Yesterday saw the news that actress Jodie Whittaker will be regenerating into the first female Doctor, and we consequently saw an ocean of male tears flood Twitter, the Daily Mail comments sections and various other avenues for the dispossessed white, male, middle-aged and older populace who find the most superficial of changes more than life itself is worth.
The Daily Mail, in fact, even ran a story about how “male TV roles are being zapped,” which is an absurd statement to make. Aside from the fact in the grand scheme of Doctor Who this is one person in the role out of 12 others, to suggest that the new person in the role spells doom for all that came before ever happening again is just ridiculous. But then, this is the Daily Mail, so what do you expect?
12:1. The ratio is 12:1 and the Mail counts that as extermination. pic.twitter.com/B3fvrltuA9
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) July 16, 2017
After all, there was a similar, but far smaller, kerfuffle caused by the casting of Matt Smith in the role with may arguing he was far too young, and that the role should never be given to a young actor. Of course, he was replaced ultimately by Peter Capaldi, who definitely wouldn’t be considered “too young”. And we are talking about the age of the actor being the factor in playing the role of a being who is around 1000 years old and has two hearts.
And let’s not forget the clear misogyny in the fact that the day after the Whittaker announcement, papers started publishing articles about her previous roles that featured nudity, but hadn’t done the same for any of the male actors. And there were certainly plenty of scenes to choose from with Smith.
The Doctor changing gender makes similar sense. For a while now, the show has played with the idea that Time Lords are not restricted by gender — and before someone mentions the argument of “They’re called Time Lords, not Time Ladies,” let’s remember another word for overall humanity is “mankind”, so words with male connotations don’t necessarily have to be restricted to men. Regeneration changes the age, race, and/or physical characteristics of the Time Lord in question, and their outward-expressing gender is just as fluid and malleable. Hell, even the Master, perhaps the most significant other Time Lord role in Doctor Who, changed gender and became Missy.
If it continued to be the case that the Doctor regenerates into another man every time, it creates an odd subtext: why is the Doctor, arguably one of the few “good” Time Lords we’ve seen, always a man when the lore tells us he (or she) doesn’t have to be? At some point, the Doctor would have to become a woman, purely to confirm the established fact that the hero of the series can be anyone.
Because ultimately, that is the message of the Doctor, perhaps most recently and wonderfully illustrated in the recent season finale episode, The Doctor Falls:
“Hey! I’m going to be dead in a few hours, so before I go, let’s have this out. You and me, once and for all. ‘Winning?’ Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to ‘win’. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone — or because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live — maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey — maybe there’s no point in any of this, at all, but it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it — and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. — You’re going to die, too —someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?”
The Doctor, for all their fantastical abilities and craziness, can be anyone — because all they’re really doing is trying to do the right thing, whether it’s hard or easy, whether it feels good or bad, no matter the personal cost. They simply do it because it is the kindest thing to do, and our capacity for kindness is something we should all praise and be thankful for — and yes, exercise as often as we can.
And if we can all be the Doctor, then yes, that includes any gender. That includes people of different ethnicity. That includes even people of different sexuality. To make it a cast iron single thing would limit the representational capability of the character, and Doctor Who as a show is made for smashing through limits.
After all, that is the most key feature of this show: change. Times change. People change. And yes, the Doctor changes. And now, with Wonder Woman going from success to success in the cinema, with women being able to see themselves more and more in genre media like Supergirl and Star Wars, now is the time for a female Doctor. Now is the time for young girls, just as much as young boys, who watch the show to think, “Now I can be the Doctor,” and, hopefully, do the kindest thing, too.
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