Thirteen: my feelings about a female Doctor

It’s been nearly 36 hours since I learned the identity of our Thirteenth Doctor, and I think I’m now ready to write this. It’s taken me that long to process what happened yesterday and to work out how I felt about it. I’m still processing it, to be honest. I mean, I could have turned out a post quickly on the day of the announcement and probably attracted a lot more hits, but it would have been raw, emotional and full of uncooked, unformed and probably not entirely coherent thoughts. I’m someone who typically can’t be counted on for immediate reactions (which is why my reviews always take a day or two). Especially with something as big as this, I tend to need time to work out how I feel, and, now I’ve had that time, I think I’m now ready to put my thoughts into something approximating sober and considered form.

I didn’t want a female Doctor. I still don’t. You can read my thoughts on the matter in full here, but the tl;dr version is that I think of the Doctor as a man, and I have trouble accepting that an incarnation of the Doctor played by a female actor is the same character played by Peter Capaldi, Matt Smith, David Tennant, Tom Baker and William Hartnell et al, a character I love. Jodie Whittaker is a fine actress—she’s a top choice for a female Doctor and I am confident she will acquit herself superlatively in the role. But that’s not the problem for me. The problem for me is that I feel that Doctor Who is a man, so a ‘female Doctor (Who)’ is a contradiction in terms. I felt that way before, and the announcement, even of an actress as fine as Jodie Whittaker, hasn’t changed how I feel.

The standard riposte to this sentiment is something along the lines of “the Doctor is a shapeshifting alien who has been canonically established as being able to change gender and race, so, no, the Doctor is not a man and your feelings are invalid”. Well, I’m sorry if “your feelings are invalid, deal with it” doesn’t convince me. I can’t just change my feelings or turn them off at will. That’s not how feelings work. Especially after I’ve watched thirteen regenerations of the Doctor as a man and have come to identify and connect with the character as a man. Throwing continuity at me isn’t going to going to make me suddenly shed my feelings about the character and accept a female Doctor—because remember this isn’t about the abstract question of the nature of Time Lord regeneration, this is about a character, a person, that I love. This isn’t about whether the Doctor can regenerate into a woman (we know and accept, now, that he can), it’s about whether I and so many other fans can accept that Jodie Whittaker is our favourite fictional character when that casting decision has taken away something fundamental to how we identify that character.

That in the previous sentence I used the pronoun ‘he’ instinctively to identify the Doctor, without even thinking about it, attests to the point I’m trying to make: I’m not going to be able to easily adjust to using ‘she’ or ‘they’ as instinctively and as comfortably as I currently use ‘he’. Please try to understand this.

jodie3
Credit to AarontheGeek on Reddit

The other riposte I’ve seen is the “this show is all about change, and that you don’t want a female Doctor shows you don’t understand this” argument. Okay, first, to nitpick, change is a central feature and theme of the show, but the show is not “about” change. When you’re trying to make your friends watch Doctor Who and they ask you what it’s about, your reply isn’t “it’s about change”, you typically explain that it’s about the adventures of a time-travelling alien and his friends. Invariably you identify the character of the Doctor as central when you’re explaining what the show is about.

And that’s important—even diehard female Doctor proponents would not deny that the character of the Doctor, not the abstract thematic idea of “change”, is the most important thing in Doctor Who. You simply could not have Doctor Who without the Doctor. So “change, my dears” is a justified argument when made against the idiotic, shrill Tennant fangirls (those that are still inexplicably around, anyway) who insist that David Tennant and only David Tennant can be the Doctor. But when a very sizeable proportion of the fandom are concerned that something fundamental to the character has been compromised too far for their tastes, “change” just doesn’t cut it as an argument, I’m afraid.

In any case, even if it is true that change is a central theme of the show, that doesn’t entail that any and all change is therefore necessarily good. Do I actually have to restate that fans are allowed to dislike things in the show – decisions made by the writers and producers? That fans are even allowed to dislike a Doctor? There were plenty of fans who turned off when Peter Capaldi was cast because “he’s old” (including the friend who first turned me onto Doctor Who)—something far more trivial than that the new Doctor has switched genders. I think those fans were missing out on what has been one of the greatest ever Doctors, but I respect that that’s entirely their prerogative if they don’t want to watch an old Doctor.

