Will the Doctor always Be a Dude?


Whovians are buzzing with the announcement that Peter Capaldi will play the twelfth Doctor in the next season of the BBC’s long-running series Doctor Who. I am excited by this news because for the last few years I’ve longed for a more mature Doctor. David Tennant’s Doctor was a bit more youthful than his predecessor’s. I enjoyed Tennant’s stewardship of the TARDIS, and his tenure contributed significantly to the show’s current success. When Tennant left the show, Steven Moffat replaced him with Matt Smith, who is almost ten years younger than Tennant. Smith is the youngest actor to play the Doctor. I, along with many other fans, found his youthful goofiness a bit silly, but I eventually warmed to Smith’s portrayal. My appreciation of the last three seasons probably had more to do with the supporting cast than Smith himself.

When I heard that Smith would not be returning, I wondered if Moffat would continue the trend and find an even younger Doctor. Would the Doctor be a teenager in his next incarnation? Thankfully, they went in the opposite direction and chose Capaldi. Capaldi, who is in his mid-fifties, will be the oldest actor to take the role since the first Doctor in 1963. Perhaps having an older Doctor makes sense in the Whovian Universe since Matt Smith’s young Doctor actually aged three hundred years during his three seasons. Maybe time lords only show their age in their next regeneration? Who knows.

I’m thrilled with this old white guy as the next Doctor, but some people had hoped that Moffat would really mix things up and cast a woman. Would a female Doctor have given the show “much needed new energy”? I don’t think so. I think it would have blown the show up and created something different.

In all fairness, the show’s rules make a female Doctor at least possible. In an episode written by Neil Gaiman, the Doctor comments on a time lord he knew who had both male and female regenerations. But if one pays attention to the context of the statement, he isn’t claiming that this is normal, or even possible, for all time lords. Quite the opposite. The Doctor says it as if it’s a notable feature of that particular time lord. If it were possible for all time lords, it wouldn’t have been worth mentioning.

I wouldn’t be surprised if at some future date, the showrunner decides to use this line to justify a female Doctor. People who don’t really get the show sometimes accuse it of racism and sexism, but these are the people who find racism and sexism under every rock. Critics of the series base their claims of racism and sexism in Doctor Who on shallow analysis fueled by self-righteous political ideology.

Ted B. Kissell doesn’t like the way that Steven Moffat has portrayed women in Doctor Who. Kissell writes, “River Song, Amy Pond, Clara Oswald–all of them were mysteries for the Doctor to solve, instead of simply people.” That statement sounds snappy, but it overlooks the fact that everyone is a mystery and no one is “simply people.” How dehumanizing to the entire human race. Besides, the Doctor never tries to “solve” Amy Pond. If anything, Amy is the life force which energizes Matt Smith’s Doctor. Think of the Doctor as the mind, Rory as the heart, and Amy as the soul of the last three seasons.

I’ll admit that the series isn’t perfect in its execution, but I disagree that a female Doctor would help the series. I think it would create a wholly different show. For the last twelve hundred years, the doctor has been travelling around the universe with a rotating band of “companions.” Usually these companions are human, but not always, usually they are very young, but not always, and usually they are female, but not always. Each regeneration of the Doctor has his own personality, but they are all recognizable as the Doctor. A little mysterious, a little arrogant, and a lot quirky. The companions give the audience their access because the companions are all terribly normal. The Doctor is a little paternalistic, but in a fun way. That’s just part of his makeup. Why should we expect a thousand-year-old time lord to exhibit the sensibilities of twenty-first-century activists?

A female Doctor would change the dynamic of the show. She could still be mysterious. She could still be arrogant. She could still be quirky. But audiences would feel differently about her. All of her previous relationships would have to be reimagined. A gender swap would make a huge difference to perceived continuity.

So let’s all agree to say “no” to a female Doctor. It would be interesting to watch a series featuring an exceedingly clever time-travelling lady, but at its heart it would be a different show. I suggest that the BBC leave a fifty-year-old formula alone and create a new show. The Doctor’s “daughter,” Jenny, would make a great candidate for her own series.

What do you think? Could the show handle a female Doctor?

3 thoughts on “Will the Doctor always Be a Dude?

  1. I like this piece – a very thoughtful analysis of an emotive subject! It’s amazing how angry some people get over this issue, despite the care that the BBC and the showrunners have taken with the series. I love “The Writer’s Tale”, the book that follows a years of Russell Davies’ life as he writes the season that lead up to the Christmas special starring Kylie. It gives a great sense of the love of the show and the weight the people at the top feel in carrying the traditions and fans along with them.

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