Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Doctor Who with a 5-Year-Old: The Rings of Akhaten

As many of you know, in the last few months I've been watching Classic Who, basically mainlining the key episodes from 1963 to 1996 (the last of which I completed a week ago). Having already watched the New Series and having been a big Doctor Who fan for a few years, I was curious about the older episodes, but found it daunting. With the help of a couple of Doctor Who experts, I've now seen over 200 Classic Series episodes (equal to 40 stories plus the TV movie). I'll blog on that soon, what my experience was, who my favourite Doctors and companions were, etc.

But for now, I'm saying this as a background explanation to the title of this post. I've now seen all of the Doctors, and many (not all) of the companions. I've watched New Series episodes many, many times. I could now go and try to fill in all the blanks with the remaining episodes, and even listen to all of the audio episodes that (for now) don't exist on video. BUT, even if I did all that, I'd still be a newbie.

I'll always be a newbie.

And that's because of one key factor: I didn't watch Doctor Who as a kid. I don't have the clich├ęd experience of hiding behind the couch, peeking around the corner. I didn't suffer through years of trauma because of the Cybermen. I didn't watch Tom Baker as a kid (that's my husband's Doctor) and want to wear multicoloured scarves. I couldn't rattle off what the letters in TARDIS stood for.

I can do most of that now. I watched much of "Blink" with my eyes covered. And there are more things in my house than I'd care to admit that are either TARDISes or Daleks. I want a sonic screwdriver. BUT... I didn't grow up with those things. The Doctor didn't shape my life and who I am today. I didn't discover him until I was in my early thirties, and even then I wasn't that interested until I picked it up again in my mid-thirties. And even then it took another few years for me get into the Classic Series, which I managed to jam in before hitting 40. I can never have the experience of knowing the Doctor as a child. Eccleston is my first Doctor. Tennant is my favourite Doctor.

A year or so ago, I was watching "Daleks in Manhattan," and my son walked in. So far the episode hadn't been particular scary, so I let him sit down and watch with me. He was only four. I worried this was too young (despite my Whovian friends saying, "Pfft, I watched them when I was in utero!!") So while this was an unfortunate episode to get him started on (I seriously dislike that episode), it had Daleks.

Nuff said.

By the end of the episode, he was laughing about the crazy pig people, and had turned a tall hamper upside-down, put it on his head, and stuck his finger out one of the holes and was wandering around the living room, robot-like, saying, "Exterminate! Exterminate!"


But my mother instincts kicked in — he was only FOUR — and I decided to wait a couple more years to let him watch another one.

And then this past fall, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" aired. He was five. So I watched it with him, assuming it would be a fun romp (I assumed correctly) and knowing how much he loved dinosaurs. I blogged about that experience here (which to this day is one of the most-read posts I've ever written on this blog!) Then we watched the Christmas special together, and he was a little scared of the evil snowmen, and didn't quite get the snow globe, and was sad when Clara died. But he still loved it.

I watched "The Bells of Saint John" alone (AND LOVED THAT EPISODE), but this week I didn't get a chance to watch the episode on Saturday, so when he was home with me on Monday, we watched it together. And this was how it went down:

