Monday, May 16, 2005

Eeek! Doctor! A teachable moment!

Catholic Herald 19 May 2005

The Home Front research team have asked me to express their profound disappointment with the British Board of Film Censorship, who have banned children from purchasing the DVD of the new Dr Who series, because one episode features a Dalek being tortured. Of course, my rowdy and intractable research team will continue to expect me to buy their DVDs for them - but for once I am in agreement and, if I may slip on my anorak for a moment, I feel compelled to proclaim that the new Dr Who series is a jolly good thing.
A habit parents of faith need to acquire early in life is the ability to watch for “teachable moments”. Those moments in life when a spiritual message crystallises into tangible form as the best solution to an episode at school, a problem at home or something seen on TV.
And if the teachable moment comes in the palatable form of Christopher Eccleston in a leather jacket, I am not complaining; even though this Dr Who does put me worryingly in mind of the sort of university lecturer who, at the end of one’s beloved undergraduate daughter’s first college seminar, will lean across and suggest that if she wants to take her subject to its cutting edge, she should come back to his flat. (Besides which, it just isn’t fair: William Hartnell (the first Dr Who) never [italics]smouldered.[end italics] He looked like your great-granddad. We children of the Sixties, we was robbed.)
But I digress. We were promised the return of the Daleks; the totalitarian egg-whisk-toting bullies of our childhood - “and this time they can fly”. What we got was one very sad, lonely Dalek being brutally tormented by a nasty American (of course) billionaire, and having a nervous breakdown. The message my children got was plain: it is very, very wrong to torture any living creature, even a Dalek.
Meanwhile the Doctor was shown giving in to the temptation to crow over his enemies’ impotence - and later regretting his arrogance, recognising that in his hatred he had morally let himself slide.
Message: even the noblest people must examine their consciences, especially when dealing with their worst enemies. The great British public, who have spent the past 40 years happily wishing Daleks to damnation, actually felt sorry for a Dalek.
A fabulous teachable moment for a Christian parent. So, true to form, the BBFC has contrived utterly to miss the point in classifying this teachable moment unsuitable for children.
The latest episode (yes, I am now almost sewn into my anorak) was bursting with teachable moments. The Doctor’s new girlfriend - sorry, “assistant”, the lovely Rose, went back to 1987 to save her father from the car accident that had killed him when she was a baby…and by thus slightly altering history, unleashed winged dragon-monsters that ate everyone up.
Because, explained the Doctor (smoulderingly), the existence or non-existence of a single ordinary human being changes the world; even a feckless, failed nobody like her dad makes a difference.
“But we aren’t important,” quavered a frightened bridal couple, caught up in the mayhem on the threshold of their wedding. “How did this begin?” asked the Doctor, sternly (but still smoulderingly). “We met because I was looking for a taxi at 2 am,” said the bride, with nostalgia. The Doctor sighed: “I can never have a life like that.”
For a moment it looked as though he was about to launch into a one man version of the Monty Python “Three Yorkshiremen” sketch: “Where I coom from, we ‘ad to get oop the previous century and walk fifty billion light years in our bare feet to t’factory” etc.
Instead, the Doctor wisely turned down the smouldering to a low simmer and told the nation’s watching children that nobody, however ordinary, is insignificant and any human life (he gestured to the bride’s pregnant bump) is infinitely valuable. For a Catholic parent, a teachable moment par excellence; the icing on the cake was the Doctor‘s warning that the dragon things could break into the church where his party was hiding because it “wasn‘t all that old“.
But a suggestion: save your teachings until after the final credits. Or you will find your audience is still hiding behind the sofa…

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