The female Doctor question once more

It’s been almost a month since Peter Capaldi announced his intention to leave Doctor Who at the end of 2017. In remarkably quick time the fandom has turned from lamenting Peter Capaldi’s impending departure, to speculating excitedly about the identity of the actor who will be playing the 13th Doctor, to now fighting angrily amongst itself in the latest fandom war to break out in this exceptionally quarrelsome fandom. I’m talking about the controversy over the question of whether the Doctor should be played by a woman. It’s not really a new controversy—it rears its head every time the question of the next Doctor comes up and every time anyone publicly speculates about the future of Doctor Who. Not to mention every time Steven Moffat gives a self-indulgent wink to the fans indicating the possibility of the Doctor one day undergoing a sex-flipping regeneration.

But there’s something different about the discourse about a prospective female Doctor this time. It’s like the calls for a female Doctor have finally reached fever pitch. The people calling for a female Doctor are calling louder and shriller than ever before. There’s no humility in the calls for a female Doctor any more. What used to be speculation and suggestion about the possibility of a female Doctor has turned practically into demand, coupled with an intolerance for the views of those who don’t want such a radical change to the show’s format. I’ve never seen it like this before. It’s practically at the point where those pushing for a female Doctor won’t accept any new actor cast as the 13th Doctor who isn’t a woman.

I’ve elaborated on why I don’t want a female Doctor before, but with the female Doctor idea being pushed so forcefully at the moment, I feel compelled to reiterate my position. I’ve seen various reasons put forward in opposition to a female Doctor, but fundamentally, for me, it’s about being true to the character. For me, it’s simple: the Doctor is a male character. The Doctor is a man. I’ve never thought of the Doctor as anything other than a man. I don’t think generations of fans and producers of this show since the 1960s have ever thought of the Doctor as anything other than a man, as indicated by the fact that in 53 years and 13 regenerations, the Doctor has only ever been played by male actors. For me, at least, casting a female actor to play the Doctor would not be true to the character. I would feel that a 13th Doctor played by a female actor would lack something intrinsic and fundamental to the character, which is the character’s gender. Seeing the Doctor played by a woman, I think and I fear that I would feel, “This character is not the Doctor. She is another character (maybe even a good character) but she is not the Doctor.”

As I said in my earlier post on the subject:

I’ve come to love this character, the Doctor, independent of any of his individual incarnations. When I think of the Doctor, no individual incarnation springs immediately to mind, but I think of a number of essential traits that make this overarching character, this person, who he is: heroic, principled, selfless, eccentric, lonely, mysterious — and a man. I very much get the feeling that, throughout his various incarnations, despite looking and feeling different after each regeneration, the Doctor remains the same person, and it’s very important to me, for my investment in the character, that the Doctor always feels like the same person. To an extent, at least, I’d feel that the Doctor had become a different person if the Doctor were to become a woman. After thirteen or however many incarnations as a man, I think I’d feel that I couldn’t recognise a female Doctor as the character I knew and loved; that a female actor is likely to depart in a fundamental way from how the character has been portrayed in the past would only exacerbate this feeling.

“But Time Lords don’t have a fixed sex, it’s been shown they can regenerate into the opposite sex, so the Doctor is not a man” might come the objection. My first response to that would be that all that’s been shown onscreen is two Time Lords regenerating into the opposite sex, one, the Master, after a long history of having been a man (like the Doctor), and one, the General, whose first words after regenerating were “Back to normal, am I?” It’s not been established canonically when and how Time Lords can regenerate into the opposite sex—it certainly hasn’t been confirmed that every Time Lord can do it, or that a sex change is a 50% chance for every Time Lord. That the Doctor has been a man 13 times out of 13 so far suggests that there’s more involved than pure random chance.

