Why The Doctor Can Be Anyone, Especially a Female.


When I first started editing the film section of CUB Magazine – almost a year ago now, when Britain was in the EU, America did not have a carrot cake commander-in-chief and, more importantly, Bake Off was Bake Off – I wrote an article concerning why James Bond could be played by an actor of any ethnicity, because being British should no longer be synonymous with whiteness.  Now, even though it looks like Daniel Craig has gotten over his despair at playing 007 and seems set on reprising his role (perhaps due to an incredibly large pay-cheque), my belief remains unchanged.

But, although focusing on a similar premise, this article is not about a spy with a licence to kill, instead it focuses on a character with a blue box and a sonic screwdriver – can you have a license to sonic? –  and, more importantly, interrogating whether our favourite Time Lord has to be A) male and B) white.

Seeing as it was announced at the beginning of this year that Peter Capaldi will be leaving the show at the end of this series (which premiers on the 15th of April), it will be interesting to see whether the 14th Doctor will diverge from the canon that the TV show has established over the fifty-plus years it has been on our screens.


Let me first address the attribute B, because it is really quite simple: of course the Doctor does not have to be white! That is by no means a reduction of the complexities of the question, as the fact of the matter is that we are dealing with a character who has a well-established history of changing their face. Just like James Bond, there is simply nothing inherently white about what makes the character the character they are. In the fan community and amongst casual watchers of the show, I really do not think there is much dispute over this matter and therefore it really is as simple as what I have said: The Doctor does not have to be white!

Now, in my eyes, attribute A is just as straightforwardly changeable as attribute B, but interestingly and quite surprisingly the notion of a female Doctor proves more divisive amongst audiences.

A female Doctor is by no means a new concept. In 1980 Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor), when announcing that he was leaving the show, referred to his successor as ‘whoever he or she might be.’

More recently, the show itself established that Time Lords’ genders were not fixed, and could change after a regeneration. In 2011 the episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ aired. Written by Neil Gaiman, the episode revealed that there was a Time Lord called The Corsair, who took on different genders throughout their many incarnations.

Moreover, in 2014, show-runner Steven Moffat made the decision to have the Doctor’s archenemy/best buddy, The Master become Missy. This meant that watchers of the show experienced for the first time, right in front of them, the possibility of a gender switching Time Lord, rather than just in some quick reference.

Therefore, no one can deny that the Doctor Who lore which has emerged over the past six years, has established it as possible for The Doctor to switch gender; the creative forces behind the show have clearly laid the foundations for this potential change. It has become so obvious, that a spokesperson for Coral bookmakers, John Hill (no relation to William) even stated to the Evening Standard, that “The sudden surge of bets for a female Time Lord suggests the decision-makers are now firmly leaning towards a change of gender for the role even if they haven’t decided which specific individual will get it.”

Yet, despite the creators apparently being in favour of this decision, there is still a feeling of hesitance amongst fans and just casual watchers of the show towards accepting The Doctor as anything other than male. For instance, on Debate.org a poll on whether the Doctor should ever be female, currently stands at 63% of people feeling that there should never be a women playing the part. Of course this is not representative of the entire Who fandom, but it still displays some apprehension towards the prospect.

This somewhat stupefies me. Now, I understand how people do not like change, and I am not trying to say that just because you would prefer a male Doctor that makes you sexist. However, to be fully closed off to the possibility of a female Doctor because it is not in keeping with the shows history, or because of your sense of nostalgia, is, in my opinion, a dangerously conformist perception that speaks to greater issues within our current society.

Back in 2008, when *tries to hold back the tears* David Tennant announced that he was going to leave the role, despite none of us ever wanting him to go, a spokeswoman for UK Resource Centre For Women in Science and Engineering (UKRC), came forward and said:

“There is a distinct lack of role models of female scientists in the media and recent research shows that this contributes to the under-representation of women in the field… The UKRC believes that making a high profile sci-fi character with a following like Doctor Who female would help to raise the profile of women in science and bring the issue of the important contribution women can and should make to science in the public domain.”

Almost ten years later, sadly not much has changed. According to U.S National Science Foundation, ‘women earn about half of the doctoral degrees in science, yet they represent a mere 21% of the faculty at the full professor level at research institutions in the United States.’ In addition, the Women’s Engineering Society’s statistics document of 2016, reveals that only 9% of the engineering workforce is female, with the UK having the lowest percentage of female professional engineers in Europe, with less than 10% of the workforce being women.

If we expand this boundary to also include politics, then we still notice a startling lack of female representation. As stated by UN women, “only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995.”

I am not trying to say that women should do these roles, and that there is a duty to be a politician or engineer if you are a female. I am just concerned, like many others, with this inequality.

It would be a totally reductive and stupid to argue that this is because there has never been a female Doctor, and that all Whovians are, or will end up, doing science, politics or engineering degrees. However, what is not absurd is the fact that these roles have been gendered, and throughout history women have been discouraged from pursuing these careers due to numerous social failures. There is a lag in social perception moving away from the previously widely held perception that these roles are inherently male; the views of some members of society are still holding onto the past.

Therefore, if we too hold onto the belief that the Doctor has to be male because that is the way it always has been, are we not also conforming to an ideology that stereotypes certain roles to certain genders? Are we not also saying that women and men – because it does happen to men as well, although to a lesser extent – cannot escape the gender expectations of the past?

I personally believe that casting the 14th Doctor should be a process that is gender and race blind, and thankfully I do believe that that is going to be/has already been the case. I am not advocating either, that the Doctor SHOULD DEFINITIVELY be a woman, or SHOULD DEFINITIVELY be played by an actor with an ethnicity other than white British. In the case of Doctor Who, it isn’t about should, but it is about COULD: The Doctor could be all of these things and more with equal probability. The role should only belong to the best person for the show, regardless of race or gender.

However, I feel that there is no denying the importance of a character like The Doctor, who is watched worldwide by around 110 million people, whilst representing so many commendable attributes, being cast as a woman, as then there will be a strong female role model in popular culture for young females and males to aspire towards. By any stretch of the imagination, casting a female Doctor will not solve the issues of gender inequality that are unfortunately prominent in our society. But it will serve as an important symbol for all generations to come: your gender does not prohibit you from saving the universe.

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