A Female #doctor13: Why the Controversy?

The 13th Doctor, Jodi Whittaker

When the BBC announced that Jodi Whittaker was to be the next Doctor in the infamous show Doctor Who, the internet quite literally exploded. No matter who people were, whether they had been fans from the beginning or had skipped Nine because he wasn’t as cute as David Tennant, everyone had an opinion about what it meant to have a female take the place of a man. Some believed it was just meant to be; that it had been an option that just hadn’t yet been explored. Others wrote off the show entirely, saying that it was the fault of politics and gender equality believers that the doctor was female. The polarization of the reaction to the decision was one that rocked the entire Whoniverse. Why?

Michelle Gomez as Missy

Let’s start with some Time Lord Regeneration 101. After all, there has to be something in the show that says a female doctor is possible, right? Right. When a Time Lord regenerates, they can regenerate into any gender. Male to Female. Female to Male. Male to Alien. Alien to Female. Any and all of the above are possibilities based on the ways in which the physical genetics of the Time Lords and the way they change during regeneration (more information). The first point that comes to mind that unequivocally pointed to the next Doctor being female (aside from some of Capaldi’s lines about the future being all female) was the Master’s regeneration into Missy. One of the first major gender changes in the Whoniverse, Missy’s change has been dubbed the most innovative thing Doctor Who writers have ever done. Additionally, The General also becomes female, saying that “it’s good to be back to normal.” The traditionalists may have grumbled a little bit, but the show went on, and just as the General proved a good help for the Doctor, Missy proved to be excellent, exciting, and dangerous opponent for the Doctor to face.

Now let’s consider the naysayers; the people who believe that the Doctor should be male. Period. Some people argue that because the Doctor has traditionally been male, the tradition should be kept up, and is only disrupted by the casting of a female actress. Some believe that the Whoniverse is losing an important male role model for little boys to look up to. Some are disgusted that the BBC would consider following the trend of gender equality and literally just chose Jodi Whittaker because she was female. Now, we have to remember that with every casting of a new Doctor comes negativity, yes. Some people didn’t like David Tennant because he was too pretty, or Matt Smith because he was too young, or Peter Capaldi because he was too old. Eventually, however, each and every actor who played the Doctor made his way into our hearts, and we more than likely shed a few tears when they eventually regenerated. The negativity that followed Whittaker’s casting, though, was something that rocked the internet in a way even the Whoniverse had never seen, to the point where Whittaker released a statement telling fans not to be intimidated by her gender.

A History of Doctor Who

Should that be necessary? Should an actor or actress have to justify her position in a show as big as this? We have to consider that for all the past Doctors, the BBC has chosen splendid, talented, and extraordinary actors who have each taken a part of the Doctor and made him their own. The consideration that Jodi Whittaker was, quite simply, the best person for the job doesn’t appear to have crossed anyone’s minds, which is mind-boggling. We have to have faith in the production company who has kept the Doctor crossing our screens for more than 50 years, and we have to remember that Doctor Who is a show that is known for daring change; after all, the regeneration of any on-screen character was unheard of before William Hartnell’s regeneration: people sat in front of their black screens in shock when the extent of what the BBC had done finally sunk in. The BBC is used to breaking down traditions and barriers, and is back again to remind fans not to get too comfortable in tradition, because, like a phoenix, traditions can always be reborn.

Trust in the Doctor means trust in the BBC and their casting choices

Seeing Jodi’s first moments on the screen evoked an emotion in many viewers that hadn’t been heard of since Hartnell’s regeneration: they were so shocked that they needed to let it sink in. Knowing that a female Doctor is coming and seeing a female Doctor are two different things; however, those first moments were so powerful that even the naysayers were willing to give her a chance and watch that first episode. Watching the new fall, hearing their first words, those are classic Doctor Who moments, moments that every fan looks forward to, and there was no exception in the case of Jodi Whittaker. She delivered her first lines fantastically (dare I say, oh, brilliantly?), and brought the fandom back into the usual cycle of excitement and grief that comes with letting one Doctor go and welcoming another into our hearts. Just because we’re still holding on to Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi doesn’t mean we aren’t ready to welcome a new member into the Whovian family. The BBC has never let us down, and they won’t let us down this time: they believe in Jodi and her ability to be the Doctor; for that very reason, we should all believe in her too. It’s the least we can do for the newest addition to our (usually) kind, caring, and inclusive family.

It’s important to remember that the Doctor will be a role model for young and old men and women across the world, no matter whether the Doctor is male or female. Just as young women wish to be like Sherlock Holmes, young men can absolutely look up to strong female characters like the 13th Doctor. Just as Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, and Capaldi have, Whittaker will take her spot as the Doctor with the same beliefs at heart that any previous Doctor has. The fact that the Doctor has a police box and a screwdriver instead of a fancy car and a gun won’t change, and neither will any of the fundamental beliefs that Doctor Who has stood on for over 50 years. The only change that we will see beyond the screen is the fact that the most capable person to exemplify the Doctor is a female instead of a male, which really shouldn’t be that difficult of a change to swallow. If it is indeed a problem of gender instead of capability, the very same re-evaluation of the way people conceive of the difference between men and women that has been sought for decades needs to once again be brought to the forefront of society.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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26 Comments

  1. Teressa
    1

    The male nerd ego is so fragile and weak that the very idea of empathising with a female hero is somehow unmanly.