But I recognise that Moffat (or Chibnall, if he is so inclined) could easily retcon that continuity and establish with a single throwaway line in a forgettable script that the Doctor has an equal chance of regenerating into a man or a woman, and that he’s just had exceptionally unusual luck so far. So the more important answer to the objection above is that just because the Doctor can be made to regenerate into a woman, doesn’t mean he should. The whole idea of sex-flipping regeneration is very new in the history of the show (2011 was the first reference I believe), and the Doctor has now been a man for 13 regenerations and 53 years offscreen or over 2,000 years onscreen. He’s long been widely and popularly identified as a male character, and the Doctor was entrenched in the fandom’s consciousness and the broader cultural consciousness as an iconic male character long before Steven Moffat turned up on the scene, late-coming, and told us all that, actually, the Doctor isn’t a male character, he’s actually a bisexual gender-fluid sequential hermaphrodite (as I once saw it amusingly put), and that our long-standing identification and association of the Doctor as a male character is wrong and misplaced.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth. I fully respect the views of those who disagree with me and take a different perspective, as long as they respect mine. Because it’s an increasingly common thing among the more ardent supporters of a female Doctor to dismiss everyone who doesn’t take their position as misogynists. Because apparently there’s no other possible reason a person might be reluctant to radically change a fundamental part of the format of a 53-year old show other than hatred of one half of the human race. Even the substantial number of female fans who oppose a female Doctor. Apparently they hate women, too. Sounds legit. Perhaps there are people who oppose a female Doctor because of misogynistic motivations, but I would assume their number is minuscule, because one wonders why misogynists would spend their time watching a show which so proudly elevates and empowers its female characters.

I know that the majority of supporters of a female Doctor are reasonable, intelligent people who do not believe that opponents of the idea are all misogynists. I’ve been in many debates about a female Doctor before and the majority of those arguing for a female Doctor have been reasonable and respectful of the views of those of us who disagree. But there is a vocal minority who do take that line, and they’re incredibly stubborn and infuriating people to argue with, who are typically projecting their own profound intolerance onto others. In this respect it’s regretful to see that Radio Times has, since Peter Capaldi announced his departure, become a prominent voice pushing the “all-opponents-of-a-female-Doctor-are-misogynists” line with its articles containing thinly-veiled suggestions to that effect, giving unwelcome respectability to that view.

Something else I worry about with the push for a female Doctor is that it would be done for all the wrong reasons. If it’s done for genuinely creative reasons, because the producers are interested in the creative possibilities casting a woman as the Doctor opens up, that’s fine. I respect that, even I don’t agree with it. I can’t respect the decision if it’s done for political reasons, to promote a social agenda, or simply to be progressive or politically correct. Doctor Who isn’t another front for a progressive social agenda, another hive of reactionary social oppression that needs to be prised open by the winds of equality, it’s a TV show for kids. When it comes to casting for a TV show, “it’s time” just isn’t an argument. Why is it time? Is it oppression to be denied the opportunity to be Doctor Who? Is playing the Doctor a human right now? Should we inform the UN, in that case? Forgive my saltiness, but I really don’t have patience for arguments like this. A casting decision should always be a creative one with the purpose of making the best work possible, not a political one, because when politics is elevated above art in making casting decisions, by definition worse casting decisions are made and the show, as art, suffers.

I mean, I wonder what would be gained politically by turning an established and iconic male character into a woman as a purely symbolic act, especially considering the backlash from the substantial proportion of fans who don’t want a female Doctor. I’m not sure that the campaign to turn established male characters into women is the best progressive strategy considering how much it annoys fans (male and female) of the franchises in question. In any case, I’m not even sure a decision to turn an iconic and long-established male character like the Doctor into a woman, when the person making that decision knows that they would face a huge backlash from a substantial number of fans if they did so, can ever not be political. Even if the decision is made predominantly for creative reasons, the decision to cast a woman as the Doctor, after 13 men have played the character and after the character has been entrenched in popular consciousness for so long as a man, couldn’t not be fundamentally political. It would almost certainly be perceived that way, especially if Chibnall uses the words “it’s time”, as he would, in reference to the decision.

