Probably to the mixed amusement and weariness of some of my irl friends who follow me on Twitter, as well as to my non-fandom mutuals, I’ve been tweeting almost exclusively about Doctor Who for the past few months (beginning with the run-up to the new series). I can’t help it—I get excited about Doctor Who and I like to talk about it on a platform where it’s acceptable to spill out every unfiltered thought that crosses one’s mind. Usually I stop talking as repetitively about Doctor Who soon after a new series ties up and go back to being weird and incoherent about non-Doctor Who things, but this time the feverish speculation and excitement around the identity of the Thirteenth Doctor has kept me going. I spent two hours the night before the revelation of the Thirteenth Doctor making a thread of ironic candidates for the role of Thirteen (e.g. Michael McIntyre, Jeremy Clarkson, Russell Brand, Jo Brand, Jacob Rees-Mogg, etc.) for my own amusement; I regret nothing.
Following the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, though, I fell silent. Uncharacteristically for me, I don’t think I sent a single tweet, about anything, the day of the announcement (in Australia we got it in the early morning). In part this was because I was still processing the news, trying to figure out how I felt about it, and didn’t want to prematurely denounce it—because my immediate instinct was to denounce it. But it was also because, interspersed between the glowing, rapturous positivity and joy over Jodie’s casting coming from every direction, there was the smug, faux-indignant calling-out of those disappointed in the casting as ‘sexists’, ‘bigots’, ‘misogynists’. It was really quite repulsive and hateful. People, both men and women, saying innocuous things about being disappointed with Jodie’s casting were being quoted by people who’ve already changed their icon to Jodie Whittaker in a flower crown, with “Lmao just say you hate women” and “LMAO LOOK AT THIS FUCKING SEXIST”.
Sure, there were the actual sexists reacting with opprobrium to the news, typically found in places like the comments section of the Daily Mail rather than on Twitter—who, I agree with the female Doctor people, can fuck off. But the number of actual sexists among the no-female-Doctor crowd is actually minuscule. I can count the number of people I’ve seen express opposition to a female Doctor out of a bigoted attitude towards women on one hand. The people you see in Daily Mail comments sections don’t even watch Doctor Who, or haven’t watched it since the 1970s. This show isn’t for them. They’re the same people who take to the comments section, frothy-mouthed, over every trivial offence of political correctness and encroaching “Cultural Marxism”. Most opponents of a female Doctor who are actually fans of the show simply think of the Doctor as a man and have trouble accepting, on an emotional level, that a female Doctor is the same character—we’d find it difficult to accept a male Hermione for the same reason. If you consider that sexist, then you need to go read a dictionary.
And let’s not forget that the people who don’t want a female Doctor aren’t all men. I’ve seen almost as many women expressing disappointment in the casting decision as men, if not more (probably because women aren’t scared by baseless, cynical accusations of sexism). All my female friends who watch Doctor Who whom I’ve asked have said they’re opposed to the change. This gets ignored because it doesn’t fit the neat “women versus sexist white males” narrative. The few times I’ve seen the more strident female Doctor proponents actually engage with women who’ve expressed their opposition to a female Doctor (instead of simply ignoring them, as they usually do), the former just tend to brush the latter off with something vague about “internalised misogyny”. Figures.
Maybe it looks pathetic or oversensitive to get upset by the ignorant, braindead tweets of 16-year olds, but it’s just an example of the hate and bile that’s suddenly consumed this fandom. If not outright hate and bile, from my experience, among even casual, non-strident supporters of a female Doctor the lazy, smug assumption that those who don’t want a female Doctor are probably sexist seems to be fairly commonly held. Merriam-Webster’s tweet, that “’Doctor’ has no gender in English” exemplifies this attitude. It’s the attitude that being opposed to a female Doctor is something inherently blameworthy and morally suspect, and not an understandable response to changing the gender of a character one has known as a man for 13 regenerations and 53 years. I feel like using the term “virtue-signalling” is to risk being placed in suspect company in the eyes of reasonable folk, but for present purposes it’s a useful concept to describe what this is: it’s very easy for those who support a female Doctor, in the eagerness to display their tolerance and progressiveness, to fall into the unscrutinised assumption that the other side are all bigots.
That’s not to say that our side has done much to dispel that assumption, when we have cranks writing angry, incoherent things about feminists and “SJWs”, which is almost as odious as the actual feminists and SJWs throwing accusations of sexism around like confetti. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that we were able to have a civil, respectful discussion about a female Doctor in this fandom. The female Doctor debate has always been tense, but before now it’s also managed to remain civil. I remember participating in discussions about a female Doctor, where both sides tended to respect the other side’s views, and the few idiots who threw around accusations of sexism were rightly shut down by other female Doctor supporters (as were the “feminists are ruining everything” brigade by our side).
