Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Dr Who and my daughter

I have friends who are amazed and horrified that I let my 6 year old watch the new Dr Who. She's been watching with me since the show began, 3 years ago (we had to wait for it to premier over here). It began as a treat for her, she'd stay to listen to the theme music, then she'd stay for 15 minutes and fall asleep curled against me in a cuddle, then she'd slowly fight to stay awake for the whole hour. The next day she'd ask to see it again, when she was awake. And very quickly, she fell in love with Rose, and the Doctor, and the whole idea of travelling in the blue box all over the galaxy, helping fix whatever needed fixing in every world they came to.

So why, I am asked, do I let my daughter watch it? The themes are adult, even if some of the creatures are in that cute gizmo way, and the science talk is sometimes goobledy-gook, and the inside of the Tardis is fantastic beyond anything dreamed of! and I'm still not sure how it's the time machine, just that it is - it doesn't matter. What matters is the truth the show tries to convey, the heart of the story every week, which is almost always about love. There is death, and sadness, and partings - Holly-Anne still isn't over Rose going, and then all this past season got so excited over Rose coming back,until the ending, when she cried (I cried too) over Donna and Rose and the Dr. Because in a funny way, the writers and creators of Dr Who are updating this old science fiction idea for the 21st century. Yes, we can travel in time, and to different worlds - and wherever we go, we face ourselves, in whatever disguises we come in. How do we love what is alien in ourselves, if we can't embrace the stranger across from us? How do we learn to say hello in a different language? How do we gaze upon the stars and not wonder 'what's up there?' If we can save a life, do we? Yes, because we can.

My daughter is learning about what it is to be human, by exploring the universe. And I love the fact that as she grows older, she will find more in the stories and dialogue than she can currently understand. She loves the Dr, and Rose, and finally came to like Donna by the end of this year, only to lose Donna at the end. She's gone through the doctor change once - and she cried and cried when the Doctor changed from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant, and then within a year became devoted to David Tennant too! She has already said that if the Dr came by with his blue box, she would gladly fly with him through the universe.

So would I.

I bring this up today, not just because it's still Carl's on-going Sci Fi Experience, but because I wanted to share what Holly-Anne chose to take to school today for Canada's Literacy Day. The children were encouraged to dress in pyjamas, and bring a book and toy from home. Out of all the books for her and her brother that we have (hmm, 100? 200 is closer....)she went right to the bookshelf last night and picked out the 2009 Official Dr Who Annual.

We picked it up while in England because it hasn't been available here. Off she went to school, and she showed her friends and her teacher. I did ask her if anyone else knew about Dr Who, and she said no.

This quote from Ursula K Le Guin's essay 'Why Americans Are Afraid of Dragons', is the real reason why I let her watch Dr Who with me - always at her insistence, so it's become our tv show now, hers and mine;
And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties [of a human being] is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the best and the purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.
For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life that they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.
So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy.....Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books.
" p 44

The unicorn comment made me think about something that happened this autumn with her. We came across a copy of The Last Unicorn, the animated video that came out in the - 1970's? that we were able to rent from our local video store. It was the animated film of Peter Beagle's book, which I read long ago and have carried a copy with me ever since. She watched it once, and then cried when it had to go back. (We haven't been able to get it out since.) I realized then, and often since then, watching her watch Dr Who, that there is a power in fantasy and science fiction - whether in Dr Who or Disney - that she responds to, and I am delighted to see this love of 'what if' rising up in her.

Oh, and she also loves Indiana Jones, especially the first movie. And Scooby Doo, and her doll Rose (named after you know who), and Strawberry Shortcake and Littlest Pet Shop. So she's not being completely taken over by Dr Who and science fiction! Though I have endless questions to answer about Dr Who, especially this season's ender, which she is still working out.

That's why I let her watch Dr Who. It is in the end, made for children, so any blood or gore is minimal - almost always off-screen. The very best of Dr Who contains what is in the very best of all science fiction and fantasy: it shows what it is to be human, and it shows what is true.


Molly said...

