It’s About Time

Oh, noes! The next Doctor is going to be a woman! Oh, the horrorz!

There’s a lot of that sort of thing floating around the Internet these days. Makes me want to find a wall and apply a forehead to it it. Repeatedly and forcefully. Maybe mine, but those of the people making the comments seem more in need.

Okay, I know there are some non-SF fans reading this, so let me take a moment to explain.

Doctor Who is a long-running show from the BBC–it’s been running since 1963, albeit with a rather long hiatus in the 1990s and early 2000s. I won’t attempt to summarize nearly forty years of storytelling; the important thing here is the title character. Over the course of the show, The Doctor has been played by twelve different actors. Doctor Who is not, of course, the only show to replace a star. What made it nearly unique is that the change was written into the show: acknowledged and made a part of the character.

From a storytelling standpoint, it was a brilliant idea, and undoubtedly a major contributor to the show’s longevity. Changing performers without trying to find someone who looks and behaves like the previous person in the role allows writers and actors an opportunity to take the character in a radically new direction every few years. Even better, the backstory developed to explain the changes has been a rich source of story ideas.

Every Doctor’s retirement since Tom Baker’s in 1981 has been accompanied by speculation that the newcomer might be a woman. That’s apparently Baker’s fault. Supposedly (and I can’t validate this), when he announced his retirement, he wished his successor, “whoever he–or she–might be,” good luck.

But until now, every Doctor has been male. Old, young, or somewhere in between. Oh, and white. Let’s not forget that.

Suddenly, everything’s changed.

Well, no. Not really. The Doctor will still be The Doctor, dedicated to preserving Earth and the universe from the forces of…well, not necessarily evil. Perhaps “chaos,” “entropy,” and “greed” would be better tags.

It’s been a long time coming, but remember what I said about “radically new directions”? It’s time to let the show and the character do something new. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt a quite literal chill of excitement watching the trailer introducing Jodie Whittaker.

In the end, it comes down to storytelling. If the writers use Ms. Whittaker as a plug-in part and keep retelling the same old stories, it’s a waste. If she’s used as an excuse to show some same-sex snogging, it’s a lost opportunity. But if they truly embrace the chance they’ve been given, we’ll get a freshness we haven’t seen since the show’s reboot–pardon me, “relaunch”–in 2005.

To those crying doom and gloom, I say, “Give it chance. If it sucks, stop watching.” And to those who are complaining because we still haven’t gotten a Doctor of color, I’d add, “Hang in there. It’ll happen. And I’m quite sure it won’t take another forty years.”

6 thoughts on “It’s About Time

  1. I admit I am not sure how I’ll like the change myself, but that’s because lady Who fans always kind of long for a madman with a box to come out of the air and sweep them away. But there have to be (non-jerk) males who’d like a woman to do the same thing. All in an atmosphere of platonic attachment — the implication that the Doctor cherishes his companions and feels desolate when they move on goes back to the Pertwee years.

    But really, after we accepted the Master as a woman (and she was quite something), I can’t see the real problem. My only beef about whittaer personally is that she looks magazine-cover pretty in the trailer, and first of all, I’m sick of women having to be blandly pretty in order to get star billing,.plus the Doctor is always appealingly homely pm top of his eccentric dress habits and manic conduct (which I would say is the one behavioral constant that all the actors have managed to keep). I mean my God! Eccleston’s ears! Even David Tennant, something of a heartbreaker, has that sharp nose and chin and crackly eyebrows that a caricaturist could dive into.

    But it can’t be a greater offense to the franchise than Moffat at his bathetic worst, when he was off Davies’ leash and made every storyline an adolescent preoccupation with people’s emotional processes — you just have to look at the dog’s dinner he made out of the last episode of “Sherlock” to see why he can’t be allowed out without a minder.

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    • Also, BTW, if the Doctor isn’t a classic Trickster figure in the mythic sense I don’t know who is, and Tricksters are always changing gender. Think Loki, or Gwydion ap Don.

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    • Not as platonic as all that, in recent years–and I hope they take a couple of steps back from that. Not because of Ms. Whittaker, but because there are far too many exes scattered around the cosmos already.

      It took a while before I was comfortable with Missy, but darn it, I miss her already. I suspect it’ll be the same with the latest Doctor for many of us. Perfectly fine. A new beginning and a new direction should take some time to get used to. If it doesn’t, it’s not radical enough.

      Good point about the Trickster archetype. Wish I had thought of that.

      As for the “blandly pretty”: it’s an industry-wide problem, and as long as the show runners insist on going with comparatively well-known names, that’s going to be an issue. My hunch is that somewhere not too far down the road, we’ll see an older female Doctor. How about Diana Rigg, say? Whether it’ll be before or after the first non-white Doctor is a good question, though.

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