This is one of the maddest things I have ever seen: Media elites and pundits are upset, truly anguished and heartbroken, that Doctor Who failed to throw away its wild success by stunt-re-casting its 50-year-old titular male hero, the time-traveling alien Doctor, as a woman.1
Jennifer Finney Boylan, an English professor and self-described “transgender woman,” […] is unhappy that none of the actors who’ve played Doctor Who have been actresses: “Imagine if we were cheering for Helen Mirren instead, or for the comedian Miranda Hart, or for Emma Watson.”2 3
But it’s not fans who moan that Peter Capaldi is “just another white man.” Go to the fan and news sites and you will instead see many comments like this, half of them from female fans:
As a female fan, I can say I am happy that Capaldi has been cast as a male doctor, it is rubbish to suggest that the only fans who didn’t want a female lead are youngies with a crush on [current Doctor Who lead] Matt Smith. I am in my 30s and am quite frankly sick of being told that we have to be so PC about everything. Why don’t we just have a black disabled female doctor and shut the whole lot of the PC brigade up in one go?4
It isn’t sexist to not cast a woman as [T]he [D]octor. In fact, if the only reason you cast a woman is for the sake of casting a woman, the point has been missed. The actor who will best portray [T]he [D]octor’s character should be chosen. The whole character’s dynamics and role would change. I am a woman and I will stop watching if the [D]octor becomes a female. 5
That’s a first reason for not stunt-casting The Doctor as a woman: you can’t flip a fanbase like that. Demographic and marketing figures are used to justify tired tropes and ceaseless sequels, but they are still based on truth: if certain people like a story about a man, there is no reason to recast that hero as a woman, and vice-versa, unless you want to kill the story.
Reason no. 2: male fans need The Doctor and his unique wit-and-brains-first heroism.
A woman Doctor would be more than a disappointment to the show’s legion of fans — it would betray a British tradition.
The character has been a role model for three generations of boys.
The essence of the character — as an archetypal hero, not heroine — would be lost.
The Doctor’s strength is that he always wins through by thinking rather than fighting — an antidote to mainstream comic book and action movie heroes Batman, Spiderman, Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan, Rambo and Wolverine.6
A third reason: it’s healthful to have strong male leads whom a story’s male and female fans will want to follow. If you change that, you mess with the — I know this is may be very unpopular — very fabric of natural and fun male/female dynamics of any story and its fans.
Whether from evil sexism or plain humanity, the fact remains: women like stories with men as main heroes — as long as strong women also feature — more often than men like stories with women as main heroes. Both sexes follow strong men. Both sexes enjoy being fans of these stories. And both sexes will also follow gladly after stories that feature strong male and strong female characters. Like The Lord of the Rings. Like the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Even a little like the Avengers superhero films.
And like Doctor Who. Since the program’s revival its stories have featured strong male and female heroes, and weak examples of both sexes (often with redemption journeys, as with Mickey Smith in the first and second series). Now I enjoy the show almost as much for the side characters — men and women — as for the adventures of the Doctor himself.
The PC critic says: “Yeah, and half of those companions only ever crush on the Doctor.”7
Nonsense. That was over with Martha Jones in series 3. Former showrunner Russell T. Davis himself subverted the crush-on-The-Doctor trope in series 4 with my favorite Who companion, funny-bossy-mom/fanlady Donna Noble. Then current runner Steven Moffat finished off the trope in series 5, when Amy Pond threw herself at the Doctor; he refused her, then whisked her off to old Venice with her fiancée. That series and 1.5 more explored their marriage, and the couple’s surprisingly delightful times together with the Doctor.
So that’s reason 4: complaints about the show’s continuing sexism are absurd anyway.
Why then do PC critics insist that “Doctor Who” keeping the Time Lord a man is at best sinful?
That’s a very apt word, I think: sinful. Only in a special mode of thinking are actions sinful:
And per the unwritten holy writ of this religion, stories can’t have strong female characters unless they replace male characters. No recognition of strong women unless strong men are first vanquished. No honor given to the feminine without emasculation of the masculine.
It’s completely backwards to take a strong, well-established male character and turn him into a woman just for the sake of feminism or diversity in casting. Instead of changing that strong male into a female, we should just be creating more female and PoC characters who are strong from the get-go (like Clara). 8
That false religion pits sex against sex, and effectively demands an atoning sacrifice for the real or perceived sins of our ancestors. It’s this false religion that we must utterly reject.
And I’m glad Who’s creators have also rejected it — at least for the time being.
- On Tuesday I promised my review of Realm Makers, but I’ll delay that in favor of this topic. ↩
- Great Orator Gaffes Again, James Taranto, The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7, 2013. Taranto links to Diversity and Doctor Who, The New York Times, Aug. 7, 2013. ↩
- For more on the absurdity of wanting any A-list film stars to play The Doctor, male or female, see here on Spec-Faith. ↩
- Comment by “jelleygirl” after Steven Moffat on female ‘Doctor Who’ rumors: “It didn’t feel right”, DigitalSpy.com, Aug. 5, 2013. (All typos repaired.) ↩
- Comment by Victoria C. Vegter after Women don’t want female Doctor – Moffat, 3news.Co.NZ, Aug. 7, 2013. ↩
- Who should be the next Doctor? ANYONE but a woman! …, Christopher Stevens, DailyMail.Co.UK, June 2, 2013. ↩
- Self-described feminist Isa-Lee Wolf debunks that myth in this March 29, 2013 column. ↩
- Comment by Rebecca Borland after Women don’t want female Doctor – Moffat, 3news.Co.NZ, Aug. 7, 2013. ↩