Doctor Who is a show so old and so storied that there is no one way to prepare yourself for the task of enjoying it. Depending on your own concept of linearity and time, the series is about to begin its eighth or its thirty-fourth season. The show's virtues are legion; its fans, legionnaire. But what they do not tell you is that, in catching up on Doctor Who, you can start wherever you would like. In this the series is rather less like television than a carousel. The centrifugal force at the center—that sense that you have been knocked off balance but haven't yet hit the ground; that we are all made of air, no helium—is all.
Below, one humbly suggested journey, helpfully time-stamped. Fast-forward where necessary.
Hour 0:00-0:17: For the first time, do not stop scrolling through your Netflix home screen. Click two or three times more than you ever have before. Let your eyes alight. You do not much like the look of David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston. (It's not a thing but it is, you know.) Immediately become distracted by and then wary of a friend's insistence that "The Eleventh Hour," the 5th/31st season premiere, is so much easier to get into than you're imagining. Yes, the show is about aliens.
Hour 0:18-1:22: Quietly decide to yourself that Matt Smith is at his most attractive when he is extemporizing, like his mouth was made to motor. Doctor Who is a legitimately funny show! Smith amplifies Steven Moffat's self-satisfied exuberance, and so on and so on. Decide that, when the show makes you laugh, you will laugh to yourself.
Hour 1:23: Hesitate. Realize it's summer. Realize that your new job at Target isn't starting for three more weeks. Do not press pause.
Hour 2:05: Quietly decide to yourself that Matt Smith is at his most attractive when he is frowning, or giving the quality of a frown while gazing into the middle distance, like he has absorbed all the stillness in a room.
Hour 2:05-6:35: Finish "The Vampires of Venice," and so the first half of season 5. Waver, for a moment, because "The Vampires of Venice" is not strictly speaking very good television but, like a precipice, it launches you upward into a strong string of episodes.
Hour 9:15: Google a lot of van Gogh. Wane a little. Decide that it is sad that he is dead.
Hour 9:16-12:00: Become so rapidly familiar with this world of redheads and rubber-limbed aliens that the disorientation of season 6 opener "The Impossible Astronaut" makes you first assume that you have missed a string of episodes, somewhere in there.
Hour 12:00-15:16: Keep watching. Target never called back.
Hour 15:17: Now you know what all this fuss about Neil Gaiman is about. Try to measure, quantitatively, how much bigger on the inside ~you~ are.
Hour 15:18-17:45: Because it's like, Where did Karen Gillan come from? Was there some kind of herald? In some secret place in yourself, begin to sharpen the small but irrefutable certainty that she should have won at least a plurality of the awards that are given out on Earth in a given year.
(Hour 16:33: Decide that Rory Pond is what all Nice Guys probably think they are when they try to explain that they are just a Nice Guy.)
Hour 17:46-18:34: "The God Complex." That's what the episode is called. You're thinking that you've got Who all figured out, that there's the fast-talking, deep-feeling alien one and his gal companion, the most important person in the universe, who like a nuclear bomb radiates the possibility of new life after devastation, and then her boyfriend, the guy companion. And then "The God Complex" happens. Happened to. You are happened to by this 48 minutes of TV. Tell no one. Marvel, later, at the little cave it's knocked open inside, and let it fill with light.
Hour 18:35-21:03: Become confused. Become ashamed of this fact. Doctor Who is a legitimately complicated show! Tangle yourself in its knots, frown. Remember this for these Steven Moffat seasons: Like north, River Song will always point you home.
Hour 21:04: Season 7. The Ponds begin to say farewell, these the longest-lasting and most beloved companions of the modern Who era, the very exemplars of what many Americans imagine happiness looks like for middle-class British people. Do not realize you have piled your hopes all high up together.
Hour 21:05-24:47: Realize that you piled your hopes too high up, maybe. Drift into a solology about the inherent dissatisfaction of serialized storytelling. Ill-advisedly, do a session of yoga on your apartment's hardwood floor.
Hour 24:48-25:32: Refuse to come to a verdict about Jenna Louise Coleman. Maybe it is that you love her in inverse proportion to how ambivalent you are about her character, Clara, who looks and acts about the way you would imagine that marbled porcelain tastes.
Hour 25:33: Become confounded. British television production is very strange. A season ends and then is followed by two specials. Take this minute to stare into the blackness. Gather yourself.
Hour 25:33-28:11: Watch some of Tennant's seasons, and Eccleston's. Decide that "The Empty Child" is horribly overrated; double so "The Doctor Dances." Love "Blink," in spite of yourself.
Hour 28:12-30:40: The anniversary and Christmas specials. Accept the show's weaknesses at this, the end of its weakest modern season. Announce them to yourself, like a ward, portents and the pathology of white men who are called upon to save us all, the particular kind of way their eyebrows waggle, like it's genetic. The thermodynamics of ebullience, all heat and sparks but somehow very little momentum. Matt Smith and John Hurt and David Tennant and Peter Capaldi, these white men throughout time. Here is the perverse thing: Somehow you know that everything is now changing except the show.
[Images via BBC]