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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ thing of the day: yet another reason why ‘Doctor Who’ is not for kids

Louisa Mellor at Den of Geek explains why, in relation to “The Big Bang,” Doctor Who isn’t really for kids, honestly:

We wear Crocs that turn us into enormous rubber footed toddlers and insist that Pixar films are suitable viewing for people with mortgages but really, The Big Bang wasn’t for kids. It was for us.

By us, I mean those who have lived long enough to feel kinship with a Doctor fighting against the obliteration of the entire universe, the moment when the stars go out. I’m not trying to bring anyone down, and really, let kids enjoy all the camp spaceships, sonic screwdrivers, running around and shouting, and let them enjoy it while they’re still young enough not to realise that, when they grow old, they’re destined to spend their days fighting the same foe as the Doctor, the moment when their own stars go out.

Because the series was all about death. Or to be more specific and fittingly for the show, death’s companion: loss.

Speak for yourself, Mellor, about the Crocs, but amen to the rest. And then she goes on to detail the many instances of loss — like how many time did Amy lose Rory this season, anyway? *sob* — throughout Season 5:

Now, I don’t really know anything about Moffat or his writers, but that wedding scene seemed like wish fulfilment. If only that everyday, nagging sense of loss pricked by those gulps of remembrance really could bring back the people we miss one last time for one last wedding and one last dance.

So, that’s why this one wasn’t about the kids. With any luck they haven’t yet loved and lost. But really, do let’s keep it as our secret. Let them enjoy their camp spaceships, sonic screwdrivers and (even) Dalek hankies. Because, despite the BBC’s charter, some education should be left as long as possible before it is learnt by heart.

Lovely.

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)



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easter eggs
  • If Doctor Who isn’t for kids, then neither are fairy-tales, which are all about loss, death, and grief. (And wish-fulfillment.) So is Harry Potter, and many, many other so-called “children’s” books and movies. If you listen and watch the promotion and publicity Doctor Who gets in Britain, it is very clear that while grown-ups are welcome, Doctor Who is a kids’ show, but one that doesn’t sugar-coat things nor dumb down for children. “Family entertainment” needn’t mean blandness. So please don’t say Doctor Who isn’t for kids. It certainly is. And for discerning adults.

  • Well-said, Persephone.

  • Rob

    Some people just can’t handle that they’re watching a kid’s program and have to invent high-falutin’ reasons why it’s “really not for kids”. It just makes me laugh. I’m an adult who can happily say, “Hell yeah, I watch that kid’s show. It’s fun…”

  • Isobel

    Yep – I have no qualms about watching kids stuff, if it’s good, without needing to adultise it. All my Harry Potter books have the original brightly covered kids covers, too.

    I don’t understand why people get so sniffy about adults watching kids films or TV, or reading children’s books. Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Abhorsen Trilogy, the Toy Story films, Doctor Who – they’re all far better than half the rom-com trash and romantic novels around, so what’s to be embarrassed about!

    And bless Louisa Mellor, but I have never set foot in a pair of Crocs and I never will! Ugly ugly ugly horrifically ugly things!

  • Don Smith

    To paraphrase and update C. S. Lewis: if it isn’t worth watching as an adult, it wasn’t worth watching as a child. (He said “reading”, but the principle applies.)

  • Rose

    Some Telegraphed Thoughts

    Crocs are bad.

    Fairy Tales were originally written, sold and packaged to adults as an interesting last vestige of folk traditions. (Though they were orally told to children).

    Doctor Who is a kid’s show, and what vibrant, alive and not dull adult can deny that there is a kid inside that needs something to wonder at?

  • To expand on Persephone’s point:

    The reason that stories about death, loss, fear, and evil are absolutely for kids is because there is a hero to overcome them. This is how we teach without teaching. If the story were JUST about the scary things without a full resolution to them then it would be for adults (i.e. Torchwood:Children of Earth).

    Having those scary things be over come gives children a clear lesson: These things can be overcome. A child who reads heroic fiction or watches a true hero (as opposed to AntiHero) on TV learns at a subconscious level that with time, determination, a bit of clever and some effort that anything is possible. And that lesson sticks with you.

  • Jurgan

    Okay, I don’t know enough about DW to really participate in this conversation, but: Does “not for kids” mean “not JUST for kids” or “not APPROPRIATE” for kids? From the above quote, it sounds like the author was saying the thematic weight makes it primarily suitable for adults, but that’s not saying kids CAN’T watch it- they just won’t appreciate it on the same level. That’s what it looked like to someone who’s never seen a single episode of DW (really, it’s on my list- behind about three or four other shows I’ve been wanting to watch for years).

