David Tennant, John Hurt, Matt Smith, The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who


To many of us, Doctor Who is a giant, overwhelming phenomenon with one of the most insanely passionate, generation-spanning fanbases in the world. Currently, that fanbase is freaking out about the fact that the show is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a special that is being simulcast around the world tomorrow, Nov. 23, exactly fifty years after it debuted.

It's not often that a TV show gets to celebrate its 50th anniversaryeven The Simpsons is 25 years away from that milestoneso we can understand why, if you're not a fan, you might be feeling a little left out of all the parties, the references, and the fictional-character-related anxiety. So, while we're not by any means experts (we admit itwe've only really watched the reboot), we've prepared a comprehensive guide to hopping on the Whovian bandwagon at the last minute, even if it's just for one glorious day.

Get ready because it's going to be quite a ride. Allons-y! (Spoilers ahead, obviously.)


According to the BBC's official synopsis, the special brings the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors together on their greatest adventure: In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London's National Gallery; in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England; and somewhere in space an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor's own dangerous past comes back to haunt him.

Things To Know:

Doctor Who chronicles the adventures of an alien who can travel anywhere in space and/or time. It premiered on November 23rd, 1963 on the BBC. It ran for 26 seasons until 1989. There was one film in 1996, and then the series was rebooted in 2005 with Russell T. Davies as the showrunner.

Steven Moffat took over for Davies as showrunner in 2010. He also runs Sherlock. People both hate and love him. He's infuriating for a lot of the fans, and many just refer to him as "Moffat," often in anger.

The Doctor is what the alien is called. He looks like a human, has two hearts and he's from the planet Gallifrey. Never ever call him Doctor Who. People will get mad. You can refer to different Doctors by their number in the sequence (1-12). He might have a name, but it's a big, big secret.

The Doctor can regenerate, so he never actually dies. He just turns into a different person. This has happened 12(ish) times.


The TARDIS is the Doctor's spaceship/time machine. It stands for "Time And Relative Dimension In Space," but we're not even sure what that means. It looks like an old British police telephone box. It's really, really blue, and know this: It's bigger on the inside. It has a library and a pool, at least. It's nuts.


The Sonic Screwdriver is the thing the Doctor carries around. It lights up and makes a sound, and does a variety of convenient things, like opening locks and scanning materials. However, it does not work on wood.

The Doctors:

  1. William Hartnell, 1963-1966
  2. Patrick Troughton, 1966-1969
  3. Jon Pertwee, 1970-1974
  4. Tom Baker, 1974-1981 (claims he will be in the special)
  5. Peter Davison, 1981-1984
  6. Colin Baker, 1984-1986
  7. Sylvester McCoy, 1987-1989, 1996
  8. Paul McGann, 1996
  9. Christopher Eccleston, 2005
  10. David Tennant, 2005-2010 (confirmed to appear in the special)
  11. Matt Smith, 2010-present (confirmed to appear in the special)
  12. Peter Capaldi, will make his debut in this year's Christmas special

Ten, played by David Tennant, is funny and is often running from one place to another (which totally adds to the excitement), but he is not a guy to mess with. Before he regenerated into Eleven, there was a copy made of him, known as Tentoo. He's human-ish and lives in an alternate Earth dimension with Rose. It's unclear whether it will be Tentoo or an older version of the actual Ten appearing in the special.

Catchphrases: "What? Allons-y!"


Eleven, played by Matt Smith, is kind of like a big child. He's got a thing for bow-ties and hats. He's a goofball, but can get angry when he needs to. He's the current Doctor, but he's departing after this year's Christmas special.

Catchphrases: "Bow ties are cool," "Geronimo"


The Mystery Doctor is literally a mystery and we don't know what that's all about. Just know it's a thing, it has to do with some sort of war in between the eighth and ninth Doctors, and he's played by John Hurt. So far he's only been in the season seven finale.

Jenna Louise Coleman, Matt Smith, The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who


The Companions:

The Doctor is usually joined on his adventures by a companion, or assistant. Usually it's a spunky young woman who acts as the audience stand-in, asking the important questions like "Why?" and "WTF?" There's been a lot of them over the past fifty years, but only two are confirmed to appear in the special:

Rose Tyler: She's played by Billie Piper. When we last saw her, she was left in an alternate dimension with a copy of Ten (Tennant). They're in love. It's unclear whether that version or an earlier version of Rose will show up in the special.


Clara Oswald: She's played by Jenna Louise Coleman. She was born as a normal person in modern day, but in order to save the Doctor, she jumps into his timeline (don't ask), so that copies of her show up all over the universe, allowing her to have been secretly helping him throughout all of his adventures since the show first started...or something. She also makes soufflés.

