Dottie ‘Doc’ McStuffins, the Disney character who heals her toys / Getty
The female, African-American cartoon character is a big hit on TV and in the shops

"Time for your check up!" Parents of preschoolers may be familiar with the cheery tune from Doc McStuffins, one of the UK's most popular children's television programmes.

Doc McStuffins, made for Disney Junior by Dublin-based production company Brown Bag Films, is as beloved by parents as children after smashing gender and race stereotypes while also being the first programme to demystify medical procedures. Doc is a cartoon character who is doctor to her toy animals, while her mother is a real doctor.

Time magazine recently named Doc McStuffins one of the most influential toys of all time, ahead of Star Wars figurines, because it is the "first black figure to become popular among kids of all races, boasting $500m [£319m] in sales last year". Even the cast members of Downton Abbey are joining the show, voicing characters in a special episode about Florence Nightingale (Joanne Froggatt) which airs tomorrow.

Doc McStuffins's creator Chris Nee, in the UK last week to attend the Baftas for the show's nomination for Best International Children's Programme award, said: "We know there is this idea that you can't be it if you can't see it. I have met so many doctors who say that growing up there were no images of themselves. They were told to go into nursing."

The same doctors told her: "It is never going to be the case again where there is going to be a little girl or an African-American girl who is ever going to think to herself that she can't be a doctor. That is a pretty powerful statement."

Los Angeles-based Nee said she came up with the idea for the show in a "kismet" moment when trying to find a way she could help her son Theo, who has asthma.

"Ultimately, the idea for the show came after spending the night in hospital with him when he couldn't breathe," she said. "I realised I couldn't cure him and there was nothing medically I could do, but I could do something in TV."

People often ask why Doc is a girl, as she created the character for her son. "I just felt very strongly we didn't need another boy leading the pack," she said. "It didn't really occur to me that if I made it a girl, my son wouldn't watch it."

The show's audience is evenly split between boys and girls. Some programme-makers identify whether it is "a boy's show or a girl's show" early on, Nee said. "A lot of it is about how the toys are going to be sold."

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