This week, Jodie Whittaker made her debut as the Doctor, the iconic time traveller who travels through time and space in a blue box. Except she lost her TARDIS and fell to earth, in an episode aptly titled The Woman Who Fell To Earth, set in Sheffield.
The new regeneration of the Doctor is blonde, a woman and, at 5ft 5in, she’s just a little taller than me. She has a Yorkshire accent, reminiscent of my grandmother’s. She’s also a Time Lord and an alien with two hearts. In her debut appearance, she’s up against a menacing tooth-faced monster called Tim Shaw and “the tentacle-y thing”. Neither would have been too out-of-place in Classic Who.
Whittaker’s outfit (which I will definitely be wearing at the next London Comic Con) is a nod to her predecessors. The stripes on her T-shirt are similar to those on Tom Baker’s iconic scarf, she wears braces like Matt Smith’s, while her high-waisted trousers are reminiscent of Patrick Troughton’s. Every Doctor is in some ways a homage to those who came before, each unique despite the amalgamation of different parts.
Doctor Who is the longest-running sci-fi show for a reason; though forever iconic, it has always been one of the most progressive shows, always ready to adapt. In 1963, the show started with an old man travelling with his granddaughter, naive-but-nice Susan. Now, the doctor is a woman, travelling with Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh), who is grandfather to companion Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole). Yet the roles have reversed – now, the grandfather is the companion, the woman the Doctor.
This isn’t the first time we’re looking at a female Time Lord. Romana’s first incarnation, Mary Tamm, first appeared in 1978 as Tom Baker’s sidekick. Romana wielded a sonic screwdriver and dressed in a similarly whimsical fashion to Baker’s Doctor. More recently, we learned that the Doctor’s nemesis, another Time Lord who called himself the Master, regenerated into Missy, portrayed by the amazing Michelle Gomez.
From time to time, I go on YouTube, look up Every Doctor Who Opening Titles Sequence: 1963-2017, and time travel through the vortex. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, and where we’re going. Although the arrangement has changed, the melody has remained the same. The same can be said of the Doctor, who regenerates, but remains (in essence) the same person. The face and personality changes, but there’s always something from the person who came before. I have always found this highly relatable. Don’t we all change, as we go through life? We might become more or less dogmatic in our convictions, more or less in touch with our masculinity or femininity, change our style, learn to make compromises, realise we were wrong.
The face and personality changes, but there’s always something from the person who came before
The decision to cast a female doctor has divided audiences. While largely celebrated, the fifth reincarnation of the Doctor, Peter Davison, was among those to show his reservations, complaining that, now, young boys would have one fewer role model to look up to. This, to me, is crazy talk. Since when can boys not have a female role model? I always saw the doctor as a model for humanity, despite the alienness, despite her having always been a man – until now. This is a compassionate traveller who doesn’t discriminate nor resort to violence, who seeks to improve the world – and other worlds – for the benefit of others. (She’s still a pacifist. Viewers took to Twitter to praise her condemnation of knives.)
“Half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman,” says the female Doctor. At present, her characterisation is reminiscent of David Tennant and Tom Baker’s Doctors – behind a humorous, lighthearted persona is a wild thing that can’t be tamed. Fortunately, she’s on mankind’s side.
We don’t yet know who Whittaker’s Doctor is. Nor does she, though she’s already shown promise in her regenerative, limbo phase, with great line delivery and that otherworldly aura. Previous Doctors were also disorientated in the early days. But, when reminded she’s a woman, she doesn’t seem phased. “Am I?” she says – later, “It’s been a long time since I bought women’s clothes.” Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like the Doctor’s gender is that important to the plot.
Early on in The Woman Who Fell To Earth, the Doctor tells her new companions: “Don’t be scared. All of this is new to you, and new can be scary.” It feels like she’s also talking to the viewers scared of change – the ones who swear that Doctor Who is ruined now the Doctor is a woman.
(A message to the skeptics: if you’re comfortable enough in yourselves to feel inspired by an alien who travels in a police box and frequently says things like, “A big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff,” who eats Jelly Babies in times of adversity, I’m sure you can look up to a woman.)
The doctor, though alien, has always been a role model for people – women, like myself, included. Many Whovians are thrilled to find in Whittaker the Doctor they’ve known and loved since childhood. This is about looking at a hero and thinking, “yes, that could be me,” reflected in the real world where women can now aspire to anything.