prime
This Certified Fresh documentary shows how an ailing five-year-old’s wish to be a superhero for a day became a viral sensation.
Available now on: Netflix
Henry Rollins stars in this horror comedy about a grizzled depressive who literally cannot expire.
Available now on: Netflix
Paul Reubens reprises his role as the wacky, innocent man-child, who decides to take his first vacation after an inspiring encounter with a stranger (Joe Manganiello).
Available now on: Netflix
This drama tells the tale of a mysterious fainting epidemic at an all-girls boarding school in Britain.
Available now on: Netflix
Sarah Lancashire returns as Catherine Cawood, a West Yorkshire police officer who finds herself embroiled in another investigation when she’s implicated in a string of murders.
Available now on: Netflix
This Certified Fresh documentary chronicles contemporary politics of Egypt, beginning with the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in early 2011.
Available now on: Fandor
Federico Fellini’s episodic look at the colorful citizens of his hometown won the 1974 Best Foreign Film Oscar.
Available now on: Fandor
Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu star in this Certified Fresh comedy about a romance between an umbrella factory owner’s wife and a labor leader.
Available now on: Fandor
A classic samurai drama from the great Masaki Kobayashi meditates on codes of honor among warriors in post-feudal Japan.
Available now on: Fandor
Before you know it, the fall TV season will be here, so we’ve pulled together some shows you should catch up on right now — including some long-runs that you’ll want to start immediately. Plus, August welcomes select Fresh titles to streaming and home video that you might want to add to your queue this month!
What it is: A group of unrelated, ordinary people develop superhuman abilities and need to learn how to master their newly found powers and protect themselves against a mysterious organization and other superhumans (including Zachary Quinto in his first big role as the villain Sylar). The series is divided into five “volumes,” each one with a different story arc similar to a comic book.
Why you should watch it: Heroes‘ first season got a tremendously positive critical reaction, and pleased audiences with a mix of great storytelling and very likeable characters. Its 40-minute episodes are filled with fast-paced action, mystery, sci-fi, comedy, and more reflective moments that deal with issues of purpose, tolerance, and self-acceptance. “Volume One: Genesis” is far more interesting and consistent than the rest of the show, so if you don’t have the time to commit to all of it, those first 16 hours are a good way to see if it’s for you. It should also be enough to educate you on the returning characters of Heroes Reborn, premiering September on NBC.
Commitment: 55 hours.
What it is: A brilliant surgeon (Clive Owen) struggles to uphold the reputation of the famed Knickerbocker Hospital during the early 1900s while battling a narcotics addiction and, after a prominent black surgeon (Andre Holland) is hired, his own prevailing notions of race.
Why you should watch it: Unflinchingly graphic with a keen eye for period-specific detail, The Knick transports viewers to a time when a hospital visit was often something to be feared. Performances across the board are top-notch, and with Steven Soderbergh behind the camera, the series sports a crisp, finely tuned aesthetic. With season one hitting DVD and Blu-ray on August 11, you’ll have plenty of time to consume all ten episodes before season two premieres this fall.
Where to watch: All of season one is currently available to Cinemax subscribers on MaxGo, and you can also pick it up on home video August 11.
Commitment: 8.5 hours.
What it is: A dramatic anthology series, portraying a single murder and the pain and change it inflicts upon those affected.
Why you should watch it: 2015 Emmy nominees Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Richard Cabral, and Regina King lend themselves to a provocative drama that is more entangled around the lives of those touched by the crime than the mystery behind it. The series is also nominated in the Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Writing categories. This is a show that never lets up as an intense, expertly played character drama.
Commitment: 8 hours.
What it is: Set three years after two percent of the population mysteriously disappears, The Leftovers looks at the aftermath as it effects the residents of the small town of Mapleton, NY.
Why you should watch it: For those viewers of who loved the mystery of Lost, co-creator Damon Lindelof again brings a large group of people together whose connections are slowly revealed, even if the overarching mystery remains clouded. The show features a breakout performance from Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), as well as a stand-up cast including Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Ann Dowd, and Justin Theroux (who cries a lot, and who doesn’t love a healthy dose of man tears?). Added to the mix is Max Richter’s haunting score, which takes the melodrama and ramps it up to eleven.
