If the kids get back in time from their trip to the theatre with their grandparents, we will be sitting down together tonight to find out the fate of the Doctor and his companions. In her blog post on the trauma of seeing our favourite Time Lord regenerate, Jane Graham mentions the conversation we had when she was interviewing me about The Baby in the Mirror. She was interested in what I had said in the book about children’s understanding of sadness that goes beyond their own immediate needs. I had argued that grief is, cognitively speaking, an almost uniquely complex emotion. (Actually, it’s pipped at the last minute by regret, but for that you’ll have to read the book.)
My kids certainly get the same emotional hit from Doctor Who as that observed by Jane in her little girl. When the Doctor’s daughter appeared to die at the end of her eponymous episode, there wasn’t a dry eye in the living room. However, there are moments, when you are paying attention to young children’s feelings, when you wonder whether they are really grasping the full emotional story. For Isaac in particular, the stirring music that always accompanies a televisual trauma is a powerful cue to what the characters are feeling. Those swelling strings tell him that something is going on that is bigger than his understanding, but whose language he already knows.
What interests Jane in particular is the ethical question for us as parents. Mums and dads want to protect their children from trauma, so why let them watch things that will upset them? On balance, I agree with her that young children probably take more positives from these experiences than negatives. I argued in the book that children have the cognitive and emotional capacity to come to terms with death far earlier than Freud and others wanted us to believe. This may be in part because, as Paul Bloom has argued, they are dualists, wired up to see the body and spirit going different ways.
Which just leaves me wondering what we will be left with tonight, once the Doctor has stopped pulsating on the floor of the Tardis. With supernatural beings such as Time Lords and Santa Claus, the facts of life after death become more complicated. The Doctor will still be the Doctor (if we have read the clues correctly), but he won’t be the David Tennant Doctor. We will all have to get our heads around a certain immortality of the flesh.
One thing we can be sure about, though, is that there will be more empathetic tears. I am as much of a blubberer as any of them, having once even been reduced to tears by an episode of Baywatch (it was those damned strings, I tell you). And we will probably have to rethink our ideas about the afterlife as well. A few months ago, Isaac was telling us that heaven is full of dragons, and how, when you get to heaven, you can’t ‘get died’. That sounds like a Doctor Who version of paradise.