In a decision which will echo through the eternal vortex of time and space, the BBC announced the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor Who. It is the first time a woman will be playing the role since the British science-fiction programme began in 1963.
As expected, Twitter’s outrage settings went into overdrive. Many fans (a.k.a. Whovians) were shocked at the prospect of a female Doctor piloting the TARDIS, the mysterious traveler’s time machine. This sparked a counter-reaction of Whovians appalled by the apparent misogyny of their fellow fans. It is a split within the fandom which has existed for over thirty years.
As a lifelong fan who started watching Doctor Who as a kid shortly before the show was revived in 2005, my excitement levels for Whittaker’s take on the character have already grown exponentially. Change and renewal are in the very DNA of the show. Every new incarnation is a reinvention of the character. All different and yet the same. That’s been the key to the show’s enduring popularity.
A long time ago in 1966, the Doctor regenerated for the first time into a younger incarnation portrayed by Patrick Troughton. Fans thought him too silly, too young to play the role established by William Hartnell. The same reaction from fans happened in 1974 when a wild eyed and curly haired Tom Baker took over from the magisterial and authoritative Jon Pertwee. More recently, Matt Smith was criticised for being far too young and inexperienced to succeed the much-loved David Tennant. But all of these actors are now adored by fans.
Of course, changing genders is different from changing the age of the character. For many years the Doctor has been a paternalistic figure, especially in his first and third incarnations, who acts as a teacher or mad uncle to his predominantly female companions. But that’s not everything the character is. The Doctor is an explorer, a philosopher, a rebel. Optimism, compassion, and reason are the Doctor’s values. These characteristics transcend gender and can be translated into a superb performance by a talented actor.
Let us be in no doubt that Whittaker has serious talent. As a star of the critically-acclaimed British crime drama Broadchurch, penned by the new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall, Whittaker proved that she can handle heavy emotional material with ease. In Attack the Block, a comedy-science-fiction movie, Whittaker has already fought against creatures from outer space, coincidentally her co-star John Boyega has gone on to find Star Wars fame as Finn.
It’s my belief that once fans have seen the first episode of Whittaker’s Doctor, they will adore her. Whenever a Doctor is leaving, fans are always sad and totally convinced that the new Doctor will not be as good. Then they watch the new Doctor’s debut and fall in love with the show all over again. Maybe some diehards will continue to grumble about a female Doctor, but Whovians should be prepared for the avalanche of naysayers changing their minds after seeing Whittaker in action.
A female casting also feels appropriate in the current political environment in Britain. We have our second female Prime Minister. The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, and the Democratic Unionist Party are all led by women. Women lead the Conservative and Labour parties in Scotland. Last month’s general election saw a record-breaking number of women elected to Parliament. It looks like Doctor Who is just moving with the times.
Male Whovians have twelve (technically thirteen…maybe fourteen…it’s a long story) incarnations of the Doctor to cosplay as and admire. It’s about time there was a Doctor for female Whovians to embrace. A new generation of girls will be grow up watching the nation’s hero become a woman. That’s something everyone should be able to celebrate.