In 2005 something quite remarkable happened. Some clever and creative people at the BBC took the stalwart but long abandoned juvenile science fiction series, Doctor Who, with its cardboard monsters and makeshift sets, from its legion of closeted nostalgic geek fans and remade it.

The remarkable part was not the bigger budget, the more impressive special effects, nor the acting, but the re-casting of the character. For the most part, the Doctor had always been a cross between an eccentric English gentleman, and a somewhat superior alien. A sort of 20th century sci fi Sherlock Holmes, a role model with a distinct demographic – young male geeks. In 2005, taking its lead from the 1996 US co-produced Doctor Who movie, the Doctor was recast as something of a dashing, if still eccentric, matinee idol. A quantum shift in the audience demographic.

The biggest change, however, was not from avuncular appeal to leading man, but that the stories stopped being about the time travelling hero. Doctor Who was no longer about Doctor Who. It instead became the story of a feisty and irrepressible girl from a London council estate, Rose Tyler, and sometimes her boyfriend, Mickey, and her mother, Jackie. It became a story about how quite ordinary people rose to the challenge in strange and extraordinary circumstances. After that it became the story of a dedicated young Doctor, Martha, an unrequited love across the universe. Then a snarky office temp with a heart somewhere between lead and gold, Donna. Then the girl who waited – Amy, and the boy who loved her, Rory. You get the picture. Doctor Who, since 2005, with the troublesome but adventurous Clara, with bold and wonderful Bill, with an assortment of other characters, has always been the journey of the companions, the people, the ordinary but extraordinary women that surround the Doctor. The Doctor is the unknown, the storm, the McGuffin, the device, the mystery around which the tale of the companions is told.

Now the character, after its latest regeneration, as the 13th Doctor, is a woman, to be played by the redoubtable Jodie Whittaker. At first it seems like a mere gimmick, and those hanging on to their nostalgic image of the Doctor as a grandly superior and clever alien hero in the guise of an eccentric English gentleman are being shouted down as misogynists.

There have of course been several genius women Timelords (or Time Ladies, in the somewhat clumsy old parlance). The Master’s incarnation as Missy, and the fourth Doctor’s companion, Romana, especially come to mind. While remarkable in their own right, both more often than not were foils to the Doctor’s choices. And there have been many bold women genre characters on TV – Xena Warrior Princess, Wonder Woman, Jessica Jones to mention a few, carried from strength to strength by the leading character.

However, with the Doctor as a woman, can she be the somewhat emotionally retarded but eminently superior alien, in the guise of an English eccentric, the mystery at the centre around whom swirls a cast of ordinary human companions, half in fear, half in love, following their stories on an incredible adventure through time and space? Or, will the Doctor, as the first woman Doctor, necessarily be again at the centre of the whirlwind, the lead role, and a succession of male and female companions now reduced to mere foils, mere sidekicks? At a first glance, it doesn’t seem like it will quite work.

All we can really be certain of now, is with this regeneration, the dynamic has certainly changed.

Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor

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About The Author

C S Hughes

C S Hughes is a proud member of the TV generation, studied film and communications, collects the paperback books of Philip K Dick, loves science fiction and fantasy books, B grade movies and cult TV, American thrillers and British noir, restoring vintage watches, reading poetry, creating innovative illustrated poetry books which are available in Apple’s iBooks format, and cake. Especially cake. He has also written short stories, and has a collection of horror stories coming out in 2015.

12 Responses

  1. TAMMY CUEVAS

    I still think Kris Marshall would have been a great choice. The Doctor’s interactions with companions will most likely change, and not for the better. IMHO, of course.

    Reply
  2. C S Hughes
    C S Hughes

    I agree. Kris is another of those slightly eccentric seeming British character actors that would been a great fit as the Doctor. I’m willing to give it a chance, but I can’t see how this dynamic will work.

    Reply
  3. Jasmine

    As someone who has watched Dr Who for years, I find the choice of a female Doctor difficult to imagine. It would be good to regard the change as something ‘natural’ which has arisen from the story lines themselves, but it is difficult to think that the change is nothing more than a response to modern day political correctness. For some time now, there have been calls for the Doctor to be someone other than a male white actor, not because it relates to the story arc, but because that is the modern approach to traditional roles. As to the Doctor’s relationship with the companions, it is hard to see how this will work without utterly changing the dynamic of the show.

    Reply
    • C S Hughes
      C S Hughes

      It certainly seems arbitrary. There was no story arc leading up to it, just the usual hubbub on the net.

      Reply
  4. Olga Hughes

    I think that now there will be a different situation with each regeneration. Possibly each time a male is cast for the role there will now be complaints that it wasn’t a female, we’ve had a female before, now not enough females are cast in the role of the Doctor etc etc. Actors never seem to stay in the role for more than a few years so it will be interesting to see the next transition.

    Reply
  5. Adrienne Dillard

    The next doctor after Whittaker needs to be a ginger 🙂 I was kind of pulling for Rupert Grint, to be honest. I think he’d make a great doctor. I had heard they were looking at Idris Elba, he would have been a good choice too. I think just about any person they cast is going to be polarizing; half of the fan-base will be mad no matter who steps into those iconic shoes. I’m dead curious who will be cast as companions. Can’t remember if the actor who plays Nordole is leaving too?

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      They could have made Jodie a ginger. Doesn’t she usually have dark hair?

      This is why Moffat has broken my heart. The Twelfth, Bill, Nardole and Missy were my favourite leads since the Eleventh and the Ponds. Matt Lucas and Michelle Gomez are definitely gone, Pearl Mackie might be back but I don’t think it will be full time. I’ll do a round-up for Series 11 news soon but there is not much yet.

      I’ll be interested to see the regeneration and see how they tie it in to the Doctor’s previous incarnations.

      Reply
      • Jasmine

        I wonder if they will try to edit the backstory and come up with other occasions where the Doctor was female. It would seem odd to have 12 regenerations as male if the Time Lords are not gender specific throughout all their regenerations.

      • Olga Hughes

        I don’t think they could Jasmine, I think Moffat may have been introducing the idea with Missy and this would have to be the Doctor’s first gender change. He’s actually on a new cycle of regenerations as well, perhaps that could be used as reasoning. If I recall correctly the Twelfth is technically the first of the new cycle granted by the Time Lords. The General’s regeneration into a woman was a good indicator as well, back in Clara’s final episode.

  6. Adrienne Dillard

    It will be interesting to see. I’m sad to see them go. I loved Missy. Nordole was good, but I never connected to him like the other companions. Probably because he was really only there for a season. I just don’t understand why they never stick around for long. There was so much made about Capaldi being such a life long fan and how it was a dream come true for him and then, all of a sudden, he was leaving. I wonder if he wasn’t pushed out?

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      They don’t take on the role for long because the work schedule is terrible, they shoot in Wales for nine or ten months a year, which is a really long time. Most British actors do a lot of diverse work and stage work in between screen work and being the Doctor doesn’t allow for anything else. It’s not as if they get to drop the role, they have a lifetime of being the Doctor after they leave the show. Genre fans won’t let you off that easily lol.

      Reply
    • Jasmine

      I’m sad too. I think the last series was one of the best and it will be difficult to surpass it. I only hope the new writer(s) will not feel that a mark has to be made and go off in a totally new direction.

      Reply

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