As some of you will know, Doctor Who is my favourite television programme of all time, and has been since I was about eight years old. You can read why in my 50th Anniversary celebration from a few years ago, here.
News that Jodie Whitaker has been cast as the new Doctor, and the first female Doctor, has caused a stir. Many are very pleased, lauding the decision as a great step forward for feminism, gender equality and so on. Other long-time fans are disappointed, some of them for idiotic reasons that are undoubtedly rooted in appalling sexism.
I’ve had a lot of people asking for my take on the news, so here it is in a nutshell: I couldn’t care less about gender politics. I couldn’t care less about cry-baby fanboys. All I care about is one thing: is the new series actually any good?
We won’t have the answer to that until sometime next year. However, given that the only Doctors I thought didn’t work were Paul McGann and Colin Baker (through no fault of their own, I might add), given that Jodie Whitaker is a terrific actress and given that Chris “Broadchurch” Chibnall is taking over from Steven Moffat on production duties, I suspect that they know what they are doing, and the new series could well turn out brilliant.
Making the character of the Doctor female doesn’t contravene Doctor Who canon. It has long been established that the Time Lords live in effect many lives, and reincarnate many times. It has also recently been established that they can switch genders (though some criticised this decision). On paper at least, the decision to have a female Doctor could work very well.
However, some (including women) have raised objections. Despite the afore-mentioned canon, switching the Doctor to female when he has been male since 1963 will feel like switching the gender of Sherlock Holmes or Spider-man. Indeed, one comment (from a woman) said she didn’t want a female Doctor any more than she wanted a male Wonder Woman.
Sometimes giving a traditionally male led franchise a female lead works well (The Force Awakens). Sometimes it works less well (the recent Ghostbusters). Sometimes changing male characters to female in a reboot/re-imagining can work outstandingly well (the character of Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica for instance). I don’t have time for idiots who think the Bechdel Test is somehow a measure of quality (I once heard someone contest that Lawrence of Arabia wasn’t a great film because of a lack of female roles, I kid you not), but I do think it is great to see better, more three-dimensional roles for women in a much broader context, across all genres, starting to come into effect. Doctor Who should be no exception to this, regardless of whether the lead is male or female.
What does annoy me, I must admit is, is activist lobbies jumping on the bandwagon, behaving as though they are Doctor Who fans when they haven’t ever watched it before. When someone said to me that a female Doctor should be supported regardless of quality “for feminist reasons”, I wondered whether a similar view should be taken for all walks of life. How about in politics for instance? Margaret Thatcher anyone?
The part of me that despises being lectured wants to tell these activists that I oppose a female Doctor on principle, just because they insist on bludgeoning everyone with their sanctimonious, condescending SJW nonsense, behaving as though a female Pope had just been appointed. And just to bring some balance, for similar reasons, I often feel the urge to join a church led by a female pastor every time some evangelical, patriarchal nitwit tells me they disapprove of female church leaders, but that’s another issue… My point is this: I intensely dislike my favourite TV series being hijacked by political agendas.
By the way – quick side note – whilst I appreciate the irony of writing something like this on the internet, when valid points are being raised, it is possible to understand both sides of the debate and a have a civilised conversation without degenerating into polarised abusive remarks and/or “calling out” (a term I detest), with the reductive cries of “Misogynist!” and so on that largely define online debate.
The new Doctor is female? Great. Let’s objectively assess the new series when it arrives.