Embrace geek chic with a Dr. Who classroom theme!
Dr. Who is an alien being in a popular BBC TV show, the last of the Time Lords, who goes traveling through time and space in his Time and Relative Dimension in Space (tardis for short). As you can imagine, this is an adventuresome theme, with lots of teachable moments for science and history. The new series also contains plenty of scenes involving decision-making by a young person:
- Should she do something risky or stick with what’s safe?
- Should she continue on a path toward a future that seems empty, or do something more daring?
- What are her responsibilities toward her family and friends?
Many episodes center on a mystery, and they often also include philosophical, moral, and ethical issues ranging from who should be saved when there seem to be no win-win options to what it means to be human to what happens when one entity controls all media.
Make your classroom into the tardis — or at least make your door look like the door of the Tardis:
You can create a timer with the Dr. Who theme and use it to start the morning, or as a transitional signal. The timer aspect means that you can set it to play for a certain number of seconds, either as an actual countdown or as a signal or just for background music.
There are plenty of video clips available online, and the full episodes are readily available on Netflix, at Amazon as streaming video and as DVDs, and probably in your local stores as well. Dr. Who is sometimes scary and often violent. There is no rough language, though, nor sexual innuendo. We wouldn’t show it to small children, but we’d be comfortable with it in middle school or high school. Read about the legal issues in our post on using video in the classroom, and then consider using some of the show in your lessons.
We like the idea of starting each day with a clip and discussing it just as we’d discuss a scene from a book. Pick a clip, plan a few questions, show the clip, and have some philosophical discussion. Here’s an example, using the first episode of the new series:
The episode “Rose” is shown here in a shortened form (about 8 minutes) with little violence. Some of the points we’d discuss for this episode:
- This episode is set largely in London. With the London Olympics coming up, we can look for and list London icons.
- At one point, Rose learns that the Doctor has been seen at numerous historical events, including the sinking of the Titanic and the assassination of President Kennedy. Find the dates for the listed events and add them to classroom timeline. Ask students to name some other events they think the Doctor might have attended.
- This is the point at which we first learn that Dr. Who is a time traveler. Is this plausible? Does it sound like fun? Click the link for more teaching ideas on this topic.
- This episode involves what are essentially robots, except that they are powered by “thought control” rather than electricity. Once they no longer receive transmissions from their controller, they are no longer able to move and act. How is that like robots in the real world?
- 19 year old Rose loses a menial job in this episode, and sees no future for herself beyond another menial job. Is she being realistic about the opportunities available to her in her life? What opportunities do your students see for themselves?
- Rose initially refuses to go with Dr. Who because of her responsibility to her mother, a single mom, and to her boyfriend, whom she sees as rather helpless. When Dr. Who comes back and says the tardis travels through time as well as space, she changes her mind and joins him. Is she abandoning her responsibilities when she does so?
- After a couple more episodes, it occurs to Rose that she is traveling with a stranger, with no assurances of safety from him or from anything else. Her mother asks for Dr. Who’s promise that he can keep Rose safe, and he admits that he can’t. Is Rose stupid for doing this?
Follow up the discussion with a five minute free writing time.