  • The reason that stories about death, loss, fear, and evil are absolutely for kids is because there is a hero to overcome them. This is how we teach without teaching. If the story were JUST about the scary things without a full resolution to them then it would be for adults (i.e. Torchwood:Children of Earth).

    I would venture that even shows for adults can have heroes, but the difference in my mind is the scale. Moffat wants to tell a story about loss, so he tells a story ostensibly about the UNIVERSE dying, while hinting that, yes, even when we lose a person it’s just as terrible.

    I think a story with such grand sweeps is definitely for kids. It appeals to a lot adults too, and it should, because we were all once kids too. There should be no shame in that. We don’t shed our skin as adult and cast away our childhood, we sublimate it, integrate it into our broadening worldview.

    What distinguishes shows for adults, though, or any entertainment for them, are concepts and tales that a child would be out of their depth to understand. A story about loss can just be the story of one person going away, without the need to explode it out to be about the fate of the planet or galaxy in order to be sure your audience understands this is a Bad Thing (TM).

    I stand by Children of Earth as an adult story for many reasons, but the biggest is probably because of Frobisher. He murders his family and commits suicide, and the show asks us to sympathize with him. It tells us not view him as a monster but as a guilty man who is trying to save his family from a fate he knows is worse than death. There are not many children who could possibly understand that. Hell, I haven’t met very many adults who understand that.

    We need both of these types of stories. But because the kids variety appeals to kids AND adults, it gets much more attention. It’s more value to businesses who seek to do the least amount of work for the most amount of profit.

    There’s no shame in liking kids television, but lets not fool ourselves. It’s still kids television, even if adults like it. Don’t label some of it adult and then give up on making genuinely mature shows.

  • Rob

    Whoah… how’d we end up talking about Torchwood in a discussion on what’s for kids? Torchwood has always been made for adults. The amount of sex and profanity in it makes that obvious to anyone/

  • Lisa

    And yet, conversely, I always think that Torchwood is more childish than Who. Odd that, isn’t it?

    Just to go off on a Frobisher related tangent, I hate being told to have sympathy for a guy who has murdered his family. It happened recently in the UK (AGAIN) over financial issues. If it was a woman, we’d be told what a monster she was. It always seems to be a selfish bastard who dosesn’t want his wife to leave, who doesn’t want to lose face in his community. Rant over.

  • Anne-Kari

    I was going to mount my defense of this being (also) a kids show but I see that you all got here first and said it better than I ever could.

    I will add this: Perhaps we can be more specific about what Doctor Who isn’t. It isn’t a CRAPPY kids’ show. It isn’t a VACUOUS kids’ show. It isn’t Pokémon, a show my son watches with great enthusiasm as he sorts through his 9000 Pokémon cards while obsessively cataloging ‘powers’ and ‘strike points’ etc.

    I don’t think that Pokémon is evil or anything. It’s just that after my kids watch a Pokémon episode, they just want to buy more frakking Pokémon cards.

    After they watch an episode of Doctor Who, I get questions and comments for WEEKS like this (actual quotes, nearly verbatim, from my kids):

    “Ooooh! I get it now, if they’re LOOKING at each other than they are always going to be LOOKING at each other cuz they are stuck that way – because they are LOOKING at each other!! So they are stuck that way! FOREVER… what do you think about if you’re stuck forever?”

    “But wait, what if one of them looked in a mirror? Is that the same thing? Why didn’t Sally just buy a bunch of mirrors?”

    “Mommy, if what you think comes from your brain and the Doctor’s brain is different every time he does that thing (regenerates) every part of him changes, how come he’s the same guy? His brain is totally different, right?”

    After watching 11 freak out and beat up a Dalek and scream about how he killed all of them, my daughter says this: “….. He’s scary, Mommy.” Me: “You mean the Doctor, or the Dalek?” “The Doctor. He’s scary sometimes.”

    And one of my favorite little exchanges between my kids, while recently re-watching The 11th Hour:

    Katherine (6yrs): “I’d be so mad at him too. He made her wait 12 years!”
    Patrick (9yrs): “But he didn’t MEAN to be late.”
    Katherine: “Yeah, but she’s still mad and I would be mad too. He promised.”
    Patrick: “Yeah and plus he’s like always late. He’s wrong a lot.”
    Katherine: “Yeah but he’s still the Doctor so I guess that’s why she doesn’t stay too mad at him.”