I think the difference is that, then, they were the minority view, and, as anyone expressing an unpopular point of view does, you watch what you say and how you say it, to avoid the brunt of the ire of the majority. Now they’re the majority and they’ve won. The bile thrown at opponents of a female Doctor now has the flavour of smug triumphalism more so than genuine indignity. They’ve won, we’ve lost, we don’t matter anymore, but they’re taking the opportunity to have their fun provoking us, ridiculing us, parading our naked bodies through the streets for the visceral amusement of the citizens of the victorious nation. The message is clear: we’re not welcome in the fandom anymore; it’s their city now. So we can either deal with it or fuck off.
To be clear, I’m not talking about all female Doctor supporters. If you’re pleased with Jodie’s casting and you don’t think that everyone who isn’t probably hates women, then I’m not talking about you. This post isn’t about you, and I don’t have a single uncharitable thing to say about you. You’re fine in my book. I am talking about the people who somehow manage to assert with a straight face that it’s inherently sexist not to want a female Doctor and that all opponents of a female Doctor are sexists. I know there are many female Doctor supporters who are conscientious and fair-minded people who respect the other side.
If a Twitter poll conducted by the account @WhovianLeap is to be believed, the nice female Doctor people are the majority: it asked “Is it sexist to want a male Doctor?” to which, out of 626 votes, 73% answered NO and 27% answered YES (assuming that the majority of respondents would have been female Doctor supporters). So, while 27% is still an uncomfortably large number of people who think I’m a sexist, it’s reassuringly clear that the great majority of fans don’t consider it sexist to think the Doctor should remain a man.
But don’t be mistaken, there’s still a deep rift in the fandom, one I can’t see being healed any time soon. As long as the Doctor is played by a woman, this underlying division in the fandom is always going to remain close to the surface. We who found ourselves on the losing side of this casting decision, even those of us who warm to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor (as I hope I do), aren’t going to forget the torrent of vitriol we were subjected to. We aren’t going to forget that a significant proportion of this fandom hated us and wanted us out of the fandom. Arguably more than anything that’s happened before, this decision has split the fandom in two in a way that I fear is irreversible.
I expect that the number of the alienated will diminish over time as some of those who were opposed to the casting change their minds and come round to Jodie’s Doctor, and others simply leave. Somehow I think that’s what the people I’m talking about want: for this decision to decimate the “problematic” element of the fandom which doesn’t want a female Doctor, and for a new, progressive fandom and a new, progressive Doctor Who to emerge from the ashes of the problematic old.
Already we’re being erased: Radio Times claimed that the “overwhelming majority of Doctor Who fans” are “looking forward to the first female Doctor” based on a poll the website conducted, where the proportion of respondents who answered that they were looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was 40%, and the plurality of respondents (43%) answered that they would reserve judgment until they saw her. If this isn’t fake news, then nothing is. Piers Wenger, the Controller of BBC Drama, remarked on the “overwhelmingly positive response” to the casting of the first female Doctor in reference to the number of views the teaser trailer has accumulated. At the time of writing this, that teaser trailer has 57,732 to 36,064 likes to dislikes on YouTube, a ratio 62% to 38%. By no definition is that an “overwhelmingly positive” response. It’s a travesty for the BBC. It shows that it’s made a decision which is unpopular with at least a third of viewers. We may not be the majority, but we’re a very formidable minority, and it’s insulting to pretend we don’t exist.
My plea to Chris Chibnall and the BBC is not to take the side of the head-bangers. My plea to the makers of Doctor Who is not to fall into the easy assumption that everyone opposed to this decision is a bigot. We number at least a third of the fanbase, and count among our number some of Doctor Who’s longest, most devoted and most prominent fans, including, it appears, the likes of Peter Davison (who, unlike most Doctor Who people, gave no ringing endorsement of Jodie’s casting, but instead tellingly urged the Twitter mob to cool it with the hate towards disappointed fans).
You don’t want to alienate us, because we’re not going to take it on the chin. We’re not going to appreciate snide asides about sexism and intolerance directed against us punctuated throughout Series 11. We’re not going to abide being made to feel like we’re not welcome in this fandom anymore by the show. We want you to understand us, and show that you understand why we feel the way we do. We don’t ask that the decision be reversed, just that you extend an olive branch and show us that you want us to keep watching. We’re worried about the future of our show, and, as hard as it is to believe, given how angry we sound, we really do want to like this change, and we want you to help us like it, because we love this show, and the alternative—to stop watching Doctor Who—doesn’t bear thinking about.
As for female Doctor supporters, I’m not even going to try to reason with the ones who are beyond reason, but to the rest of you I only want to say: as long as we’re still on opposing sides of a divided fandom, let’s at least try to be friends. Let’s at least try to be civil and courteous and respectful towards one another. Can we still geek out together over the Christmas special, Twelve’s regeneration, the Twelveclara reunion, and everything amazing Series 11 and the Chibnall era is going to bring us, while agreeing to disagree over our feelings about the next Doctor? (At least while we still do disagree) Without calling each other names? Because being in a divided fandom is no fun at all.
