Fans of Doctor Who, it seems, are either thrilled or devastated by the news that Jodie Whittaker (a.k.a. A WOMAN?! *le gasp*) is going to be the next incarnation of the Doctor. It was a move that a lot of us saw coming, but not all of us are on board with. While I understand some people’s reservations about the actor herself (apparently she lacked charisma in Broadchurch), I feel that’s the only valid concern about the future of the series. I really don’t want to seem harsh, but these days I am becoming increasingly impatient with those who refuse to accept social change and acceptance. So really, and in the most polite fashion I can muster, I really want to have a bit of a rant about that.The internet really has been a bingo card of everything we have come to expect from – to generalize – the more right-wing/Libertarian viewership of Doctor Who. I am loath to throw around the terms ‘mysoginist’ or ‘meninist’, because I think the main cause of uproar isn’t to do with the issue of equality, but rather the show’s canon and a negative reaction to change.
Honestly, I do understand your complaints. Yes, back in the day the Doctor was always represented as a white man. Presumably straight and cis to boot, though to my knowledge that was never specified. I’d be annoyed too if the show just abandoned its own logic and rules after fifty years, but the thing is though, it didn’t. TV shows grow and evolve with each season, and if they’re fantasy or sci-fi it’s not uncommon for new concepts to be introduced along the way. Heck, the idea of regeneration itself wasn’t planned – the show runners only thought of it when the first Doctor, William Hartnell, decided to leave the show. An idea that was created to fix a problem ended up becoming an exciting and original plot point that is integral to the show, and it doesn’t stop there. Since Moffat took over as show runner at the end of season 4 of the modern series, he has made clear changes to the show’s stance on regeneration. He paved the way for Capaldi and Whittaker (and future incarnations) by having the Time Lords gift Matt Smith’s Doctor with a new regeneration cycle. It has been stated in Classic Who that a Time Lord is only allowed twelve regenerations, so if Moffat had followed these rules – BOOM – no more show. He has also given us many many examples of the different changes a regeneration can occur, preparing us for the inevitable change, one that we have been working towards since the 80s: a female doctor.
Here’s why it works for me. Like most aspects of the show, there aren’t often any strict rules in Doctor Who. How many times does the Doctor warn against the dangers of crossing time streams or messing with a fixed point in time, only to go ahead and mess with those exact same things in the next episode? And with regeneration, the leading theory is that no Time Lord can really chose their appearance, but their subconscious may be able to sway the process a little. That is, after all, how they filled that gaping plot hole when Capaldi became the twelfth Doctor. He had previously appeared in the show as a different character, so they got around that by working into the show that he wanted to send his future self some kind of message. Since regeneration is a concept that was created entirely to ensure the show’s continuation, as continues to be such, my personal headcanon is that the Time Lords don’t even really understand the process themselves! All they know is that they change physically, personally, and yes, they can also change gender. At the end of the day, this is canon now. Theories of Time Lord genital biology aside, we’re working with the facts of a fictional TV show, and intersex Time Lords are a thing. In a world where it is possible to change your sex, skin colour, hair, even your accent, I find it difficult to believe it is inconceivable for the Doctor to become female. “But he’s always been a white male!” you cry. He wasn’t Scottish before Capaldi; maybe his subconscious fancied a change!
But it really does boil down to our inability to view a work of fiction simply as what it is. This is a sci-fi show, the Doctor is an alien, of a fictional race who happen to be gender-fluid, race-fluid and all that jazz. But we cant just see it as that, we have to relate it to us, as humans, in our own societal constructs that we understand. It doesn’t matter our views on the thirteenth Doctor, we’re all guilty of it. Cons are saying “it’s Time Lord not Time Lady!” and pros are saying “it’s the show’s responsibility to have diverse representation“. Whatever your views, surely it’s possible to agree that aliens would most likely have very different biology and societal constructs to us?!
At the end of the day, I’m happy to welcome Jodie Whittaker as 13. A female Doctor makes sense within the show for me, and appeases my need for diverse representation in television. Like it or lump it, this is happening, and I hope those who oppose this move can use this as an opportunity to further their thinking and engage in constructive conversations. Doctor Who, just like our society, is ever-changing. The Doctor fears his regeneration every time, but always ends up embracing his new self. Change is scary, but please don’t close your minds to opportunity.