Doctor Who is getting another face. Which means that there are plans for at least another three years of Doctor Who. Two things to celebrate as a Doctor Who fan. Doctor Who is going to be played by a woman for the first time in over 50 years.
The scale of reaction to this last detail has ranged from celebratory, indifference, a reason to recycle jokes about women (that should be as dead as Adric on a spaceship), and the end of the f***ing world. It’s these last two disappointing reactions that have disappointed me so much I want to address them in this post.
Doctor Who can’t be a woman because there’s never been a woman Doctor before
Follow that logic and the show could never have done anything new. The show would have stuck to it’s original alternating historical and science fiction stories, we wouldn’t have had the Daleks as it broke the no bug-eyed monsters rule of the time, and the Doctor wouldn’t have regenerated ending the show after 3 years, because there had never been another actor playing the Doctor (apart from that not-so convincing identical Dalek doppelganger from ‘The Chase’). The show has changed from black and white to colour, episode length, theme, air time, frequency of the week, and different season lengths. Keeping it to the character and actor, just what aspect of the Doctor should limit the next? Eye colour? Hair colour? Height? Age? Weight? Accent? Left or right handedness? No? Just gender then. And it’s not sexism. Definitely not that. It’s just because it hasn’t been done before. But try applying that ‘it’s not been done before’ limit to the real world, and what I would hope most people would consider advances in attitudes towards apartheid, gay marriages and same sex mums and dads, transgender rights, interracial marriages, women as police officers, soldiers, judges, CEO, prime minister, president… or actual f***ing doctors…
“Subject for catalogue: file under “imagination, comma, lack of”
Doctor Who being a woman breaks in-show continuity
If you’re a Doctor Who fan then you should be well aware of how the mythos of the show has evolved with the need of storytelling, ratings, casting, merchandisng, and what’s happening in the world the show exists in–or the people producing it just forgetting things over the show’s unusually long length. The Doctor’s age in the show for instance, has changed a couple of times.
Continuity issues abound in Doctor Who: the Doctor either built his time machine or stole it; Susan named it TARDIS or didn’t; Daleks change colour and have different origins with no explanation; the Doctor’s anti-establishment except when he’s not and working with the military; UNIT formed in both the 70s and 80s depending on the story you watch; the Daleks are all robot, or just tanks for mutants; Sarah Jane either didn’t meet the Doctor after her departure until his 10th incarnation, or she met a whole bunch him again in ‘The Five Doctors’; Timelords never quite know what they’re going to get in a regeneration, or can choose and even try out their next regeneration and change their mind; Colin Baker is either commander Maxil trying to kill the Doctor or is the Doctor; the Doctor is all Timelord or half human; the Doctor was present at the time of Rassilon and knew him, or he wasn’t and didn’t; Doctor Who never kills and never uses weapons, apart from when he considers killing an injured caveman who is slowing the TARDIS party down, blows up Daleks, decides to shoot Davros in the face, goes postal on a bunch of cybermen with a gun, and blows up the Dalek homeworld; the TARDIS is impregnable indestructible or isn’t; the Timelords are immortal, or only have a set number or regenerations. Even the f***ing TARDIS main doors didn’t have continuity between how many were open on the exterior and how many were open on the interior.
There have been female Timelords since the 70s, so there’s no break in continuity there, and two of them became the president of Gallifrey–you can’t get much more Timelordy than president of the Timelords. The show has paved the way with Missy already, and she delivered the crazy and the danger just as well as the modern Master. If you’re a long-time fan of Doctor Who, then you’ve probably let these things go and your issue isn’t continuity.
Making Doctor Who a woman weakens the character
Of course, we live in a fairly liberal time, and I haven’t seen many people make this actual statement. So please, don’t deepen my disappointment further by pointing someone one out who has. But, the jokes have been flying–a picture of a kitchen labelled the Doctor’s new TARDIS, designs for a sonic vibrator, picture of a crashed TARDIS labelled ‘woman driver’, jokes about the Daleks avoiding her once a month or her throwing tampons at enemies, and the playful jest that it’s Doctor Who not Nurse What. Oh, how we all slapped our thighs and laughed good naturedly. Except I haven’t been.
Yes, this could be attributed to a lack of a sense of humour if I didn’t actually have one. This is reducing women down to being hormonal vaginas who can’t be as good as men and being more at home in the kitchen. I like to think that this is just an excuse to dust off some jokes from the 70s and recycle them for some retro fun, and that the people posting them don’t actually mean anything by doing so. Except that all these jokes for entertainment’s sake are the tall grass for the people who really do have a very low opinion of women and want their view of women’s inequality acknowledged. Less jokes like this by people trying to be funny makes it easier to spot the people who are really deserving of criticism for posting them and perpetuating these ideas. Still think they’re pretty funny gags? Try making some jokes about people of different races and their so-called defining characteristics. Doesn’t sit so well.
I expect the show will deal with this in the scripts. They’ve done it for the Master/Missy and they’ve already given the audience a bit of a nudge in this direction for the Doctor with Capaldi in his closing episodes. But really, the only thing that will weaken the Doctor and the show, as we’ve seen at times, is poor writing, low budgets, and bad scheduling. The Doctor will still be the hero we’ve grown up with. I’ve never really thought about the Doctor’s penis when I’ve been watching an episode, and I won’t be thinking about her vagina. Although now I’ve written that, I wish I hadn’t planted that penis/vagina seed in my head.