I just had to let you know two things. First of all, I have learned more about the appreciation of fantasy and science fiction literature by reading this post, than I have in my entire life. I am not "afraid" of fantasy literature per se, I am just such a realistic, black/white person that I have a very difficult time understanding it. Your post helped me to put it in some sort of logical order for my very limited brain, and I vow that I will someday persevere and grow to enjoy it.

Secondly I wanted you to know that I greatly appreciate your blog. When I see that "You Can Never Have Too Many Books" has made a new posting, I become very excited to check it out ASAP. There is an award floating around the blogosphere called the "Well Worth Watching Blog" You definitely have my vote!

Carl V. said...

Hey, anything that introduces your child to a love of science fiction is a good thing in my opinion!!! And if she likes Scooby Doo, all the better...just so long as she doesn't love that abomination, Scrappy Doo! ;)

Michelle said...

My husband used to watch Dr Who when he was little (probably not at 6 though!) and we tried watching the new series of it when it started, but I couldn't get into it. He continued watching it for nostalgia and then stopped as well.

I think what you said was right though, that if it encourages her to be imaginative then all the better!

Cath said...

Well, my two daughters are adults now and have children of their own. People used to ask me how come I had two such well adjusted, sensible kids. My answer? I brought them up on Star Trek. We watched the repeats as a family and from that they learned a good code of behaviour, not to judge people by the colour of their skin or gender, and to be open minded. I think people just thought I was weird... especially when I took them both off to a Star Trek con when TNG was popular. The fact is, you can do an awful lot worse than introduce your children to sci fi and fantasy at a young age. There is so much to be learnt from it about how to be a decent human being.

Dr. Who is wonderful. My kids watched it, and now my grand-daughter is watching (she's eight and a half). She also reads a lot of fantasy books. I truly believe the books she reads and the TV shows are just as educational as Maths and History lessons. Oh and I too was devastated at what happened to Donna at the end of the last series. Heart-breaking. Lastly a TV rec for you. If the BBC's new 'Merlin' series ever hits your side of the pond it's well worth watching. My whole family is hooked.

Jeane said...

I have to admit I've never heard of Dr. Who, but I watched a lot of Star Trek when I was younger, and my husband allows our 4-year old to watch Star Wars with him- they get into lots of long discussions about why the characters do certain things. That's one of the things I've always appreciated about fantasy, be it film or book- the stories are always so enmeshed in issues of good/evil and codes of conduct. And they're entertaining as well! I love the quote you shared by LeGuin. I want to read the entire essay now. Which book of hers did you find it in?

Care said...

I believe any parent that shares activities and imagination with their children must be 'good' parents. I don't know anything abt Dr. Who but I can appreciate kids growing up watching Star Trek per Cath's comment.

Robyn said...

Wow! Thank you for posting such a great post. I was impressed by your passion on this subject and your insistence on letting your daughter learn and experience in a manner that is conducive to the stimulation of her imagination and appreciation for literature. Thank yoU!

Susan said...

Molly: thank you so much. If I can get one person just to try reading fantasy, then that is part of my goal in writing about books. Don't worry if you don't like it, though. Many people don't! Like some people don't like romances, or mysteries, or non-fiction. I wanted to share why I thought Dr Who was worth while. If you read below, though, some people don't like it.

Especially, I thank you for your very kind words that you get excited to read my new posts! and the Well Worth Watching Blog - thank you! I'm not sure I've come across this award. Mostly, I love talking about books, and the blog is my way to talk without being interrupted! lol

I will come visit you shortly, and I am delighted that you are enjoying what I have to say. thank you.

Carl: lol!! and we're trying Star Wars with them - lately, it's the Clone Wars, which they've (both children) have taken to watching....

Michelle: this new Dr Who doesn't appeal to everyone, though I am delighted to say I made a convert of a friend's boyfriend last weekend! lol he is busy watching the whole first season dvd now we lent him. and we've watched the original Dr Whos as well - my kids love Tom Baker - and again, the old show promotes alot of the same values. At least you tried it (the new show), and I know it's not for everyone. so far I am the only one watching Battlestar Galactica religiously, but it doesn't change my mind that it's must-see viewing. I'm just an audience of one!

