Even if you are barely aware of the show Doctor Who, you’ve likely heard something about the casting of the 13th Doctor. Jodie Whittaker has been announced to take over the role from Peter Capaldi and is the first women (in canon) to portray the renegade Time Lord in a police box.
(The reason I say in canon is due to the very short portrayal of the Doctor by Joanna Lumley in “The Curse of the Fatal Death,” a special made for the Red Nose Day charity and released in 1999. If you haven’t checked it out, definitely do so. Worth watching.)
Whenever a new actor is cast as the Doctor, the fandom erupts with conflicting opinions, vows of never watching the show again, congratulations and joy, venom and vitriol to match. This time the shouts are even louder, the joy is much greater and the anger more vehement. Casting a woman as the Doctor was a move that pleased many fans while others see it as a sign of the end times.
While I personally have not seen a great deal of Jodie Whittaker’s work (though, like many, I will probably seek some out before she makes her on-screen debut as the Doctor), from all accounts she is a fine and talented actress. While I do congratulate her and see some great possibilities, I do have one reservation about her casting or, more specifically, the casting of a woman in this role. But first let’s look at the good side of this.
Having the Doctor as a woman has a lot of benefits. In a world which contains many who do not see women as the equal of men, this is a great leap forward in recognizing our basic equality. Jodie Whittaker joins the ranks of actresses such as Kate Mulgrew, Sonequa Martin-Green and Rachel Nichols* as a strong female lead in a science fiction series. So this is a great thing.
Having the Doctor as a woman also provides a role model for young women and even women in general. In a male dominated society, this is sorely needed. More and more role models are appearing, but there are far more male “heroes” than female ones out there.
This also opens up story possibilities. While just about any Doctor Who storyline thus far could have featured a female Doctor with no real changes and I am hoping the majority of the storylines going forward will not focus on gender, some might be appropriate. The Doctor could easily encounter difficulty in traveling through time to the past or run into other difficulties because of her gender that can be addressed for the foolishness they are. Pointing out sexism and it’s foolishness can be part of some stories and fit in quite well. (I just hope it’s not overused. Every episode shouldn’t be about the Doctor proving she’s just as good as when she was a man… that’s a given.)
The Arguments Against
There have been many arguments against this casting of the Doctor. Some have been sexist rants while others have been reasonably presented arguments.
For the authors of the sexist rants, let me just say this. The Doctor isn’t about asserting male dominance. The Doctor doesn’t need to be a man to save the universe. If you think Doctor Who is ruined because of this casting, then you really don’t know what Doctor Who is about.
I did read an article against this casting and the author presented his views in a reasonable manner. Two points he made were that the Doctor is always the same on the inside regardless of the outside, but changing gender is so fundamental that it can’t help but change the Doctor on the inside. Also, the fact that marriage exists among the Time Lords would make it a horrendous proposition for the spouse of someone who regenerated into the opposite gender.
For one, I don’t think that author understands what remains the same with the Doctor. He always has a sense of adventure, incredible curiosity and great compassion. These are the core qualities that make up the Doctor. Changing gender doesn’t affect these in the least. The outer personality does change, in some cases quite radically. It’s the core values that don’t.
As far as marriage, the author is supposing that regeneration is totally random. I think there have been clues throughout the series that the Time Lord regenerating has some influence, even subconsciously, on their next form. But even if it was random, this is a totally different species. Their technology is quite advanced, so who is to say their social conventions and views aren’t also advanced? They probably recognized same sex marriage and might view love of a person not dependent to their gender but regardless of it. We can’t assign our own society’s hang ups on Gallifrey. And with lifespans that cover millennium, I’m sure Time Lords recognize that circumstances and personalities change… so having marriage be “until final death after those regenerations do we part” is unlikely.
Noticed that heading is singular. And it’s not really that much of a con as much as it’s a concern.
Some years ago I had read an article about why the Doctor shouldn’t be a woman. It was a well reasoned argument and made a lot of sense. It crystalized my own reservation about changing the Doctor’s gender. I haven’t been able to track this article down, but I’ll share the gist of it.
In a world with lots of role models for boys, the Doctor stood apart. Unlike the heroes of the Marvel and DC universes where fighting is pretty much inevitable, the Doctor was a man who didn’t try to solve problems by punching them. He used his mind and wits… he used words as his weapons. The Doctor has never been based on proving how tough he was. As was mentioned before, just about every storyline featuring the Doctor could have been conveyed using a woman in the part.
My only disappointment is the loss of a role model for young boys who doesn’t turn to violence as his first and best response. Who treated everyone the same, regardless of gender, skin tone or species. Who was always trying to understand the viewpoint of others.
But maybe my concern is invalid. Maybe the young boys of today can look at a female Doctor and want to emulate her. One can hope.
I will be watching Doctor Who. I am looking forward to seeing new stories about my favorite Time Lord and I can’t wait to meet the new Doctor and find out what her personality is like. Overall, I do think this is a good move on the part of the showrunners. Future Doctors may be men again, more women or even a different skin tone. Come what may, the form the Doctor takes is not going to make me stop watching.
The Doctor evolves. The show evolves. That’s how it should be. That’s what makes him or her such a great character. That’s what keeps us coming back for more.
What are your thoughts on this casting? I’d love to read your comments. Post them below.
Check out this video discussion on this topic HERE
*Star of the show Continuum and I think an awesome sci-fi show lead.