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How to watch 'Doctor Who' in the best order

Infographic: What's the best (read: kind of timey-wimey) order for watching the new "Doctor Who" and its recent spin-offs? We lay it out for you. Plus, every "Who" prequel and extra you should see.

Peter Capaldi returns in the BBC's "Doctor Who." David Venni/BBC

An alien, a blue box and usually, a traveling companion. For more than 50 years, "Doctor Who" has had a place in pop culture, and it continues to grow.

Originally launched in 1963, "Doctor Who" is a British institution. And on Saturday, September 19, the Twelfth Doctor will make his first appearance of the ninth season of the new series. (Be sure to check your local listings for more info.)

Confused? That's understandable, it is a lot of numbers.

Time travel can get a little baffling, so here's a guide to help. Featuring "Doctor Who," and its spin-offs "The Sarah Jane Adventures" and "Torchwood," our chart maps out the best way to begin your travels.

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Traveling through all of time and space, the Doctor has had more than a few adventures. (Click to see full size.) Mark Hobbs/CNET

All right, let's get the first question out of the way: Why start in 2005 with the Ninth Doctor? Well, for one thing the beginning is irrelevant. No, wait, I have a good reason for saying so!

In the 2013 compendium of the show's history, "Doctor Who: The Vault," executive producer and head writer Russell T. Davies' original pitch for rebooting the classic provides the perfect reason: "The fiction of the Doctor has got 40 years of backstory, which we'll ignore," Davies said. "Except for the good bits... The rest of the series' continuity is absolutely irrelevant."

And by introducing a new young traveling companion as a surrogate for new fans discovering the universe of the Doctor, the new "Doctor Who" series makes it easy to start out again.

With the reboot, the network also saw the opportunity for other shows to spin off from the original and further expand the franchise.

"Torchwood," which features a team in a secret underground base in Cardiff investigating alien and paranormal phenomena, was aimed at a more adult audience than "Doctor Who." Similarly, "The Sarah Jane Adventures" was created for a younger audience, starring Elisabeth Sladen as the titular journalist-turned-alien-fighter and former companion to the Doctor. All three properties overlapped to expand the scope and universe of the Doctor without making any one property too complicated.

Despite "Sarah Jane" and "Torchwood" having been off the air for years now, the Doctor still refuses to be contained to just one show. Below is a list of everything extra that's considered a part of the official universe (or canon, as it's called). Some seasons had numerous mini-episode prequels, which would set up the storyline for the coming week. These are included below as well, categorized by season.


Extras, prequels, epilogues and more

These are generally considered canon and include everything from the prequels of series episodes to additional animated episodes, and are limited to "Doctor Who" series extras only.

Extras

  • Attack of the Graske, December 2005: An "interactive episode" that originally aired on the BBC Red Button service and later made it online as a game.
  • The Infinite Quest, April 2007 (animated): On Hulu, it's listed as Season 4 Episode 20 of the series, tacking it on after Series 4 -- but it originally aired as part of the program "Totally Doctor Who" as a miniseries that began April 2007. While it's not listed on the BBC Episode Guide page, it is generally considered canon.
  • Music of the Spheres, July 2008: From the BBC's Proms series.
  • Dreamland, November 2009 (animated episode): On Hulu, this is listed as Season 4 Episode 21, placing it after "Infinite Quest" (above). It originally aired in six parts beginning November 21, 2009, placing it after "Waters of Mars," and just before "The End of Time" in terms of continuity.
  • Night and the Doctor, 2011: A collection of five shorts included only on the DVD release of Series 6. They are titled (in order): "Bad Night"; "Good Night"; "First Night"; "Last Night"; "Up All Night."
  • Space and Time, March 2011: Aired as two separate shorts as part of BBC's Red Nose Day 2011.
  • Five specials about various aspects of production, filming, science and more, August-September 2012.
  • The Inforarium, (an extra on the series DVD release), September 2013.
  • "Don't Stop me Now" music video by Foxes, from "Mummy on the Orient Express," October 2013.

Prequels and episode extras

If you're working through "Doctor Who" for the first time, check out these extras before or after the episode named. If you've seen every episode, here are some fun extras you may have missed.

Series 2

  • Each episode of this series had a mini-episode, or prequel, called a Tardisode.

2009: Untitled Christmas special preview, prequel to "The End of Time"

Series 5

Series 6

Series 7

The Night of the Doctor, prequel to 50th anniversary special, November 2013

Series 9

  • Prologue, prequel to the new series (and possibly even a prequel to the longer prequel, "The Doctor's Meditation" set to be released today!)

The show is a lesson in patience, but it's well worth it. Meeting friends, companions and even family in the wrong order because of time travel is just one of the Doctor's many, many problems. And as a viewer, that's the easiest one to grasp.

But be warned: In the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey universe of the Doctor, there's very little rhyme or reason. Paradoxes abound, immortals roam throughout time and his own wife was -- ah, spoilers!