Yesterday, January 30th 2017, during Jo Whiley’s show on BBC Radio 2, the Twelfth Doctor – Peter Capaldi – announced that he felt ‘it was time to move on’and he would leave the role at the end of the year. Speculation was rife about his successor – just who would be the 13th Doctor? As show runner and guiding hand of the series, Steven Moffat had been keen on injecting gender politics throughout his tenure. References to more women being in charge in the future had the Doctor commenting, ‘We can only hope’. A female Time Lord remarks that following her latest regeneration it’s good to being a female again and ‘back to normal’. Companions including Amy Pond and Clara Oswald frequently made anti-man jokes too. So is this misandry or just lighthearted banter, a gentle nod towards ‘redressing’ the perceived gender balance that has long had women playing the sidekick role? Or is this dialogue just as unwanted; employing degradation towards men being no better than the reverse? Sexism, Doctor Who and the reflection of the changing face of television and Western culture warrants its own article so I’ll hold fire on passing more of these comments for now.
Would it be gender-swapping?
So, the Doctor is a Time Lord, a Gallifreyan whose race’s biology has been hinted at over many years but thankfully for dramatic reasons we don’t know all that much. Do they reproduce along the same lines as us? Are they grown on ‘looms’ like Marc Platt referenced in his Virgin New Adventures novel Lungbarrow. Or something totally different? As always the mystery is likely to be more intriguing than any actual explanations. Are Time Lords ‘male’ and ‘female’ in any traditional sense except outwardly? Is gender swapping an accurate expression for such a change? I would like to think that a race as old as the Time Lords would have transcended gender identities to some degree. After all, it seems such a small issue compared to the weightier, astronomical, space-time, universal-order thoughts that the race is supposed to dwell on.
Casting a woman as the Doctor?
Jokingly (perhaps!) Tom Baker, the impressively long scarfed Fourth Doctor, in the 1970s suggested that he wished his successor well ‘whomever he or she may be’. More recently in modern Who, gender swapping as a result of regeneration was being woven into the mythos. The Neil Gaiman-scripted episode The Doctor’s Wife has a line about a Time Lord called Corsair having two female personas in the past. That was in the sixth series (2011) but it was finally in the eighth series (2014) that a gender-swapping Time Lord took centre stage. An enigmatic lady who had appeared in cameos throughout the series finally confronted the Doctor in the penultimate tale, announcing herself as the latest iteration of The Master. Missy, played astonishingly well by Michelle Gomez, soon put me at my ease. The initial rejection that I felt towards her – after all, Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley were my Masters – changed to warmth and joyous acceptance because of the way in which Gomez convincingly played the part and with such gusto. So gender swapping Time Lords can work if they are written and acted well. Casting is all-important too.
Could it really happen?
We are getting into precarious territory here. In the 1960s it was a big jump to recast any leading man’s part and I’m not sure if we are ready for the quintessential ‘Edwardian gentleman’ time traveller to become female. Yes of course you have the argument that we have a 900+ year-old alien who can change his appearance and operate a TARDIS keeping within your suspension of disbelief but you are arguing about him being played by a woman. However, the bottom line is that we are hardwired into recognising other humans by characteristics including gender and we are also in the era of the social justice warrior (SJW) who are pushing an agenda of females trumping and belittling males. So if the reason for switching actor to actress is a publicity stunt or some misguided attempt to meet a female drama lead quota then the new series will bomb. Why? Well, because you have a predominantly male fan base who won’t take kindly to their favourite series being used as some political or satirical pawn and you aren’t likely to generate a brand new SJW audience to fill the gap. The phrase ‘Get woke, go broke’ is very fitting.
‘Change my dear…
and not a moment too soon’ were among Colin Baker’s first words as the Sixth Doctor. Gone was the young, gentle, empathetic Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison and here was a brash, aggressive and initially unlikable Time Lord in his place. While Baker’s nuanced character didn’t get chance to shine until his excellent Big Finish Productions outings, such a switch of personality refreshed the show. Change is good – and in my view – essential for any long-running programme. Variety, novelty and a freshening up of the format generates media buzz, attracts new watchers, and gives loyal followers and fanatics (yours truly) a reason to keep on watching the evolving show. Each regeneration of the Doctor warrants a regeneration of the series itself. Nothing can stand still forever.
Will I welcome a female Doctor?
My first instinct is to say I want the Doctor to remain male. But if the powers that be decide to reinvigorate the franchise by gender swapping the character then my hope will be for an excellent actress who can play ‘otherworldly’ and command the screen with an attitude of someone who seems much older in experience than she looks. I’m kind of excited to see if they will actually cast an actress – it could bring a new lease of life if done respectfully to the character. Prior to Michelle Gomez’ take on the Master I would have been dead set against it but now…
Whatever happens I’ll be watching and until then I’ll reserve judgement!