Why it’s important that the Doctor is a Woman (and how we must do better)

Ring the bells! Put on your party dress! It’s official, the 13th Doctor is going to be played by Jodie Whittaker who (drum roll please) is a woman! Yes, a real human woman. I mean, I am pretty disturbed at the fact they can’t get a an ACTUAL Time Lord to play the Doctor but needs must, I guess.

Of course, instead of hearing the announcement and the whole world moving on with their lives because let’s face it, who even cares, a whole bunch of things happened. Young girls being amazed went viral on twitter, everyone got sassy in retaliation to comments that hadn’t yet been said, and a load of old people (mostly) men got annoyed that the Doctor turned out to be fictional character.

When I said ‘who even cares’, I don’t mean to diminish the effect that having good representation (or even any representation) of women onscreen has on our younger population. Hell, even our older population. What I mean is, why is everyone so bloody concerned about it? I thought everyone else stopped watching Doctor Who when I did – somewhere around the first episode of the Matt Smith series. Can’t say I was a huge fan of the Matt Smith era, and I doubly can’t say I was a fan of Steven Moffat. So, who cares? Well, apparently a lot of people. So, why do they care?

Doctor Who has been a staple of British society for the last 54 years. Similar to James Bond, The Doctor has always been male presenting and also similar to James Bond, he is portrayed by several different actors in his canonical world. Unlike James Bond (who merely acts like a misogynist and seduces women), the Doctor lures women into becoming his assistants and then traps them in a police box whilst they fly through time and space. Well, almost.  I’m only sort of joking, I actually used to love Doctor Who, and it has had some really standout episode in it’s time. As a show, it’s also managed to appeal to both adults and children, and push the boundaries of TV sci-fi. Let’s be honest, it’s one of the only good sci-fi shows in the UK…  But I digress. 

Regarding Whittaker’s casting, I think people (read: men) get a bit upset about change, and they can’t quite fathom why anyone would want to swap the gender of the Doctor. He’s always been a white male, so why can’t he always be a white male?

Representation is a funny old thing. So is entitlement. As the Doctor has always been male presenting, many fans may feel that something that they love is being taken away from them. That they will no longer be able to identify with that character anymore, on the basis of gender. This line of thinking is pretty problematic, considering that millions of young girls and women have grown up watching the show – only to see themselves always represented as the assistant, not the main character. 

Boys have always been encouraged to grow up to be the Doctor, girls to be the assistant. The interchangeable assistant, who is also often a love interest. As we already know  seeing ourselves represented goes beyond just being able to identify with TV characters. The Scully Effect  was a phenomenon that occurred after The X Files became popular, with a huge increase in women studying STEM subjects.

It’s also really important for young boys (and grown men for that matter) to see women taking leadership roles onscreen. The more women we see onscreen who have leadership roles, who control their own lives and are not just secretaries, mums, wives or assistants – the more it will be accepted within society too.

Of course, there’s no narrative reason why the Doctor has to be male. The Who-niverse is pretty keen on diversity – if you haven’t watched spin-off show Torchwood with Captain I’ll-shag-anything-that-moves Jack Harkness, then I would definitely recommend it. In fact, Doctor Who’s main message has always been on of inclusion, that equality is paramount, discrimination is wrong and inter-species romance is encouraged. In fact, it has been implied in the past that Gallifreyans can actually change gender. It makes complete sense that the Doctor could become a female presenting character, both within the Who-niverse and outside of it.

I don’t want to get too deep into the mindset of people who get upset that a woman might ruin their ‘favourite’ show because it’s kind of depressing and also really lame. So what I do want to focus on is this progression and why we need to do more.

It is truly is fantastic that the BBC have finally decided to ‘take a risk’, but let’s be very clear. The Doctor has gone from being white and male presenting, to white and female presenting. This is not radical. The Doctor is still conventionally attractive, thin and white. Radical would be casting a WOC, or a Muslim Doctor or an actor who has something other than a regional English accent. After having only white male Doctors for 54 years, Whittaker’s appointment is massive in terms of progression, but it would be foolish to count this as a the final cracking of the glass ceiling. 

Yes, we may now have women Ghostbusters, Rey in Star Wars, Wonder Woman and Michelle Yeoh’s Captain in the newest Star Trek reboot, but we haven’t broken all the barriers down just yet. One of the biggest issues with “White Feminism”, is how willing many self proclaimed feminists are to give up the fight once something doesn’t affect or hinder them anymore (Tory voters who claim to be feminist are a great example of this). Having a female Doctor is a step forward, but we need to keep extending the ladder and pulling our sisters up too, and not stop demanding representation. Let’s not make it another 54 years before we cast a woman of colour in the role (I am still pushing for Michaela Coel to be honest).

We can be happy that we now have a female Doctor, but also be sceptical about celebrating it as some radical movement. Representation is important for everyone, not just white people.

As I said earlier, I haven’t watched Doctor Who for many, many years. But I’ll definitely be watching on Christmas Day this year.


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