On June 1, actor Matt Smith, star of cult TV favorite “Doctor Who,” announced he would be leaving the show at the end of December. This declaration sent shockwaves through the nerd-o-sphere and left everyone asking the question, “Who will be the next Doctor?” As a result, the Internet has been flooded with heated debates and delicious casting suggestions. (“Chiwetel Ejiofor!” “Sir Ian Mckellen!”) As much as I’d love to see these celebrities inside the Tardis, I think it would be best for Steven Moffat, the showrunner of “Doctor Who,” to simply cast the best woman for the job.
That’s right, woman.
For the uninitiated, “Doctor Who” is about an alien and “Time Lord” called The Doctor, who travels through space and time with companions he picks up along the way. When The Doctor is mortally wounded, he can “regenerate” into a new body — a handy loophole to keep the show going with a new actor in the lead role. “Doctor Who” originally ran from 1963–1989 and began again in a bright and shiny new regeneration in 2005. During the run of the show, there have been 11 Doctors (12 if you count John Hurt) and they all have been played by (white) men. What I am proposing is that when The Doctor next regenerates and his body changes, he should also change genders.
While it might seem odd to someone unaware of this cult classic to make the Time Lord a Time Lady, there is, in fact, precedent. In the episode, “The Doctor’s Wife,” The Doctor mentions a Time Lord named “The Corsair,” who often jumped sexes when he/she regenerated. What’s more, the name “The Doctor” is without gender, so it’s not like “John” would have to become “Joan” (as on “Elementary,” in which Lucy Liu plays Dr. Watson). All this being the case, you’d think — if only because it’s 2013 — that they’d give a woman a try. But, if you haven’t guessed already, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
Why not? The fans.
There is unbelievable resistance in the “Whovian” community to casting a female Doctor. I experienced this myself when I created a Change.org petition to make the 12th Doctor a woman, tweeted about it and got the following tweet in response, “No thank you. A ridiculous idea been (sic) around from early 80′s.” Ridiculous? Seriously?
Dan Martin, a writer for London’s The Guardian, added to the ridiculousness when he wrote recently:
“… [M]any people – who probably don’t watch (“Doctor Who”) very much – suggest that the next Doctor could be a woman. It’s well established that Time Ladies exist; one has even travelled on the Tardis. Even though you can pretty much reset anything in the Whoniverse, so much of the Doctor’s character, his strengths and his weaknesses are, to me, fundamentally male.”
Fellow Guardian writer Naomi Alderman responded to Martin’s theory by saying it was “brilliant in its patronizing, patriarchy-upholding blindness” and added, “the character of the Doctor has ‘moving with the times’ built into its genetic-loom — the whole point is that each regeneration gives the new show-runners a chance to reinvent the character.” She adds, “There’s no such thing as a fundamentally male personality. Women can be hard and men can be soft. Women can be combative and men can be nurturing. For goodness’ sake, this isn’t the 1850s.”
“Male” personality aside, doesn’t “Doctor Who” owe it to its (predominantly) female fans to consider casting a woman? Slate’s Laura Hemulth makes the fantastic point that, “A female Doctor would go a long way toward making up for the show’s recent regression into tiresome stereotyped sex roles.” I’ve written about this before, but I feel strongly that the writers of “Doctor Who” need to work harder at making the show’s female characters more like people and less like accessories. This would be a good challenge for them!
Also, think of the new levels a female Doctor would add to the show. Alley Pezanoski points out on Bitch Magazine’s blog that “The 2007 (season) was made far more complex and riveting because the show dug into race issues, casting Martha Jones, a black woman. Imagine the storylines that could be possible with a Doctor who looked like a woman?” And if people are concerned that it would be more difficult for a Time Lady to travel to certain time periods, I will direct them to episodes like “The Shakespeare Code,” in which Martha traveled back to slave-mongering Elizabethan England.
I would also urge Steven Moffat and the “Doctor Who” crew to cast a woman because of the positive impact it could have on its viewers. I keep thinking of the story Whoopi Goldberg told about the first time she saw Nichelle Nichols play Uhura on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, “when I was nine years old ‘Star Trek’ came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, (mom), everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” Yes, Uhura was special because she the only smart, resilient (non-maid) African-American portrayal on TV at the time. But I would counter that argument with the following question: how many current action/fantasy TV shows can you think of with a female main character?
One of the casting possibilities that has been tossed about on the web is Lara Pulver, the actress who played Irene Adler in Steven Moffat’s other show, “Sherlock.” When asked if she would like to take on the role of The Doctor, Pulver responded, “Yes and no. Not if it meant the end of the ‘Doctor Who’ franchise, because the fans aren’t keen on it.” That’s how bad this situation is: Lara Pulver would turn down the role of a lifetime, an iconic part that — in The UK at least — is on the same level as James Bond, because she thinks her casting, the casting of a captivating and Olivier award-nominated actress, would kill the show.
It seems that the general consensus is, “it is unwise to risk the good we already have for the evil which may occur.” Except that I took that line from an anti-suffrage pamphlet from the 1910s.
Come on Whovians, think of the future.
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