Thursday, 28 July 2016

Musings on a female Doctor Who

Mere days before Matt Smith announced his run as the Doctor was coming to an end, I posted a piece on Yahoo asking the question 'Is it time for a female Doctor?'. When the announcement about Smith's departure landed, the piece suddenly made the Yahoo! home page and - well - all hell broke loose.

Here's the first piece:
Doctor Who: Is it time for a female Doctor?
With Matt Smith to leave his role as the Doctor at the end of this year, has Alex Kingston's River Song paved the way for a new female Doctor?

There have now been eleven Doctors in 'Doctor Who'. That's eleven Timelords played by eleven men through eleven regenerations. The long-term assistants - though there have of course been men from time to time - have tended to be female. This male Doctor/female assistant dynamic has been the one constant for the cult TV show but in the fifty years since the show began, the roles of men and women have changed in our society. Why, then, have they not changed in the show?

The most recent series have certainly created more 'equal' females for the Doctor, with many of these mere humans risking life and limb and proving to be smart, courageous and always so incredibly loyal.

None has been more equal, though, than River Song. Thanks to Alex Kingston's hilarious, dramatic and often heartbreaking portrayal of the character, a time-travelling, regenerating female is no longer an item of speculation but a reality much loved by fans. River Song knows how to fly the TARDIS, how to hold her own against an alien race (and more often than not - the human race) and has given audiences just as much fun, emotion, excitement and adventure as any male Doctor.

Surely then, now that Matt Smith is leaving the show it's time for the Doctor to regenerate into a woman. After all, his eleventh Doctor initially thought he might be a woman when, having just regenerated, he touched his slightly long hair and cried 'I'm a girl!'. Imagine the hilarity if a new, female Doctor were to be reunited with her wife, River Song! What would Captain Jack make of a woman Doctor? Or Vastra and Jenny? Strax, of course, wouldn't notice a difference. Add to this a male assistant in need of excitement and escape, as they so often are, and there's surely a brilliant pairing ready to provide yet more TV gold.

'Doctor Who' is a show about regenerating - not just the Doctor himself, but the alien worlds, the enemies, the assistants and the special effects. Before it can become tired, the show needs - quite literally - a face lift. Time may be a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff but isn't it time we got a female Doctor in the TARDIS?

Now, the comments garnered by this piece were so angry that I wrote a second piece inspired by them. Here's that piece (originally posted at Yahoo!): 
Doctor Who: Hate-filled and sexist attitudes from fans ruined the big reveal
With another man cast as the Doctor, why are fans so reluctant to see a woman take on the role?
Why the vitriolic reaction to the question ‘Is it time for a female Doctor?’ made the announcement of Peter Capaldi’s casting in the role so disappointing.
Around the time Matt Smith announced he was to leave ‘Doctor Who’, an article I had written about the show – in which I asked whether it was time for a female Doctor – proved to be quite the topic for debate. Some were in agreement and others, unsurprisingly, were adamant that the role should not be played by a woman.
It seemed that, with the fiftieth anniversary approaching, something big was coming. Alex Kingston’s character Dr River Song had proven immensely popular, the Doctor had accidentally created a daughter with two hearts and audiences were taking to the idea of a woman who could regenerate. Looking back over the last fifty years, the continuing success of the show, the concept of regeneration and the constant shift in dynamic between Doctor and companion, it seemed to me that perhaps now was the moment for a change. I didn’t just want a woman to take on the role. I wanted a male companion to go along with her. Or perhaps a Doctor of colour. Just something different.
I expected passionate, enthusiastic responses on both sides of the debate. This is ‘Doctor Who’ after all. However, I was stunned by the sheer level of hatred and vitriol that appeared when the article went live.
Some readers – both male and female – chose to attack me for having written the article, assuming incorrectly that I wanted the next Doctor to be a woman simply because I was one and must therefore have been forcing my feminist agenda down their throats. As if women could have a valid opinion. What was I thinking? Some even had the courtesy to address me directly, with one commenting, ‘why do you PC brigade ever get to air these stupid, spoiling views, just enjoy what you have’ and another discarding the article entirely it seems because ‘Surprise surprise the article is by a woman.’ Had a man written the exact same article, would it have been more valid?
Others took the suggestion to ridiculous lengths, asking why we didn’t just make the new Doctor ‘a blind, disabled, half black, half chinese, transexual’ or ‘a lesbian while you're at it; maybe with a ladyboy as an assistant!’.
Then there were those who simply wanted to air their sexist views, with many foreseeing the end of the show because ‘She'd never be out the tardis for changing her makeup’. One speculated: ‘can you imagine the doctor with PMS god help the universe’.
Those behind the show then announced that Clara would be staying and I went right off the idea of a female Doctor. The show has broken so many boundaries already but I feared that casting female actresses in both the lead roles would be too much for many fans, myself included.
Throughout this entire process, I always had complete faith in Steven Moffat. It felt to me like he would be open to the idea of change but wouldn’t bow to public pressure and, in the end, would opt for whoever he felt would do the best job.
So at the moment Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor I was excitedly watching the BBC along with so many other fans across the world – and I do think he will be brilliant. But seeing that typical white male walk out made my heart sink a little. It must be my feminine hormones acting up again. They do that from time to time.
Now, after Joss Whedon commented that he'd consider writing for the show - but only if the Doctor was played by a woman (or Idris Elba!) - the debate has resurfaced. So, dare I ask, what do you think? Play nice, kiddies...

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