Unless you’ve been living under a rock, and one with no internet access that happens to be totally out of earshot of every city in the world where someone has a TV, you’re probably at least vaguely aware that we now know who Peter Capaldi’s replacement in Doctor Who is going to be.
Surprise! It’s a person with boobs!
Now, this was made public a while ago by this point, but I’ve held off on writing about it because I haven’t watched Who for a while, nor been an active part of the fandom. But then I thought ‘balls to it, I write about stuff I’m far less than qualified to comment on, like, all the time’, and now I’m sat here in my jammies writing this. It’s a good life, so it is.
I used to really like Doctor Who, actually. I think I’d seen a few episodes from the Fourth through Seventh eras thanks to my dad occasionally finding a VHS tape of Old Who, so I was pretty stoked watching Christopher Ecclestone’s run back in 2005 when the show was revived. (I was just eleven, so just slightly too young to understand why my mum seemed to be giving my dad reproachful looks every time he said something about Billie Piper.) ‘Twas a good run, in fact, and rather too short, but we did get David Tennant out of it, so I couldn’t exactly complain. I think Tennant, as the Tenth Doctor (or Eleventh, if you count John Hurt’s retroactively-inserted ‘War Doctor’, who sits between Eight and Nine), is generally considered the favourite of most people who were around my age and whose first experience of Doctor Who, at least to any great extent, was with the post-’05 stuff, and he probably was my favourite too. I remember being pretty devastated when he left the show to be replaced by Matt Smith, and perhaps it was just a natural consequence of nobody being able to live up to Tennant in my mind that I just sort of drifted away from watching the show after that. I might also have been starting to grow a little too old for it, perhaps; though I know lots of people who are far older than me and who still love the show just as much as they did when they were kids, my tastes have changed over the years to the point that I just stopped enjoying the show enough to think it was worth investing the time into watching it every week.
I’ve kept up with what’s been going on, though, sort of. I watched the episode where Smith regenerated into Capaldi, and I remember being vaguely optimistic that Capaldi would be a very good Doctor, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than one or two episodes of his run. It’s a run, however, that’s about to come to a close, and that brings us to the immediate subject.
Yes, it’s true: the Doctor, a millenia-old alien who travels through time and space in an old wooden box, has fended off deadly oversized salt shakers and farting body-stealers (yeah, I remember the Slitheen – they were unbelievably terrifying to me as a kid), has been to the ends of the universe and saved and destroyed planets and met Caesar and punched a rhino on the moon… is going to have a vagina. I mean, how unbelievable is that?!
I don’t think what I’m about to say is exactly original; I bet a ton of people are saying the exact same thing, but as long as there are people who are pissed off about the fact that their favourite shape-shifting alien is going to be shape-shifting into a shape that just happens to not have a wang, I think this sentiment bears repeating.
I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT JODIE WHITAKER AS THE DOCTOR IS A VERY REASONABLE CASTING DECISION.
There we go.
See, I don’t even think it’s worth making this about gender. Who the fuck cares, honestly? There’ll be those who are accusing the makers of Who of embodying ‘political correctness gone mad’, or ‘stunt casting’ purely to generate some publicity, but let’s not forget that casting a new Doctor is, at the end of the day, a decision made by those who are in charge of trying to make the show a good one. Yeah, there’ll be considerations about how their choice is going to play for the press, and they’ll no doubt have been aware of the kinds of reaction they might get, but seriously, does anyone actually think it would be a remotely worthwhile or sensible decision by the Beeb to cast someone as the very-much-in-the-public-eye protagonist of one of their flagship shows just to drum up a bit of controversy? Imagine being a fly on the wall in that meeting:
‘Hey, Dave, we should – you know what we should do, we should totally cast a woman. Just any woman. Doesn’t matter which one. We’ll get in the papers and whatnot.’
‘When you say it doesn’t matter which one, what you’re saying is it’s not important that we cast someone who’s going to be competent at doing the job they’ll be hired for?’
‘Yeah, yeah, that’s right, yeah. *sniff*’
‘So we could just put literally any person with a clitoris in this very prestigious job and we’ll be golden?’
‘Oh, yeah, as long as there’s some media attention we’re all good, we’re all good.’
‘Well, that sounds perfect! We’ll submit this idea right now and I’m pretty sure that we’ll be considered very good at our jobs too and not be fired!’
And then they fucked off down the pub, having successfully done all their work for the day.
I don’t think this is a decision that’s been made lightly. It’s probably one that was made after a lot of thought, actually, considering the inevitable debate it was always going to provoke, and so I can’t help but think that it’s been made not for stunt or publicity reasons, but for the reason that makes the most sense to have in mind when choosing who to appoint in a role: because the producers think she’s going to be good at it. I can’t really speak to Whitaker’s ability as an acting person, having not seen her in anything as far as I know, but then I’d never seen David Tennant in much either. And yes, there is that nice bonus that young girls get to see that women can do everything a man can do, even to the extent that one can become a hero who’s always traditionally been male. It might take a bit of adjusting, but a new Doctor always does.
There might be a bigger issue at play here. I’ve seen it said by some… well, not anti-Whitakers or anti-female-Doctors, but anti-people-who-are-having-a-go-at-people-who-are-anti-Whitaker, that the main reason some are a bit cheesed off is because they just think it’s an unnecessary change to a beloved character, who’ll now be… well, different. I mean, I kind of get that. People really like the Doctor, but everyone likes different versions of them more or less than others and this doesn’t really seem any different. You can’t claim it’s inconsistent with the show’s history, either, because there have been female Time Lords for ages and I’m pretty sure New Who has had at least a couple of references to multi-gendered ones even before Michelle Gomez made a proper-in-the-flesh appearance as a formerly male character. Let’s not forget that these characters aren’t even human. Gender probably isn’t really much of a thing to them, especially if they’re more likely than not to do some transitioning at least once or twice in their lifetimes.
I’ve also seen it said that it would have been better to simply start a new show with a Strong Female Lead, if Whitaker’s casting is supposed to be some sort of redress to the lack of women protagonists in television generally, rather than try to shoehorn one of those Strong Female Leads into a show that sort of doesn’t need one. I mean, I definitely agree with the first bit of that sentiment, in that I’d like to just see more original shows with female leads in general. We need more Buffys, more… see, I’m having trouble thinking of another one, and that sucks. More shows like Orphan Black, which has about fifty-nine female leads, I guess. So, yeah, there is a problem that needs fixing, but I don’t see how Doctor Who casting a woman as its lead is relevant to that, really. It’s certainly not making the situation any worse.
In short, I sort of don’t care who’s the Doctor. I probably still won’t watch the show. But I’m definitely not going to say that having a new role model for young girls, someone who exemplifies the idea of heroism on telly and who also happens to be a lady person, is in any way something to be getting annoyed about.