Goodbye To The Doctor

I took the TARDIS string lights down from my living room a few months ago, but “Doctor Who” just keeps disappointing me.

This time, novelist A.L. Kennedy (who penned official “Doctor Who” novel The Drosten’s Curse) spoke out at the Edinburgh book festival about how a woman should never play the Doctor. “As a heterosexual woman, I have no interest in a female Doctor,” she said. “He’s kind of got a guy vibe, the Doctor. A hopeless, undomestic, dozy, dreamy guy-type of eccentricity. It’s not a girl-type of eccentricity.”

Cut to me mournfully removing a picture of K-9 from my office cork board.

This isn’t a new argument, but whenever someone officially involved with “Doctor Who” shoots down the mere possibility of a female Doctor, I feel myself step a little further away.

The show already established that Time Lords can switch gender. In the brilliant, Neil Gaiman-penned The Doctor’s Wife, Eleven comments passingly that his old friend the Corsair had a female incarnation. The new season had a significant gender-fluid twist, too: The Doctor’s nemesis the Master had been regenerated as the Mistress.

The question, for the showrunners, is no longer can the Doctor be a woman, but should the Doctor be a woman.

To Kennedy, the Doctor has to be “blokey.” But what does “blokeyness” mean in this context? It’s a winking sort of masculinity: a man who can drink a pint and tell a good dirty joke. By definition, people who identify as women aren’t “blokes,” but can they possess blokeyness? Men get to be be dudes, lads, bros. I can’t think of a female-gendered word that conveys this idea of playful, good-natured existence—but these sorts of women still exist.

To be honest, I think Kennedy’s a scapegoat here. This problem is bigger than a handful of comments at a books fest. In the whole run of the show, over 91 writers have penned episodes—and only five have been women. Only one woman has written an episode in the last six years.

Since Kennedy penned an official “Doctor Who” novel, that means her statements hold some weight. And I know she’s allowed to disagree with me on these subjects, the same way I’m allowed to toss my Dalek t-shirt in the Goodwill bin.

When I saw her statement, I thought of any young girl with a plastic Sonic Screwdriver and a plan for taking on the universe. What does it mean for kids to hear these arguments from writers who actually control the canon?

The truth is that I haven’t really been watching the series for a while now. For years, “Doctor Who” had been more than just a show to me. I leaned on episodes for support and comfort during my last semesters of college, my mother’s long sickness, and a series of lackluster post-grad jobs that left me questioning my worth in the “real world.” But the show’s sexism, sometimes blatant and sometimes dangerously subtle, wore me down to the point where every new episode put me on edge.

I remember the exact instant when I knew things were over. In the season seven premiere, “Bells of Saint John,” the TARDIS phone rings at a medieval monastery. A monk asks, “Is it an evil spirit?”

“It’s a woman,” The Doctor says with a wry shrug. The monk makes a sign of the cross.

I was watching with a group of friends, and at that joke every head turned to me. They all expected me to be incensed; I felt like such a feminist buzzkill. Someone argued that it was a meaningless line, that in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that big of a deal. I felt so tired.

To be honest, the joke didn’t offend me that much. The punchline is that women are demons who love to talk on the phone? It’s sloppy and unfunny, and it added nothing to the episode. Instead, it felt like a purposeful marker at the beginning of the season: a reminder that the Doctor is in charge, and that the Doctor is a man.

By then, each joke at the expense of a woman started to feel like a little pinch. Easy to ignore on its own, maybe, but eventually they started to add up into welts. I made it through the rest of the season, but my resentment kept growing. Instead of filling me with wonder, my favorite show filled me with dread. Television shouldn’t make you feel bitter.

So when I hear these arguments that the Doctor should never be a woman, coming straight from people in the Doctor Who empire, I really hear: “This show is not for you.” Buy our merch, follow our official Twitter, get an iTunes season pass, but don’t forget your place: Always a companion, never a Doctor.

As a character, the Doctor is full of fantastic contradictions: brave and selfish, merciless and tenderhearted, whimsical and violent. Why can we conceive of a two-hearted, time traveling, 903-year old alien with such a complex and realized personality—but we can’t conceive of that character being a woman?

I didn’t stop watching in some dramatic protest. Week by week, my interest just waned. A couple episodes into season eight, I stopped watching without even realizing it. I never expected a fandom I loved so much to end in such a gradual flatline. But as the weeks passed, I realized something important: turning the show off was a relief.

The truth is, I still miss watching “Doctor Who” the way you miss certain people you once held dear. A friend who could be funny and kind but also a little toxic, a friend you had to step away from to protect yourself.

At the end of season three, Martha Jones becomes one of the few companions who leaves the TARDIS voluntarily. She explains to the Doctor that she can’t waste her life pining over him, waiting for him to change. Lately, I relate a lot to Martha. In a way, it’s ironic that the show itself taught me this last lesson: When something stops making you happy, it’s okay to move on.