Whovians, unite! Saturday, November 23, marks the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, whose time-traveling adventures have fascinated fans of all ages since 1963. And with the BBC show’s relaunch in 2005—after a 16-year hiatus from episodic television—a whole new generation has been drawn to the Doctor, including teachers and youth librarians. In recent years, these savvy superfans have been offering numerous Who-themed activities in their programming, to the delight of their tween and teen patrons.
“I do have some theories as to why Doctor Who is so popular among book lovers and librarians—like me,” says Karen Jensen, youth services librarian at the Betty Warmack Branch Library in Grand Prairie, TX. “The TARDIS is like a library…or a bookstore or yes, even a book. You know that you are going to explore new worlds, meet new people, and travel through both time and space.”
For the uninitiated, the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) is the Doctor’s vast and sentient spaceship, which disguises itself as a blue British police call box. Frequently cited as “bigger on the inside,” the comparison to the world of books and reading is irresistible for librarians.
Earlier this year, in anticipation of this weekend’s three-day anniversary celebration, Jensen and the rest of the staff over at the Teen Librarian Toolbox (TLT) created Doctor Who Central, a hub of blog posts and resources from teachers and librarians eager to share their experiences.
The hub features programming and party ideas, reviews of favorite episodes (such as the two-part episode set in the largest library in the universe), recommended book lists to inspire kids, and details on special events and giveaways, like those being promoted by Maria Selke, elementary gifted resource teacher in Southeastern, PA, and a TLT guest blogger.
Selke, a relatively new fan of Doctor Who, got into the series in February but has been blogging about it ever since. In her episode reviews, Selke talks about “the power of science fiction” and what Doctor Who can teach us about ourselves. In short, “humanity, strength, and leadership can show up in expected places.” And, Selke says, “imagine the impossible,” as the Ninth Doctor once said.
Notably, most of Doctor Who Central’s activities and free online resources—such as paper crafts, decorations, and signage—are appropriate for year-round use, long after the anniversary is over.
For Matthew C. Winner, teacher librarian at Ducketts Lane Elementary School in Elkridge, MD, it’s always the right time for Doctor Who. The 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker dressed as the Eleventh Doctor for Halloween in 2012, and decorated his library office door to resemble the TARDIS. Every time he opened the door, he was “secretly thrilled,” he tells School Library Journal. “I discovered Doctor Who a couple years ago and it’s probably the one thing I geek out about most.”
Winner started his anniversary celebration early this year. He donned Who-theme gear to help run Joyce Valenza’s late-night AASL Unconference, alongside Sherry Gick, teacher librarian at Rossville (IN) Consolidated Schools, who did the same. “I wish the 50th anniversary episode would have happened over AASL so I would have gotten to enjoy it with all of my TLT friends,” he tells SLJ.
For many educator superfans, the clever series is worth including in programming to tweens and teens due to its literary and historical references, its exploration of complex themes, and the open-ended questions it raises, they say. Beyond those reasons, the strength of the characters and the challenges they face throughout the series can be quite inspirational.
“I think of the Doctor as being a risk taker,” says Gick. “That’s hard as an educator. It’s hard always being the one to think outside of the box—or in this case, the TARDIS.” That willingness to take a chance on new things, as the Doctor often does, she says, “is a good one for us teachers.”