One of the perks of being a parent is getting to expose your kids to all of the things you love: music by Spoon or Sweet Spirit, giant San Francisco-style burritos, Charlie Chaplin movies, Welcome to Night Vale, or that show you’ve been watching most of your life: Doctor Who. And for a while, if you’re lucky, you get to see your kids experience the same joy you do when the Daleks come rolling in waving their plungers or Tom Baker offers some insufferable space bureaucrat a bag full of jelly babies. But don’t get too comfortable. Your kids, of course, are people, too, and before you know it, they go off into the world and come back listening to Panic! At the Disco and talking about Riverdale, or Sims, or Shane Dawson conspiracy videos.
I’ve watched this happen with my two girls over the past couple of years. They’re two years apart, nearly thirteen and fifteen now, but their first exposure to Dad’s show, Doctor Who, must have been when they were five and seven–not because I plopped them down beside me, but because they wandered into the room when I was sneaking some time with the Doctor. My older daughter fell for David Tennant and my younger daughter became a devotee of Tom Baker with his crazy hair and bug-eyed silliness. There was a good stretch of time where one or the other would crash beside me to watch Fourth and Fifth Doctor stories (“Logopolis” and “Earthshock” were favorites for a while), or to beg me to watch creepy New Who stories like “Blink” or “The Empty Child.” The girls were along for the ride throughout most of Matt Smith’s run and they wanted T-shirts for their birthdays and toy TARDISes for their rooms, and eventually about five years ago, I took us all by plane across the country to Gallifrey One in L.A, our first Doctor Who convention as a family.
There was nothing like that first Gally with kids. On the first morning, while waiting in line for Radio Free Skaro’s opening show, the girls ran off to play hide and seek with the full-size Dalek that was rolling around outside in the courtyard threatening to exterminate them. They wandered up and down the halls, completely amazed by the cosplay contingent of monsters and robots, Cybermen and Weeping Angels, even a cute, real-life K9 to pose for a photo with. When they wanted downtime, they’d plop down for a few minutes in the Video Room to watch a few minutes of “Shada” or make their own sonics upstairs in the kids craft room.
I’m thinking about all of this now because most of this has faded now. After three years of going to Gally with the girls, this was the first year that they said they didn’t want to go anymore. Instead I took my new wife and partner in podcasting and geekdom, and this was fun, of course, but also something completely different. To be honest, last year’s Gallifrey One was a disaster for the kids. They weren’t interested in the celebrity panels anymore; the puppet shows, cosplay, and Masquerade still held some attraction for my eleven-year-old, but it was clear most of the time that the girls were bored, and simply more interested in wandering around with earbuds on or playing games on their phones. In fact, there was nearly an entire day where my older daughter, in the throes of teenage moodiness, refused to leave the room at all. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
Now another year has gone by, and my fourteen-year-old hasn’t watched Doctor Who in several years. Maybe she’s the fan I feel I’ve lost. She dropped out fairly soon after Peter Capaldi became the Doctor. And strangely, both girls were a little disappointed when they first heard that the new Doctor was going to be a woman. I finally realized that some of what they loved about the show was crushing on David Tennant and Matt Smith. But my youngest came around. She gave “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” a shot and throughout the season, she joined us on the sofa most of the time, even though she was usually only half-watching while building Minecraft worlds on her laptop. But I think she gets it. She appreciates Jodie Whittaker’s giddy energy, problem-solving panache, and tremendous heart (or hearts?).
I realize now that maybe I’m really mourning the loss of my little convention-going companions. It’s not that they stopped liking the show. And really, can I blame them? They’re at an in-between age where panels don’t really carry much interest for them and they’re old hands at posing for photos with Doctors and companions from the past, so I suppose there’s a sense of been-there, done-that. And no–they don’t care about all of the nitty-gritty behind the scenes production details. They’re not cosplayers, and they’re still on the young side for some of the evening events.
But maybe they haven’t outgrown the Doctor after all. Recently, my fourteen-year-old heard the theme song playing on the living room TV while she was in her bedroom, and when she came out in search of a snack, she said, “You better not be watching Doctor Who without me.” I told her it was an old one, and she said, “All right. But don’t ever watch a David Tennant without me.” Last week, I saw that she wore her old Matt Smith t-shirt to high school for the first time. And now this reminds me that the first Doctor Who shirt she ever owned simply had an image of the TARDIS on it and the slogan, “You never forget your first Doctor.”
They won’t forget. The twelve-year-old who watches the latest New Who episodes with us, still has a TARDIS poster on the wall beside her new Riverdale poster, as well as tacked-up photos of Capaldi and Tom Baker and Jodie Whittaker. She still has her first-ever photo op with Karen Gillan in a frame on her bookcase beside a TARDIS jewelry box.
Maybe they’re not everyday fans like I am, but I suspect that Doctor Who will always be some sort of comfort to them. Even if they stop watching or stop going on magical trips to Gallifrey One, they’ll always remember their first Doctor.