All that said, I’m not necessarily saying that if a woman were cast as the 13th Doctor, I wouldn’t give it a chance. As I said in my earlier post on the subject, I would most likely continue watching the show and I would keep an open mind about the change—I would even be interested in how a female Doctor would be played out, like most fans, I’m sure. I would be prepared to admit that I was wrong about how I thought I would feel, and that I end up continuing to identify a female Doctor as the character I love. But I think my reservations are legitimate, and I would rather it not happen at all than see it go ahead on the unlikely chance that I end up warming to the change. And it’s not just me—as I mentioned a number of times, there are a substantial number of fans, if not a majority, who are opposed to a female Doctor. It’s worth considering whether what the idea’s supporters want from a female Doctor is worth alienating a huge proportion of the fandom for.

Peter Capaldi’s departure

So, for anyone who hasn’t heard the earth-shattering news, Peter Capaldi will be leaving Doctor Who after Series 10, to regenerate in the 2017 Christmas special. I wasn’t ready for the news to be honest, because it doesn’t feel that long ago that we welcomed Capaldi into the role. But, on the other hand, I was kind of expecting this. Peter’s not a young man, and the role inevitably takes its toll even on sprightly youngsters like Matt Smith and David Tennant. And three seasons, or four years, seems to have become the convention for an actor’s run as the Doctor these days. Anyway, here are some of the thoughts that have been running through my head since I heard the news.

On one level I’m disappointed. Peter Capaldi has been an absolutely fantastic Doctor and it was always going to be sad to see him leave. Although I admit it took me a while to warm to him after Matt left, over Series 9 I came to adore him, so much that I count him as my second favourite Doctor after Matt Smith, and Twelve and Clara have become my favourite Doctor and companion team after Eleven and the Ponds. Of course I knew that Peter had to leave eventually, but I thought (or hoped) that with Peter it would be different. I saw uniquely in Peter, unlike in Matt, the potential to become the next iconic Doctor Who, the show’s modern Tom Baker, if he stayed around for an extended run. I would have loved to have seen Peter establish himself in the role long-term. I would have loved to have seen his face and his name become synonymous with the Doctor, like Tom Baker was. Given how much Peter revered the show and loved the role, and given that he wasn’t a young actor like David or Matt with full careers ahead of them, I half expected him to do exactly that. But alas. It’s been a privilege to have had Peter at all, so I can’t complain that he didn’t stay for longer.

twelveclara2

Peter has undoubtedly been the best actor ever to star in the role. He brought compelling gravitas, intensity and passion to the role. His Doctor was utterly bewitching to watch. Unlike most actors who take up the role, usually up-and-coming actors or relatively small names, Peter was a distinguished and widely-respected actor when he took the role. It’s probably not exaggerating to say Peter was (and is) one of the most distinguished British actors of his generation. The role was, frankly, below him, but he took it up anyway because he loved the show so much and it was his childhood dream to be the Doctor. Do we realise how privileged we are to have had him? Without at all detracting from Matt or David or Chris or any of the other actors who’ve played the role, Peter’s performances were just of a higher calibre than any who’ve come before him, as the tours de force of Heaven Sent, Hell Bent, Twelve’s speech in The Zygon Inversion proved. You could see how devoted to the role he was by the way he put everything into his performances, and it’s made for some of the best Doctor Who ever (in my opinion).

When Twelve regenerates we’ll get a new actor in the role, and that in itself is exciting, as sad as it is to see Peter go. The speculation has already started (and I’m going to join in soon—watch this space!) What’s already clear is that the calls for a female Doctor are louder than ever this time round. I’ve shared my reasons why I don’t want a female Doctor before, but since the topic has come up again I’m going to write another post on the topic soon reiterating my thoughts. I’m not sure what I would do if, come Christmas, Twelve regenerates and the Doctor is a woman, but I think I would keep watching, albeit begrudgingly. I would give it a chance, at least, but I can’t see it working.

pcap-doctor-mysterio

In any case I think it’s unlikely that a female actor will be cast as the next Doctor. A new showrunner is taking over, and, with Peter (and probably Pearl, too) going at the same time, everything is going to be new. Like in 2010, it’ll practically be a reboot, and the show has to win its audience over all over again. I think, in those circumstances, Chibnall and the production team would consider that introducing a female Doctor would be too big a risk to take, because if the audience don’t take to a female Doctor and turn away from the show, the BBC might easily be tempted to make the decision that the show is finished and cancel it.

