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'Doctor'— Whom Did You Say? Reaction to Casting Female Actor as Next 'Doctor Who' Has Stirred the Pot on Social Media
July 21, 2017  | By Alex Strachan  | 4 comments
 

Old news: the new Doctor Who will be played by a female actor for the first time in the franchise’s history. 

That was big news earlier this week, especially in the UK, where, thanks to widespread public access to the BBC, Doctor Who reaches more fans, relative to the size of the country’s population, than Game of Thrones does here on HBO. BBC America doesn’t reach nearly as many homes, so Doctor Who has always been more of a cult item here than it is over there. The X-Files’s David Duchovny once defined a “cult audience” as code for ‘small audience,’ but still, Doctor Who is still on the cultural radar here. And not just because it’s Comic-Con weekend.

More interesting thing, though, judging from fans’ response on Twitter and other social media sites, was not so much the announcement as the reaction.

For every social justice crusader who shouted, “It’s about time!” (sorry), there were those nattering nabobs of negativity (again, sorry) who insisted the Doctor should be and must be a man because, well, that’s the way it’s always been. 

Never mind that the Doctor is a space alien — a Time Lord, to be precise — with two hearts and an unerring ability to change appearance every time the lead actor’s contract expires.

If it’s true, as one prominent movie critic once said of James Bond, that every generation gets the Bond it deserves, the same could be said of Doctor Who. (Shouldn’t it be Doctor Whom, one pedant suggested this past week in The Guardian, but that’s a whole other debate for the nitpickers. It’s bad enough emphasizing the proper spelling of Doctor — it’s officially spelled “Doctor,” not “Dr.” as some time-challenged fans and bloggers insist, without having to quibble over the particulars of past participles in the surnames of Time Lords. And, yes, Time Lord is officially capitalized. Aren’t you glad you took the time to read this?)

The reaction in the UK, where Doctor Who has been entertaining viewers since 1963, was pointed and swift. “A little girl reacted on Twitter with wonderment and joy,” veteran Guardian columnist Zoe Williams noted in a July 17 column. 

“At the same time, a coordinated warrior-army of creatures born to hate, whose only thought was to destroy those not like them — similar to the Daleks, not to labor the point — arrived to decry the decision,” Williams added. “This was it, the giddy limit, the moment they stopped watching, the endpoint of political correctness. A female Doctor. Why a doctor at all? Why not a separate show called Nurse Who? Why do liberals have to take everything they love and ruin it? Is nothing sacred? An immortal time traveler with two hearts who persistently defies the laws of physics — that they can handle. But break the laws of the patriarchy, in which men alone get to do derring? No way.”

As a personal, purely anecdotal observation — though I’m not alone — I’ve noticed that every time I get an angry email or see an angry vow on Twitter that, “I’ll never watch this show again!” that person invariably does watch again, if only to complain even louder the next time. More common are those who cry, “I’ll never watch again!” and then do watch again, but don’t tell anyone about it, for fear of admitting that, on second consideration, they actually kind of like the change.

When Doctor Who returns with the Christmas special and a new season next spring, it will have a new show-runner — Broadchurch’s Chris Chibnall in, Sherlock’s Steve Moffat out —  as well as a new actor, Jodie Whittaker (top), replacing Peter Capaldi (left). (Who fans can expect to see the actual “regeneration,” when one face replaces the other, in the Christmas special.) The behind-the-scenes change is telling because Chibnall relied heavily on Whittaker’s acting ability in the original season of Broadchurch, as a young mother who learns her beloved little boy has been murdered. The entire series — one of the most wrenching and poignant TV serial dramas of its day — rested on Whittaker’s shoulders. Even more than Olivia Colman, who played the troubled police detective tasked with solving the crime, Whittaker was the one actor who could bring Broadchurch down with just one false note. It makes sense that Chibnall, a veteran Doctor Who staff writer who’s been handed the reins for BBC’s single most important, high-profile drama series, would opt to go with an actor he trusts implicitly. The fact that that actor is a woman — well, that’s just another sign that the familiar is about to become unfamiliar. Chibnall has hinted that his version of Who will be very different, in style and tone, from Moffat’s Who. One can read too much into the past, even for a show that deals with time travel, but the fact remains that Chibnall’s scripts for Doctor Who tended to involve bug-eyed monsters — a giant yang-yang is killing our space miners one-by-one! — than Moffat’s tendency to weave in contemporary politics (Let’s kill Hitler! Bernie Sanders, are you with me?!).

When Doctor Who returns, in other words, the emphasis is going to be on fun, a trippy return to the goofy — and fondly remembered — classic Doctors of Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and, more recently, David Tennant, but with a feminine twist — all guile and charm, with a healthy dash of modernity, as the Guardian’s Zoe Williams said of the superhero movie-du-jour, Wonder Woman: “A woman who is not only preternaturally strong but also can talk. . . Whittaker’s inauguration is only the beginning. It is exhilarating to think how many clichés a woman in this role will tear down.”

Not all men — or women — will agree, of course. Still, it was instructive to see a thoughtful, heartfelt op-ed piece by former Doctor Who actor Colin Baker (left), who played the sixth Time Lord, from 1984 to 1986. Baker, now 74, noted that, without exception, the Time Lord reincarnations have all been different. Why should an alien be male? Jodie Whittaker will inspire new Doctor Who fans, Baker believes.

“I was the Doctor and I’m over the moon that at last we have a female lead,” Baker wrote this past week. “Whenever I have been interviewed about Doctor Who, the question has come up about the possibility of a female Doctor. I have never been able to think of any logical reason why an alien being capable of regenerating in extremis would necessarily retain all or indeed any of the characteristics of his (or her) pre-renewal self.”

Baker then added, playfully: “Pronouns are about to get tricky when talking about the Doctor.”

Indeed, as the English say.

As for those who say, ‘I’ll never watch this show again!’ — well, time will tell.

 
 
 
 
 
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4 Comments
 
 
Bob Lamm
Terrific response by the BBC to the DOCTOR WHO controversy. (I hope it's OK and that it works to post a link here.) https://www.bustle.com/p/the-bbcs-response-to-the-doctor-who-controversy-is-both-sassy-insightful-71281
Jul 22, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Bob Lamm
Ah, yes. This will be so difficult for misogynist boys of all ages. But with 400+ scripted series on TV, surely they can find at least one series (or reruns from the 1950s) where women are only allowed to be mothers, secretaries, and prostitutes. Congratulations to the show runners of DOCTOR WHO for this wonderful move. And great column by Mr. Strachan.
Jul 22, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
I AM VERY OUTRAGED THAT THE NEXT DOCTOR WHO WILL BE JODIE WHITTAKER! I HAVE WATCHED DOCTOR WHO SINCE 1985, WHEN TOM BAKER WAS THE DOCTOR FOR ME! IT IS A DAGGONE SHAME THAT A WOMAN IS NOW DOCTOR WHO! CONGRADULATIONS, BBC! YOU JUST RUINED DOCTOR WHO! I WILL NEVER WATC DOCTOR WHO EVER AGIAN! PLACING A STUPID WOMAN IN THE ROLE OF DOCTOR WHO HAS RUINED DOCTOR WHO FOR ME! I WILL NEVER THAT STUPID SHOW EVER AGIAN!
Jul 22, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Star Trek got a female captain 22 years ago so it's about time Doctor Who got a Time Lady.
Jul 21, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
 
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