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A Beginner's Guide to Doctor Who

Have a friend or loved one who won't stop talking about sonic screwdrivers and Roses and Daleks and Doctors? Want to pick a Doctor Who gift for them but don't know where to start?

Relax. We can help.

Doctor Who

What IS Doctor Who?

Doctor Who is a British sci-fi series that follows the adventures of an eccentric alien known only as the Doctor (the usual response when he introduces himself is, "Doctor who?"). Using his vessel, the TARDIS, the Doctor wanders through space and time, visiting far-flung planets and various periods in Earth's history, inevitably ending up embroiled in a crisis and saving the day. He is frequently accompanied by a human "Companion", and must also deal with recurring antagonists such as the Daleks and the Master.

Doctor Who is the longest running sci fi series in the world; the first episode aired in 1963, and it ran until 1989. After a TV movie and some radio dramas, the series had a dramatic revival in 2005 and recently aired its 800th episode.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - 11 Doctors Shirt

Who is The Doctor?

The Doctor is a Time Lord: a member of an extraterrestrial race from the planet Gallifrey. While Time Lords are supposed to observe the timelines without interfering, the Doctor rebels and frequently steps in to save lives, oppose tyranny, and sometimes just have a good time, often dragging his hapless Companions along for the ride.

As a Time Lord, the Doctor can regenerate after a fatal injury, but this causes him to take on a different physical appearance and personality. There have been twelve Doctors over the show's run, played by twelve different actors, each with their own distinct style of dress and mannerisms. The Fourth Doctor, for example, is known for his striped scarf, while the Eleventh has a ridiculously dapper bowtie.

Who are the Companions?

The Doctor's companions -- usually human, often female -- serve as his friends and moral compasses. The series is often as much about them as the Doctor himself. There have been many Companions over the years; fan favorites include Sarah Jane Smith, Jo Grant, Rose Tyler, Donna Noble, Jack Harkness, and Amy Pond.

The Companions
The 10th Doctor, played by David Tennant, surrounded by the series' most memorable companions.

What is the TARDIS?

The Time And Relative Dimension In Space, or TARDIS for short, is the Doctor's vessel, and is a cross between a time machine and spacecraft. From the outside, it looks just like a police callbox from 1960s London. The inside is vast and cavernous with multiple rooms, hence the running gag that it's "bigger on the inside." Somewhat old and unreliable, the TARDIS' guidance systems often send the Doctor on random journeys through time and space.

What is the Sonic Screwdriver?

The sonic screwdriver is the Doctor's multi-purpose gadget that does everything from lockpicking to performing medical scans to welding, and puts the tool aisle in Canadian Tire to shame. The screwdriver has changed appearance over the years, to match the changing Doctors.

Dalek Towel

What are the Daleks?

The Daleks seek to purge the universe of "lesser" life and are frequent adversaries of the Doctor. Daleks are famous for their oddly-shaped mechanical bodies - which look like an unfortunate accident between R2-D2 and a pepper shaker -- their shrieking robotic monotone voices, and their catch-phrase: "EX-TER-MI-NATE!" Not great party guests.

The Master

What are the Cybermen?

Another recurring enemy of the Doctor, the Cybermen went overboard with cybernetic implants and are now metallic, unemotional killing machines bent on "converting" as many living races as they can. Like the Borg, only with a shinier dress sense.

Who is The Master?

The Master is a renegade Time Lord and arch-enemy to the Doctor. Rather than use his powers for good, he seeks to rule the universe and annoy the Doctor as much as possible -- and not always in that order.

What about...

The Adipose Invasion The Weeping Angels Torchwood Original Cast Sarah Jane Adventures Cast K-9

The Adipose?

In one episode, the Doctor encounters diet pills that spawn baby aliens out of human body fat. These adorable blobs of lard are known as the Adipose.

The Weeping Angels?

A spooky recurring race of monsters, the Weeping Angels appear as stone statues, as long as someone is looking at them. The moment they're unobserved -- even if the witness just blinks -- they move with the speed of light to attack their prey.


This is a spinoff show about the Torchwood Institute, an organization dedicated to defending the earth from extraterrestrial threats and led by former Companion Jack Harkness.

The Sarah Jane Adventures?

Another spinoff centered on a former Companion, this series follows Sarah Jane Smith and a group of teenagers who assist her in investigating and repelling alien attacks on Earth.


A talking robot dog found by the Doctor in his travels, K-9 also appears on The Sarah Jane Adventures and has his own non-canonical spinoff.


The Doctor's phrase for when temporal mechanics get, er... wonky.

Featured Dr. Who Products

Doctor Who Levitating Spinning Tardis Doctor Who TARDIS Talking Cookie Jar Doctor Who Visual Dictionary Dr Who 11th Doctor Screwdriver Sonic Screwdriver Mini Flashlight Doctor Who - You Never Forget Your First Doctor T-Shirt (Women's) Tardis Tin Tote