On the subject of Series 11, though, even though I would have loved to have seen Peter continue as the Doctor under Chris Chibnall and see a new showrunner’s interpretation of his Doctor, I’m also excited by the prospect of a 2010-style (soft) reboot. A totally clean slate. That means, I guess, Pearl would have to go, too. I realise it might be uncharitable to Pearl to advocate for her to leave before we’ve even seen her, but I have a feeling that she’s only staying around for one series anyway, since Series 10 is Moffat’s final series. Maybe Chibnall would have preferred to have some familiar faces around him when he started, maybe not, but the opportunity to totally reinvent the show, with a completely clean slate, is too good to pass up. I think Steven Moffat’s total overhaul of the show in 2010 was immensely successful in breathing new life into the show and ushering in an exciting new era. I’m looking forward to seeing how Chibnall recasts Doctor Who in his vision.

Now, let’s start preparing ourselves for another emotional regeneration. What am I saying? You know you’re going to cry, you may as well accept it. At least we’ll get to see Twelve with Clara again… *lip quivers*

New companion: first impressions

…And it’s Pearl Mackie! She plays Bill, who seems to have an ’80s vibe going on with that wicked style (and hair) of hers. We’ve had a brief glimpse of Bill and Twelve working together in a short trailer the BBC released introducing the new companion, allowing us to form our first impressions of Pearl Mackie as Bill.

I have to admit, I didn’t take to Bill immediately. My initial reaction when I saw the trailer was: “annoying”. Maybe it was just the poorly-written dialogue, but Bill comes off as someone who will prove to annoy me over her time on the show. That she doesn’t take the threat of the Daleks seriously, but rather makes glib jokes when her life is in danger doesn’t bode well on that front, to be honest. Nor was I very inspired by the chemistry between Bill and Twelve. Perhaps it’s still just strange and uncomfortable seeing Twelve with someone other than Clara, but this partnership feels a bit jarring.

Moreover, she comes across to me as another iteration of the standard Moffat strong-female-companion archetype, i.e. she’s a bubbly, feisty, perky, self-confident, quick-witted young woman who’s unrealistically fearless in the face of danger, just like Amy, Clara and River. I love Amy, Clara and River for those qualities, but the trope has run its course, and to make Bill another iteration of this archetype is going to feel repetitive and unsatisfying: Bill is simply not going to out-Amy Amy or out-Clara Clara, because she’s not Amy or Clara and she’s going to look inadequate in comparison if she tries (talking about Bill here, or rather Moffat-writing-Bill, not Pearl, who, I’ve no doubt, will do her valiant best with the hand she’s dealt).

I’m hoping there’s more to this character than it seems so far. I’d be more prepared to accept another standard Moffat-style companion if she were to undergo some significant and meaningful character development over her time with the Doctor that clearly distinguishes her character and makes her into someone unique and interesting and more relatable. I’m not going to be happy if the character we saw in the trailer is the character Bill will remain for the rest of her time on the show.

I guess I’d just like to see something different. A companion who represents a stark change from what’s come before. An introverted companion, for once, an intellectual, an actual realistic, relatable person, or someone with loads of space for genuine, positive character development. Moffat has a type, and it’s getting old. From what we’ve seen, Bill is just more of the same.

All that said, though, I don’t want it to seem like I’m not going to give Bill a chance. Of course I’m going to give her a chance, and of course I want to go into Series 10 as open-minded as possible about the new companion. I don’t want to make rash judgments from a two-minute trailer (he says, after making rash judgments from a two minute trailer…), and I’d prepared (albeit sceptical, based on Moffat’s record), to have my first impressions of Bill proven wrong. It occurs to me just now that I thought precisely the same things about Clara when she became the new companion in 2013, and, although it took me a while, I ended up loving Clara. So it may well be that I’m proven wrong once again.

