Last season, overcome by a fit of excitement about the Doctor being back, I tried to introduce my then-three-old to Doctor Who. I knew, deep in my soul, that it wasn’t going to work, but I really, really wanted to try, so I did some rationalizing:
It’s a family show, I told myself.
Generations of British children grew up watching it, and they’re fine, I told myself.
It’s cool – The Doctor speaks Baby, I told myself.
And then I turned on “The Pilot.” Things went great until Bill Potts looked down her drain and saw an eye looking back at her. Then we had to turn it off. Then bathtime was complicated for a month.
After that, I gave up. No use in even trying to introduce the kiddo to the Doctor until middle school, right? Well, not so much.
There is a way to introduce everyone in your house to Doctor Who — you have to be thoughtful about how you do it and it’s going to depend a lot on the person you are trying to inDocterinate.
That pun’s not mine. It comes from Keir Hansen of CT-based Whovian podcast Gallifrey Public Radio. Together with his wife Julie, and fellow panelist Jonathan Wilcox, Hansen ran the Whovian Family Values panel at ConnectiCon earlier this month. The panel’s mission: introducing everyone in the family to Doctor Who.
Since I am currently the lone nerd in my household, this was just the instruction manual I was looking for.
The panel’s advice went beyond just introducing children to Doctor Who. It included anyone who might be living with you: older family members, roommates, partners, and houseguests. (Appropriate, because in many ways Doctor Who is a family drama about a time traveler, their blue house, and several generations of their adopted family.)
Before delving into the panel’s recommendations, the panelists addressed a question that is often posed in the fan community: Is Doctor Who a kid’s show? It started as an educational show in the ’60s, but in the last 50 years the series has definitely grown up, dealing with adult themes like war, genocide, and death.
The panel and the audience seemed to agree — Doctor Who is not a show for children. And maybe it never was a true kids’ show.
“There is material they touched on in classic [episodes] that I would not let a 5, 10, or even a 15-year-old watch,” said Keir Hansen.
But that doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t watch it — rather than a children’s show, said Hansen, it is a family show. The entire family is meant to watch it; there is something for everyone. So… how do you get everyone to watch it?
How to introduce a grown-up to Doctor Who
Wait until they’re willing: In just about every example they gave, the Hansens and Wilcox described introducing someone to the Doctor after that person asks about the show or expresses an interest in it. This is a tough one if you’re the only Whovian in your household, but you don’t want to poison someone against the show if they’re really not interested.
Pick an episode that provides a good overview of the show: If you’re trying to introduce your family member to the show as a whole, you’ll want what the Hansens call a “starter episode,” an episode that introduces the audience to the Doctor, the TARDIS, and the universe the Doctor lives in. There are a few of these in the series, but the one the panelists settled on first was “Rose,” the first episode of the new series. That episode had to do the work of introducing a new generation to the Doctor, so all the pieces are there for a new fan. However, “Rose” was filmed in 2004 and first aired in 2005, and the BBC didn’t have a huge budget for it. It might come off as campy and dated to some viewers. So, if you think a higher production value will appeal to your loved one, Keir suggests starting them on last year’s “The Pilot,” which functions as a slick, updated episode one. “The Eleventh Hour,” which introduces the 11th Doctor and Amelia Pond, may also work as a starter episode.
Choose an episode filmed in a format they enjoy: Horror, suspense, procedurals, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns — Doctor Who has been on a long time, and has experimented with a lot of different formats and genres. If the adult you want to introduce Who to is especially interested in a genre, you might do well with an episode that’s like that genre. If they’re big fans of Ocean’s Eleven, they might like “Time Heist,” for example. If they like cozy mysteries, try starting them with “The Unicorn & The Wasp.” If they loved 24, “42” was literally written for them.
How to introduce a child to Doctor Who:
Maybe don’t start with Doctor Who. There’s a lot of Who-adjacent media out there, and some of it is more appropriate for kids and young adults than the series itself. The Sarah Jane Adventures, a show intended for a young audience, was mentioned by Julie as a good starting point for children. Some of the animated stories might also be a good fit for kids. Wilcox introduced his teen to the Doctor via the Lego Doctor Who game, although even that was a little scary during the Weeping Angels level. Another entry point might be the Doctor Who audiobooks, because for some kids, listening to an adventure might not be as frightening as watching it.
If you do introduce them to the series, choose light episodes: Not every episode is darkness and terror, so if you do show your child an episode, go for a funny one, or at least one that’s not horror-themed. Children might respond well to “The Eleventh Hour,” a story that’s told through the eyes of a child, or to the recent Robin Hood-themed episode, or to the episodes which feature historical figures like Vincent Van Gogh and Shakespeare. Another child-friendly episode (depending on the child) is “Closing Time” in which the Doctor speaks Baby. Tweens might enjoy “The Doctor’s Wife,” or “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
Consider Classic Who: This depends on the kid, but the older, slower, campier Doctor Who episodes might be less frightening for some kids than faster-paced current episodes. Of course, the excessive corniness of say, Fourth Doctor episodes could also turn kids off. However, some Whovians are getting around that by watching them as a group, MST3K-style. Twitch for example, just wrapped up a series of classic Doctor Who screenings, says Keir.
Realize you know your child better than anyone. You know what your kid can handle. One audience member’s child was introduced to Doctor Who via “The Empty Child” because an older sibling was watching it. While that child was frightened at the time, they were later able to handle more frightening material because whatever the problem was, they knew the Doctor could handle it. Wilcox’s child, who has Asperger’s, doesn’t like surprises, so he chooses the episodes he shows her accordingly. My own kid is too little for any episodes, but he really likes music, so right now it is more than enough to play the Doctor Who theme for him.
Bring them to conventions: Sometimes it’s enough to be around other fans, especially for little ones. Family cosplays can introduce kids to The Doctor, the TARDIS, and even Missy and the Cybermen without the trauma of watching, say, “Death in Heaven.” (The Hansens practiced this at the panel — Julie was the 10th Doctor while the couple’s toddler Jakob was dressed up as The Master.) Letting kids “bask in your own dorkiness” is a good thing, said Keir.
Pause and reflect: It helps to use the themes in Doctor Who to explore concepts you might be working on at home. That could mean talking, as a family, about an episode you just watched. That could also mean watching an episode that deals with themes you’ve already been talking about. And that’s why the panel doesn’t think of Doctor Who as a children’s show, like The Sarah Jane Adventures, or a show for adults, like Torchwood.
“That is what makes Doctor Who a family show,” said Wilcox. “The ability to discuss.”
For more Gallifrey Public Radio and more starter episode suggestions, check out their site here.
Editorial note: An earlier version of this post misspelled the Hansens’ son’s first name. That, and a few other grammatical typos, have been corrected.