A bluffer's guide to Doctor Who

Everything you need to know about the Doctor and his companions.

With Peter Capaldi leading the cast of the new series, more people may be tempted to try Doctor Who this autumn. But rather than hurriedly watching all 84 episodes that have aired since 2005, why not just read this quick blagger’s guide to key Whovian concepts. You’ll catch up soon enough.

The central characters

Peter Capaldi, Jenna-Louise Coleman and Samuel Anderson flanked by two Cybermen.
Peter Capaldi, Jenna-Louise Coleman and Samuel Anderson flanked by two Cybermen. (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Doctor: Only fools refer to him as “Doctor Who”. He’s a Time Lord – an alien refugee from a big old space war a long time ago on a planet called Gallifrey. He’s impossibly clever and pro-active, but internalises a lot of emotional problems.

The Doctor’s companion: Currently a character called Clara (played by Jenna-Louise Coleman). The role is usually filled by an attractive young woman – which is suspicious for such an asexual character like the Doctor.

The aliens

Daleks on Westminster Bridge with Houses of Parliament behind
(Matt Crossick/PA)

Daleks: Unrelenting pepper-pot monsters with a really dangerous plunger for an arm. They turn up so often that you’ll find yourself wondering why the Doctor is so surprised every time. Oh, and they fly now.

Cybermen: Evil robot men that try to turn everyone else into evil robot men. Probably a bit scarier in the ’70s.

Weeping Angels: Hands-down the scariest creatures in the Doctor Who universe. Malevolent monsters disguised as angel statues that only move towards you when you’re not looking…

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with model of an Ood
Camilla meets an Ood. (Arthur Edwards/The Sun)

The Ood: Bald tentacle-faced aliens that are usually good-natured slaves. But baddies regularly take control of them en masse.

Sontarans: Blustery aliens from the old series. They love going to war and have heads that look like potatoes.

The Master: The Doctor’s top nemesis who crops up periodically. Also a Time Lord, but a naughty one.

The Doctor’s stuff

TARDIS stands beside a hedge
The TARDIS (Claire Hayhurst/PA)

Tardis: A time-travelling spaceship that looks like a blue police telephone box. It’s much bigger on the inside. It’s also very temperamental. In all honesty, the Doctor should probably trade it in for a new model.

Sonic screwdriver: A long silver tool with flashing blue lights. Solves an incredible amount of problems – especially complicated plot lines.

K-9: A talking robot dog from the old series. No one wants him back.

The key themes

Colin Baker in field with TARDIS
(Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Earth: The Doctor loves Earth. It’s never too apparent why, but he seems pretty dedicated to saving the human race.

The Doctor’s past: He’d rather not talk about it.

Complicated plots: In a lot of episodes you’re totally lost by the 45 minute mark. Then the Doctor has a cunning brainwave, or gets his sonic screwdriver out, or does a bit of time travel, and everything’s better again.

A Weeping Angel attacks
(Jason Riedy/Flickr)

Scary stuff: Some writers in particular seem to be in a war to make the scariest episode. The current leader is “Blink”, featuring the Weeping Angels.

Alternate dimensions: Where most of the most complicated plot lines originate.

The Doctor’s love life: It never used to exist. But now it does. Sometimes. But it’s not mentioned much.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna-Louise Coleman pose for Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi insists there’ll be absolutely no hanky panky for his Doctor (Ben Birchall/PA)

Politicians: Often start off being a bit grumpy, but inevitably end up relying on the Doctor to save the human race.

John Barrowman (aka Captain Jack Harkness): Occasionally hops back from his spin-off series Torchwood, usually to make lewd innuendos and help save the day.

More in this section

IE Logo


Your guide to staying at home

Essential Menopause Survival Guide


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.

Discover the

Install our free app today

Available on