New companion: some last minute speculations

shoos

In less than 12 hours from the time I’m writing this, we will know the identity of Doctor Who’s next companion. Unfortunately I’ll be asleep when it’s all happening because the announcement is being made at 3 or 4 am my time, so I and my fellow Antipodeans will be getting the news hours after everyone else. Oh well, such is life when you live on the other side of the world from the UK.

There have been many names thrown around in speculation about who will play the next companion, but no favourite has really emerged. The only things we know are that it’s (probably) a female—since Peter Capaldi expressed his preference for a female companion, and, honestly, is Doctor Who really going to go with two male leads? Also, based on the picture apparently of the next companion’s shoes tweeted by Doctor Who’s Twitter account, it’s probably a young woman, perhaps even a teenager… I mean, I’m not 100% familiar with female fashion trends, but do any girls over the age of 21 wear shoes like that? Oh, and we also know that it’s not going to be a returning character, as Moffat has confirmed.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do a bit of last minute speculation about the identity of the next companion: some of which are names often tipped for the role, others are my own picks.

Rakhee Thakrar

Rakhee Thakhar

There have been rumours that Rakhee Thakrar, former EastEnders star, was “in talks” with the Doctor Who producers about becoming the next companion. If they’re true, it would mean Rakhee will become Doctor Who’s first companion of Asian background. Somehow I don’t think they’re true, though, since, if the shoes really are those of the new companion, Rakhee seems a bit old to be wearing them.

Sophie Hopkins

Sophie Hopkins

Could we see the new companion in the Doctor Who spinoff Class before we see them in Doctor Who? It’s a definite possibility, and the candidate could be the actress I think is likely going to be the protagonist of Class, Sophie Hopkins. The main character of Class is an alien refugee taken by some mysterious figure (let’s face it, it’s the Doctor) to Earth who tries to adapt to life as an Earth teenager. Class could easily be a sequel or a prequel to the companion’s adventures with the Doctor. Many exciting possibilities here.

Eleanor Tomlinson

Eleanor Tomlinson

High on my personal wish-list is Eleanor Tomlinson, co-star of the romantic period drama Poldark. She also played Jas in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and also a red-skinned alien in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. I think she’s a fine actress whom I’d love to see in the role, although somehow I think her hair colour might work against her after two ginger female companions in recent times.

Holly Earl

Holly Earl

Remember that face? Holly Earl played young Lily Arwell in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Doctor Who’s 2011 Christmas special. Holly has returned as Lily Arwell in the Big Finish series The Churchill Years alongside Ian McNeice.  She’s also played roles in Benidorm and Casualty. If Holly is chosen as the next companion, she would probably be playing a new character, not Lily Arwell, since we know the next companion is not a returning character.

Pearl Mackie

Pearl Mackie

Radio Times are putting their money on Pearl Mackie as the next companion. I don’t know much about her, and she seems relatively unknown (she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page), but she’s been in the BBC medical drama Doctors, and is currently involved in a National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Pearl has apparently become the odds-on favourite among betters for some reason, which is very intriguing indeed.

Georgina Campbell

Georgina Campbell

Another favourite among betters, Georgina Campbell was the star of the acclaimed BBC drama Murdered by My Boyfriend.

Oona Chaplin

Oona Chaplin

Game of Thrones actress Oona Chaplin has buckets of talent and would be a fantastic choice for the next companion, in my opinion. But she’s probably one of the less likely candidates.

Charlotte Ritchie

Charlotte Ritchie

I’ve seen Charlotte Ritchie’s name mentioned in more than one place, and I can see why. She plays Barbara in Call the Midwife and also played major roles in Fresh Meat and Siblings. The only thing I could see potentially working against Charlotte is her age (as with many of the actresses I’ve mentioned), as I really think the producers are going for someone quite young this time.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson

The idea that Emma Watson might be playing the next companion has gained a surprising amount of currency. Don’t get me wrong, it would be so freaking awesome, but it’s not going to happen. A fan can dream, though.

Sophie Turner

Sophie Turner

Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhaha. Maybe when/if Sansa dies.