How to Talk to Your Kids About Doctor Who

With the news that Doctor Who‘s Tennant-era episodes are coming to Disney XD, there is of course the natural following assumption that there just might be an influx of a new, younger audience to Whovian fandom.

Now, if you’re reading this, you’re probably already a Whovian. And if you’re a Whovian with kids, the chances of your children having been already exposed to Doctor Who are pretty good. At the very least, they know what it is and that it exists in the first place.

What age you want your children to start really watching Doctor Who themselves, though, is up to you as a parent, of course. Disney XD is specifically aimed at 6-11 year olds, and as a Whovian parent of a 4 year old, that seems like a pretty good introductory age to me.

Some parts of Doctor Who can be downright scary, after all. For heaven’s sake, the show has instilled a fear in some adults of everything from snowmen to shadows, angel statues to walls, for crying out loud! So it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re deciding just when to begin upgrading, er, I mean, converting your precious darlings into brand new Whovians!

Doctor Who did start out as a show meant for children, although anyone who’s seen the Classic Who knows it wasn’t all bunnies and rainbows, that’s for sure! However, that doesn’t mean the show, Classic or New, doesn’t appeal to the younger generations, as evidenced by Disney’s distribution move. They wouldn’t be jumping on the Whovian bandwagon if they didn’t think it would gain some traction.

And I’m quite sure it will.

But how to really explain such a complex show with such a lengthy history to your kids? How to get them genuinely interested beyond that initial awareness that it exists in the first place?

If you’re a Whovian parent ready to upgrade convert your mini-me into a full-fledged fan, there are a few basic principles to keep in mind when talking to your kids about Doctor Who:

Take advantage of their natural curiosity.
Everyone knows children are curious little buggers. Nothing goes unnoticed, no stone goes unturned, for better or for worse. Whovian parents undoubtedly have some Doctor Who memorabilia somewhere around the house, and undoubtedly at some point the children will find it (and hopefully not destroy it). Instead of simply removing it from their reach, or allowing them to play with it while blissfully unaware of what it actually is, take the time to say, “Hey, isn’t that a pretty cool toy? Do you know what it is?” And when/if they don’t, take a few moments to fill them in on its origins and basic function within the show. (And then maybe go out and find them their own Doctor Who related memorabilia to play with.) When giving this backstory, though, it’s also important to remember:

Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Your kids aren’t really going to care that the show originated in 1963, or that there’s been 13 reincarnations of The Doctor, or that Davros was the creator of the Daleks, etc etc. Try to rein in that urge to launch into a history lesson and keep it short, sweet, and directly related to the subject in question. For example, if they have taken a keen interest in your TARDIS cookie jar (and not just for the treats inside of it), explain, “It’s called a TARDIS. It’s like a spaceship. It can take you anywhere you want to go, and can even time travel!” No need to mention the whole Time and Relative Dimension in Space thing. If they’ve taken a fancy to your sonic screwdriver, tell them what it’s called and say something as simple as, “It can fix things! And open any locked things!” (Mention of the wood exception optional.) Found your Dalek mini-figure? “It’s a BAD GUY! Run!” Or maybe your Doctor figurine? “He’s called The Doctor. He’s a good guy and fights bad guys like the Daleks to keep them from hurting people.”

Of course the depth of the explanations will depend on your child’s age and maturity level and just how much you think they can personally handle or might be interested in. As they learn more and more about Doctor Who, there might just come a time they want the entire history lesson. But until that time comes, it’s best to just give them the select tidbits here and there. You’d be surprised at how quickly it begins to all add up and how they start to piece things together all by themselves!

Don’t shy away from the tough subjects.
Well, let’s face it. People die in Doctor Who. They also get turned into plastic, melt into (adorable) adipose creatures, get flashed back in time, get stuck in parallel universes (supposedly) forever, are turned into unemotional robots, and lose large chunks of their memory, among other things. If asked by our kids something along the lines of “what happened to [insert character name]?” or “Is [insert character name] going to be okay?”, it’s tempting to sugar-coat it, gloss over it, or just plain fib our way over it. We like to say it’s to “protect” our children, but really it’s an excuse to avoid discussing uncomfortable or tough subjects.

While we don’t generally have to worry about being turned into plastic, adipose, or unemotional robots in real life, discussing these events and the possible impact of them on the character’s families and friends, as well as pointing out how other characters and The Doctor himself deals with these occurrences (and whether that’s really how you should handle them or not, as well) can help your kids further develop empathy and compassion. Not to mention, give them a grasp of how the real world works (turning into plastic or adipose not included). This doesn’t mean you have to get all doom and gloom or super depressing, of course. The previous tip of Simplify Simplify Simplify applies here as well, but your kids will appreciate your honesty in the long run.

This also goes for the occasional mild swearing or sometimes sexual innuendo. If your kid picks up on any of those, don’t get flustered or upset. Most kids won’t understand why saying or asking about certain words agitate you to such an extent (if it does happen to agitate you, that is). Refusing to discuss it with them or simply telling them just to “never say that again” will most definitely not cut it. Again, honesty is the best policy here. Sit them down and explain what is and isn’t appropriate for them to say according to your own household rules. Not only does this create actual understanding about those expressions for your kids, but it will make them comfortable with coming to you for any future questions. In only takes one “freak out” on your part as a parent to one of your child’s questions to make them wary of ever again approaching you for clarification on something they might have questions about.

So. Don’t panic. Remain calm. Discuss. And everyone will be happier … and more educated!

Enthusiasm is contagious.
Much like children are the first to repeat the only bad word you might have let slip in a thirty minute rant, they are also very sensitive to other people’s enthusiasm over anything. Our four year old son is already a Kansas City Chiefs fan. Why? Because every Sunday during football season he sees daddy cheering and fist-pumping (or cursing, ahem) at the TV, and what’s on? The Kansas City Chiefs. If daddy’s excited about football and the Chiefs, well then he is, too! He even has the start of an excellent touchdown dance down.

The same for other obsessions … such as Doctor Who. Your kids will naturally gravitate toward what you yourself are enthusiastic about. When you talk about Doctor Who, they can already hear that special tone of voice you get when you’re really passionate about something.

That will get them excited about it, too. Then take advantage of that and maybe schedule a family watch party to get them started. That being said:

Don’t force it.
Maybe they only want to watch Doctor Who for ten minutes. Or maybe they just want to run around the house with your sonic screwdriver aiming it at people’s heads to “make them smarter” (hey, you said it fixes things, didn’t you!?). Or maybe they just want to shut themselves in the laundry room and pretend they’re going to the moon in the TARDIS. Whatever interest they do show, nurture it.

Doctor Who is a great show with elements all age groups can enjoy. And now that Tennant’s time as Doctor will be on Disney XD as well, your kid might even start having friends (with non-Whovian parents) who are into it. Luckily, you’ll be around to help them discover the vast world of Doctor Who, too.

And now you’ll know just how to go about it! Good luck!

Are you a Whovian with children? Do your children enjoy Doctor Who? What are your strategies for talking to them about the show?