Sci-fi fans are currently gearing up for some timey wimey shenanigans when Doctor Who makes its triumphant return to screens with the 60th Anniversary Specials, with David Tennant once again starring as the Time Lord.
But he’s not the only familiar face back – Catherine Tate will be reprising her role as the beloved companion Donna Noble, and showrunner Russell T Davies is back writing the show. He’s the man behind both Chris Eccleston’s and David Tennant’s tenures, and revered shows such as It’s a Sin.
There has been a lot of hype for the new episodes, particularly as many fans stopped watching the show when David left. Whilst viewers should be able to enjoy the new series without any context, there are some plot points shown in the trailers that will be helped by some prior Whovian knowledge.
We’ve collated a list of the necessary episodes you should watch before the Tennant Specials, as well as a selection of the best episodes to watch after the tenth Doctor regenerates.
If you’re keen to know more about the story of the upcoming episodes, as well as information on both the fourteenth and fifteenth Doctors, then you can find out more in our ultimate Doctor Who guide. You can also check out the Doctor and Donna official compilation below:
What episodes should you watch to understand the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials?
Here are the episodes who you should watch before the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who airs on 25 November:
Series 2, episode 14 / Christmas Special – The Runaway Bride
Series 4, episode 1 – Partners in Crime
Series 4, episode 11 – Turn Left
Series 4, episode 12 – The Stolen Earth
Series 4, episode 13 – Journey’s End
Series 4, episode 16 – The Waters of Mars
Series 7, episode 14 / 50th Anniversary Special – The Day of the Doctor
Series 4, episodes 17 & 18 / Christmas Specials – The End of Time Parts 1 & 2
Series 13, episode 9 – The Power of the Doctor
Optional: Classic Who, series 3, episode 33 – The Final Test
So, let’s break down that list. Donna Noble is first introduced in The Runaway Bride, after Rose Tyler departs the show. However, she doesn’t join as a full-time companion until Partners in Crime. Both these episodes are great establishing who she and her family are – some of whom will feature in the Anniversary Specials.
Turn Left delves into what would happen if the Doctor never met Donna, highlighting the importance of their friendship. It’s also necessary context for The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, which cover why Donna must leave the Doctor. The Waters of Mars provide an insight into how her exit affects him – this episode also leads up to Ten’s regeneration.
You may notice that a series 7 episode is thrown in here – that’s because The Power of the Doctor is a Special where Eleven (Matt Smith) crosses paths with Ten (David Tennant), so in Ten’s timeline, it takes place not long before he regenerates. It also delves into Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT, who are both part of the upcoming Specials.
The End of Time episodes are the final instalments of Ten’s story, featuring Donna’s grandfather, Wilf, as the companion. Learning how his story ended (and what finally happened with Donna) will likely be key in the new episodes. Finally, the ending of The Power of the Doctor shows Jodie regenerating into David.
We’ve added in one optional classic Who episode, which shows off the villain of the Specials. Of course, if you’d rather not be spoilt on who this is, then you can skip this one.
How to watch the episodes of Doctor Who needed for the Anniversary Specials
If you’re in the UK, then everything in the list above is available on BBC iPlayer – including the Classic Who episode. Providing you have a TV licence, these are free to view. If you’re on holiday, then you can also check out our guide on how to watch BBC iPlayer from abroad.
US readers can catch all these currently on Max, HBO’s streaming service. You can sign up for an ad-supported plan from $9.99 per month, and an ad-free plan from $15.99 per month. If you want to add the Classic Who episode to the list, then you can catch this on BritBox. Subscriptions cost $8.99 per month, but you can get a seven-day free trial.
Note that new episodes of Doctor Who, including the 60th anniversary Specials, will air on Disney+ in the US.
What are some of the other best episodes of new Doctor Who?
Whilst the first list is more ‘required viewing’ for plot reasons, we also thought it would be nice to collate some of the best episodes from across the new Who series if you’ve missed out on the stories from the Eleventh (Matt Smith), Twelfth (Peter Capaldi) and Thirteenth (Jodie Whittaker) eras.
Best Matt Smith Doctor Who episodes per season
Series 5, episode 10 – Vincent and the Doctor
Series 6, episode 10 – The Girl Who Waited
Series 7, episode 1 – Asylum of the Daleks
Best Peter Capaldi Doctor Who episodes per season
Series 8, episode 4 – Listen
Series 9, episode 11 – Heaven Sent
Series 10, episode 11 – World Enough and Time
Best Jodie Whittaker Doctor Who episodes per season
Series 11, episode 3 – Rosa
Series 12, episodes 1 and 2 – Spyfall Parts 1 & 2
Series 13, episode 7 / New Year’s Special – Eve of the Daleks