“We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be”
Making the Doctor female is all part of lefty liberal politically correct feminist social justice warrior agenda
Firstly, if someone thinks there’s something wrong with being liberal or social minded, or a champion of equality, then they’ve forgotten or are ungrateful for all the work of real life heroes who have fought for them to have rights in the first place, and yes, those social campaigners had an agenda. Without them we wouldn’t have votes, fair pay or working conditions, weekends and holidays, and equality and all the other things we take for granted. Sometimes change has to be planned or it won’t happen.
Those critics probably are probably in the privileged position of not having experienced injustice on a characteristic or element of their being. If they have they’re not thinking beyond their own experience. Sadly, many people are potential or actual victims, of disempowerment, and don’t have the personal resources, nurturing environments or external reassurance, encouragement or support to process, cope and deal with discrimination to foster their confidence around who they are. A strong character, fictional or otherwise can inspire and embolden people within their lives, or as is the case with children, their future lives.
“At a later stage, [The Doctor] would be metamorphosed into a woman.”
Sydney Newman. The creator of Doctor Who.
Evidence that there has been mention in the history of Doctor Who’s production which suggests the role hasn’t always been thought of as a men’s club only role. So, not a sudden plan, a possibility that’s been there, part of the shows future for sometime. I haven’t bothered to read about the casting of this incarnation, but even if the plan was to make the point in having a woman in the role for social reasons over story reasons then why not? The Doctor is still going to be the Doctor. What will actually be different beyond the Doctor’s appearance? Which has changed lots of time at this point.
The whole reason the Doctor Who line-up has been a sausage parade is because for decades the best roles on TV and in film were for men anyway, because it reflected the world beyond where men were on top, and women were considered to have their place in the kitchen and with the kids, and our media genres were levelled at the expectations of the genders they were thought they would appeal to–on possibly never in date principles–as sci-fi is for boys, soaps are for girls. At least the national media of the 21st century didn’t celebrate the achievement of a woman getting a sought after, once in a life-time acting role by trying to bring her down a peg or two and shame her by digging out some pictures of her with her tits out. Oh, wait…
There are complaints that Doctor Who has been hijacked or ‘stolen’ from them by this change, because they won’t relate to a female. Well, when you can draw from 36 seasons and 13 Doctors it’s hard to feel sympathetic of someone not relating to a character for a couple of years. Some suggest that if an established female hero like Wonder Woman was male-washed then there would be uproar. Never mind the fact that this is probably one of the few of the mainstream female heroes people can actually name compared to the pantheon of commonly known male heroes. You know, the male heroes who typically get to wear more clothing and don’t pose in contrived sexualised poses like the eye candy and initially tokenistic female heroes.
The world has–largely–evolved around Doctor Who since it first aired, so why shouldn’t Doctor Who as a show and a character? Personally, Doctor Who was never someone I wanted to be as a kid, just someone I wanted to be with, so I didn’t need to identify with him, but the companion. And most of those were female. But, plenty of young people (and young at heart) did and do relate to the Doctor. And that’s no bad thing, as he’s a pretty good role model. So, why not show boys and girls that a woman can be just as strong a role model? What’s so bad about that? And, yes, I know some girl will say I don’t need a female Doctor as a role model, a male will do fine–well, good for them, but they’re not every girl so they shouldn’t try and speak for them all.
I wonder what the Doctor would think if he encountered a liberal lefty political correct social justice warrior? She’d probably invite that person into the TARDIS for a cup of tea and a jelly baby or five and let them stay for some adventures. Those people who are hating on a show because the character’s going to be a female, those people who are claiming a show and a character as their property, who dislike the unlike, who reject change, who threaten to boycott a show and potentially threaten it’s existence for others and themselves–a show which dares to be different and perhaps make a point which should be positive and empowering… I think the Doctor might have something to say to those people. After all, they’re the people she’s usually fighting and putting in their place. As much as I want my Doctor Who to be about great stories, I kind of hope she says what needs to be said when she hits the screen. Although she’s said it before, when she was a man:
“Classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.”
Personally, I prefer ‘my’ Doctor to be the male, chaste, mature, and the mysterious character of the original series, because that’s what I’m used to, but I’ve enjoyed all incarnations of him, even when the character hasn’t met all of my preferred criteria. I remember being 12 or 13 when Doctor Who got the chop and I experienced the wilderness years of no new Doctor Who, and while the new series doesn’t compare to the original IMO (probably because I’m not 12 or 13 anymore–don’t tell the inner child) I never want it to end. The show has survived losing much loved Doctors to regeneration, talking robot dogs, no money, questionable guest stars, Bonnie Langford, Ingrid Pitt taking on a rubber pantomime horse monster with martial arts, dodgy monsters, clashes with Coronation Street (when not everyone had a video recorder), Doctor and companions kisses, the Doctor getting a sex life, Clara Oswald, and modern who contemplating every fleck of navel fluff it can pick out. I stick with it because I love the show and the Doctor as a whole, and rather than boycott a show because it does something I don’t agree with, I’d rather have the odd episode or season I don’t enjoy than risk having nothing at all. The character of the Doctor is always there for us when we continually prove to be less than what she thinks we can be, and I will always be watching her. Or him. Northern, southern, white, black, or whatever else the Doctor becomes in the future.
“This is who I am, right here, right now, all right?”