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Doctor Who: A Journey Through Time and Sexism, Apparently

Illustration by Angharad Neal-Williams

THE 13th DOCTOR IS A WOMAN!

Ooh sorry, didn’t mean to shout that at you. Excitement is hard to reign in sometimes. But yes, the beloved British television show Doctor Who will soon have a woman playing the Doctor, and if you don’t find that exciting then you’re probably a dalek.

Doctor Who is a long-running science fiction television series which started over 50 years ago. It is centred around the Doctor, an alien from the planet Gallifrey, who travels through time and space in a ship called the TARDIS, which is camouflaged as an old-timey blue police box that is “bigger on the inside”. Very simple, really.

Over the years, the Doctor has died and then regenerated, allowing for another actor to take the role. So far there have been thirteen different incarnations of the Doctor, who have all been played by men. But a change is coming. Jodie Whittaker has been confirmed as the new Doctor. Her predecessor, Peter Capaldi, has played the Doctor for the past three years, but evidently his time is coming to an end. We have been promised a regeneration in this year’s Christmas Special and it’s going to be fantastic!

So why the gender change? And is it even possible?

The short answer is yes, it’s possible. We’ve seen it before. Not only that, but there were plenty of hints that it was coming. Over the past few series we have seen other Time Lords regenerate into Time Ladies, the most notable of these Time Lords being the Master, one of the Doctor’s long running nemeses. A few series back, the Master disappeared after another epic throwdown with the Doctor, followed by a time of quiet wherein the Master appeared to be gone. That is, until Missy, short for Mistress, started popping up, wreaking havoc here and there and revealing herself to be the incarnation of the Master. She was crazy, terrifying, and a little bit saucy.

As the Doctor said of the Time Lords in the most recent series, “We’re the most civilised civilisation in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.” This was one of the biggest hints that a change was coming, and soon.

Doctor Who has increasingly advocated for change around many issues, especially for that of gender equality. The Doctor’s companions, often played by women, have become more independent, confident and free-thinking. Where they once stood idle, asking questions and waiting to be saved, they now answer those questions, face the bad guys, and even on occasion, save the Doctor themselves. Over the years, travellers with the Doctor have progressed from assistant, to best friends of the Doctor. They now have as much impact on the Doctor as the Doctor has on them. It’s heartbreaking at times, especially when one or the other leaves, but it is also brilliant. Like the companions, the Doctor has grown, the show has grown. Hey, our most recent companion was a strong queer woman of colour who ultimately got the girl and flew away to see the universe. It was epic, and like every goodbye, a little sad.

So, we know it’s possible, and considering how accepted Missy has become, it has also proven successful. Yet there are still the critics, labelling the move “political correctness gone mad”, or sharing their outrageous and sexist drivel in every comment section . Whenever the Doctor has regenerated in the past, there was usually a fair bit of unrest, a time ripe with anxiety, fear and often outright rejection –  Matt Smith was “too young”, Capaldi “too old” – with supposedly avid Whovians declaring they will no longer watch Doctor Who. However, once the new Doctor is established, acceptance comes quickly, usually to the point where you don’t want them to go and we start the cycle again.

The backlash this time round has been severely vicious, underpinned by a great deal of misogyny. Many have taken to Twitter and Facebook to voice their displeasure, calling it the end of Doctor Who. Call me naïve, but I was honestly surprised at how bad some of the comments were. Most are crude, ill thought out, and on occasion, written by people who haven’t yet seen an episode of the show. But it’s not just the internet trolls contributing to the hate and rejection. Within 48 hours of the announcement, The Sun published nude screenshots from Whittaker’s previous roles, and other news outlets were accused of over reporting backlash, effectively giving the #NotMyDoctor crowd ammunition and a voice. Negativity has clouded an otherwise exciting announcement. Saying you don’t like the new Doctor because she’s a woman is sexist. The backlash that we have been seeing, if anything, indicates how much we need this change to happen, and how much we need this new Doctor.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I say, there will still be people upset at the fact that the next Doctor is a woman. I can’t say I understand, because personally this news excites me. But I know what it feels like when something unexpected happens and the fear of the unknown is all consuming. Everyone struggles with change at times, even the Doctor. The best thing to do is wait, and give it a chance. If you find yourself watching the new series of Doctor Who and liking it, that’s great. If not, that’s also okay. But please don’t close yourself off to this wonderful show. As a wise woman once said, “The soufflé isn’t the soufflé. The soufflé is the recipe.” The Doctor is the recipe and all the different incarnations are the soufflés, adding another gender to the pot shouldn’t change the core of who the Doctor is. The Doctor will still be the Doctor, still out there saving the world. It would be sad if you aren’t there to see it.

 

Ina Lee

The author Ina Lee

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