In any case, as fundamental as the theme of change is to the show, Doctor Who is a show as equally steeped in tradition. I’m not really sure how this is being ignored, if not outright denied. The Tardis, the phonebox, the-Daleks-and-the-Cybermen, toilet plungers, young female companions, Britishness, pacifism. I think even most female Doctor proponents would be reluctant to change any of those things. A US-centric (rather than British-centric) Doctor Who with an all-American Doctor Who cast? I think practically all female Doctor proponents would, rightly, reject that. Because Doctor Who is a British show. It doesn’t have to be British-centric, but it is, and we like it that way. And we don’t have to accept that Doctor Who turns all Midwestern accents and streets of Manhattan if we don’t want to.

jodie2

I think I’ve made my point. Admittedly that went on for a lot longer than I intended it to. But what I’ve been discussing up to here is my feelings about a female Doctor in the abstract. Ask me in the abstract: do I want a female Doctor? No. But, no matter what I want or feel, it isn’t abstract any more. Whether I like it or not, the Thirteenth Doctor is a woman. It’s reality. Jodie Whittaker will be listed after Peter Capaldi’s name in canonical lists of the Doctors from now until the end of time, and that can’t be changed.

So I think the best I can do is to continue to watch and hope that my mind is changed. I’m not going to stop watching. I love this show too much for that. In everything I’ve written about a female Doctor before now, I’ve repeatedly said that, while I didn’t want it to happen, I would try to keep an open mind and give a female Doctor a chance. I intend to keep that promise. I would like, by the end of Series 11, at least, to be prepared to take back everything I’ve written in this post before this paragraph. Because I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m not.

So what I want to say now to female Doctor proponents, particularly Chris Chibnall, is this. Okay, you’ve got your wish. Congratulations – I genuinely mean that, and I’m genuinely happy that you’re happy. It’s heartwarming to see that this is so meaningful to so many people. But don’t forget that we still exist, we who never wanted a female Doctor at all and still don’t want one, and that there are many of us. No doubt you’ve seen our tweets and our comments. Ignore the sexists and the bigots—I’m not speaking for them, and I don’t want them in our fandom any more than you do.

But as one of the many fans worried about a female Doctor, I want you to know that, for now, I’m game. I’m going to follow your lead on this. You’ve extolled the virtues and the promises of a female Doctor for so long, and now that we have one, I don’t really have a choice except to go along with it. Now that we have a female Doctor, I’m interested in seeing how it works out, and I’m willing to be won over. But I’m trusting you on this. This was your victory, and you led us into this.  So naturally I’m holding you responsible for how it works out. If a female Doctor succeeds and, as I hope, I warm to the change, I will graciously admit that you were right all along. But if it doesn’t, please try to be humble when I say “I told you so.”


Next time on Gallifreyan Ramblings: another female Doctor post. I feel like I need to say something about what has been happening in the fandom since Sunday’s announcement, because it’s not pretty, and, from a fandom perspective, it’s almost as noteworthy as the female Doctor news itself. I didn’t want to discuss that here because it’s probably going to be a lengthy discussion in its own right, and I didn’t want to detract from what I’m trying to say here. It does merit a post of its own, and I’ll try to have that one up in the following days.

By the way, read my original (pre-Jodie) female Doctor post for a fuller, more detached account of my thoughts on a female Doctor, if you’re interested.

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5 thoughts on “Thirteen: my feelings about a female Doctor

  1. Excellent post. My feelings on the subject are basically the same. I didn’t want a female Doctor simply because the character has been male since his inception and I identify him as a man, plus I didn’t want a decision like this to be made based on political correctness and diversity rather than having the best person in the role. But this proved to be an unpopular opinion when I shared it among my friends on social media. Oh well. Can’t really judge until we actually see Jodie Whittaker in the role. Ultimately I can (probably) live with a female Doctor – it’s just not what I would have gone with, were it up to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly. Any character who has been a man for 50 odd years, his fans are sure to be split on the topic of him changing the gender. But some people have really gone to the other extreme. I.e Belittling and insulting the people who haven’t exactly liked the idea. (I’m not sure, that’s a particularly correct sentence.)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m just still asking why Chibnall thought it would be a good idea to go with a female Doctor. There are plenty of fans who are delighted with the decision, and a lot of people who will turn on to Doctor Who out of interest and potentially become new fans (again), but it’s also alienated a very sizable chunk of the fandom. I’d be interested to know what Chibnall’s thought process was, and why he decided that alienating, even losing, so many fans was worth it.

      At the very least, at least it tells us from the get-go that Chibnall is willing to be bold in his stewardship of the show. It’s an indication that Chibnall might continue to do things to shake up the show, at least some of which we might like.

      Liked by 1 person

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