Things have become wibbly-wobbly in the Whovian corner of the universe. Sunday, BBC revealed the much-anticipated and debated identity of the 13th Doctor, Jodie Whittaker.
Commence the firestorm of opinions.
Reactions range from disappointed and/or disgusted to skeptical to thrilled.
You have to love the Internet, where everyone has thoughts to share about everything. And in the two days since the announcement, the virtual world has exploded as people come to terms with the change.
All of this begs the question, was casting a female Doctor a good move?
Pros of a Female Doctor
1. It provides fresh material and possibilities for the show, one of which is bringing on the first male companion. How new showrunner Chris Chibnall handles this dynamic will prove interesting.
Nothing says the companion must be the opposite gender, but if that’s the case for Whittaker, will her companion prove to be a strong sidekick? To this point, the female companions were anything but weak, sexist-driven stereotypes.
2. It fits the Whoverse hallmark of change, of offering new adventures, of never letting the storytelling well run dry. As this article stated:
The show owes its longevity to its ability to start over when things are getting stale.
Note that doesn’t assume the show needs a reboot due to becoming boring (though many would argue the storylines are in need of help). It continues the tradition that has allowed Doctor Who to remain popular for decades, albeit it in a radically new way this time around.
3. From what I can tell, nowhere does the Whovian canon say the Doctor can’t regenerate with a different gender. There are no internal worldbuilding violations happening, and the Doctor gains an entirely new body with each regeneration anyway.
4. The switch allows plenty of room to explore the Doctor’s role from a female standpoint. How will that affect her character arc? Every Doctor needs time to readjust to the regenerated self. Having 13 as a woman will make that process unique and present excellent story fodder.
After all, every Sontaron and his uncle knows that men and women are wired differently. That alone should make for some fascinating character developments.
Cons of a Female Doctor
1. The decision feels forced, or at the very least suspect. Was the move driven by pressures from politically correct influence or feminist demands? Or is the new Doctor a woman chiefly for the sake of creating better stories?
An article in The Guardian expressed this well:
But there’s something uncomfortable all the same about the campaign to feminise Doctor Who. Obviously the character could be a woman. But deciding she has to be? That’s different.
This is one area where politics seems to have encroached upon storytelling. The outcry for a female Doctor has become significant in the last few years. Is it coincidence then that the heretofore solely male cast has been interrupted with such flawless timing?
If the Doctor had regenerated as a woman at a time when gender issues weren’t central to the cultural conversation, it would come across as more natural. As a decision to enhance the story. But that’s not the case.
As I said, seems suspicious.
2. With this development, the Whoverse now has no choice but to forge into new territory. Certainly a tradition of the show, but one that may backfire. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
(Not everyone agrees it ain’t broke, which further complicates the matter and goes to show you can’t please anyone all the time, and trying to do so results in pleasing no one any of the time.)
3. The choice, while appeasing the critics, may (and has) upset fans. The question becomes how deep does their loyalty run, and will the benefits of a woman piloting the TARDIS outweigh the resistance to her gender change?
4. If the first point is true, it creates a web of problems for the show’s future. If a story yields to one popular demand without regard for whether it actually makes sense for the storytelling, what prevents that from happening again?
At what point does the motivation cease to be telling fantastic stories and instead trying to please whatever cultural trend is sweeping town?
5. In his article the last time this topic surfaced in 2013 with Capaldi’s appointment as 12, Stephen Burnett made a strong case for a male lead: the fact that fans of both genders prefer a strong male hero accompanied by strong women who also fill prominent roles.
Personally, I’m torn. If Whittaker can pull off the role and has excellent writing to back her performance, great! I’m a Whovian and at the most basic level, I don’t really care whether the Doctor is male or female.
What I do care about, however, is the underlying motivation. Has storytelling been traded for agenda-filling? I suspect it has, but at the end of the day, what matters is the show’s quality. Give fans amazing adventures through space and time, and it doesn’t matter whether the Doctor can grow a beard or not.
What’s your reaction to the change? What other pros or cons do you see with having the first female Doctor?