Doctor Whom?

21 Jul

I was not surprised, a few days ago, when it was announced that the Thirteenth Doctor would be a woman.


I expected it, to be frank, from the moment Missy made her appearance as the latest regeneration of The Master. (The Mistress, get it?) Missy had a somewhat more shaky start than either of her two predecessors – I’m not counting any of the pre-reboot – Masters – but she rapidly grew into the role. Dark Water did not sell me on Missy, but The Magician’s Apprentice did. Missy might well have served, along with a handful of throwaway lines about transgender Time Lords, as an unsubtle way to test the waters. If fan reaction to Missy had been savagely negative, I suspect the BBC executives would have ditched any plans to turn the Doctor into a woman.

But they didn’t.

Cynics pointed out, of course, that this is hardly the first time a popular show had a female lead. Captain Janeway took command of Voyager back in 1995, while the reboot of Battlestar Galactica also featured a gender-bent Starbuck, now known as Kara Thrace. Both of these observations are of limited value. Captain Janeway might have stood alongside Kirk, Picard and Sisko, but she was not replacing them; Thrace started out so differently to the original Starbuck that the only thing she had in common with him was the name. And, like everyone else on the rebooted Galactica, she went sharply downhill midway through the show’s third season and never really recovered.

Doctor Who is unique, in essence, that there is a string of actors playing the main character. This is not a show where Major Kira replaces Captain Sisko, which she could have done with aplomb; this is a show where the newcomer effectively is the main character. The task facing any new Doctor, therefore, is to keep the essence of the character while putting their own spin on it. This is not easy. Indeed, I think it is fairly true to say that all of the newer Doctors – with the possible exception of Nine – have started out rather shakily and then improved as they grew into the role.

That said, there are effectively two sets of complaints being made about the new Doctor.

The first is that a female Doctor Who represents yet another Social Justice Warrior intrusion into a beloved SF franchise. Actual storytelling will be pushed to the back; social justice and gender politics will be pushed forward. A genuinely decent role model for young men will be replaced by yet another perfect woman, etc, etc. And the show will be ruined forever.

The second is that this isn’t good enough. The Doctor shouldn’t be replaced by a white woman, the Doctor should be replaced by a black man or a black woman or a transgender (never mind that the Doctor and the Master are both effectively transgender, to the point where the Master’s casual misogyny sounds more out-of-place than appalling). The BBC isn’t being representative, etc, etc. And the show will remain a bastion of straight white males. I think we can simply ignore these complaints.

Is there any validity to the first set of complaints? Well, yes and no.

The version of Doctor Who that opened with Rose made more reference to social justice issues than any previous version of the show. Sometimes, this was subtle; I didn’t like Mickey Smith when I first saw him, but I came to like him after his second appearance. (To be fair to the actor, he was very much a second-stringer compared to the Doctor and Rose and the pilot had no time to develop his character.) And in other times it was blatant and annoying – Jack Harkness’s open sexuality always struck me as out of place in a show kids would be watching. And it would go on to do immense damage to Torchwood.

I have nothing against gay or lesbian characters. Bill Potts was a good character who really should have stayed around for longer. But Doctor Who is not about sexuality, nor is it focused on Very Special Episodes. We watch Doctor Who to follow the adventures of a mad(wo)man in a box, to believe that one man can challenge evil and cling to his principles even in his darkest hours, not to have his or their sex lives thrust in our faces.

Beyond that, there is a more worrying trend. Female characters like Major Kira, Susan Ivanova and even Kara Thrace are strong on their own merits, but other characters are strong because the male characters next to them are degraded. The movie version of Hermione Granger was turned into a superwoman, while Ron was turned into a cowardly jerk. Some of his best lines and greatest moments were outright given to Hermione. (I haven’t watched the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, but I have been assured that the same problems are present there too.)

Part of this, I suspect, lies in a reluctance to portray female leads as having any flaws. Yet the Doctor is a flawed character. Nine’s obvious PTSD made him snappy at times, unwilling to relax; Ten’s god-complex pushed him into doing stupid and dangerous things just to prove a point. Will a female Doctor have flaws of her own? Or will she be portrayed as practically perfect in every way?

It will depend, I suspect, on the actress – and on the scripts. And Doctor Who has been quite iffy over the last three years. Twelve has had some good scripts, but also some bad ones. And some of the bad ones were howlers (although they never quite sunk to the level of Love and Monsters.)

If I was doing it, I wouldn’t even acknowledge the issue. The Doctor being female shouldn’t be portrayed as any more or less important than the colour of her hair. She’s the Doctor – so what? The Doctor is not human. The Time Lords should, by all rights, be energy beings by now. (One of the things I dislike about the new show is its portrayal of the Time Lords.) He/she is unlikely to care about our human natures. He may even simply fail to notice them.