See also on Gallifreyan Ramblings:
This is a great piece. Personally, I’m looking forward to Jodie Whittaker. A year ago I was against a female Doctor, but Missy and Moffat have began to slowly win me round. I’m still not 100% sold though. I have concerns over darker moments. I just can’t see Whittaker interact with, say Davros for example, like Capaldi did in season nine, to the same effect. I think meeting old companions could be tricky too. However, the show is about change and if it doesn’t work, I’m sure it won’t be long until the Doctor is back to his more familiar self. I don’t consider you a sexist at all for preferring a male Doctor, I would have too, but I’m naturally fascinated to see where the character goes from here, while as I said, having some doubts.
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I’m happy for you that you’re looking forward to Jodie, and I’m happy for everyone who was delighted about Jodie’s casting. I really want to like this change, and I am genuinely interested in seeing what Chibnall does with a female Doctor, but I’m just worried, justifiably I think, that it won’t feel like the same character for me. And the Doctor feeling like the Doctor is a deal-breaker for my investment in the show.
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Very well reasoned and eloquent, I agree with you utterly. My initial response was to feel exactly as I did when I heard the Brexit vote result – despair. I am not sexist, I love female leads in TV and film and agree that they need (and are getting) better representation in these areas. But the Doctor is a man, and there is nothing wrong with that. Being a man is not bad, although some people make out that it is. I have heard people say that it would have been an ‘outrage’ if the 13th Doctor had been cast as another man – I wonder if they would really have said that if the actor cast was black, or Asian – races that need representation in TV and film just as badly, if not more, than women. In all though, I agree with something a friend of mine said about the casting – it’s boring, it’s predictable, it’s like when someone gets a tattoo to be ‘different’ and ‘on the edge’ even though everyone has tattoos. I want to see female representation, but it would be much more original, interesting and exciting if this was achieved through creating an entirely new heroic lead for a woman to play in an entirely new show – rather than shoe-horning her into an established property – which just comes across as lazy.
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I definitely agree that the way to go about achieving better female representation in TV and film is to create new, interesting female leads rather than turning established male characters into women – which always pisses fans of those franchises off. It’s also interesting that the people pushing this sort of thing seem to think female leads can only be good if the characters were popular male characters first – it’s like they don’t think great female lead characters can be created from scratch. On that note I was really excited to hear that Big Finish are making a series about the Doctor’s daughter, Jenny, played by Georgia Moffett (I still think she should have had a TV spinoff though). That’s the right way to do it.
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barbarba benedetti doctor who
“it’s just an example of the hate and bile that’s suddenly consumed this fandom.” DW fandom has always been a venomous, toxic place. There’s nothing sudden about it for someone who saw all the hatred spewed back in the 1980s and ’90s in fanzines, fan club newsletters, DW Magazine, progressing to Usenet and the rest of online; it’s quite amazing how a whole new generation of fans made it a terrible place to be without knowing anything about the psychopathy of old fandom. There’s nothing sudden about being a fan having hatred directed against you when you didn’t much like modern DW until Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.
Anyway, female Doctor. As a youngster, I was against it. Even as I grew up and was a feminist, I wanted the Doctor male, because he was a unique sort of male (despite his massive ego). Now as a middle-aged fan, who’s witnessed a lot of screaming lunacy and has seen a lot of things that have changed my unbending young opinions and maybe even mellowed my views, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Many years ago, I saw the fan films with Barbara Benedetti as the Doctor (which I think Jay Leslie before me was trying to say), and liked her, and that was during the period when I didn’t want to see a woman play the Doctor, so maybe if we find it within ourselves to unbend a little…?
Maybe I unbent because I loved Capaldi as the Doctor and didn’t want to see some “hot,” “sexy,” young Tennant-wannabe sex-object take over again — glad to see they went somewhere else entirely.
“We’re not going to abide being made to feel like we’re not welcome in this fandom anymore by the show.” Welcome to the feeling. I hated RTD’s revival, found Smith appealing but not great, then ended up embracing Capaldi. However, fandom and the media tried to make me feel like a piece of garbage, and I kept reading rumblings that the BBC wanted a sexy young boytoy back to make everything soap opera popular again. It feels unpleasantly as if Capaldi got no support, and it was beyond exhausting, so he got out when he could, despite loving the show. All that “Tennant was the BEST THING EVER, and only he should be the Doctor, and Capaldi’s BAD!!” trash made me feel as if I’m not the intended or desired audience.
Chibnall’s a former nutcase fanboy who allegedly gained some maturity with his professional work (although you could’ve fooled me from his “Torchwood” work, for example), and it’s my great hope that the former crazed fan has no contact with fandom at all, due to knowing exactly what fans can be like. I won’t be watching his DW possibly ever, which I decided almost as soon as I heard he’d be taking over, but not because he chose Jodie Whittaker — more because I thought his past work was very much nothing that interested me, and I went through that already with RTD.
Pardon this long reply.
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I’ll take your word for it that the fandom has always been as nasty a place as it is now (I can imagine the ’90s were particularly bad), but I’ve noticed it’s definitely gotten worse since I started watching, which was only around 2010-2011. I think the casting of a female Doctor has definitely brought out a lot more nastiness that wasn’t there even in the years beforehand, especially since it’s come at the same time as the high point of “woke” or “unproblematic” culture on social media among the younger section of the fandom.