The question of what’s suitable content for kids is an ongoing one that has plagued the entertainment industry for decades. To guide people, we have the classification system — G, PG, M, MA, R — which I think most of the time does a reasonable job of warning people about what they can expect to find. But sometimes it seems like it slips up a bit. You’d hope that the Office of Film and Literature Classification would be fairly consistent in how they rate things, but it seems they aren’t always.
For instance, “ET” — one of the biggest kids’ movies of all time — originally had a G rating. The re-release, which included such changes as making the government agents carry radios instead of guns, landed a PG rating, with the qualifier “Some scenes may disturb small children”. Hmm. Okay.
Now take the Doctor Who story “The Two Doctors”, from the now infamously violent Colin Baker era of the show. This was originally aired on TV in the mid-80s in the early evenings, and I suspect some of the more excessive scenes were cut for the Australian transmission. I was somewhat surprised to find the DVD release (and the earlier VHS release) was rated G. I wasn’t sure about this, so when I bought the DVD last week, and decided to watch it myself before letting the kids have a look at it. There are certainly some stories I have been deliberately avoiding showing them until they’re a little older, and perhaps this should be one of them.
I was right to be suspicious. Apart from the numerous explosions, shootings that are pretty much de rigeur in any Doctor Who production, there is also the somewhat bloody use of knives, culminating in the scene in the restaurant in Seville where alien Androgum Shockeye refuses to pay the bill (after a meal of Mr Creosote-esque proportions) and stabs Oscar to death with a knife.
While you don’t see penetration of the knife into Oscar’s chest, you certainly do see Shockeye threaten and approach Oscar with the knife, Oscar’s reaction as it goes in, the blood stain on his white shirt, his final words and then death. It’s pretty graphic stuff (as well as being dramatically pointless), and I honestly find it hard to believe that the OFLC people sat through all this (as well as Shockeye’s subsequent death at the hands of the Doctor using Oscar’s butterfly poison, and the deaths of the other alien baddies) and then said “Yep, that’s a G”.
What on earth can they have thinking? To my mind it’s at least a PG, and if “ET” is the measure for PG, it’s probably closer to an M. (The Brits’ BBFC rated it PG.) Perhaps they assumed that since it had aired (probably censored) in G time on TV, it must be G rated — but that is inconsistent with their other Doctor Who classifications.
Violence should have only a low sense of threat or menace, and be justified by context. — Office of Film and Literature Classification guidelines for G rated material.
I did eventually decide to let the kids watch it, because a) they love the series, b) it’s only a handful of scenes in a two and a half hour long story, c) it’s mitigated just a tad by showing the consequences of such the event, including the grief of those witnessing the death and d) well maybe I can justify it by pointing to a lesson in the dangers of sharp knives. Shaky ground, I know.
I was sitting by with the kids as this scene came up, prepared to talk it over with them as necessary. Because that’s what Parental Guidance really is — not just deciding what the under-15s can watch, but also guiding them, talking them through it.
What I didn’t expect was Isaac’s unprompted reaction, which in itself says a lot. As Oscar got stabbed, he piped up “This shouldn’t be rated G. It should be rated PG.” He’s right, and I’m having second thoughts about it all now. Not that I’m about to start ranting like those cranks at CapAlert, but I may change my mind about letting them watch it again until they’re a little older. Perhaps standards have changed since I was growing up, but my conclusion now is that Doctor Who is not just for kids.
One of the things that saves the arts from over-aggressive censorship is a good reliable ratings system. If people know what they can expect in the way of sex, violence, drug use, etc, before they turn on the TV/sit down in the movie/theatre/whatever, then (within reason) the arts and entertainment industry are free to produce what they want without expecting it to be cut to ribbons for public viewing.
But it is critical that those responsible for deciding the ratings get it right. And if even an eight-year-old viewer is criticising a rating from the OFLC, maybe that rating needs to be reviewed.