When Your Kids Outgrow Doctor Who

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.

On Kaffeeklatsches and Zoo Animals

Directors Ben Wheatley and Jamie Childs with panel moderator Edward Russell.

Zoo Animals

On a recent episode of the podcast, Radio Free Skaro (#676), recorded live at Gallifrey One, Doctor Who director Jamie Childs was asked how he was enjoying the convention so far. Jamie replied, “You never know what to expect with these kinds of things. Turns out it’s quite fun to be a zoo animal.” Jamie went on to explain the unsettling experience of going to a coffee meet-up and being asked to stand on display in the corner in a narrow box-like alcove when the kaffeeklatsch guests arrived. “Yeah, I’m definitely a zoo animal,” he told himself. In the end, he said, the meetup turned out to be quite fun.

I remember that initial offbeat moment because I was one of the guests—and he’s right. It was a bit strange. When we filed in the door we were all asked to squish into that narrow alcove with him. A moment later, the kaffeeklatsch attendant pulled out a camera, snapped a picture of us, then gave us the go-ahead to disperse and sit down for coffee with Jamie Childs. 

Coffee with Jamie Childs

This experience at Gallifrey One was the first time I’d ever participated in a kaffeeklatsch at a convention. If you’re not familiar with the format, it’s really just an informal coffee meet-up with a con guest and about ten or twelve other attendees held in a small conference room. If you’re intimidated by the social awkwardness or the expense of more formal evening receptions offered at a con, then this more intimate, structured gathering might be for you. Plus there’s no price tag at all. It’s totally free. But be prepared to drop everything to hit the online reservation form when it goes live a few weeks before the con; there’s a lot of competition for spots at the table. 

Yes, it’s true. When you enter the room, the folks running the kaffeeklatsch corral everyone in a corner for a quick photo with the guest. When do you see these photos? The organizers told me they would email them to us in mid-March, otherwise I’d add a photo to this post. After the photo op, you help yourself to tea or coffee at the setup in the corner, and sit down at the conference table for an informal chat with the guest. The whole session lasts just under an hour. 

Jamie Childs directed the first and last blocks of Doctor Who Series 11, including Jodie Whittaker’s debut, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” the moving historical episode, “Demons of the Punjab,” “It Takes You Away,” and the season finale, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.” 

Jamie was incredibly kind and down to earth, and conversation flowed very easily. About halfway through the meet-up, we found ourselves leaning across the table to look at photos on his phone of the construction crane set-up taken on his first day of production on “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” No easing into the shoot with a quiet dialogue scene, Jamie said, but instead, his first day was a daunting full-scale action sequence with construction cranes and The Doctor’s leap through the air from one crane to another. He explained that while they faked the set-up to some extent so that the cranes were much closer to the ground, they were real cranes, there was a gap, and Jodie made that leap herself.

We also learned a bit about Jamie’s background and how he originally trained in sound design work when he was in film school before eventually breaking into directing for television, working with legends like Brenda Blethyn on ITV’s Vera. He also shared that he was initially taken aback when he saw that Series 11 was going to center around an ensemble cast—the fam played by Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole. But he learned a lot from the challenge of blocking longer, more cinematic scenes for multiple actors, working with space and depth, so that people moved out of the background and into the foreground to pair off, deliver lines, interact with each other, and then move out again to make way for the next character and the next beat of action.

Some other details he shared:

  • Jodie Whittaker is channelling a lot of her own personality when she plays The Doctor. “That’s really her,” Jamie said. She’s a bundle of energy, loves to talk to everyone, and never gets bored. He joked that sometimes he wants to tell Jodie, “Hey, wait—save some of that energy for the take!”
  • Behind the scenes, Jodie and her co-stars really are the best of friends. They laugh a lot, play games, hang out, and keep each other company during their down time waiting for the next set-up. The on-set camaraderie was one of the things that made Jamie’s time on Doctor Who such a great experience.

As a former film school grad, I loved hearing about other geeky directing details like the experience of shooting with anamorphic lenses and the challenge of shooting on a tight budget in Wales and Sheffield. He said that the new series he’s working on (His Dark Materials, episodes 4, 5, and 6, if I’ve done my research correctly), has about ten times the budget, which is awesome, but certainly has its own share of challenges. 

Finally, Jamie shared that Jodie Whittaker and he are both huge film buffs and they had lots of conversations about what kind of tone they wanted for The Doctor and the world she inhabits, referencing directors they admired and scenes and characters from other films. He kept Jodie’s confidence, though, and wouldn’t share any specific titles they talked about. Still, it was fun to hear that they drew upon a common series of references that helped them make connections, flesh out what they wanted to do, and develop a good working relationship with each other.

Honestly, the hour flew by, and before we knew it, the kaffeeklatsch guy was knocking on our door again and telling us it was time to go.

If it’s any consolation, Jamie, you weren’t a zoo animal to us. If anything, this type of event lets you, the fan, drop all pretense and interact with directors, writers, artists, and actors as fellow people without any of the weird transactions that take place at autograph tables. It turned out to be one of the best things I did at Gallifrey One this year, and I’ll be back next year to fight over seats at the table again!