Peter Capaldi, the 59-year-old actor playing the tired and tieless lead in the current iteration of Doctor Who became a fan of the show as a kid in Scotland. That provides a bit of a sense of how long the science fiction institution has been a cornerstone of British broadcasting. It also — for those familiar with the intermittently hokey and serious franchise — is indicative of how variable the show can be. Many more recent episode of Doctor Who are not suitable for children. They feature terrifying monsters and even more terrifying ideas. For example, the highly touted “Heaven Sent” episode sees Capaldi trapped in a water-locked castle prison for a billion years. Awesome episode, but kids don’t necessarily need a primer on Jean-Paul Sartre.
By design – show runner Steven Moffat has historically called Doctor Who a children’s property – there are still a decent number of family-friendly episodes or, at least, episodes that straight-arm the existential horror at the core of the show. Parents looking to get their kids excited about the show, which just kicked off its tenth season, should start with these five. (And, yes, they’re all relative recent. Capaldi’s fandom aside, the old shows didn’t age terribly well.)
“The Eleventh Hour”
Steven Moffat’s first show as head writer was also Matt Smith’s first show as The Doctor. That won’t mean anything to kids, but Who pivoted towards a lighter feel when Moffat started. The episode has the Doctor, fresh off of regenerating, figuring out his new body and face, a potentially resonate bit of plot for growing kids. Thanks to Amelia Pond, a 7-year-old girl who finds the TARDIS in her front yard, the Doctor lands on his feet and figures himself out. Her perspective of the weird, charming Doctor is a perfect entry point for viewers completely new to the series. Plus, Smith eats a disgusting combination of fish sticks and custard, so that’s an entry point for your kid’s weird food combinations.
Before James Corden was carpooling with musicians, he had a memorable turn in Doctor Who. Rarely do Whovians see the Doctor living outside of his TARDIS — and for good reason. He’s socially awkward around regular activities since he’s not so familiar with human emotions. In “Lodger” The Doctor decides to rent an apartment (to stop an alien) in modern-day Colchester. The Doctor then hilariously struggles to fit in. When Corden and Matt Smith are invited to play a pick-up game of football, the Doctor introduces himself to teammates with cheek kisses and says his best position is “arms.”
The Doctor is a powerful, time-traveling hero, and seeing him grapple with basic human day-to-day stuff oddly humanizes him. It’s a simple, funny episode but manages to stay very Who with a bizarre alien living upstairs.
“Robot of Sherwood”
The Doctor, at times, has come across historical figures, but when he meets Robin Hood, he knows something is off. Of course, it ends up being an alien/robot ruse. Twist aside, seeing the Doctor banter like a child with Robin Hood is just plain fun. There’s a weird meta-argument of having the fictional Doctor tell the fictional Hood he’s fictional, but your kid will be more excited about the sword fights and archery. The Doctor topples Hood in both skill sets making half the episode a ridiculous dick measuring contest. It’s silly, but it’s a Who episode showcasing the series’s ability to diversify.
“Vincent and the Doctor”
The Doctor has a time machine and at times, he gives his companion the opportunity to choose any time period or historical figure they would like to see. In this episode, his companion, Amy Pond, wants to meet Vincent Van Gogh. It’s dangerous territory to tread as it can easily become a gag, like Marty McFly inspiring Chuck Berry. The episode avoids that by being a love letter to Van Gogh. It’s another example of the show being something beyond aliens attempting to destroy the planet (though there is a mysterious monster in the episode). Plus, it’s a sneaky way to get your kids interested in art.
“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”
This is a pretty bad episode and that couldn’t matter less. The plot feels like the premise of a Dinosaur Train episode on steroids: The Doctor lands on a spaceship full of dinosaurs, which is a Noah’s Ark type ship for Silurians, a reptile alien species. The Doctor, of course, ends up riding a triceratops like a horse, and really, what else could a kid want?