A Female Doctor on Doctor Who?

Alright, I’ve been putting this one off, but I think it’s time we had the talk. There’s a lot of argument on this subject. Should the Doctor ever be played by a woman? If so when would be the right time for the transition/regeneration? Would a female Doctor alter the show in any major way?

Part of the challenge with this particular topic is that as soon as you start to answer one question, a multitude of further questions crop up . And “a woman” is too vague a category on it’s own to firmly and simply answer “yes” or “no.” There are as many different interpretations to a female doctor has there are female actors who would play the role. The question is just too difficult to answer in a single blog post.

Also, I’m trapped looking at this subject from the only perspective I truly can: my own. I’m not a casual fan of the show, but a proper Whovian and can’t completely disconnect that part of my brain. That said, I realize that not everyone who sits down to watch the show is as avid and passionate about it, and are looking for something different.

And I am biased. I admit that I lean in the direction of dear heavens, yes please, can we have a female Doctor already?

So how can I make a post that says what’s been getting under my skin without tackling all of the creative industry and 50 years of a multi-culturally iconic and incredibly loved and even, as of late, popular program that has so many different followers with so many different views? What do I actually want to say? Well, I realized that what I want to do is respond to some of the arguments against a female Doctor that have frustrated me the most, discounting the “but he just is a man” argument from the traditionalists and “it would change the show” (yes, it would. All new Doctors do; that’s the point). And I want to do it as diplomatically as I can manage.

Also, very briefly, to get this out of the way, the Doctor can biologically regenerate female. It just hasn’t happened yet. Additionally, I hear people’s reservations: well, he’s never done it before; surely the Doctor would need a reason to suddenly decide to be a woman. Yep, Gallifreyans do seem to have some slight power over physical appearance, and while he’s never offered up an explanation as to why he continually takes on a male appearance, I agree that it would be intriguing to see the Doctor make the conscious decision and under what circumstances that decision is made. Even so, some people just don’t want it. So which characteristics of the character are so inherently male that certain people are against a female Doctor?

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“If you have an uncertain, fallible female Doctor with a really strong male companion, you’ve got more of a stereotype than anything else.”

If you are more than a casual fan of Doctor Who, this quote probably sounds familiar, because it was said by ex-Doctor, Peter Davison. Pretty much every surviving Doctor and companion has been asked to weigh in on the debate, and while many seem open to the idea of a female Doctor, Davison recently came out against it. I have problem with this, aside from the fact that you have a popular celebrity who’s intrinsically tied to the show saying that could really be a set back, but that’s not the real issue.

Female characters SHOULD BE FALLIBLE. As should male characters. The Doctor and the companion should both have flaws. My latest rants on the show often center around how the last season and a half of the show have not succeeded by having little miss perfect companion skipping alongside a complex dimensional male Doctor.

And at times I worry that people are walking on eggshells when they need to be running through fire. The fun characters, the interesting characters, the complex characters we see in media, are far too often male, because of the fear these (not always, but often) male show creators will be accused of being sexist for having a female character who a.) makes mistakes b.) does ANYTHING short of serving as love interest (aka prize for the hero) or c.) could be viewed as having less maturity that a middle-aged business woman. But there are as many different women as men and it would be glorious to see a more diversified portrayal of women across the board. Doctor Who seems to fancy itself a bit of a trail-blazer…blaze some trails!

I also have a problem with the word stereotype here. I consider the model of male action hero with the beautiful (albeit often strong) sidekick woman on his arm as a stereotype that Doctor Who is currently playing into quite a bit. I actually find that stereotype just as troubling as the one Davison suggests. Moving on.

The Doctor is a paternal character and emotionally distanced, like an archetypal father figure. If you genderswap, and go with the female equivalent, you get a maternal archetype who would be more emotional. And having a woman with paternal personalities would seem wrong. Men are more distant, not that that’s a good quality, but it’s more expected from men.

Yep, I really heard this one. Unfortunately, the source is one that I somewhat respect and have found to have sound reasoning on many other topics, but I have so so many problems with this argument.

I’ll start with the non-female objection I have here. Why are we dealing in archetypes? Wouldn’t it be more exciting if the writers were to write each incarnation of the Doctor and his companions as fully fleshed out characters with relatable qualities? I understand building onto an archetype, but the term seemed to be used so two-dimensionally in this context.

The rest of this just made me cringe. I’m a woman. What is this “maternal personality” that I’m supposed to have? Because if that’s a real thing, and it was meant to mean what I think it was, I’m defective. If this is meant to suggest a good-natured mother hen character, who treats companions like her little chicks, I wouldn’t want a female Doctor to have too strong a maternal personality either. I wouldn’t be able to relate to that. You know, as a woman.

Is this argument suggesting that a paternal personality allows you to pal around as a friend, while a maternal one restricts a character to tutting and tongue clicking? Women pal around all the time. With the Doctor. Why would the Doctor being the woman in that scenario be any different?  Because the Doctor is the clever one? Because he’s not always the clever one. What about Zoe? Romana? Often the most interesting stories are the ones where the Doctor has all the basic integral knowledge, but is able to lean on the companions smarts or abilities in a certain field that they specialize in.

And I don’t see the male Doctor as being distant from the companions. Particularly in the new series. His reaction to losing Rose (can we agree the Doctor’s relationship with her was NOT patriarchal?), Donna, and the Ponds seemed to torment him in a way that doesn’t happen to a removed distant character.

A woman is not by definition a mother. That’s why they’re two separate words.

The Doctor/Companion relationship will be thrown into turmoil.

Why? Because the companion is always a female and you need a a character of each gender on the show? Neither of those things is true.