Cath: *hug* we must be long-lost friends. I love the original Star Trek (I grew up on it), and my children have just started watching it - not all the time, but they are still young. My eldest prefers the newer Star Treks - he grew up on Voyager - and we all love Star Wars. Lucky you to get to a Star TRek con! I knew people who went - this was back in the 80's - and I didn't have enough money, and truth be told, other than the communicator, I didn't want anything else. I did buy Leonard Nimoy's biography and devoured that - Spock was my favourite - basically I think we are an SF household, and as you say, this helps raise kind, sensible kids. I love that your granddaughter is following in your footsteps!!

What's the new Merlin? Who's in it? This sounds interesting....

jeane: the quote is from her book of essays, "The Language of the Night", published in 1979.

Like you and Cath say, SF and fantasy allow us to teach - learn - in the ancient storytelling way about good and bad. My eldest (age 20)loves Star Wars - we all do - even the youngest is getting interested! Does your 4 year old watch all through the movie, or does he pop in and out as it's on? I ask because our 4 year old likes some of it, but the talking parts he gets bored with still. I like that you used to watch Star Trek too. I think there are a lot of us out there - or perhaps they are all finding my blog! lol

Care: thank you! and we watch Star Trek too together, though it isn't the same attachment for her yet as Dr Who is. Myself, I was devoted to the original Star Trek.

Robyn: thank you!! this was all at her insistence too, her liking for the show, because otherwise I would have waited a year (or two, when she started she was 4!) before introducing her to it. She likes it as much as I do! I'll come see your blog now.

Cath said...

Susan, the BBC's new Merlin series occupied the Dr. Who slot on Saturday evenings during the autumn. Here's the BBC website for it:


I hope you're able to access it as I know the BBC have become funny about non-UK residents viewing their site. Anyway, it's a family show, has knights and dragons and monsters and lots of intrigue. It has an excellent cast of four youngsters and two veteran actors, Anthony Head from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Richard Wilson from the classic comedy series, One Foot in the Grave. The whole thing is a real joy to watch and returns for a 2nd. season in the autumn. I thought that Canada and the US were supposed to be getting it this coming season but it seems it's been delayed.

As a family we watched all the Star Treks except Enterprise. The original series was my 'teenage' thing and then became a family favourite with the repeats. When TNG started my daughters were 11 and 14 and we all obsessed over it. Much later we were all big Voyager fans too. As you say, we were, and still are, a SF family and are always chatting about the fantasy or horror books we're reading or various TV series. My grandkids don't really stand a chance of *not* being into sci fi and fantasy. LOL.

Sorry to be so long-winded!

Susan said...

Cath: I'll go check the site out! thanks. I'm pretty sure it's not over here, CBC usually promotes the BBC shows it imports very heavily before the show, and then all through the season. I'm quite sure we will be watching this one!!

I love long-winded posts, it's like a conversation with lots to say :-)
and I am delighted that there is a whole family of you across the pond, glued to SF on tv, like we are here!! And from Jeane's comments and a few others, I think there are more of us than I knew, who love genre tv and are sharing it with loved ones. Certainly my eldest son and I (we were alone during his childhood) watched them all together - Star Wars endlessly when he was sick, Jurassic Park, Babylon 5, and all the Star Treks. It is fun to see it pass through the generations, isn't it? My mother, and niece, read a lot of fantasy too, so we are always sharing books back and forth. That's why i was so surprised and delighted when Holly-Anne picked, out of all of her books, the DR who annual to take .

Robin said...

What a wonderful post! My husband and I are enjoying the first season of Dr Who right now! Our son was an avid fan when he was growing up, (yes, I knit him the scarf!) so we were curious about these newer ones, and we are totally hooked. I love your reasons for letting your daughter see them! I'm always trying to find good age appropriate science fiction stories/books to introduce my 7 and 8 year old students to the genre. It's such a powerful and creative genre!

Jeane said...

My kid sits still through most of it. She does get a bit bored with the "they're just talking" parts, and hides under blankets for some of the fighting parts, but never wants to really quit until the ending credits!

L. Clarke said...

G,day my parents let my brother and I watch Doctor Who since it first started back in the 60's. My Dad could walk down a street in suburbia anywhere and every house would be blaring, 'Exterminate'.
I loved the series and have started reading the Doctor Who novels to my own daughter, who likes the series too. She loves the new series mostly.
I write a bit of sci-fi and have a novel called Doom Of The Shem.

