My daughter, I insisted, is not too young for Doctor Who.
Meredith is four and a half; a good age, an impressionable age, where the first seeds of a lifetime's enthusiasm can be grown and nurtured. I wasn't much older when I began to show an interest in a funny man in cricket whites who travelled the universe in a blue police telephone box, even though my parents hated the programme passionately. Surely now was the time to introduce the apple of my eye to the delights of everyone's favourite Gallifreyan?
The first consideration was where to start. The current series is, as I see it, a bit too much for a four year old. The plots can verge on the Byzantine and the monsters are genuinely scary... best save those episodes for such a time as the blaukistebegeisterung has been truly ignited. The odd programme from Nu-Who tempted me, such as my all time favourite episode, The Girl in the Fireplace, but the whole 'monsters under the bed' theme was just asking to be met with a dose of nocturnal screaming.
So, I checked my DVD shelves for something of a little more vintage. Perhaps I could find a suitable Peter Davison serial to start her off with - it was where I began, after all. Castrovalva? Too confusing to jump straight in there. Earthshock? Best start off with a happy ending. I was beginning to doubt myself when all of a sudden, a Tom Baker box set loomed large. Ah yes, I thought. That's where we start - something reasonably easy to follow, with 'not very scary' monsters.
Let's go Full Circle.
I began with a bit of background to set the scene for the eager young acolyte sitting expectantly before me... "The Doctor is a clever man who's got a spaceship that looks like a blue box. Got that?" (nodding) "There might be some monsters (slight recoil) but the Doctor always wins in the end (reassured nodding) and besides, Daddy's going to sit here as well, because it's his favourite programme" (big smile). "Oh, and Mummy will be back home soon, so we'd best start watching this now" (conspiratorial wink).
The early signs were good. Meredith liked the "pretty lady" (Romana II) and the idea of a robot dog (K9 MkII) went down very well indeed. The crunch came with the emergence of the Marsh Men from the swamps of Alzarius in what is, even by modern standards, still a very striking image. This was a potential "behind the sofa" moment for a four year old, but Meredith took it in her stride. "They're just men in suits, Daddy." Thus the magic of television is destroyed.
|A Marsh Man. Photo (c)BBC|
We got straight on with watching episode two, at the time Michelle came back home. The look of disdain reserved for my lowest efforts was wheeled out to greet me, but in fairness she let the experiment continue. We got all the way to the end of the episode, where the TARDIS makes a short hop to a dingy cave, and I was preparing my smug victory speech when disaster happened. The fruit split open to reveal the least realistic rubber spiders in the history of TV science fiction, which waddled jerkily on their wires towards the gamely frightened Romana. There was a little squeak from next to me.
"I don't like those!" squealed Meredith.
"Really?" I gasped incredulously.
"I don't like it Daddy!" My previously intrepid time traveller buried her face in my side as a spider leaped onto Romana's face and delivered a toxic bite. Michelle appeared at the door to deliver a look of maternal authority with just a hint of the victorious smugness I had been planning to use on her.
There was a gap of a couple of weeks before we got back to episodes 3 and 4, in which time many people were informed of what a bad man I was for scaring the poor little child. However, children love to be scared and so we returned to the fray, deploying my three-stage master plan of:
i) Waiting until Michelle was out
ii) Reassuring Meredith that the spiders aren't in the rest of the episodes (just the recap bit at the start)
iii) Bribing Meredith with chocolate AND biscuits
Shameless I know, but it was for her own good.
Episode three returned us to what I remember Doctor Who being about as a child - lots of running from monsters down cheap-looking corridors interspersed with some earnest technobabble. This was more to Meredith's taste, and as the fourth and final episode played out to a conclusion the squeaks of fear every time a new marsh man lumbered into view became more playful - as if the realisation had dawned that the whole point was to be a bit scared of these monsters, but not really properly frightened. I don't think Meredith got the whole evolutionary plot twist at the end, but then it wasn't really necessary to - the basic premise had been borne out - the monsters had gone away and the clever man in the blue box had won again.
"Did you enjoy that?" I asked as the credits rolled across the familiar starfield.
"Yes I did!" (big smile) "but I still don't like the monsters" (protruding bottom lip)
Fair enough, I thought. Wait til you see your first cyberman...
I won't claim to have converted my darling daughter into a Doctor Who fan on this one outing, and realise that it's her choice what she likes or dislikes when all is said and done. However I'm happy to have been there with her for her first outing into time and space, and to have at least proven the point that four years of age is NOT too young for Doctor Who.
Now that I've proved that to be the case, I note there are two more DVDs sitting in the e-space trilogy box set, waiting to be watched. I wonder if my daughter might care to join me...?