Is Doctor Who a kid’s show and does it matter?
Guest contributor James Annis investigates.
From reading the comments on sites such as this, one may be led to believe that there are two warring factions within the Doctor Who ‘fandom’: Those that align themselves to the Writer Superior, Steven Moffat and those that have maintained their old allegiances to the Emperor Writer, commonly abbreviated to RTD who later gets revealed to be Davros. Before I start this I would like to confirm that I am the Switzerland in this endless, bitter war. I believe both writers have their strengths and weaknesses and I am certainly not a ‘hater’ of either of them. I am neutral: in both … well, neither … well … I’m just a fan of the show.
I once made a comment about the treatment of Moffat’s women on here. This is not a case for or against any of those arguments, those can be read or debated elsewhere. In the debate that followed I was told at least once that I shouldn’t worry about it as I was only ruining it for myself. It’s something I’ve seen thrown around on here many times. Whenever a genuine issue or criticism is mentioned someone comes along and says that we just shouldn’t worry about it. On other sites people might even say ‘It’s only a kids show, don’t worry about it, you’re only ruining it for yourself.’
Is Doctor Who a kid’s show?
To answer this question I turn to Mark Gatiss’s excellent ‘docudrama’ An Adventure in Space and Time. Brian Cox’s Sydney Newman says:
“So, we got a great big thumping audience for Grandstand, but we lose them before the teeny boppers tune in for Juke Box Jury, right?” … “We need stuff to keep the sports fans hooked and the kids too.”
So there’s your answer, Doctor Who is not a ‘kid’s show’. Those people that are too stuck up to watch this show because it appeals to kids are wrong (although I’m sure we already knew that). Doctor Who is and always has been a family show. It will never be too adult as it must always appeal to kids. In Doctor Who, the silliness and atmosphere that the show is given to keep the kids interested is part of its charm. The moment Doctor Who stops appealing to kids is the day it dies.
Does it matter?
I now return you to the ‘don’t worry about it, you’re only ruining it for yourself’ comment. Frankly, this is condescending and patronising. If a seven-year-old picked up a plot hole in SpongeBob SquarePants then ‘don’t worry about it’ would be the response that it would be given. SpongeBob is a kid’s show and if you’re paying that much attention to it then it is probably not meant for you. Also it can be difficult to talk to a child in a way that does not seem patronising.
I am not a child and Doctor Who is not a kid’s show. That comment is not appropriate and whilst a small plot point that doesn’t quite make sense is not worth agonising over, a gaping hole in the narrative is worth complaining about. Personally I don’t see any massive holes in Moffat’s writing (and questions which have been purposely left unanswered, such as, until before Christmas, why the Silence were trying to kill the Doctor, don’t count). However, there is a growing anger that Moffat’s treatment of women in Doctor Who is sexist. This is not something that should be ignored.
The reason why I have asked if it matters whether Doctor Who is a kid’s show or not is because of the content of the shows. Unless it’s educational a kid’s show doesn’t need a message or morality behind it (provided it doesn’t contain a harmful message of course). A family show, however must deal with real issues as it helps to keep the adults interested. Also, people are likely to watch it from a young age right up to when they are much older. The messages in shows like Doctor Who will stay with them forever.
RTD is often accused of being too politicised. I would agree with that to some extent, it was one of his flaws. What he did do though, is get across some significant messages that influenced me, as a child/teen watching the show.
Before I get comments of ‘You’re a man, why do you care about the treatment of women’, I would like to point out that I am heterosexual and support gay marriage, I’m white but anti-apartheid and human but disagree with the testing of cosmetics on animals. You do not need to be part of a group to support their fair treatment.
The racism Martha receives in Human Nature/Family of Blood shocked and appalled me and it reinforced that racism was disgusting in all its forms. Racism still goes on in society today unfortunately and although it is not to the same extent as it was in 1913, I’m sure that episode inspired everyone watching it to ensure they never belittled someone for the colour of their skin.
Captain Jack Harkness taught me that it’s okay to be gay and that we are moving towards a future where sexuality is deemed as unimportant as eye colour. That shaped the way I viewed gay people and when one of my friends ‘came out’ I was there to support him because I knew that he was no different to who he was when I thought he was ‘straight’. When we compare that future to the one seen in A Good Man Goes to War where we meet a gay couple without names, simply because they are the only fat-thin gay couple in the church. If we had met the only fat-thin heterosexual couple in the church we wouldn’t have only known them as the fat one and the thin one. To the kids watching that, this gay couple were defined only by their sexuality and appearance. Is that a message we want kids to grow up with?
Whether or not the criticisms of Moffat’s writing of women are justified or not, they should be listened to and discussed. It’s these adults that ultimately control the future of Doctor Who. As the 1980s proves, Doctor Who’s future is never secure. The larger this group gets the more significant it becomes. Someone said that they were surprised I kept watching it if I was that offended and honestly I’m not offended but it’s not the attitudes I’d want my kids growing up with. I’m a huge fan of the show and these criticisms don’t ruin it for me. If I were a parent though, I would be severely concerned if I thought my children were being taught that it’s okay to refer to women as ‘the legs’.
It’s not the diehard fans like us, prepared to ignore these criticisms that control the show’s future. Those that watch the show but aren’t hugely into it are the people that do. If enough of these people pick up on this then they will turn off or turn over. When that happens it could cause the cancellation of Doctor Who and one thing’s for certain: The BBC will not do reboot number 3. If Doctor Who gets cancelled again it is unlikely to ever appear on our screens again.
Doctor Who’s childish charm is what pulls viewers in but it’s the themes and moral issues that it contains that impact the viewer that will ultimately be its legacy. Moffat’s writing of women is beginning to rub off on the men. As a child I wanted nothing more than to be the Doctor and his kindness, courage, intelligence and adventurousness are still attributes I aim to have. I’m beginning to wonder what the Doctor is turning into and I’m not sure that he is going to be the role model he once was if he continues down this path. I want Doctor Who to continue long after I’m dead and the only way to ensure that happens is to openly debate and discuss the issues people are having with it. Ignoring problems is only going to make them go away in the sense that the TV show will go. Either the problems with the show need to be addressed or people need open and honest discussion to convince those people that their problems are not really there. Telling them to ignore it or attacking them over their opinions will not help. Doctor Who is not a kid’s show and it shouldn’t be treated as such because it does matter.
I know this looks like Moffat hate but it isn’t. I love his ideas and his passion for the show. It is clear he loves it but he needs to sort his problems out. I don’t think he should be replaced, he’s a clever writer and the show would lose something without him.