Awhile back I penned a guide to people who wanted to get into Doctor Who in order to save myself the same questions being asked of me over and over again. It worked out well, and now whenever Facebook friends and fans email me I just point them on to the piece and wait until they show up bleary-eyed from too much Netflix streaming of the episodes. It's my good deed for the day!
But now I get another type of question lately, and that's how to go about introducing your kids to Doctor Who. Judging by the cosplayers I saw this year at Comicpalooza it's apparently not a hard thing to do, as I saw kids from stroller-age to teenagers dressed up as various Doctors.
I made it a point to question more than a few of them, and this is the basic set of advice I've come up with in order to turn your kids into little Whovians.
What Age is Appropriate to Start Viewing: Well, Gary Russell and Neil Gamain have both stated that they started watching the show when they were just three, so obviously there's a pretty good precedent for toddler-age starts. That's classic series, of course, but anyone who tells you that the classic series is tamer than the modern wasn't paying attention. I can't name a classic story off the top of my head where no one dies, though I can name several modern series ones.
In reality, any age where they can sit through a 45-minute episode is a good one. If they don't have the attention span for that, I've had great success with Doctor Who music videos on YouTube, especially this one set to VNV Nation's "Space and Time." The Doctor Who puppet show is also helpful.
Where Should I Start: Without a doubt the best Doctor to introduce little kids to is Matt Smith's Eleven. He's easily the most kid friendly Doctor of the modern era, and has several very kid-centered episodes that helps children identify with him.
"The Eleventh Hour" is a good one because of the brilliant opening scenes with young Amelia Pond. It can be a bit scary, but for the most part it works. The Christmas specials under Smith are also tops, especially "The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe." It's got Christmas, magic doors, a crazy room full of wonders, Eleven being goofy in a backwards helmet, and two young children as the main companions. Plus, everyone lives. It's hard to beat that.Flashback New Doctor Who Puppet Show Is Just Amazing
Should I Show Them The Classic Series: You'd think that because Doctor Who started out as a kid's show it would be relatively easy to get kids interested the older stuff, but I've found it really difficult. At least in the three to five year range. Part of that is because we try to watch them all at once rather than spaced out like they were originally broadcast. That makes the average story over 90 minutes, which is a lot to ask of a kid.
Another mistake is to start at the beginning of any given serial. Most Doctor Who serials used a pretty formulaic approach where the first episode was all about setting up the location, and not bringing in the monster until the cliffhanger ending. You need to look at it more like Scooby Doo, and get the fright in right away. If you want to give kids a try on the classic stuff I recommend the second episode of any Hartnell Dalek story, or the final episode of "The Moonbase" on the Lost in Time DVD. "The Android Invasion" from Tom Baker's run is also good, and is a nice set up if you want to show them the definitely kid-friendly Sarah Jane Adventures.
Is the Show Too Scary: Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. It all really depends on the episode and your particular child. My daughter's been watching Nightmare Before Christmas since she turned three, as well as The Last Unicorn and that somewhat dark Spike Jonze version of Where the Wild Things Are. She doesn't scare easy.
Honestly, if I may return to the Scooby Doo episodes I mentioned above, a lot of classic cartoons can be pretty damned dark at times. Her favorite episode has a character whose soul is sucked out and is turned into a zombie. Kids tend to handle it better than we think, though of course if at any point they say they're scared you should of course turn it off.
What If They Don't Want to Watch It: Introducing kids to new entertainment is usually a chore. They like to watch the same things over and over again. Consistency is how they exercise control in their lives. Which is why you've seen that same episode of Team Umizoomi four dozen times.
In the beginning, don't make a big production out of showing episodes. Try to just have one on when they happen to be home rather than take the whole "You're going to love this" route because no matter what a kid is going to want to watch what they want to watch over what you want to watch 124 percent of the time.
Also, Dora has the right idea. Interaction is a great way to engage young viewers. When we watch The Doctor in our house my daughter gets to wear a fez and hold her sonic screwdriver. Whenever The Doctor uses his she uses hers to help him. Little things like that are a good way to make the experience less passive.
What If They Hate It: They might. Mine dislikes Fraggle Rock, which is a little heartbreaking to me, so it just stands to reason that some kids are not going to get into Doctor Who. You're best bet is to just acknowledge that and move on.
This is, however, a great moment to start teaching sharing of the TV. If they don't like the show, then take turns with them where they get 30 minutes of what they want and you get 30 minutes of what you want. Sometimes when you do this you find they fall into the narrative anyway, but if not you establish that entertainment choices in the house will be shared.Flashback Doctor Who: An Alternative History of 11 American Female Doctors
Should I Try the Animated Specials: Dear God no, they are terrible. Even "Dreamland" sports production values way below your average straight to DVD Barbie flick. Maybe when we get the animated reconstruction of "The Tenth Planet" later this year we'll finally have a good cartoon version of Doctor Who to show kids. Speaking of which...
How Do I Explain the Different Doctors: In my experience kids don't seem to have that much of a problem accepting that The Doctor changes bodies. When The Doctor dies, he gets a new one, and they seem to be OK with that.
However, you should probably be prepared to answer any progressive questions about what you think happens to us when we die in real life, or why The Doctor gets to live when others don't. You can wave some of this away by telling them it's just a TV show. Just a story. No matter what, though, Who fans start asking big questions eventually. If you're going to introduce your children to things you as an adult enjoy you have the responsibility as a parent to guide them as gently though those revelations as you can.
And Finally: Occasionally my daughter will crawl into my chair and ask me, "Who is The Doctor." I answer...
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There is a man from a planet far away and long since gone called The Doctor. He is the last of his kind, and he is as old as forever but still very strong. He lives in a blue box called the Tardis that is bigger on the inside than out, and it goes anywhere in space and time. Any place you want.
His job is to make sure that no children ever have bad dreams or get hurt. He watches out for them, and monsters and bad people run when he comes to call. If you're very brave, and very kind, and a little lucky, he just might take you with him to show you amazing things you've never dreamt of before. Next stop, everywhere.
But you have to be strong and kind, because there are some places in the world where there are terrible things, and they must be fought.