Two characters of the same gender worked splendidly with Two and Jamie (a male companion), and if you’re concerned two women would talk nothing but tampons and boy problems, I’ve got news for you: that’s less than one percent of the conversational content an adult woman is usually having (maybe you should talk to one sometime) and has little need on a show where you have problems like exploding planets. You’d pass the Bechdel Test every goddam week.

Or give her a male companion. There have actually been several over the course of the show and some of them have been quite good, the most recent being Rory, but the male companion was established since the first episode in 1963, when Ian Chesterton stepped onto the TARDIS.

And if neither of those dynamics appeals to you, then go for multiple companions. We’ve done it a bit in the new series and the idea of a “TARDIS team” was practically a given in the classic series.

“I didn’t feel enough people wanted it. Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women. [They were] saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman!”

Yep, that’s the Moff. I’m sure you recognize this one. After casting Peter Capaldi (which, for the record, I feel was an excellent choice) he said this and he was correct: he’s gotten himself in trouble for saying it. Granted, Moffat suffers from foot-in-mouth syndrome and the full context of this response was not supplied. That being said, I think he needs to broaden the search on this little poll of his.

Of my female friends who watch Doctor Who, I don’t have a single one who doesn’t want to see a female Doctor. The vast majority of my male friends are up for it too. I’m not saying it’s a majority rule, I’m saying Moffat’s, er, findings are inconsistent with mine.

Even if we’re to take everything Moffat says here as fact, what qualifies enough people wanting it? It’s incredibly subjective and I can’t imagine a time when everyone would be on board. I think the real question to ask (and perhaps this is what Moffat was trying to calculate in his head and he just didn’t say it) is would the backlash from casting a woman as the Doctor be worse than the backlash that always comes with casting a new Doctor?

People will always bitch about the actor being too young or two old or too comedic or too serious or too many other things to name. And then they often settle into the new model, begrudgingly at first, and find the incarnation grows on them. In the end, that seems to be what it always comes down to.

“I hope this doesn’t make me sexist/I hope that I don’t come off as sexist/I hope that you won’t think I’m sexist, but-“

Boy am I tired of people not wanting to be sexist. Just state your argument. Say “here’s my reservation about casting a female doctor” and say it without the prelude. Us scary feminists, or drop the word feminists if it makes you uncomfortable (it really shouldn’t, we just think men and women should be equal), people who are pro-female Doctor are often actually kind of quiet and won’t pounce on you just because we disagree or are worried that a woman will change the show. It will. We won’t debate that. But we see it as an exciting opportunity.

Though I like to think we can all be adult and not point accusatory fingers if that’s not the direction someone else is looking for the show to go in. Not wanting a female Doctor doesn’t make you sexist. If that’s what you’re worried about, breathe a sigh of relieve. But maybe we can talk about why? In a pleasant conversation where we each explain our point of view? We don’t have to agree in the end, but I think it would be nice if people on both sides could better understand each other.

I’d like Capaldi to stick around awhile longer. There’s a myriad of fantastic male actors that could take on the role (I’m still holding out for Tim Roth). But I feel that’s true about female actors as well. I think it will happen, but it may take some time. And maybe that’s okay, maybe it’s not the right time. Maybe we want to wait for a new show runner or more women on the writing staff. Of course the casting of this potential woman in incredibly important. You wan to take the time to find the right one.

I just don’t see the Doctor doing anything a woman doesn’t or couldn’t and I think it would refresh the show in a wonderful way to see a female in that role. I think the show could use a little refreshing. But I’ve said my piece and all I can do now is hope I explained myself well. There are a million arguments and I can’t get to them all, nor do I want to, but these are the ones that have been weighing on me.

Now let’s watch some Doctor Who.

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About Risa Romano

Writer type thing. I work on stories for kids when I'm on the clock and screenplays quite a bit less for kids when I'm not. I have a blog: rambleonnerdyponderings.wordpress.com I'm also the creator and moderator of the Doctor Who vodcast/podcast A Disused Yeti: https://adisusedyeti.wordpress.com/
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2 Responses to A Female Doctor on Doctor Who?

  1. One of the best qualities of The Doctor is that regeneration makes overt one of the fundamental elements of legends and myth-making. Every iteration is individually mutable, but only in passing through multiple iterations do you discover what is immutable and culturally-reflective. They may be outwardly clownish and inwardly calculating like Two, Four, or Seven, or genially woolly-brained like Five and Eleven, or severe and alien like One and Twelve, but gradually the heart of what is truly “The Doctor” is reaffirmed and grown through repetition – the intellect, compassion, courage, respect, and curiosity that constitute the show’s core heroic virtues.

    When viewed through the lens of universal values and emotional quality rather than identity, not only is female and/or minority Doctor obviously possible for any performer able to project those qualities, it seems both necessary and exciting in the ongoing evolution/reaffirmation of The Doctor’s character; unless someone would care to argue that women cannot contain intellect, compassion, courage, respect, and curiosity. Some creative license must be allowed to the showrunner who only gets to pull this trigger once every 3-5 years and has to make a gut call on where The Doctor is in this story and how that manifests in casting, but the door should be wide open every time it comes around. And not just because the thought of Emma Thompson wielding a sonic makes me giddy.

    The Doctor is so much more flexible to this idea than, say, James Bond – another British icon that has to be re-examined every few years. Once you strip away the offensive colonialist assumptions and expired ideas of masculinity via dominance in Ian Fleming, is there enough left in there to call a character? That’s certainly being explored at the moment.

  2. Pingback: Boy, Is Doctor Who in a Pickle with This Casting Debate…It’s About Time | Ramble On: Nerdy Ponderings

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