So, after the long wait – although in fairness not as long a wait as some expected – we now have the name and face of our new Doctor; Broadchurch star Jodie Whittaker.
It won’t have escaped anyone’s attention now that the new Doctor is female. Again, this shouldn’t really be a surprise due to the amount of hints and portents flashed throughout the Moffat Era, from the Corsair to the General to Missy. But still it seems to have caused some ripples amongst fandom.
Outwith fandom, however, most of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and the programme is certainly getting a lot of publicity, which will no doubt continue as series 11 is filmed and eventually broadcast, and that is never a bad thing.
Personally I was very surprised they went with a woman this time around. Consensus is that Capaldi, whilst a hit with fans, turned off regular viewers, particularly in his early seasons, with his older, brusque and unfriendly attitude, and his relationship with Jenna Coleman’s Clara was one that didn’t sit well either. It seemed likely that new showrunner Chris Chibnall would go with the winning formula of a young, goodlooking, dashing male hero with names like Luke Treadaway being suggested, or a more traditional, bohemian Doctor, with, of course Kris Marshall being out and out favourite for months. But, no, Chibnall took the bold and era-defining decision to go with a girl – something he said was always his intention.
So what does that mean for the show? Should it mean anything? Can the series just continue as it has with Jodie no bigger an issue that Treadaway or Marshall would have been?
In many ways, it’s a question of diversity and equality. I was a huge critic of the “spin off” series Class as I felt it dealt with diversity very clumsily and crow barred diversity stereotypes into the programme which itself was an unsuccessful skin graft onto Doctor Who. But the parent series has dealt with diversity far more candidly and far more successfully. Jack Harkness is “Omni sexual”, both Mickey and Martha were companions of colour which was never an issue and never should have been and most recently both Bill’s sexuality and race was subverted in clever deceits. But there is a difference between sexuality, race and gender. The gender issue itself is far more complex than the others, as neither has – or should, on the whole – have a direct impact on the dynamics of the show. But should gender?
In today’s more “enlightened” society, the roles between male and females should be interchangeable. But if they should be, should they be changed simply because of that? An interesting parallel is the one they used as a portent for a new Doctor – Missy.
The Master is the Doctor’s oldest and best enemy. Their relationship has changed in many ways throughout the years, but has mostly been the Doctor disliking the Master more than the Master disliked him. This has been more so during the Missy era, where the character’s motives were either completely changed or more revealed, depending on your point of you. By the end of it, Missy had turned to the light, much to the chagrin of the previous Master, who was so horrified he committed suicide. But did Missy change because she was Missy, ie female, or did she change because it was a natural progression for the Master? I think the Master/Doctor dynamic needs to maintain an equilibrium to keep the conflict alive, regardless of gender, and I don’t think Missy did that. Missy in herself is a fabulous character, but could have been anyone – the Rani, Susan, Romana, or any brand new character, and there, with the Doctor, is the rub. The Doctor as a literary character has traditionally been male – like Sherlock Holmes, Superman or Robin Hood. Gender swapping in the past has worked, however – Batman’s Robin has been female, and Battlestar Galactica’s reboot caused a stink by gender-reassigning Starbuck (albeit into a very tomboyish character) and of course Watson was gender-reassigned in the US TV Series Elementary. There’s been diversity changes everywhere recently – Iron Man went from a middle aged white male to a teenage black female, Spider-Man became mixed-race and Captain Marvel is mostly known as female now, when they were originally male. Characters have changed race too – Perry White, for instance, or Nick Fury. All of these have been what are commonly known as positive reassignments, ie from a white male to a minority, and most if not all have been successful. The gender, race or sexuality of the character has made no odds.
But is the Doctor different? Does he/she fit into the category of, say James Bond or Sherlock Holmes who is written specifically male, or does he/she fit into the more mercurial word of gender-non-specific? Indeed, change is a fundamental part of the whole Doctor Who ethos. Should it change the dynamic? Well, that would depend on the writing, but that would be the case in any scenario. The Doctor himself discussed the fact that Time Lords had ascended the need for gender, but it doesn’t change the fact that the dynamic of the show will have to change. Jodie Whittaker has to make a huge impression as the Doctor immediately, like any other Doctor would. It’s important that she hits the ground running, and that the stories are written for the Doctor, and not for a female Doctor. It has the possibility of being fabulous. But in the same vein, it’s very important that diversity doesn’t hijack the issue with an increasingly diverse piece of Doctor casting. If a white male is the best actor for the part that’s who should get it, similarly if an Asian woman is, then she too should get the part. If they are making positive diversity decisions, like Class did, we are in danger of becoming a series of social points, and not a series about an alien adventurer in Time and Space. I trust Chibnall to have picked Jodie Whittaker because she was the best actor for the job, not because she was the best female for the job. I look forward to seeing her in all her Doctory glory, and, as always, I’ll be 100% my Doctor whatever face he – or she – is wearing.