Story Time Slap Fight: The Doctor vs. Riff Raff
This may sound harsh, but it is the God's honest truth. If you don't read to your children, you don't really love them. Sorry, but there is simply no getting around that. The act of sharing a book with your child, in addition to being one of the most magical parts of the parenting experience, teaches them to discover and imagine the way no other activity will. Honor the bedtime story, brothers and sisters, for it is soul.
That being said, as a working parent myself, I understand that some nights it's just a little too hard to muster the energy to get all the way through How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight complete with the appropriate number of kisses per page and an overly enthusiastic toddler head-butting you in the chin for 15 minutes. Luckily, I have discovered a marvelous pinch hitter for when the grind has me too drained to participate. Two, actually, and now I have to choose.
Apparently, back in 2009 BBC produced a set of videos called CBeebies Bedtime Stories that featured David Tennant reading to your kids. That's right, the Tenth (and many might argue the best) Doctor from Doctor Who sat down to hang out with your child. How cool is that? Very cool, indeed, but the Halloween season is upon us, and so he has a rival in Richard O'Brien. The man behind the Rocky Horror Picture Show has a spine-tingling series of ghost stories by JH Brennan that user Lemming013 has loaded to YouTube for all to hear. Now we pit the two against each other to see which we'll subject our offspring to!
In this corner: For many, David Tennant is THE Doctor when they think of Doctor Who . His youthful appearance, compassion, cleverness and bravery have made the Tenth Doctor a hero to millions of kids already. In the CBeebies Bedtime Stories, he's the embodiment of a quirky uncle or perhaps an imaginary friend, and the books he reads are all tried-and-true bedtime stories like Miki and How High Is the Sky? Plus, he usually has stuffed penguins accompanying him, which is a plus in anyone's book.
And in this corner: Kids aren't as likely to be familiar with Richard O'Brien, the composer of naughty rock musicals and most famous as the hunchbacked servant in Rocky Horror. American children might recognize him as the voice of Lawrence Fletcher in Phineas and Ferb, and he was the beloved host of the children's game show The Crystal Maze in the '90s. Still, he's a dashing if slightly devilish gentleman that can entertain any audience. His readings involve real-life ghost stories of the British Isles compiled by JH Brennan and delivered in the most perfect Halloween voice this side of Christopher Lee.
The Stories: Tennant's stories are clearly designed to be accessible to even the youngest of children, and his narration is enhanced greatly by pictures from the famous children's books that he reads. This makes it possible to read along with him if you're along for the ride or for kids to attempt to do so on their own. In general, the tales are lighthearted romps perfect for settling down in the evening. What I wouldn't give to have a video of him reading Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl .
O'Brien, though, I wouldn't really want to play for anyone younger than six. If your child is too frightened to sit through something like the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment of Fantasia, then he or she is probably not going to want to deal with the nightmares. These are actual spectral encounters being described, perfect for a thrill in pillow fort with an older child, but maybe a bit much otherwise. Point to Tennant.
The Narrators: There's no doubt that both O'Brien and Tennant are channeling their most famous roles in their recitations. Tennant uses all the tics and mannerisms we associate with his Doctor, as well as the most patient and kind aspects of that performance. On the other hand, he seems to have a little difficulty deciding whether or not to speak in an English accent or his natural Scottish one.
When it comes to atmosphere, though, O'Brien has Tennant beat. Maybe it's cheating a little. After all, it's easier to rivet a person with a yarn about spectral hands coming out of the fog at a traveler than it is to do so with a bear having a happy Christmas. Still, even approaching the telling from a purely audio standpoint instead of Tennant's mixed media, O'Brien spins a spooky story too perfectly to not simply applaud. Point O'Brien.
The Lessons: Tennant's stories are the literary equivalent of preschool programming. They have no antagonists, little mystery and focus entirely on a bright, sunny state of mind. Since they're directed at younger children, this is understandable, and he plays it for all the drama it's worth. What you can take from his readings is that it's a magical world out there full of interesting everyday lives for you to learn all about. What else would you expect from the Doctor?
O'Brien has a different lesson, namely that the world is also full of hidden and unexplainable things that might or might not be beneficial. This invokes fear in some, but in others a desire to investigate the uncanny in spite of fear. His lesson is a more honest look at life's darker corners. This sort of thing is essential for sparking a true sense of adventure in a kid. I'm calling this one a tie, with a slight edge to Tennant for wider accessibility.
The End: Fond as I am of Mr. O'Brien, you can't deny the production values of the videos and the faith that the Doctor has always inspired in kids. Tennant's the winner, but when the time comes to celebrate a little darkness, keep Ritz handy. They re-released those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books without those horrifying illustrations that terrified and delighted us as kids, you know? What kind of world is that? A world where you may need to get that necessary sort of literary vitamin from Riff Raff on YouTube.
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