(Removed and expanded from another post.)
Season 8 of Doctor Who has been billed as “a darker season” with “a darker Doctor” than the previous two, more flippant Doctors. Is it still appropriate for kids?
In a review of the episode “Dark Water,” columnist Sam Wollaston from The Guardian points out all the disturbing elements he enjoyed and then writes:
“I suspect my approval may mean he gets the opposite from the kids. Yeah, well, so what, it’s not your show any more. Love you, now go to bed.”
Yeah, well, fuck you Sam Wollaston, from the bottom of my motherly heart. Should my kids be deprived of this show just to make you happy? Plus, you’re dissing the future adult fan base of Doctor Who. Don’t forget that it was rebooted by adults who watched it as children.
This, by the way, is nothing to do with wanting or not wanting the show and the Doctor to be “darker,” whatever that means. Children are fully capable of dealing with “darker.” Read any Roald Dahl lately? Any Brothers Grimm fairy tales? In fact, many children’s ordinary lives are a lot scarier than any episode of Doctor Who could ever be.
Anyhow, when my spouse and I sit down to watch Doctor Who, the kids join in. My oldest loves to be scared, and my youngest leaves the room when the going gets too rough. She didn’t actually leave the room during “Dark Water” — I have a feeling it was scarier for the grownups, who think more about death. Nobody had nightmares, except me.
I think the show is good for kids in many ways. For instance, it’s a great source of metaphors and a way to understand our rapidly changing world. When a child asks, “But whyyyyyy can’t I have a cell phone? Even second-graders at my school have them!!!” I can say, “Because they will turn you into Cybermen,” and they get it.
The show is also a great way to expose children to some of the frightening truths that adults grapple with (badly) without overwhelming the kids. How many apocalypses have we had on the show? Ecological disasters? Megalomaniac rulers? But there’s almost always been a counterbalance, a ridiculous and fallible Doctor who saves us from the monsters, while tripping over his own shoes.
That’s the magic formula of the show, the one that’s kept fans coming back for more. The world is scary, but you can go out into it, explore, confront danger, because somebody’s got your back. It’s a lie, of course, but it’s a lie that children need in order to learn and grow and take risks. (As an adult who figured out that lie, and learned we have to save the frigging world ourselves, I do love the mental health break of stepping inside that blue box to watch that magic formula in action.)
This season has done a beautiful job of keeping that magic formula while still exploring all the troubling aspects of being the Doctor. But I do have a perpetual worry that Doctor Who might stray too far from the formula and stop being fun for kids. Of any age. As an extreme example, I don’t want Doctor Who to turn into “Torchwood: Children of Earth.” That episode had the kind of gut-wrenching impossible choice no hero could live with. And I don’t want the companions to get killed — especially Clara, the character my daughter adores. Finally, I don’t want the underlying optimism and humor to be lost. Fortunately, for now at least, we have a showrunner who remembers and values what it’s like to be a Doctor Who fan as a child. Don’t forget. Run, you clever show, and remember.
And hey, kids — Doctor Who is and always has been your show. Stay up late.
Have a jelly baby.