    I like that they have an example of a kind of Superhero who is weird and flawed and even more than a little scary, but still strong and loveable and well-meaning.

  • Rose

    Anne-Kari – what a great post.

    I like that they have an example of a kind of Superhero who is weird and flawed and even more than a little scary, but still strong and loveable and well-meaning.

    can’t add much more.

  • Daniel

    A Little Princess is a classic children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s about a young girl learning to accept her father’s death. The book has been adapted into a movie at least twice, and each time, the story has been changed so that the father isn’t really dead after all, he’s just been injured in the war, and at the end of the film he comes back and everything is fine.

    I don’t know whether the filmmakers have difficulty coping with death, or whether the studios told them, “No one will see this film. Kids won’t be able to handle it unless you change the ending.” But I don’t think kids are the problem. I think it’s adults who aren’t willing to accept death, and they’re projecting their fears onto their children.

    But then, hardly any films or television shows get made these days that aren’t accessible to the lowest common denominator. I think studios are afraid of anything challenging or controversial, because they want to earn every possible dollar (or Euro) from every movie or TV show they produce. And if people complain that there’s nothing for intelligent people to watch, it’s easy to blame the children.

  • Whoah… how’d we end up talking about Torchwood in a discussion on what’s for kids? Torchwood has always been made for adults. The amount of sex and profanity in it makes that obvious to anyone.

    I brought it up for the reason you just used. Sex and profanity does not make something a mature story. I contrasted Children of Earth (not Series 1 or 2 of Torchwood) because it was mature without using sex or profanity, and because it used themes that kids would find hard to understand.

    I’d venture that kids understand (or at least comprehend the appeal of) sex and violence way earlier than anyone is comfortable admitting. Certainly before they understand the merits of restraint and the honor in quiet protest.

    I hate being told to have sympathy for a guy who has murdered his family. It happened recently in the UK (AGAIN) over financial issues. If it was a woman, we’d be told what a monster she was. It always seems to be a selfish bastard who dosesn’t want his wife to leave, who doesn’t want to lose face in his community.

    I think the situation you describe is different than in Children of Earth, but that’s besides the point. You don’t have to agree with someone’s choices to sympathize with them. You just have to understand their emotional state and the options they perceived. He picks a course he thought was best. He was wrong, in the end, very wrong, but that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t ask you to feel sympathy for him, which was my point.

    Just so everyone’s clear, though, I believe it’s abhorrent to murder anyone when there aren’t mind-controlling alien space ships floating in orbit.

    As for when there ARE aliens in orbit… I’ll figure that out when it seems likely to occur.

  • History of Bubbles

    The writer loses me in the first sentence with her implication that Pixar movies AREN’T actually “suitable viewing for people with mortgages.” I can’t think of another movie in recent memory that’s as explicitly about death, mortality, and loss as Toy Story 3, if that’s the metric we’re going by. My feeling is that Pixar is using “kids’ movies” as kind of a canvas on which to make movies that are actually for grownups and always have been.

    And honestly, maybe I’m the same kind of Croc-footed inner toddler as Mellor is writing about, but I’ve never been able to wrap my head around “Doctor Who” being a children’s show. It’s a live-action drama with convoluted, sciencey stories and not a single child character. I can’t think of a single analog to it here in the U.S. It barely even seems child-friendly to me, but, well, maybe British kids on the whole are just more sophisticated than American ones.

  • Dymphna

    I have a skewed view on this, since I spent a year working with kids whose parents were dying or had recently died from cancer, and now I work with foster kids who are dealing with an entirely different kind of loss.

    Kids need stories about loss because their lives are just as impacted by mortality as the lives of adults.

    Isn’t Amelia an example of that truth?

    The purpose of the hero is not to show that death can be overcome, but to show us how to joyfully embrace life even in the face of loss. The doctor is a hero not because he saves the universe, but because even after losing his people he still loves the universe with all of his heart enough to want to save it. Death and loss are an intrinsic part of the universe that he saves.

  • Daniel

    For a society that has trouble accepting death, we find a lot of ways of working it into our entertainment. People die every week in the CSI and Law and Order TV series, and lots of people get killed in slasher movies. It’s just that they die in a stylized way, or offscreen.