Important Villains:

Daleks: Dome-shaped robot-things with a plunger and an eggbeater for arms. They yell "exterminate" a lot. Clara possibly might have erased all knowledge of the Doctor from their memories, so they've forgotten how much they hate him for always foiling their evil plans. They shoot lasers, and they're super slow but somehow terrifying.

The Cybermen: They are clunky and made of metal, and yet still really freak and scary. Writer Neil Gaiman gave them a shiny new backstory in season 7's "Nightmare in Silver" that made them faster and way more dangerous.

Zygons: The Zygons can shapeshift into pretty much any other being, but that being has to be kept alive. They were defeated by the Fourth Doctor at one point but are confirmed to be returning in the special.

The Weeping Angels: They probably won't show up in the special, but we're including them because they're TERRIFYING, but also awesome. They're statues, and whenever you're not looking at them, even if you just blink, they can move around, and they can zap you back in time so you're dying by the time you're supposed to be living. They then feed off of that potential energy. Seriously: Terrifying.

How To Party:

What to wear: A bowtie is always a good choice. Other options: A Fez. A cowboy hat. Suspenders. A brown pinstripe suit. A brown trench coat. That long, striped scarf worn by Four (Tom Baker). Put on a gas mask and wander around, asking everyone if they're your mummy. Trust us. It'll go over well.

Hot Topic has a good selection of Doctor Who-related merchandise, including shirts and sweatshirts. You can even dress up as the TARDIS if you want. Or you can take an old shirt and paint "Don't Blink" on it. Secure a bowl upside down on your head, hold a plunger in one hand and an eggbeater in the other and congratulations, you're a Dalek.

And remember: Always bring a banana to a party. Bananas are good. (Tenth Doctor quote. Don't worry about it.)

 How to dance: Like this:

John Hurt and Billie Piper, The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who


What To Watch:

We know, you don't even have a whole day to watch endless TV in preparation for more TV, but it might be good to at least watch a couple eps. At the very least, we tried to find episodes from the recent seasons that will catch you up and/or that you can jump into without much preparation. Here's our advice—pick the few that sound the most interesting to you, and go from there. (Plus, basically all of these are on Netflix Instant or Amazon Prime. So you have no excuse!)

"The Name of the Doctor," season 7, episode 13: This is the season 7 finale, so it's the last episode to air before the anniversary special. The Doctor visits his own grave, which contains his timeline and discovers both the reason why Clara shows up all throughout time, and a previously unseen regeneration of himself who apparently did something horrible.

"Blink," season three, episode 10: This famous episode has nothing to do with the current storyline, but it's truly fantastic and stars Carey Mulligan as a girl who, while visiting a strange old house with her best friend, receives a letter from said best friend as an old lady, having apparently recently died. That doesn't make sense. Whatever. Just watch it.

"Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood," season 3, episodes 8-9: The Doctor becomes temporarily human in 1913 England in order to hide from some Time Lord-sensing evil aliens. Only Martha knows who he really is while he falls in love and lives the regular life the Doctor could never really live. Again, irrelevant, but heartbreaking.

"Asylum of the Daleks," season 7, episode 1: Eleven and everyone's favorite married companions, Amy and Rory, get trapped on a planet full of old, rusty Daleks, and meet soufflé-baking Clara. This is Clara's first rather confusing appearance on the show.

"The Stolen Earth" / "Journey's End," season 4, episodes 12-13: One of David Tennant's last turns as the Doctor, this is quite a finale. Past companions come together along with the stars of two spin-offs. Rose and the Doctor-copy end up in their alternate universe, and Donna (the best) gets a heartbreaking ending.

"The Waters of Mars," special, 2009: This special consistently lands on best episode lists. The Tenth Doctor encounters the first human colony on Mars, and tries to stop a virus that lives in water.

"The Snowmen," special, 2012: This special marks Clara's second, equally confusing appearance, right after the Doctor's beloved Amy and Rory have been taken by the Weeping Angels. The Doctor's in mourning, but snowmen are coming to life and building themselves, so he's clearly got to snap out of it.

"Midnight," season 4, episode 10: This has nothing to do with anything, but it's a fantastic episode nontheless, chronicling one of the few occasions when the Doctor has no idea what's going on, and is in danger of being defeated by simple humanity. Super creepy and brilliant!

"Gridlock," season 3, episode 3: An L.A. cat person's nightmare: In this futuristic society, everyone literally lives in their cars. They can't go outside because it's so polluted they'll suffocate, and it takes about ten years to drive a mile because it's just wall-to-wall traffic. Also, there are cat people. Literal cat people. 

Any other Who fans should feel free to chime in with your favorite episodes, and tune into BBC America tomorrow morning at 11:50 am to see what goes down!

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