'Doctor Who' progresses while its fanbase regresses
It was an ordinary day in mid-July when the BBC announced the extraordinary; a history-defining event was about to unfold. As fans of the popular sci-fi series “Doctor Who” waited in bated breath for the announcement of the next incarnation of The Doctor, speculations ran wild, all revolving around one question in particular: Who would portray the next Time Lord? As the teaser for next season began to roll, you could practically feel the shared anticipation from fans all over the world, anticipation which was quickly replaced by feelings of anger or of joy when the figure finally pulls back the hood covering their face.
Mere minutes following the announcement that Jodie Whittaker (“Broadchurch”) was to take on the traditionally male role of The Doctor, fans took to social media to express their feelings of hope, excitement and, more prominently, outrage. A role held by male actors since the series’ premiere back in 1963, The Doctor has been portrayed by highly-billed British and Scottish actors alike. However, it now seems like the “Broadchurch” actress is about to tackle that barrier. Unlike in years past, this announcement found fans less than thrilled by the casting. From tweets in which fans express their interest in seeing her hit the screens to lifelong fans who have vowed to discontinue their support of the series, the opinions are flying. So much so that we stop to ask ourselves — this is the 21st century, right? Amidst all of the speculation, had no one entertained the idea of a female actress taking over the role?
The answer is: of course. Of course they have. In an interview dating back to 2014, showrunner Steven Moffat said there would bea female Doctor were a perfect cadidate to be realized.
"When that person is a woman, that’s the day it will happen," Moffat said.
Though Moffat has, in the past, been critically judged for not casting a female into the role of the Time Lord, his judgement for not casting an actress thus far is understandable. For a series which has been around as long as “Doctor Who,” especially since the series was only recently rebooted in 2005, the role of The Doctor is not simply cast on a whim. The person portraying the Time Lord needs to feel right, needs to come at just the right time. And though one could argue that it is, in fact, about damn time, the most recent casting feels like it’s come at exactly the right point in time. For most fans, this has been a dream in the making for many years while for others, it’s coming as a shock that they had actually gone through with the casting.
While the harshest arguments against Jodie Whittaker’s casting have come from lifelong fans of the series, weaker protests have originated from viewers of the recently rebooted series, with the argument being that Jodie’s incarnation will deviate from the more recent versions of The Doctor. Mainly because, as one might guess, David Tennant (“Broadchurch”) and Matt Smith (“The Crown”) were attractive — and often eccentric — young men cast into the role of the aging alien. This is a fact that the series itself has often poked fun of, especially so with John Hurt’s (“Midnight Express”) incarnation of The Doctor meeting Smith and Tennant’s versions during the 50th Anniversary Special back in 2013. With the arrival of Whittaker comes the letdown that the next Doctor will not be an attractive young man to some fans’ disappointment. They’ve gotten used to the eccentricity of Smith’s Doctor and the ruggedly handsome incarnation of David’s Doctor. However, who’s to say that all of that won’t be true for Jodie’s Doctor? While the person playing the part of the Time Lord may change as the years progress, the essence of The Doctor is not lost, nor has it been lost, in the fifty years this series has been on the air. So why should it end here, with the instillation of an accomplished actress in favor of an accomplished actor?
The Doctor is a character who, in and of itself, represents change. It comes with over fifty years of baggage, sure, but that only allows for more innovation within the role. The deviation from the norm serves as a just representation of women on the screen that will continue to inspire generations around the globe. Until fans can stop and take a moment to appreciate this extraordinary flexibility of the role, we’ll have to settle with the Twitter arguments and Facebook wars. It’s not only about time that we saw a female take on the role of The Doctor, but it’s also the right time, the right moment where we need to see a strong female tear down gender norms. For a series run on the very idea of change, it doesn’t make it any easier to watch its own fan base time travelling backwards.