How to Explain ‘Doctor Who’ to a Child
This Saturday, the 36th season of Doctor Who — and last featuring current doctor Peter Capaldi — begins. And while Doctor Who has been a go-to series for sci-fi obsessives since it first aired in 1963, the sheer size of the BBC show (there have been 827 episodes to date) makes first-time introductions a bit tricky. Because even though Doctor Who‘s whole time traveling aliens in space premise naturally appeals to little kids, there are a lot of episodes that will confuse and bore the uninitiated. So if you want your kid to start saying “Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey”, where do you start? Here are five tips to help explain, and introduce, the very British series.
Skip the Exhausting Backstory
Explaining how the Doctor used to wear question mark patterns on his clothes and always carried candy in his pocket will just deter kids. Skip the old stuff. Remember, you want your kid to like the show, so stick to the basics. He’s an alien from Gallifrey. He travels through space and time. His time machine is a phone booth, which is a thing that used to exist before phones came along. He never uses his fists or guns. And his go-to tool is a sonic screwdriver that can unlock anything from doors to devices. Avoid discussing such things as the show’s non-linear timeline, the fact that the TARDIS is a living, breathing being, and that the Doctor has an unspeakable real name. Save those deep thoughts for later.
Explain the Regeneration Thing
The doctor’s regenerative abilities serve as an ingenius way for series producers to change actors without really affecting the narrative. See, he doesn’t die, he just regenerates into an entirly new body, face, and personality. It’s also bittersweet: Whovians are guaranteed a fresh face and new stories every few years, but they could lose an actor who is potentially their favorite Doctor. Still, kids need to know about this because its core to the series. Besides, knowing your favorite will change into something completely new but sort of similar in a few years is what we all go through with iPhones, anyway.
Start with Matt Smith
Smith’s turn as the Eleventh Doctor is welcoming with buckets of charm. His run as the Doctor is arguably the kid-friendliest in recent memory: He shared nearly half of his debut episode with a child, he raced on dinosaurs, he hung out with Van Gough, and his catchphrase was “Geronimo!” Now, we’re not saying Smith is the best Doctor — take that argument to a subreddit. It’s just that he’s a great entry point for younger first-time viewers. And he’s way more appealing that Capaldi’s current doctor. While certainly enigmatic and darkly hilarious, he’s a crotchety old man. The dude hates hugs.
Ignore the Animated Specials
Animation always sounds like a kid-friendly route, but the unique animated Who episodes are tough to get through. They’re actually “lost episodes” from 1974, where BBC archives were destroyed. The surviving audio recordings were combined with new computer animation and released last year. While they’re an incredible bonus for die-hard fans, the episodes are sure to bore kids.
Stick to the Aliens
By conceit, Doctor Who guarantees a new or recurring alien or monster in nearly every episode. And in the rare case that there’s neither, there’s probably a dinosaur. While some of the creatures can be terrifying (steer clear of the Weeping Angels), most are harmless and silly. So the best way to get kids into the Whoniverse is to show them some cool, non-scary creatures. Try the Zygons from ‘The Power of Three’ (they’re just dudes in terrible rubber suits from the ’70s.), Strax from Sontran, who’s featured in “A Good Man Goes to War” and is basically a cross of Lord of the Rings‘ Gimli and a weird looking baby, and, finally, the Cybermen from “Closing Time“. They’re an evil robot race but have less brains than storm troopers.