Last week we reached something of a televisual landmark in our house. After seemingly years of back to back Spongebob or Dora or Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse, my daughter turned to me on the last day of the holidays and said ‘can we watch the dolls’ house Doctor Who? Megan says it’s really scary.’
Megan is her best friend and, after my daughter said that, my best friend too. I’ve been trying for a good couple of years to get the kids into Doctor Who. I feel it is one of my important duties as a parent. Firstly, to wrench them off idiotic cartoons about bathroom items that live under the sea and secondly, to introduce them to the ‘hiding behind the sofa won’t help you now’ mentality. It’s good to them to know fear. Isn’t that why kids love the adrenaline rush of rollercoasters?
Certainly the ‘dolls’ house’ Doctor Who is a good place to start in the fear stakes. Without wanting to give very much away, our hero is called to a tower block to investigate a little boy’s fear of the monsters in his cupboard. While doing so, the Doctor’s two companions get into one of the lifts and end up in a mysterious, giant dolls’ house – or so it seems.
It was a beautifully played out episode, expertly written by Mark Gatiss, where the tension built up tantalisingly amid some fine performances especially from a chap called Daniel Mays who played the boy’s father.
Not that my kids knowingly cared much about any of that slightly geeky stuff. At six and four, they were eagerly waiting for the scary bits. And, boy, did they come. Even if you haven’t seen the episode, you will probably have seen some pictures.
The kids loved it, especially my son – he’s already asking for an upgrade for his makeshift sonic screwdriver (by turns a pen and a magnifying glass with a long handle) – but even his big sister asked to watch the episode again. Slowly but surely I will be able to introduce them to other episodes and open up their already thriving imaginations even more.
So it irritated me somewhat to read a simple throwaway line of criticism by the columnist Sandra Parsons in the Daily Mail the other week. I know, I know, the Daily Mail exists purely to annoy the under 55s and keep the majority of over 55s in perennials for the garden. But this comment annoyed me almost as much as any of their rants against immigrants and young mothers who dare to dream of going back to work.
Ms Parsons described the first episode in the new series as ‘confusing, ludicrous and ultimately pointless’. Now ‘ludicrous’ and ‘ultimately pointless’ are fine. I don’t have a problem with either of them. I don’t agree with them in the slightest, but people are entitled to their opinion. But ‘confusing?’ No, no, no. Really what Ms Parsons means to say was that she wasn’t paying enough attention. The fact that she referred to the episode as the first in a new series when it was in fact the eighth suggests this.
Now I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t quite follow precisely what was going on in this particular episode the first time I watched it. It was late, I’d waited for the kids to be in bed, I really was striving to concentrate, but I think I did that thing that all parents of young children do and briefly closed my eyes for a few crucial seconds of plot. But I saw enough to realise it was brilliant and the second time I watched it, I was way more alert, able to focus completely and hence it was anything but ‘confusing’. The first time had been my fault, not the show’s.
Indeed, its executive producer and chief writer Steven Moffat recently said in an interview that kids aren’t confused by these involved plots. They sit down, really concentrate and get absorbed by it. What a joy that is to hear. In an age of dozens of kids channels showing endless repeats and imports, it’s reassuring to know that there are still programmes like Doctor Who that kids can look forward to sitting down to watch at a particular time every week, where they are guaranteed not to be distracted by anything (as was the case with even my four year old during the dolls house episode) and will almost end up pining for the next episode until the next week comes round. My kids aren’t quite at that stage with Doctor Who yet and it will be a while before they will fully appreciate the more involved stories, but in the meantime I do hope throwaway accusations of ‘ ‘too confusing’ can be ignored.
Kids need good quality television that will challenge them, involve them emotionally and stay with them for life. Otherwise we’ll end up permanently saddled with back-to-back Spongebob and the like. Kids like these shows, but rarely do I see my two totally absorbed by an episode. If they miss one, there’ll be another one along in a minute. All they want is the constant stimulation of colour and something going on, maybe with the odd funny joke. Plot development and story arcs don’t matter, nor does Spongebob himself so long as something else is on one of the 20 or so other channels. And, of course, there will be: endless repeats and imports. If that’s all we’re left with in the way of children’s television one day, then, television itself may yet become like monsters in the cupboard. And, in the words of the Doctor himself, ‘we have no idea what might be in there, how powerful, how evil that thing might be…’