Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Who loves you Doctor?

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1976-08-31 Guardian.jpg


MASS TELEVISION is arguably the biggest, swiftest change to have happened to our—and perhaps any—civilisation. It is also the least studied, least acknowledged innovation. I would guess that more academic studies of the sexual events, or non-events of Byron or the Bloomsbury Group have been published in Britain in the last 20 years than serious works about the effects of this new medium.

Yet anyone under, say, 23 stands a fair chance of having been exposed since birth to television's unprecedented output of vicarious experience. He, or she can plausibly be called the first children of the box, almost as much as children of their parents or of their immediate home, school, or class environment. Since we know so pitifully little, discussion tends to bog down almost at once in subjectivity and prejudice. With this background in mind, let's turn to a small range of responses to one particular television programme.

Child A (aged 5 3/4), giving her parents an opinion which later appeared as a lead letter in the Guardian, says: 'It is a beautiful programme because it doesn't scare me. I like the pictures of monsters and every nasty animal.'

Child B (5 3/4) who, like the rest of the children mentioned below, is personally known to me, dislikes even being asked about the topic. "Why do they have to put such horrible-programmes on television?" she says.

At 18 months, she cowered quite spontaneously at the introductory music and visuals. Four years have not varied that gibbering, thumb-sucking reaction, except to give her the words to complain of "dreadful flashing lights, sounds, and nasty monsters."

At 18 months, child C (now 10 years old) began watching with me and her parents. She lapped it up, being particularly intrigued by the flashing lights, She still watches regularly with her younger brothers, who also like it. None of them are nervous children.

Child D (5 1/2) has hated the programme since infancy. She fears some of her holidays, which are spent with a family which watches it. Child E (5 1/2) views everything with older relatives. He thumb-sucks a lot, says he enjoys it but — coincidentally or-otherwise tends to develop phobias about insects and reptiles, which resemble models used in the programme. He is very nervous.

I hope you'll agree that the, programme can be described, reasonably and without prejudice, as a tree some of these children and as highly disturbing" to others. I hope the roof won't fall in on this small consensus simply because the programme is Dr Who and the critic just quoted is Mary Whitehouse.

The roof — of the Guardian letters column at least— falls on Mrs W whenever she complains of grotesque creature's with detached brains and lobster-like claws which they use to try to break people's necks. Typical of the put-downs was a short, magisterial letter from Fiona Crosby, of West Yorkshire: "When is Mrs Whitehouse going to realise that in most cases, we parents are the best judges of what is suitable viewing or our children?"

Yet, Mrs Crosby, that would be the best criterion in a perfectly ordered household. The trouble is that, even in my small sample, it doesn't consistently work out. The problem with child D's holidays has already been mentioned. For her parents, it's a real problem which involves the risk of offending hosts or of being thought over-protective or fussy.

No meaningful choice has ever been involved for child E. Both parents work shift hours. So in school holidays and on many evenings during term, he is looked after by older brothers and sisters, who keep open house for their friends. They're capable of keeping television on 12 hours as a day in bad weather. Far more than his parents, they have become his adored peer group. As teenagers they are not capable of allowing for the susceptibilities of a 5 1/2-year-old.

The problem even arose with child B. On holiday (in South Yorkshire, as it happens), she chose her much older cousins as a temporary peer group, They watched Star Trek, which occasionally specialised in some of the most horrific jump-cuts seen on television. Although told not to watch, she — as many younger children do —hung round the door, hoping to stay near the peer group but to have time to run if the programme showed signs of getting frightening. With no build up, the series jump-cut to, I am told, the face of a woman raddled by nuclear radiation. The nightmares long outlasted the holiday.

The BBC can offer no help. If you ask them whether they know of research on effects of Dr Who on children during the last decade, they reply that all they have on file, is what Mrs Whitehouse has said.

It would be a pity if the BBC's default left the stage to be dominated by the friends and enemies of Mrs Mary Whitehouse. Personally I would not relish having to explain to children A and C why their treats should be toned down for the sake of others.

But I think we should also consider that television has become an almost inescapable medium for many children. If older teachers find — as same say they do — that the generation now going through school is for, no ostensible reason more jumpy than the generations of the depression or the blitz, no one is embracing the cause of mindless censorship by eating whether at least part of the reason may be in the effects of television.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Ezard, John (1976-08-31). Who loves you Doctor?. The Guardian p. 13.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Ezard, John. "Who loves you Doctor?." The Guardian [add city] 1976-08-31, 13. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Ezard, John. "Who loves you Doctor?." The Guardian, edition, sec., 1976-08-31
  • Turabian: Ezard, John. "Who loves you Doctor?." The Guardian, 1976-08-31, section, 13 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who loves you Doctor? | url= | work=The Guardian | pages=13 | date=1976-08-31 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 December 2020 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who loves you Doctor? | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 December 2020}}</ref>