    When Pulp Fiction first came out, people kept telling me it was shockingly violent, but it was actually less bloody than a lot of horror movies. The difference was, the characters who died in Pulp Fiction were characters we’d gotten to know and care about, and their deaths looked genuinely painful.

    When a television show like Six Feet Under comes along and deals with death in a way that’s at all realistic or direct, it has to be shown on cable.

    Maybe this is the only way we know to process death. We turn it into a puzzle to solve in a mystery story, or a game to play on our Nintendos. We talk about it all the time, but in a way that seems remote and unreal, because otherwise we’d have to admit that we’re talking about it.

  • DaveTM

    I agree with alot of posters about how Doctor Who is labeled as a kids show that doesn’t mean that only kids can enjoy it.

    Also it still seems like we are afraid of what we show kids alot more today then when I was growing up. When you look at movies like Bambi and Watership Down they are incredibly violent and would never be made in the same way.

    The most telling example of this is when I bought my wife the Sesame Street “Old School” DVD set which included a disclaimer at the front saying that you shouldn’t show it to kids today.

  • Lisa

    @TempestDash

    Yeah I know it’s a different situation and probably his kids were better off dead but he didn’t give his wife a choice did he?

    but I understand your point – that’s why I said Frobisher related tangent and mentioned that it was also a rant.

    I think Children of Earth was fantastic, but I generally think that Torchwood is immayure when it deal with sex and profanity – it’s like they’re going fuck! ooooh we said a naughty word! Look 2 fellas having sex – bet nobody’s done that before! But Children of Earth is great and Ianto saying not blokes, just Capt Jack was a beautiful moment.

  • Lisa

    taht should be immature when it deals, whoops

  • It’s okay, Lisa. We knew what you meant.

    I don’t have much to add here save:

    1. Having lost my father in 2003 and having experienced the loss of my family home from a fire while I was still in my late teens, I often find it ironic that the one movie I’ve seen that accurately depicted the type of reaction I had to both events was a children’s movie: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

    2. All too often, the difference between movies made for children and movies made for adults is that kids’ movies tend to promote that yes, life suc–er–stinks but you can get over the worst obstacles if you try while most grown-up movies seem more comfortable promoting the notion that yes, life stinks and there’s nothing you can do so why bother trying? It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to guess why the latter can be so unpopular and yet we seem more comfortable with that type of cinematic maturity than the type that encourages us to take responsibility for our actions.

    Indeed, as someone mentioned above, there seems to be more genuine maturity in the Harry Potter movies and the first half of Up than in so-called “adult” movies I can mention. (And not just easy targets like Hot Tub Time Machine and Crazy/Beautiful.)

  • As someone who has watched Doctor Who since I was four. I can honestly say – Yes! It’s for kids. I did get a spider phobia directly from “Planet of the Spiders” but other than that, I survived and haven’t gone crazy yet – and I’m 40+ now.

    Of course, the new series is nowhere near as brutal as the old one. Seriously… at one point, someone decides to “off themselves” (in Image of the Fendahl) and Tom Baker hands him a gun.

    My kids get a lot out of Doctor Who. It’s fun to be scared of things that you KNOW can’t exist. It’s also great to have a hero who doesn’t think that weapons are the answer.

  • MaryAnn

    Oops! I certainly didn’t intend to start this sort of firestorm! I should have titled this post “why Doctor Who isn’t JUST for kids.”

    I don’t think Mellor means to suggest otherwise, at all, and I also don’t think that she means to imply that Pixar movies aren’t also for kids and adults equally: I think she’s saying that we go out of our way to overexplain why Pixar is just fine for grownups too.

    I think the difference in what she’s saying about “The Big Bang” is that while it’s fine for kids, the key elements — regarding wishing people back from the dead — are something that only adults can appreciate. Yes, of course, children experience death and loss and grief, but necessarily it is *only* adults who can have the experience of living with loss and grief for such a long time that, say, 20 years after someone has died, you can still say, “Gee, I wish So-and-So could be here for this.”

    After watching 11 freak out and beat up a Dalek and scream about how he killed all of them, my daughter says this: “….. He’s scary, Mommy.” Me: “You mean the Doctor, or the Dalek?” “The Doctor. He’s scary sometimes.”

    That sounds like how one of the little girls in *Despicable Me* describes Gru: “He’s scary but nice. Like Santa.”

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