Him: Isn't that the girl from the Christmas episode?
Me: Yes, she's the Doctor's companion right now.
Him: But... she died! I saw her fall!
Me: Yes, this is a different version of her. Or something. The Doctor's trying to figure that out.
Him: Different version? But...
Me: OK, let's try to hear what they're saying, OK?
Him: Who's that girl? Is that her friend?
Me: No, they called her the queen.
Him: Why is she running?
Me: I don't know, why don't we listen and try to find out?
Him: What are those things on her face?
Me: She was born with them.
Him: Is something wrong with her?
Me: No, she's from another planet. If you went to another planet and they didn't have noses, and they saw you, they'd touch your nose and say, "What's THAT?!"
Him: [silence as he tries to wrap his head around it]
Me: [enjoying the silence]
Him: Why is she going back to that guy who was chasing her?
Me: Well, Clara convinced her that it's OK to be afraid to do something.
Him: Why is that guy singing?
Me: I don't really know... I think it's kind of a lullaby to keep him asleep?
Him: Keep who asleep?
Me: They said it was a god.
Him: GOD?!
Me: A god. It's A god. Oh look, I think it's the guy in the chair.
Him: I'm scared, he looks scary. [pulling the blanket on the couch up to his chin]
Me: He IS pretty scary-looking. I hope they can keep him asleep.
Him: What is she singing?
Me: I don't know. Must be the lullaby or something, maybe they have to sing it together? I'm not quite sure what's happening at this point, but that's OK. Sometimes Doctor Who doesn't make a lot of sense, but we love it anyway.
Him: What? Why would you... AH, I think that guy is waking up! [pulls blanket over his head]
Me: UH OH!!!
Him: AAAHHH! Tell me when he's gone! Is he God?
Me: He's their god. I think? He's a pretty scary-looking god.
Him: [peeking out from blanket] Did they just say he's a vampire??? That doesn't look like a vampire.
Me: Well, vampires look like different things depending on the show or the lore, really.
Him: Why is their god a vamp– AHHH!!! [pulls blanket over head again]
Me: He does NOT look happy.
Him: How are they breathing if it's outer space?
Me: [silence while I try to wrap my head around that one]
Him: Is the Doctor going to save her? Why do they keep showing her mother?
Me: Well, her mother says she'll always come for her.
Him: So is her mother coming for her?
Me: Er... no, her mom's dead. So...
Him: So how can she always come for her?
Me: I don't know. Maybe... I don't know. I  think they're trying to say that the mother comforted her with this when she was a kid, knowing that Clara would always have friends who would come for her? And now the Doctor is like that friend.
Him: What's that blue electric stuff?
Me: The little girl is holding Clara against the glass. With her mind or something.
Him: Why?? Clara's trying to save her. AAAHHH! The Vampire is going to get out!! [blanket up]
Me: Well, she has decided this is her fate, I guess, and she's scared if the Doctor and Clara get her out of there, then she won't have done her duty and everyone will die.
Him: Will they??
Me: I don't think so. I think they're believing in the wrong god, or...
Him: Wait, what did the Doctor just say? What does he mean that wasn't the god? Alarm clock??
Me: Oops, they just realized that the guy in the chair ISN'T the god, but instead just the thing that lets them know when the REAL god has woken up. Or something.
Him: So who's the real god?
Him: What? The three scary guys?
Me: No, THAT. The sun.
Him: That's a sun?
Me: Well... it kind of looks like a jack-o-lantern, doesn't it?
Him: Haha! Yeah, it's a jack-o-lantern. So... why do they think it's a god?
Me: In their particular culture, they pray to this thing because it's powerful and menacing, and they're scared of it. So they call it a god.
Him: What is the Doctor saying to it? Why does it want memories?
Me: They said when it wakes up it's hungry. And I guess it feeds on memories.
Him: What does that mean? How do you eat a memory?
Me: Well, remember that woman who rented the motorbike thing to them? She wanted something that meant something to them, not necessarily something that was financially valuable. So in this culture something's worth is only what it means to a particular person. It makes sense they've gotten that idea from this god.
Him: But how does he feed off that?
Me: Well, that I don't know. Um...
Him: What's the Doctor saying? What does he–
Me: Sh-sh, this sounds important.
Him: But...
Me: Sh-sh, maybe it'll explain things. [And then Doctor launches into that FANTASTIC speech that reminded me of Roy Batty's "I've seen things you people will never see" speech at the end of Blade Runner. Apparently my son figured out how much I was hanging on every word and he stopped talking for a minute.]
Him: Did it work?
Me: I don't know.
Him: Why is Clara coming out to him?
Me: Because her mother said she'd always come for her, and now that the mother isn't around, Clara needs to come for him. When you're older, it becomes a mutual relationship.
Him: Why does she carry that book?
Me: That's sort of her, well, thing. In the last episode we were shown the book. The numbers are her ages.
Him: OH! That's the leaf that hit the guy in the face at the beginning!
Me: That was her dad, and yes.
Him: Why is she holding it up?
Me: Well, I guess the Doc's speech didn't hold up, and now she's holding out the thing that made her possible, that made this moment possible. And therefore to her, it's the most important thing in the world. It wouldn't mean anything to you or me, but on this planet, the meaning it has to her — more important to her than even her mother's ring — is that makes it important and special.
Him: Is the god going away?
Me: Yes, I think the sun is dying away. He thought he wanted the memories, but the importance of this one seems to have destroyed him, because there was nothing bad about it? Or something? I'm not sure, actually. But he's gone, that's what's important.
Him: What about the vampire?
Me: I guess he's gone, too.
Him: That episode was AWESOME.

When he's older, he might still watch Doctor Who, or he may not, but he'll have had the experience I never did: sitting on a couch, not quite understanding what was happening but loving it anyway, hiding from the scary monsters but desperate to come back out and be scared all over again, and knowing that no matter what, the Doctor will save the day.


dave baker said...


SenexMacdonald said...

Nikki ... nice! Tell your son, he's got it so right. I watched all the (delayed by 2 years from 1963 to 1965) first Doctor's episodes on CBC when it aired here in Canada. I was a little older than your son. I can't remember if I hid or did things like that. I can't remember anyone sitting with me to watch. All I can remember is when I saw the first Dalek/s and how scared I was by these things. The story kept my interest and each episode scared the crap out of me! I loved Ian (my first BIG crush for someone on TV), really liked Barbara and even Susan. I could barely make it through the week without seeing the Doctor though. White-haired, grumpy and completely different than anything airing on Canadian TV at that time. Then he disappeared.

Your son has the advantage in that he will be able to catch up or see the current shows as they aired. Me? lol I had to wait almost 10 years and a move from the Maritimes to Ontario before I found out what I had missed during that entire time. Completely in the dark about Who, I started a different voyage at that point - discovering why the Doctor looked so different than what I remembered and watching what followed after the last episode I had seen ... believing that it was the end of one of the best shows I had ever watched. I had changed; the show had moved on but that feeling of wonder and love for this character and his world came back in leaps and bounds.

Nikki, you might not have been a child when you discovered the TARDIS, the Companions and the Doctor. But what you are feeling now, while not what your son feels, is still special and it is ALL yours. Enjoy it, hon! :)

Marebabe said...

Very nice, Nikki. I wanted to read the blog post you linked to, about "Dinosaurs On a Spaceship", then got a message saying that the blog post doesn't exist. Did it get accidentally deleted? I hope not.

Nikki Stafford said...

Thanks for letting me know, Mary! No, that was my fault; when I was cutting and pasting the link, I pasted it twice, one right after the other, so the link was screwy. I've just fixed it. :)

Nikki Stafford said...

SenexMacdonald: Thank you!! And you're right; my experience is mine, and it means I have something new to discover now, later in life. And by living vicariously through my son's experience, I'm getting to see what it would have been like, so I don't feel like I actually missed it! :)

I'll do this occasionally with him, and in a couple of years I plan to go back to Rose and watch through with him. And then we'll move to Classic Who. In the meantime, I'll be marathoning Lost and Buffy with my older daughter. So excited!