Doctor Who Teaches Lucky British Kids How to Code

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By Selena Larson

In the past 50 years, no fictional time-traveling humanoid alien has done more to secure humanity's past and present than the Gallifreyan Time Lord known as The Doctor. Now in his 12th incarnation (or 13th, if you count the War Doctor), he teams with his most fearsome foe to secure humanity's future . . . teaching children how to code.

Well, children who live in the UK, anyway.

Voiced by the magnificent 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi, The Doctor and the Dalek is a free-to-play online game from the BBC's "Make It Digital" kids initiative. The code-learning game premieres on the media outlet's children's hub on Wednesday—but it's only available to play if you live in the UK.

Though the 8-puzzle adventure is designed to teach pre-adolescents the basics of event-driven programming, no doubt there will be more than a few US Doctor fans, both kids and adults, disappointed in the limitation. (You can probably still get into the program with a little technical legerdemain designed to convince the Beeb your computer in located in the UK—this page has some suggestions.)

The Register's Dominic Connor tried a preview of The Doctor and the Dalek, along with his 10-year-old Alexander, who "gave it his approval as he zapped the Cybermen and Sontarans."

The game, which also includes sequential evaluation, loops, variables, if/then conditionals, is "pretty ambitious for 8-11-year-olds," Connor writes. But it's "the basis of what they are expected to know nowadays (at least in England), and many primary teachers, who rarely have any understanding of programming themselves, are already struggling."

After rescuing a Dalek from its Cybermen captors, The Doctor and his new unlikely companion are off to save humanity aboard the police-box-shaped TARDIS—the Doctor's teleporting time machine, whose name is an acronym for "time and relative dimension(s) in space." The good news for kids (and code-nascent adults) is that the code-teaching games appear easier to comprehend than the fictional physics that make the TARDIS bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Young Alexander's assessment of the game overall:

"Since it was aimed at people below the Scratch mark I thought they would do more programming," continued Alexander, "though you could skip all the blowing up stuff to just the programming and it had basic variables in it. It would be better at the end if you could copy the programs you made so that you learnt that you could use it like a proper programming language."

The Doctor and the Dalek is available free online on Wednesday (Oct. 22) in the UK only, with a teacher's pack offered in the following weeks.

Whether American Doctor-loving kids and grown-ups can petition for the BBC to make The Doctor and the Dalek available online in the United States is a variable that is yet to be resolved.

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