There is a problem, these days, in far too many books, television shows and movies. And that is the problem of the message overriding the story. And that is a problem, because people hate being preached to. It might have been possible to have Tom Baker replaced by a woman, back when Baker left the show, without ranting and railing from both sides of the culture wars. Now, when gender-swapping and race-bending characters is nothing more than a gimmick – and critics are blasted as sexists and racists rather than being listened to – the message is stronger than ever. But it is the story that determines if people will stay.

I’ll give the new Doctor a chance. But if I don’t get good stories, I’ll watch something else.

I want characters I care about, not characters that tick demographic boxes. I want enemies I love to hate, not unsubtle pokes at current affairs and politically-correct villains. I want action and adventure, not gender/sexual/racial politics.

And I want to sit back and relax, not be lectured.

Is that really so wrong?

17 Responses to “Doctor Whom?”

  1. Billy July 21, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

    It’s kind of like what I have been hearing about them having a female Thor.

    It just does not work.

    I suppose next, instead of Wonder Woman it will be Wonder Man ?

    Or instead of Jon of Ark it will be John of Ark .

    Or having a atheist do a new Ten Commandments movie. (That one was just stupid and that move has already been forgotten)

  2. Jack Hudler July 21, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

    I did not have a problem with a female doctor. They’ve been fairly good at picking actors HOWEVER, the first line of her bio contains the word FEMINIST. Well that says it all doesn’t, they’re not looking for a rights actress, they’re looking for the right FEMINIST!

  3. Jack Hudler July 21, 2017 at 8:03 pm #

    As an aside, I would have said the same thing if he or her bio mentioned weird gender pronoun, a staunch supporter of a political or racial group. I wan’t a Doctor, not an ‘IST or ‘ISM.

  4. Jared July 21, 2017 at 9:29 pm #

    I totally agree, I have stopped reading reading/watching different series because they ruin the continuity of the story to portray certain characters as gay. In some cases it’s so bad that it completely distracts from the story. Here comes the disclaimer, I have nothing against homosexuals. If they want to be that way then whatever. But I wish people would stop fighting for acceptance of an issue that has already been widely excepted.

  5. merr49 July 21, 2017 at 10:08 pm #

    The truth is most of the peaple wanting a female doctor dont whatch the tv show anyway.

  6. David Graf July 22, 2017 at 12:11 am #

    I really don’t care since I’ve found the show to be just too cheesy like some the original Star Trek season 3 shows.

  7. philippeo July 22, 2017 at 1:37 am #

    Eh, i don’t think its be possible.

    a media always carry some of value of society that created it. It can feel ‘preachy’ to those outside of it, but for insider it only ‘normal’ instead of preachy.

    Most anime in 90s carry some environmental message, some more obvious some subtle. its because crisis on japanese environment at that time.

    the same with ‘Christian’ movie, some of it more blatant cultural wars, but even Mormons movie for Mormons audience would feel ‘preachy’ to secular watcher.

    a modern society, with many women holding purse to buy movie and TV remote, will inevitably contain much more women as main characters and supporting characters.

    I actually suspect it would be far more severe in future. The women issue in politics and growth of feminist organizations in liberal politics would mean future media is much more ‘feminine’ in future. i think Bechdel test would become ‘standard’ to even normal movie in future.

    i dont always like it, but i think its acceptable price. Integration of women taste to mass popular culture is far better than separation to entirely different media culture. manga separation to shojo(for girls) and shonen(for boys) didn’t strike me as healthy, both contain element that would be unacceptable in modern western popular media. an integrated popular culture is worth the price.

    and in the end sturgeon rule always apply to everything (90% of movie with female main characters would be bad, just as with main character). most scifi with male main characters is garbage, the 10% (doctor who, firefly, babylon v) is one we remember because they succeed.

  8. Mark July 22, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    It could be argued that the BBC hasn’t gone far enough. The new Doctor should have been a non-white lesbian, who is also a disabled single parent seeking asylum. She should also not be attractive, intelligent and possibly be obese. And speak with a strong foreign accent but not Scottish as they’ve done that twice already.

  9. Pyo July 22, 2017 at 11:52 am #

    “I have nothing against gay or lesbian characters.”
    The issue is that if their sexuality isn’t discussed, people are going to assume that they are heterosexual. If you asked me if I thought there was anyone gay in your novels, I’d say “no” (well, I guess there is one with a crush but I’m nut sure how serious I’m supposed to take that). Although of course for most characters I have no friggin’ clue. But that’s just the normal reaction.
    So if you don’t want to make 10% of humanity (or whatever the exact number is) invisible, then you need to bring up their sexuality. At least until we’re further along and the automatic assumptions are gone. If that ever happens.

