Adventures in time and space – Doctor Who and teaching
John Collier, Deputy Director for CPD, reflects on being a Doctor Who obsessed teacher.
Location: Blackpool. Earth Date: 1975 A.D.
My earliest Who related memory is being given a book called The Making Of Doctor Who.
The cover image is still burned on my brain. A picture of the then Doctor, Jon Pertwee, being stalked by a Sea Devil. I vaguely remember seeing the episode. I had been truly terrified by the monsters walking out of the sea. They scared me so much I had taken a black marker pen and scrubbed out the amphibious face. This was extreme behaviour for a boy who loved (and looked after) his books.
My second memory also involves a scary encounter. I am about six on a family holiday in Blackpool and my grandad has just paid for us both to enter the official Doctor Who Exhibition. But there is a problem. To get inside meant walking down a staircase. This was a problem for Daleks’ in the Seventies and it was also an issue for me, as dangling dangerously above our heads was a Giant Spider.
I was petrified, not least because these oversized arachnids had caused the demise of my beloved Third Doctor. I sobbed. No way was I going down there today. The irony is when I did finally make it inside the following year it was the start of an obsession. I loved spending time under the streets of the Golden Mile and as I got older my parents would leave me down there all day. Deep in my own thoughts and deep amongst the monster and props.
Oh and there was a gift shop. As all teachers know, kids love a gift shop.
Location: Stoke-on-Trent. Earth Date: 2005 A.D.
Fast forward thirty years and my interest in the show has waned. The toys have been put away and the obsession has long since passed. Then something happens. The BBC launches a reboot of the programme. A whole new generation are about to discover The Doctor and playgrounds across the country will once again be filled with shrieks of “EXTERMINATE!”.
Hearing the new theme, watching the new stories, swapping the collector’s cards with my pupils (yes really) gets me thinking. If Doctor Who is engaging the children in a way I can only dream of then why not use it as a curriculum driver? Suddenly the possibilities seem endless.
The Time Lord is a natural cross-curricular topic. It covers English, Maths, Science, ICT, History and Geography. In fact pretty much everything except P.E. – unless you count all that running around, chasing and being chased.
So I begin by building a classroom TARDIS. It houses the bulky class computer and is adorned with characters from the series. The children love it. What I didn’t realise at the time was the people making the programme would also take an interest too.
In class we write letters to people associated with making the programme. The response is overwhelming. We start to gather all the letters and photographs we receive and put them on display. Most surprising of all is a response from an actor called Alan Ruscoe. Alan has appeared in Star Wars and played a host of monsters in the new series. He ends his letter by saying he is originally from Longton and his mum lives around the corner from our school! His offer to pop in and meet the children is soon accepted and we use his visit to carry out interviews with him.
These feed into biographical writing and newspaper reports. The local press take an interest. Pupil engagement in English has never been better. I feel slightly guilty that I am having so much fun, this doesn’t feel like work! Alan has visited our school on a number of occasions since, talking to the children about his experiences in the acting profession and providing drama workshops.
Sci-Fi fever spreads throughout the whole school and we decide to hold a Doctor Who Day with pupils and staff dressing up as their favourite character. We also introduce a new member of staff to the children – Dolly the Dalek. Dolly was an ebay purchase and although she needed a lot of TLC she has since become a fixed feature in our entrance hall. She has been “kidnapped” to provide a stimulus for journalistic writing, starred in a spoof Amarillo video and even appeared in The Sun newspaper! Doctor Who Day also saw a visit from one of my childhood heroes, John Leeson. John voiced the part of K9, the Doctor’s robot dog. John also became a regular visitor to school and officially opened our Performing Arts Studio.
What did I learn from this experience?
Firstly, that you can take a seed of an idea, water it, give it air and light and be pleasantly surprised at what blooms. Secondly, this story is not about Doctor Who. It is about finding a vehicle to engage and inspire your pupils. If you can match this to your own passions and interests then even better. You will find the day job a pleasure and school will become the best party in town. For adults and children alike.
Take a risk, try the road less travelled and remember it’s not the destination that’s important but the journey we can share together. Just remember to keep your faith and battle any naysayers along the way. Be an intergalactic zapper rather than a staff room sapper.
A great imagination will always be bigger on the inside…