“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” – Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park
Ladies and gentlemen, after a very, very long wait, we finally know who the Thirteenth Doctor will be. And her name is Jodie Whittaker.
In the episode The Doctor’s Wife, it was confirmed that Time Lords can potentially change sex when they regenerate. We have now witnessed this happen in the show with two Time Lords, one of whom is a significant recurring character. Thus, it was quite possible for the Doctor – who has been male since his inception in 1963, Comic Relief sketches notwithstanding – to regenerate into a woman. The idea was bandied about, first when Matt Smith was due to be replaced, then Peter Capaldi. The possibility was waved in our faces with such vigour, in fact, that I never seriously believed it would actually happen.
Shows how much I know.
Looking at social media, the majority of fans seem to have reacted positively to the news – which has made me worry what it says about me if I am less enthusiastic at the idea of a female Doctor.
I am not so strongly against the idea that I am going to stop watching the show. Nor am I hoping or predicting that this will be a disaster. There is no way of knowing for certain what will happen without a real TARDIS to travel into the future, so I am reserving judgement until I actually see the first episode of Series 11. Maybe it will be fine. Maybe it will even be great. I don’t know. But I had hoped that it wouldn’t actually come to pass. This has nothing to do with Jodie Whittaker, by the way: I’ve never actually watched anything that she’s starred in (save the St Trinian’s movies, where she only had a small part), but I’m sure that she’s a fine actress and will put all her effort into this role.
As previously stated, Doctor Who has been around for a long time, and through that time, the Doctor has always been male. He has changed his appearance, his outfits, and many elements of his personality – but at heart, it’s still the same guy. And now, suddenly, he’s going to become a woman. That’s a much more drastic change than anything which has come before: it’s going to be a case of ‘one of these things is not like the others’, as they say on Sesame Street. Will it still feel like the same character? Even if the Doctor doesn’t possess quite the same level of masculinity as the likes of James Bond, his gender will have had subtle influences on his character all these years, and now that’s all going to be switched round.
One argument I’ve seen is that the Master’s already been turned into a woman, and that was fine. Well, I do like the character of Missy very much, but I admit that it’s difficult to see her as the same entity that was portrayed by Roger Delgado, Anthony Ainley, Eric Roberts and John Simm. She stands apart so much that she has a different moniker. In a possible example of the High Heel Face Turn trope, she’s the only Master who seriously considers becoming a good guy. Also, Missy/the Master is a recurring side character whom we don’t spend a huge amount of time with, so changing her gender was never going to have an all-reaching impact. The Doctor is the central protagonist. S/he is going to be in every episode, and be the focus of those episodes. The audience will have plenty of time to examine every facet of his/her character. Any differences created by the change in gender will affect the show much more than Missy could.
So I admit that it’s subjective, but my worry is that the Thirteenth Doctor isn’t going to feel like the same character we’ve been watching for decades. And I also have to wonder why the decision was made in the first place. Because Jodie Whittaker was truly the best candidate for the role? Because the people behind the scenes wanted to experiment and shake things up? Or because there was a quota on diversity and political correctness which needed to be met?
I very much hope that Doctor Who will continue to entertain and Jodie Whittaker will be a great Doctor. But I also hope that she was chosen for the right reasons.