A Female Doctor Who?: A look at Character & Gender


Unsurprisingly, the news that Jodie Whittaker will become the first female Doctor Who has caused controversy. Fans, critics, and even a former doctor, Peter Davison, have criticized the decision to cast a woman, with Davison saying this means a ‘loss of a role model for boys’. (Because boys don’t have enough men to look up to…) However, casting a woman as the doctor is an exciting move for the show, and if it can do what some shows have done in the past, it will be a successful move.

The TV show Elementary, based on Sherlock Holmes, cast Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson and Natalie Dormer as Moriarty; the TV adaptation of Thomas Harris’ book series Hannibal switched the genders of Freddie Lounds and Alan Bloom, and the most recent James Bond films saw Judi Dench as M. These are just a few examples that demonstrate how changing a gender can offer a fresh perspective on characters and their relationships. Especially with works like Sherlock Holmes, as it has been adapted so many times, each adaption should offer something new; otherwise, what’s the point? The results of these changes differ, and depend on the aims of the show. With Elementary, a female Watson gives the show a contemporary twist. In Hannibal, the relationship dynamic between Will Graham and Alana Bloom differs from the one between Will and the original Alan Bloom. As long as the decision has been made with specific intent, and not simply to be politically correct, it can be incredibly effective.

A slightly different approach to this gender switching is the rebooting of classics, now with an all female cast, à la Ghostbusters. With new reboots such as Ocean’s Eight with Sandra Bullock playing George Clooney’s role, and a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Anne Hathaway and Amy Schumer in the works, there’s a very clear trend happening in Hollywood right now. While there are perhaps good intentions behind these moves, and they have at least proven that women can carry originally male led films, it would be great if more films could be written with a female cast in mind, rather than just giving women a go at playing male roles. That being said, this year has seen progress for women in film, with female led movies like Wonder Woman and Atomic Bomb on our big screens. Maybe we have Ghostbusters to thank for this advancement, but let’s hope we see more originals being written, rather than simply remakes.

While I am very excited about Whittaker playing Doctor Who, and I believe it’s a necessary revamp for the show, I am looking forward to more original TV shows written about women. With shows Supergirl and Girl Boss being made, there’s definitely progress happening, but we’re not quite there yet. (Note that both shows refer to women as girls, weird.) Ultimately, casting a female doctor is a great step towards equality, and hopefully towards a day where it isn’t controversial when an actress gets cast for a great part. The future of women in TV and film is looking up, and I’m ready for change.

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