The Wimbledon Men’s Singles final yesterday was nice and all (congratulations, Roger Federer), but much of the country was glad it wrapped up in three sets (sorry, Marin Cilic), because it was to be followed by the announcement of the 13th star of Doctor Who. After seemingly endless tennis banter (JUST TELL US), a minute-long clip revealed the choice as Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to take up the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and one of the UK’s finest young actors.
The immediate reaction was jubilation. Most fans had given up hope that the BBC would give serious consideration to a female Doctor. Steven Moffat, until recently Who’s showrunner, generally pooh-poohed the idea. Yet Moffat laid the groundwork: in 2014 the Doctor’s old nemesis, the Master, regenerated from John Simm to Michelle Gomez. They’re members of the same Time Lord species – why can’t the Doctor change gender, too? Incoming head honcho Chris Chibnall decided there was no good reason and so we have Whittaker.
As you’d expect, the manbabies were quick to spot a conspiracy against white men and an outrage against decency. How, they asked, could a body-regenerating, time-travelling character with two hearts possibly be a woman?! It made no sense. It was PC gone mad. It’s about damn time.
Doctor Who has existed since 1963, on and off, and it’s always been about exploring big science-fiction ideas and questioning what it means to be human. Since the 2005 reboot, the show has even broken America, something that Take That never managed. The Doctor (the show is Doctor Who; the character is just “the Doctor”) regularly saves the universe without using guns and, when mortally wounded, regenerates into an entirely new form and personality. There was William Hartnell’s professorial old duffer, Tom Baker’s be-scarfed eccentric, Christopher Eccleston’s gruff warrior and David Tennant’s impish genius. Most recently, the Doctor was Peter Capaldi, grumpy in a frock coat, hanging out with Pearl Mackie’s smart, switched-on companion Bill (who, not for nothing, is also mixed race and gay). The pairing worked and, in this last season in particular, the show was firing on all cylinders, so in fairness some fans don’t want anyone to replace Capaldi.
But 99 per cent of the outrage at this news is plain old misogyny. Some people want our society’s sexism to extend through space and time; they think we should export our patriarchy across the cosmos of our imaginations. How dare we even imagine a universe-saving, time-travelling alien in a woman’s form?
The Doctor has always been a man, but it doesn’t follow that he must always be a man. James Bond had always been a brunette, but Daniel Craig worked out nicely. If you could live for hundreds of years and regenerate in entirely new bodies, why on earth would you always regenerate as a man? Who wants to live the same life over and over again for a second thousand-year stretch? Great sci-fi – like Iain M. Banks’ Culture series – has always pushed against such boring stereotypes and embraced the possibility of characters changing gender and trying different lives.
Still, men take it personally – in a way that women are not supposed to take our exclusion from leading roles. One Facebook commentator complained that he had always “identified” with the Doctor, and now that was being taken away from him. Perhaps he will realise what women have had to learn: you can identify with people of another sex if the stories are well written and the performances good.
One Facebook commentator on the news complained that he had always ‘identified’ with the Doctor, and now that was being taken away from him
There are the faux-reasonable voices, too, arguing that they’re fine with women in leading roles, just not those roles originally popularised by men. That might hold water if only our culture wasn’t so dominated by legacy titles created ages ago – all those comic-book superheroes, all those Sherlocks and King Arthurs. If women have to create their own heroes from scratch without treading into these sacred spaces, equality of cultural impact will take centuries to arrive – especially given that female creators are routinely denied the same support as men, and given that untried original properties in TV and film are likely to be given smaller budgets and less distribution, and given that even a title as venerable as Wonder Woman was until recently seen as “a risk” instead of “a no-brainer”.
The other possibility – indeed, near-certainty – that these outraged broflakes don’t seem to have considered is that Jodie Whittaker is the best candidate, male or female. Since her breakthrough role in Venus opposite Peter O’Toole, via cult sci-fi in Attack The Block (giving her relevant experience alongside now-Star Wars superstar John Boyega), via her extraordinary performance in Adult Life Skills, she can do basically anything. Only a fool wouldn’t want her as the Doctor, and the Doctor never suffers fools gladly. A real fan would know that and welcome Whittaker with open arms.