Commitment: 10 hours.
What it is: The series chronicles the adventures of the “Doctor,” an alien called a Time Lord, a race that looks just like humans (though the Doctor says it’s the other way around). The Doctor uses a vehicle called the TARDIS, short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, that looks like a 1960s-era London police box — although it’s much bigger on the inside. Nearly all of the Time Lords were destroyed in the Great Time War, so the Doctor is the only one that he knows of, and he has basically appointed himself humanity’s protector.
Why you should watch it: With the latest regeneration of the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), you get a semi-reset that allows new viewers to jump into the action. Capaldi has been praised for his rendition of the 12th Doctor, and with the new season set to debut on September 19 on BBC America, now is the perfect time to get caught up.
Commitment: Time is wibbly-wobbly, but about 12 hours.
What it is: Seinfeld creator Larry David plays a fictional version of himself as a producer, writer, and all-around difficult guy living in Los Angeles.
Why you should watch it: Through the lens of Larry David’s hyper-observant, wholly unsentimental, and utterly hilarious point of view, Curb Your Enthusiasm shines a light on the mundane details of life that drive all of us crazy — even if David is the only one who speaks up about them. With an ensemble that features Cheryl Hines, Richard Lewis, Jeff Garlin, and Susie Essman, Curb will have you at once identifying with the characters and also cringing at their actions.
Commitment: 40 hours.
What it is: A fantastical exploration of the lives of fairy tale heroes and villains as they weave in and out of a contemporary life parallel to our own. Snow White, the Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin, Captain Hook, Prince Charming, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, the Snow Queen, Ursula, the Wicked Witch, Cruella De Vil, and the Dwarves all live in this world, discovering truths and lies while struggling with the battles of good and evil.
Why you should watch it: While it sometimes cannot help but feel like a commercial for Disney films, the themes suggest there is still magic in the small Maine town of Storybrooke, the home of many of the fairy tale characters we grew up with. Melodrama entwines their lives as much, if not more, than the magic of the lore, as they venture back and forth between contemporary Storybrooke and the timeless Enchanted Forest. The stories are spawned from the famous children’s stories, but the plots cater to adult themes as well, and is popcorn fun for all.
Commitment: 66 hours.
Why you should watch it: Two reasons: Sir Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi. And if you need more motivation than that, add in some Frances De La Tour, who is consistently hysterical as the homely, single, best friend. Vicious is a bit of a throwback to the classic English sitcom, but with such immensely experienced talent aboard, you will find yourself laughing at each rude insult hurled at each cast member throughout every episode.
Commitment: 3.5 hours.
What it is: Set in Los Angeles, the show follows narcissistic writer
Why you should watch it: It’s the pitch black romantic comedy we always wanted, featuring the kind of twenty-something Los Angelenos the rest of the country loves to hate. While Jimmy and Gretchen are a hoot, it’s the supporting cast that really make You’re The Worst shine. Jimmy’s PTSD-suffering roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges) keeps everyone from being completely insufferable and Gretchen’s BFF Lindsay (Kether Donahue) airy (if sometimes dimwitted) take on life keeps the show from drowning in cynicism.
Commitment: 4 hours.
What it is: After touring the country in an RV in search of others like him, a Tucson, Arizonaman (SNL alum Will Forte) who believes himself to be the only human survivor of an apocalyptic plague returns home, only to find that he may not be so alone after all.
Why you should watch it: Long known for his bizarre sketches and boneheaded characterson Saturday Night Live, Forte has succeeded in realizing — and maintaining — a novel idea and a central character blessed with a peculiar, desperate energy. The apocalyptic premise is rich with comic potential, which Forte and his talented cast mates harness frequently and effectively, and there are enough surprises along the way to keep you guessing. Since it comes back in September with season two, it’s a perfect time to catch up.
Commitment: 4.5 hours.
See a sneak peek clip from the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special.