On Sunday 16th July, the thirteenth doctor was revealed after the men’s final of Wimbledon. I was out at a concert rehearsal when it was announced so didn’t see the reveal live but caught up via the storm that followed. Jodie’s Whittaker’s reveal followed months of speculation following Capaldi’s announcement that he was moving on. It would have been nice to have a surprise reveal in the series 10 finale or the Christmas special (though I doubt it would have remained spoiler free until then!) but Jodie was revealed in a nice short with high production values and not impacting on existing stories. The immediate aftermath played out on Twitter and the internet, with viewers split over the casting decision.
Jodie Whittaker is the first female doctor and unsurprisingly opinions from those both for and against have been flying around since the reveal. She will have a small part in the regeneration scene at Christmas but her first series next year or the year after will also see new showrunner Chris Chibnall join the fold so all change ahead.
Was it inevitable that a female doctor would be next?
At each regeneration in New Who, there have been people pushing for a female doctor. The last two regenerations in particular, the press have cottoned on to this and have really helped push this further, with lists of actresses they think could take on the role. It has been heavily foreshadowed during Capaldi’s tenure from the quick Time Lord/Lady regeneration in Gallifrey (Hell Bent), the dialogue in Series 10 about Earth’s petty gender structures and “Is the future female?” to Missy as an incarnation of the Master. This could have been done to show that it was possible to change genders and keep the fans happy without the casting of the protagonist changing but also offered the opportunity to change to female.
Why are some people upset about the casting?
The casting of a fictional time-travelling alien with two hearts as a female has been celebrated by some and is loathed by others. Some fans can’t envisage the character as a woman after 54 years of a male character. Will these fans or viewers boycott the show as they claim? Probably not. Doctor Who has had many hits and misses throughout its history but fans will stick with it and it is still probably the best programme to watch on a Saturday night even as a casual viewer. It’s like the Great British Bake Off migrating to Channel 4. Many say they will boycott it but I bet they will tune into the first episode at least to see what it’s like. The problem with the Doctor reveals is that everyone jumps in with their thoughts on the casting based on looks rather than waiting to see them in the role. I don’t think it helps the fans wary about change for others to belittle them. I have noticed this, also in regards to politics, that those pushing to be progressive and inclusive can also be belittling and vitriolic to those who do not share their ideals. A more open dialogue between fans expressing their concerns and fans explaining the cultural significance would be more helpful for both sides.
Why are people arguing about role models?
This argument has been one of the key ones used by those celebrating Jodie’s casting. The thought is that having a female protagonist will offer a role model to young girls. Two former doctors Peter Davison and Colin Baker discussed this recently at a panel at Comic Con. Davison noted that some viewers were concerned and was worried that male fans would lose a role model whilst Baker was applauding the fact that female fans would finally be able to see a woman as a protagonist in the series and equating that with being a role model. Baker then went on to question why should gender affect people choosing role models which negated his earlier statement about the thirteenth doctor being a role model for female fans. I have issues with the role model argument as surely you don’t need to be of the same gender to admire someone and look up to them as a role model. Also I think female viewers could have looked up to some of the companions. Yes, not the title character but in both Classic Who and New Who, there have been feisty female companions and New Who has focused on companions as pivotal to storylines and series arcs. Many of the Doctor Who books I read in university suggested that in New Who the companion, her backstory and her actions drove the show.
What were my initial thoughts?
I have to admit that in the speculation stages I was sceptical of a woman taking on the role. I think that roles should go to the best actor for the specific role regardless of gender, ethnicity, age etc but I was worried that it may be a form of tokenism, a box ticking exercise to cast a woman bowing to pressure from the press and a select portion of fans. I wasn’t keen on many of the actresses whose names were thrown into the ring. My male favourites for the role were Sacha Dhawan (An Adventure in Space and Time) or Paterson Joseph (Peep Show, Timeless). My wildcard choice would be Cyril Nri who has previously been in The Sarah Jane Adventures and Class. However, when Jodie was revealed I was happy with the choice. I have seen her do both comedy in the St Trinians films and serious drama in Broadchurch. She has the range to bring both light and dark to the Doctor and I am actually quite excited to see her in action. I acknowledge though that this is subjective. For me, she was the right female choice for the role. For others, the speculated names I dismissed may have been the perfect choice for them.
Will the female Doctor campaigners turn into critics?
Another concern I had if the Doctor turned out to be female, as she now is, was that the character will be scrutinised and picked apart. Not by those who are against her but by the very people who have campaigned to see a female protagonist. It will depend on how she is written, how she is dressed and how the companions act. I think that some fans will have very high expectations about how she should be written and act. I feel for Chris Chibnall whose previous Doctor Who offerings have been pretty weak in my opinion but who has written and worked with Jodie in Broadchurch which has generally been brilliant. Not only will Jodie be under scrutiny but Chris’ abilities as a writer will be too. Even if he can write brilliant scripts and characters, will this be enough? I studied the character of Sarah Jane Smith across a sample of episodes from Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures for my dissertation. Sarah Jane was the titular character in her own series, practically taking the Doctor’s position in the series as she had a sonic (lipstick), super computer (in lieu of a Tardis) and a group of companions. I found in my sample that in The Sarah Jane Adventures the character showed qualities of second wave feminism, postfeminism, femininity, strength and weakness. To me, this made me happy – she was a well rounded, human character who was believable yet retained some of the qualities that made her character unique. However, I feel some fans may not be interested in a female doctor showing weakness and will want her to consistently be the “strong woman” trope which is actually pretty restrictive.
I am excited to see what Jodie will do with the role and I hope that people wait to give her a chance by watching her in action. It will be interesting to see who her doctor has as companions – whether it’s a singular male, singular female or duo (one of each). I think it may be two companions. I have really enjoyed Series 10, some great episodes and fab performances by Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts. I am so looking forward to the Christmas special for Peter Capaldi to deliver hopefully a wonderful swansong as the Doctor and for David Bradley’s contribution as the First Doctor as I absolutely loved An Adventure in Space and Time!