I don’t know about you, but I’m in shock. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
After months upon months of speculation, anvil-sized hints about switched gender regenerations and countless discussions on Twitter, the BBC have revealed that the next Doctor will be played by Jodie Whittaker, and a community of under-appreciated Whovians are rejoicing.
What a Woman Doctor Means
As a woman and a long-time fan of Doctor Who (well… up until Moffat took up the reins), for me, having a female doctor is already incredible. Not only should it give the show a much-needed (in my opinion) change of pace, but it’s hopefully going to give us a powerful, intelligent and compassionate role model for young girls on our TV screens every Saturday night. And it’s not just be the younger lot who’ll benefit from seeing a woman play the titular Time Lord (Time Lady?) – veteran Whovians will finally be seeing themselves represented on screen in the form of their favourite long-standing character.
Young boys, also, should benefit greatly from seeing a woman play the Doctor. Positive female role models are not just for girls. They show boys that the world takes women seriously, that women can be strong and are a force to be reckoned with – and ultimately, respected.
What A BAME Doctor Would Have Meant
It’s important to acknowledge, that although this is a step forward for the representation and presence of women on popular TV, it’s a step forward for white women only. As a white person I cannot truly appreciate what having a black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) actor would have meant, but I can say that it would have been as radical a move for the BBC as casting a woman. Mitch Benn recently discussed the fact that boys have very few role models where the hero saves the day using intellect and compassion, as opposed to violence – the Doctor being an exception. In particular, BAME men in the media are often framed as using brute force and ignorance rather than taking a nuanced and sensitive approach. Casting a BAME man as the Doctor and having him, week by week, intelligently solve problems and demonstrate an ongoing and instinctive empathy with others would have created a strong, worthy role model for young men.
Why Did the BBC Cast A Woman?
Let’s be clear here; this was by no means the safe choice (although you could definitely argue it was the safer of the unsafe choices). There will undoubtedly be a lot of backlash from this. Despite the fact that so many people were rooting for something other than what is often seen as the ‘default’, many others voiced strong opinions to the contrary. True, many of their arguments lacked any kind of depth or reason…
I took Daily Mail comments from people angry about a possible Female Dr Who and turned them into episode titles for the new series pic.twitter.com/k586EeVpld
— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) July 15, 2017
… but sadly, the voice of a straight white man will often convince other straight white men, regardless of how reasonable that voice is.
This time, that didn’t happen.
Even though there’s been canonical discussion of gender change (which, in my opinion, also opens regenerating Time Lords up to other changes – their entire DNA is rewritten, after all), for some it is absolutely unfathomable that the Doctor would be anything but a white man. Whether they’re calling it ‘political correctness gone mad’ or shouting that there will be no straight white men left on telly the way we’re going, it all comes from a place of feeling threatened – and brings to mind the popular refrain on equality: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
In 2017 it should be an equal footing but we live in a world where white men felt so threatened they put Donald trump in charge #doctor13
— RachelCharltonDailey (@RachelCDailey) July 16, 2017
The BBC have taken a leap on casting Jodie as the new Doctor, but it’s a leap I strongly feel will pay off. Influenced by the call of many fans to cast someone other than a white man, the BBC have delivered for the first time.
Who Else Could Have Played This Role?
One of the main arguments I saw pre-announcement, and undoubtedly the main argument to be thrown around going forward, is that the BBC have simply chosen ‘the best person for the job, regardless of gender or race’. And honestly, I’m getting pretty sick of this argument. Because what these people are saying is that the best person for the job is always – always – a straight white man. It is not an equal playing field when white men are automatically seen as the default.
This categorically erases the numerous talented and capable women and BAME actors that would absolutely ace this role. Within minutes of asking the question, I had an extensive list of people that would also have been perfect to take on the mantle of the 13th Time Lord…
Acting chops: Broadchurch, Doctor Strange, Doctor Who.
Syal already appeared on Doctor Who during Matt Smith’s reign as the 11th Doctor, and casting her would follow the tradition of the new Doctor or companion appearing in a previous series.
Acting chops: Rogue One, Nightcrawler, The Night Of
A talented actor with a diverse range of roles under his belt, Ahmed currently has two Emmy nominations for his work on HBO’s The Night Of and a guest role on HBO’s ‘Girls’. opposite Lena Dunham.
Acting chops: Broadchurch, The Night Manager, Peep Show
Another who has already worked with the new showrunner (as focal character Ellie Miller on Broadchurch), Colman has proven herself an exceptional actor in a range of varied roles. Olivia also featured in Matt Smith’s first episode.
Acting chops: Luther, Prometheus, Pacific Rim
Okay, okay, so Elba is probably in another stratosphere in terms of playing a character on UK Saturday night television now – but we can dream right? An undeniably incredible actor, perhaps a few years ago he would have been an absolutely perfect choice for the Doctor.
Acting chops: Fresh Meat, Dead Boss
A less recognisable choice, this comedian would inject a huge sense of fun into the role and bring further diversity to the show as an LGBTQ+ actor. As Bill has flown off into the cosmos with her eternal girlfriend Heather, the TARDIS deserves another quippy lesbian on board.
Acting chops: Hustle, The Day After Tomorrow, Riviera
Lester proved his diverse acting skills through playing characters within a character during his time on Hustle. Perhaps quite a different energy to the past regenerations, but he could’ve brought a suave, calm and educated approach to the Doctor.
Acting chops: Absolutely Fabulous, The Wolf of Wall Street, Mistresses
Just imagine it; Lumley, bursting from the TARDIS in a leather dress and a feather boa, blonde hair coiffed high above her head, calling her awe-struck companion ‘darrrling’ in that beautiful drawl of hers. Although probably unlikely, this would be incredible.
It’s essential that, in celebrating the first female Doctor, we recognise that although this is a big step forward for women, it is a step forward for white, cis, abled women – there are still a great number of fans who are still yet to see themselves represented in this particular show (any innumerable others). The pecking order of process is very much at work here. Right now there are already those scoffing at the BBC for being ‘too PC’, and saying that next it will be a ‘Muslim transgender woman in a wheelchair’ playing the Doctor – to this, all I can say is bring. Her. On.
Overall, I’m extremely excited that the BBC have chosen Jodie Whittaker to be the 13th Doctor, as she has proven in shows such as Broadchurch that she is an phenomenal actress. The fact that she will be the first female Doctor is something to celebrate, and I have to believe that this time round she was the best person for the role. This is a massive step forward for the show; I absolutely can’t wait to see where the Doctor takes us next.
Co-written with Rachel Charlton-Dailey.