    “Female characters like Major Kira, Susan Ivanova and even Kara Thrace are strong on their own merits, but other characters are strong because the male characters next to them are degraded.”
    Compared to how how many movies where the females are just eye-candy side-kicks? Sure, sure, that doesn’t make the reverse right, but it’s about the last thing I’d worry about.

    “Part of this, I suspect, lies in a reluctance to portray female leads as having any flaws.”
    Huh, can’t say I see this. Hollywood leads tend to overall be fairly Mary or Garry Sue-ish, but I don’t see how someone like James Bond or Ethan Hunt or whatever is more or less flawed than the average female lead (or the other way around). The fact that there’s so few female leads outside of romance movies/series might be part of the issue, but can’t say it’s something I noticed.

    • sjallen343 July 23, 2017 at 12:46 am #

      If their sexuality isn’t discussed then you are free to assume whatever you want. Not the rest of the worlds problem if you feel ignored. You are ignored because most people are ignored. Almost nobody cares who you sleep with and they never will. If you live your life for the approval of the faceless masses then you have failed at life and have deeper underlying mental health issues than this. Get off the internet and get professional help.

      It. Does. Not. Matter.

      Every time you rub your lifestyle in people’s faces, regardless of what it is, you piss them off more and more.

      Welcome to equality. Nobody cares.

      • Pyo July 23, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

        Since when? People always care. Sometimes it’s gender, sometimes it’s sexuality, sometimes it’s the color of their skin, or their religion, or their language, or the way they dress, or what music they listen to, or whether they read evil comics, or what sports club they like, or which political party they vote for, who their parents are, what their jobs are … the list is endless.

        Is Emily and Caleb’s romance “rubbing their lifestyle” into people’s faces? No? Then why would a random lesbian be? Sounds fairly hypocritical to me.

        I frankly don’t think I’m the one having an issue here.

  10. Tarun Elankath July 22, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    I am maybe one of the few looking forward to a female Doctor Who! I had always wondered since I was a teenager why Time Lord human-incarnations didn’t change gender considering the crazy randomness in the process – so I don’t find it surprising or offensive that Jodie Whittaker will be the new Doctor Who!

    I am so looking forward to the rebirth scene when it happens – when the new Doctor checks their hands, feet, fingers….and holy-moly..whats this ? TITS? And then laugh like an immature schoolboy.

  11. bexwhitt July 22, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

    I gave up with Dr Who with Tennant towards the end when they changed into a spectacle with little substance, changing The Dr into some sort of god whose name was enough to solve the problem and frighten off aliens really turned me off.

    • Jack Hudler July 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

      Towards the end of Dave Tennant, Russell T Davies was involved in Torchwood and Sara Jane. The writing suffered because of this.
      About the only thing that would save Doctor Who for me is if Davies wrote and produced the first few episodes of the 13th Doctor.
      This series is in a bad need of a kick in the ass back to it’s roots.

  12. Sprout July 23, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    “Is that really so wrong?”

    Why are you asking us? You might have noticed that your blog isn’t exactly filled with crazed sjws. They’re the ones you have to convince.

    Quality content trumps all. The rest; the pandering, the outrage that results, any accusations by the sjw crowd, miss the point. The point being that if what you provide is good, it won’t matter if you genderbent your way through half the known media, or if your characters happen to be sexist/homophobic. If your work is much more than its ingredients (or message). It won’t matter half as much.

  13. Conrad Bassett Jr. July 23, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    Here is my comment. I realize that people are going to be upset over this change . However, I also realize that this change is not the first time that racial gender and historical figures have been subject to modification . While I’m a staunch supporter of canon, it’s a little disingenuous for people to decry diversity, when there has been so much white washing of people. So here’s the deal I think that we should just have people be who they are and be represented as who they are. There is far too much reinventing of history literature and storylines to suit one group over everybody else . Black people have been changed into white people just to suit dominant cultures for centuries. So let’s just remove all of that and actually have real diversity. This way we don’t have to re-imagine characters to promote a theme.

  14. Daniel July 23, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    All I care about in The Doctor is that it’s a good actor and well written.
    I am 35. I found doctor who when I was a teenager visiting my grandparents in Florida (we did not yet have the scifi channel in ny). I was looking at the old scrolling guide late at night when I couldn’t sleep and in my dyslexia and semi tiredness I mistook dr who as dr no. I joined in the middle of the deadly assassin(a controversial episode to be sure). And enjoyed it. After that I found them on VHS. I was in love with the show. Great writBig good acting. Horrible effects. And when number 9 came along I was thrilled. I was annoyed he left so soon. Ten was great. 11 was ok(not my favorite) and 12. Capalidi had some great stories hellbent/ heaven sent. However I feel he was never written propoerlY. A crotchety old man is a great doctor look at hartnell. A very alien doctor is great look at tom baker. Capalidi could have been handled better as a mix of 1 and 4 rather Then the mix of 10/11 he was written as

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