Nymeth said...

Wonderful post, Susan! Fantasy and sci-fi are definitely powerful, and their not being realistic really doesn't make them any less true than mainstream fiction. People who tell me they don't read/watch stories in these genres because they like their stories to be about "people and the world" puzzle me. Of course fantasy and science fiction are about that too. How could they be about anything else? We're all human. Anything we imagine will by definition involve human concerns. As always, Ursula says it perfectly.

How great that you are sharing your love of storytelling with your daughter. You know, your post reminds me of Neil Gaiman's posts about watching Dr Who with his daughter Maddy :P

Memory said...

This was such a wonderful post. I'm an awful lot older than your daughter, but I can relate to so much of what she loves about the show. (I cried and cried and cried at the end of the second series). It's awesome that you and she watch it together, too. When I was about Holly-Anne's age, or maybe a little older, I used to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with my parents. It was SUCH a big deal; I'd get to stay up an entire hour past my bedtime, and we'd talk about the shows, and it became a huge part of my childhood. (I also developed a collosal fear of the Borg, but that's another story). Knowing that other parents are doing similar things with their children makes me smile.

Susan said...

robin: you actually knit him the scarf! aah. I bet you could knit someone on our blogs as a giveaway and get a whole lot of 'pick me's!'!!! lol my kids love Tom Baker and gladly watch the old ones too. It is such a powerful genre, isn't it? you should try Becky at Becky's reviews for good ideas for your students, she reads alot - A LOT - of young adult books, and kids books, and is a great resource. I still have so much in Young Adult to read! Have you tried them on Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series? I'm just reading that now. I'm very happy you are enjoying the new Dr Who too, by the way!

jeane: I think you could be describing the 4 year old in our house too!! He enjoys it too, but not quite to the same extent yet as Holly-Anne does. I can hardly wait to show them Star Wars!!

L.Clarke: I'll come check out your site, thanks for leaving a comment on mine. How old is your daughter?

Nymeth: thank you! And you put it perfectly too, by saying fantasy is about people. I get confused by people who say science fiction is about rocket ships - well yes, it is, but it's about the trip in the rocket ships and where it's going to - the human voyage, that is so interesting in science fiction - to me, anyway :-) I get upset at people who dismiss it because it is science fiction or fantasy - but then I think, they are the ones missing out, and oh, are they missing out on so much. I love that fantasy makes us confront our myths, and live them out, too.

I haven't been to Neil's posts lately, I'll have to go check and see what he says! Don't they have a lovely relationship, he and his children?

Memory: thank you so much for sharing this! I can see you staying up late with your parents, discussing the ideas - star Trek, no matter which version, was always, at its heart, about people and ideas, and if we embody our ideas well enough or not. I did enjoy the Next Generation, I just found it copied my favourite, the original Star Trek, alot. I loved the idea of Voyager, but when the first mate Robert Beltan got taken off, I thought that was a real shame - and I really hate the Ferengi!! The Borg give me the shivers too, though 7 was a fascinating character.

This all goes to show, that when TV is done well, and families share it, there is a lot of good that comes out of it. thank you!
Though it can never take the place of books, tv is a good place to meet to share in a communal viewing, isn't it?

jspeyton said...

What a lovely post and a great quote from Ursula! Until a few years ago, I would have told you that I didn't particularly care for sci-fi/fantasy either. That is, until I realized that a great many things could fall under the rubric of "fantasy" and a lot of it I happened to like. Because it didn't fit my idea of what fantasy was I didn't think of it as fantasy of sci-fi until a few books opened my eyes. Now I'm a proud fan! In fact, my reading material of later has been very fantasy heavy of late. Lol.

I've never seen Dr. Who. Maybe I'll check out an episode. =)

Susan said...

JS: Oh, Please do! we got the boyfriend of one of my close friends hooked on the series after watching an episode! It really is much more than the old series, which we do watch also when we can now - I do love this series, though. I can't believe we're on hiatus for over a year now! Let me know if you give it a try :-D and how you like it.