    • Toxic masculinity is indeed very pervasive. What surprised me most about the outrage at the announcement was that it was often coming from folks who don’t actually watch Doctor Who (not just the male nerd community). I wouldn’t try to say that only authentic (whatever that means) Whovians are entitled to an opinion, but perhaps they should have watched a couple of episodes before jumping on social media and saying that a woman can’t play the Doctor.

  2. Royce
    1

    I really hope the next doctor has the mind of an eccentric science professor and the emotions of a Vulcan. No more interpersonal relationship drama please, TV is saturated with that soap opera drivel and stop the doctor travelling backwards in time while still stuck on Earth the past is boring, lets see futuristic civilizations.

  3. Dove
    1

    Jodie Whittaker was fantastic in “Venus” and “St Trinians”, versatile and able to play comic and tragic.

  4. hurcle
    1

    I’m enormously pleased that she isn’t a household name in her own right already (in the way one of the other suggestions, Olivia Colman, is). IMHO when the “established” names have done it in Ecclestone and Capaldi they haven’t been able to mould and shape the role in the way they want as well as Smith and Tennant were able to.

    I don’t care what gender the actor is, but this decision will upset all the people who it is most fun to upset, so on that basis alone this is brilliant. The BBC reacting to the wants and desires of their audience, not its critics, something we need to see more of.

  5. Munjeera

    Female James Bond next!

  6. Shanon
    2

    As always, I will reserve judgement until I’ve seen a few episodes.

  7. Vickey
    1

    It’s about time the show evolved into something different. I suspect some may be disapointed or even angry, but this die-hard whovian is utterly delighted.

  8. Oma Cheney
    1

    I find it bizarre that so many people will hate the idea of a female Doctor. Surely the sort of person who would balk at a female Doctor wouldn’t be able to get through an episode without whining about the show’s “virtue signalling” and “left-wing bias” etc?

  9. Else Grisham
    1

    Science fiction is a progressive, forward-thinking medium.

  10. Lunsford
    1

    She was great in Black Mirror too.

    • Kaplan
      1

      I’d forgotten that! Yes she was brilliant.

  11. Fuqua
    2

    Really pleased they’ve made this decision. And I’ll admit to not wanting a female doctor in the past.

    I’ve been mourning the departure of Capaldi but now… now I’m excited and intrueged as to just what the new doctor is going to be like.

  12. Tory
    1

    Why do grown ups get so carried away by Doctor Who?

    • Reita
      1

      Not all grown ups. As a kid, I told my friends in the 1970s I couldn’t watch it because it gave me nightmares. Which meant we did something else instead. The truth was, I couldn’t watch it because it was so boring, so completely impossible to relate to. I could never get the ‘but science fantasy is a great metaphor’ excuse. I just couldn’t relate to it at all. And the new version is no less unappealing.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love a good drama series and I have tried hard with these things, but I’m hard-wired not to connect. And nor is my son, nor my husband. I think it’s probably Marmite. I think some people’s brains are open to it, and some aren’t. There were a couple of Star Trek episodes I thought were okay. I’d love someone to study these things and explain why I can’t connect with things like Dr Who.

  13. Juliann
    1

    So, a more serious Doctor this time. Waller Bridge or Kris Marshall would have been a bit Matt Smithy for my liking. Great choice, have liked her since her debut in Venus. The Cybermen won’t know whats hit them. Bring it on!

  14. Friendster
    2

    Why does everything have to have some deep socio-political meaning? It’s just a woman playing a leading role in a popular TV franchise. Hardly unusual these days, no?

  15. Georgeanna
    1

    Would loved to have seen Tilda Swinton in the role. Probably too successful an actor now for it though.

  16. Ajaaa
    2

    She’s worked with Chibnall plenty on Broadchurch and she’s been great in everything I’ve seen her in. Fingers crossed she gets well written episodes.

  17. Aricag
    2

    The point is it gives insight into any gender can be hero and the always been gender fluid it’s just a shame it’s not Gillian Anderson she would of been awesome but I bet this actress shows her stuff as well – it quite an honour to be the first female Dr.

  18. haloe
    2

    Funny how some sci-fi fans will readily accept opening their minds to new planets, timelines, aliens, regenerations and possibilities…. but not a woman stepping into a telephone box.

  19. AlyssaTallent
    0

    fantastic as for me)

  20. I am excited to see how she handles the character. I will admit that I wasn’t overly happy at first but I’m older, so cut me some slack. Plus I’m a huge fan of the last four doctors. I hope they have wonderful stories for her and that we don’t have the gender issue pounded down our throats with every line and story. I hope we get a lot of asides as her previous male incarnations learn about being female. Is anyone else wondering why the TARDIS ejected her so violently? That was troubling.

  21. Stephanie M.

    Nice article, and thanks for defending female characters as role models for males, and vice versa. Personally, I think the naysayers need to get over themselves.

  22. SaraiMW

    Such a great discussion and such an exciting time for television today. Every change we have that breaks the tradition of the white, male archetype as the dominant character in Western film and television is a step forward.
    Plus I am just really excited to see narratively where this goes!

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