Doctor Who: Why A Time Lady Is Integral

By Sean Broadhurst
Fri 21 July, 2017

As the BBC announce Jodie Whittaker as the first Time Lady, Sean Broadhurst argues that the change is not only canon, but central to the show. 

Unless you’re living under a rock, you will have heard that the new Doctor has been revealed, and, for the first time on screen, the Time Lord will be regenerating into Time Lady Jodie Whittaker.

For obvious reasons, well, perplexing reasons – which simultaneously come as no surprise – this has pissed a lot of people off. People are refusing to accept that a time travelling alien, who cheats death by regenerating every cell in their body and becoming an entirely different person, could possibly be portrayed by a woman.

What makes this reaction even more confusing is the fact that other male Time Lords on the show have already become women –  it was revealed in season eight that Michelle Gomez’s character, Missy, was in fact a regeneration of John Simm’s The Master. And the original creators of the show had always intended to leave the door open for a woman to take the lead role, but the idea was continually shot down by higher ups at the BBC.

So, a Time Lord’s ability to change sex when they regenerate is canon, and therefore, can’t reasonably be criticised as a thinly veiled attempt to placate the ‘PC legion’. But we’re living in a time when everyone has a platform for their bullshit and there are more opinions out there than there are people with an ounce of self-awareness.

Look at me, I consider myself a serious writer, but here I am blithering about what is essentially a children’s TV show, as though I think people really care about what a 26 year old who still lives with his mum is saying from his bedroom. I’m no better than a flat earther, ignoring trifles such as scientific fact and taking a spirit level onto an aeroplane to prove to the converted that they’re right, and then, like Homer Simpson laying back and declaring in a congratulatory manner that “Everyone is stupid except me”. OK, maybe I am.

It’s as if most of the crowd lamenting the series’ fall to the inexorable march of political correctness don’t even follow the show. It has been on our screens for over 50 years and in that time a female Doctor has always been a possibility and it’s always been talked about. In the 80s there was even a rumour that Joanna Lumley would be taking on the role. So, surely 12 male doctors as opposed one female doctor in 50 years shows that this change isn’t so much radical as it is long overdue. In 1999 Lumley even appeared as the The Doctor in a Comic Relief special called The Curse of Fatal Death (Written by future showrunner Steven Moffat)

The new Doctor is probably best known for her role as the grieving mother in Broadchurch and many people have hastened to remark on her performance in the BBC crime drama, outlining how she would be an unsuitable replacement, because as an actor she obviously has no range. They have a point, though. Although Whittaker has received praise for this role, and others, Black Mirror and Attack the Block, she will have to follow men who have had to deliver lines as profound as, “Wibbly wobbly timey wimey” and “Would you like a jelly baby?

However, many critics of the decision to cast a woman in the lead role have at received the news with grace and dignity, choosing instead to see the funny side. Facebook newsfeeds and YouTube comment sections are rife with jokes speculating on how Whittaker’s Doctor will park the T.A.R.D.I.S or whether the show will be renamed Nurse Who. I don’t see it catching on — you know seeing as ‘nurse’ isn’t actually a synonym for doctor, and that female doctors and male nurses exist.

I tried to write one of these jokes myself, but flip the casual sexism so it would at least imply something more positive, the best I could come up with was “Erm…yeah. How can a woman play an alien that keeps getting lost in space? She’d bother to ask for directions”.

It’s saddening that in 2017 that an actor is being criticised for a role she hasn’t even been seen in yet, purely because she is a woman. Whittaker should be judge on her performances, and the show on the writing. Does it really matter who plays the Doctor, if they’re up to the job and the writing is good?

Many people were tiring of David Tennant towards the end because his character was becoming too godlike for a madman flying around space in a phone box. It affected the show, and although he was undoubtedly one of the most popular incarnations of the Doctor, even he would have eventually outstayed his welcome.

We need to remember that Doctor Who is first and foremost a children’s show, and since it’s reboot in 2005 it has been able to boast a diverse cast whilst ensuring its characters are far more than just their gender or their sexuality.

That’s important if you believe, like me, that the beauty in children’s stories are that they can teach us empathy, providing small lessons about the world and the people in it.

That is undeniably true about Doctor Who. It doesn’t deal in cautionary tales that science fiction often delivers for older audiences. There is no crushing of enemies. People rarely die. The Doctor has, on several occasions, even refused to obliterate the Daleks — the embodiment of hatred, of everything bad in the universe. The show has always clung to the idea that everyone and everything can be redeemed, and that we often have more in common than we think, and above all, it’s supposed to be fun.

We’re all averse to change, especially to the things we enjoy, but Whittaker is the 13th Doctor, and the first female doctor is a huge change, but change is an integral part of the show.

  • Image: BBC