‘Dr. Who’ to the rescue of depressed campers at Gann

By Michael A. Burstein
Advocate correspondent

The 13 iterations of Dr. Who, the popular British sci-fi TV character 
IMAGE: COURTESY OF BBC-TV The 13 iterations of Dr. Who, the popular British sci-fi TV character IMAGE: COURTESY OF BBC-TV WALTHAM – This summer, Gann Academy will host three camps run by The Story School in which children take on the roles of heroes as they fight monsters: a Wizards & Warriors camp, a Zombie camp, and a Teen camp.

“All of our summer camps and story-based adventures are about engaging the natural desire in children and teens to learn and to make a difference in the world,” said Meghan Gardner, the president of The Story School. “As a mom, it’s important to me that future generations see learning as more than something that happens in school and that they have the ability to ‘be a hero’ by seeing something that needs to be changed and doing what’s necessary to make the world a better place. The fact that we can accomplish this with swords, myth, and magic is just cool.”

One of the characters campers will have a chance to adventure with is the Doctor, the hero of the long-running British television series Doctor Who. The Doctor is an alien but appears human. He can travel anywhere in time and space in his craft, called a TARDIS, which always appears as an old-style London Police Box and is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. And as many different actors have played the character since the show began in 1963, early on the show presented the idea that the Doctor can undergo “regeneration,” in which when he dies he takes on a new body and a new personality. Therefore, kids familiar with the character can easily accept any actor at the camp in the role.

With the permission of the BBC, the Doctor has already been a camp character for two summers. A recently completed study demonstrated that interacting with the Doctor was beneficial. One of the study authors,

Dr. Janina Scarlet, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a creator of Superhero Therapy.

“By learning from a relatable fictional character, children were able to develop a stronger sense of compassion and social connection toward others, both of which have been shown to reduce depression,” Scarlet said. “Indeed, we observed a reduction of depression in the children over the weeks they attended the camp.” Campers also showed more self-acceptance and self-esteem.

Christine Miller, the chief financial and administrative officer of Gann Academy, noted the school is happy to serve as a host site for the camps.

“We think it ties to our core values as a school,” Miller said. “Finding different ways to engage and excite children in their learning is something that we care about deeply, and so we are open to having Meghan’s camp here as a learning laboratory -- and we get to experience interactive learning/storytelling firsthand by seeing zombies and other characters come to life on our campus.” Miller added that they are excited about the addition of the Doctor as a character.

Although Doctor Who was originally created by a Jewish Canadian television producer named Sydney Newman, the show had no explicit Jewish elements in it. Despite that, many people have found connections between Doctor Who and Judaism.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel, a congregation in North Adams that is affiliated with the Reform movement and is also part of the ALEPH Network. In a 2014 post in her blog Velveteen Rabbi, she wrote about how one of her Bar Mitzvah students drew connections between Torah and Doctor Who.

“Maybe because I see Doctor Who through my own Jewish lenses, I see a lot of Jewish values and themes in the show. First and foremost, the show’s whole structure emphasizes the values of self-reflection, starting over, beginning again – which we see on screen each time the Doctor regenerates, and which are core to the unfolding of every year in Jewish time as we move through the cycles of teshuvah (repentance / return) and the new beginning of Rosh Hashanah. The Doctor wouldn’t call his actions mitzvot, and he might not know the term tikkun olam (healing creation), but to me as a Jewish viewer that’s clearly what he’s doing.”

Speaking about the study, Rabbi Barenblat noted, “I love the idea of using Doctor Who to help kids battle depression. Connecting with fictional characters can help kids feel less alone, and he’s a wonderful character, resilient and kind. Anyone can benefit from identifying with a heroic archetype, and the Doctor -- like the Biblical archetypes we meet in Tanakh -- is both wonderful and flawed... which makes him, like the Biblical figures, relatable and (although he is a Time Lord) very ‘human.’ “

The Story School camps are held from July 3–Aug. 16. Call (781) 270-4800 or visit for more information.


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