Doctor Who: Some thoughts on Jodie Whittaker's casting and why now is the right time for a female Doctor
After an agonisingly long wait at the end of Wimbledon yesterday (congratulations Ferderer) where even Den of Geek's Twitter feed went a little crazy waiting for the announcement, Twitter exploded as the BBC announced the casting of the new Thirteenth Doctor. Jodie Whittaker, most known for playing Beth Latimer in Broadchurch, will be replacing Peter Capaldi at Christmas, to kick off Chris Chibnall's new Doctor Who series 11 next year.
And sure, there were some male misogynists, who complained that the Doctor should be male, that it was now Nurse Who and that the show was ruined. But thankfully, the response was largely positive. People seem to be welcoming the change with open arms; after all it's a show about an alien that travels in a police box through time and space fighting robots and aliens - is the fact that the alien lead character can genderswap that much of a big deal?
Now I say this with trepidation because I am delighted with the news... When talk of the Doctor being female first started up a few years ago, I wasn't convinced. We had never seen a Time Lord character change gender (every incarnation remained male or female); any talk of change felt it was being made for political correctness rather than a natural narrative progression of the character. There was nothing to suggest that the Doctor could or would chose to become female. If you wanted a strong female Time Lord character, you could look to Romana I and II as a prime example of how to get it right.
But the groundwork for this change has been laid very carefully over the last few years, in no small part to the excellent casting of Michelle Gomez and the first female Master, Missy. She excelled as the Doctor's frenemy; evil, deranged and utterly entertaining and pretty much won every critic over (for me, she's my favourite version after Roger Delgado's original Master). If there's one thing to be thankful to Steven Moffat for (and I think he's brought many wonderful contributions to Doctor Who) it was his ability to casually alter the show's canon to open up the possibility for a Time Lord that could change genders through regeneration.
Had a woman replaced Matt Smith there might have been uproar, not necessarily because of gender but because it might have come across as sensationalist, without any basis in fifty years of Time Lord lore. But now Gomez's performance has tested the waters with much success. Now fans are ready and even those who might have preferred another male in the role can't deny there is precedent.
But there's more than a change of canon that make Whittaker's announcement something hugely positive. Gone are the days where heroes are all male; when a girl's role model was the supporting character. From Rey in Star Wars to female Ghostbusters to the massive success of Wonder Woman, suddenly TV and film are showing us anyone can be heroes, it doesn't take a man to save the day...or the universe. Doctor Who has certainly had strong role models in its companions; Sarah Jane, Leela, Romana, Rose, Amy, Clara and now Bill...the list is endless but this is something slightly different. This is important in a way that I probably cannot properly realise as a man with plenty of male role models growing up.
It's also hugely important in terms of the show itself. Doctor Who has always been about change - replacing the lead actor eleven times (and throwing in a couple of extra Doctors to boot) has allowed the show to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary and beyond. Companions come and go and the show endures. Showrunners / lead writers are continuously replaced as the show moves from Verity Lambert's show all the way though Philip Hinchcliffe era, changing again and again all the way to modern head honchos Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat.
The show is changing again this Christmas as Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat part ways with Doctor Who forever and Chris Chibnall steps in to take the reigns. While I have certainly enjoyed most of Moffat's tenure, there is no denying that a shake up is needed again. A new Doctor and companion certainly helps but to ensure the show's longevity and success, it needs to feel fresh again. Changing the status quo certainly does that. What will a female Doctor bring? What does that mean for the classic companion dynamic? Suddenly it isn't just excitement for a new Doctor, it's excitement for the show in general.
It opens up possibilities for the next fifty years; no longer is Doctor Who the tenure of white men; the lead hero can be anything. Hell, you could even throw in a non-human Doctor somewhere down the line. Now with each new Doctor, the possibilities seem endless.
I could be all pretentious and talk about how in this modern era of Trump and Brexit we all need hope and this brings that...but really it is just a TV show. Instead I've focus on what it means for role models. Anyone can be a hero, anyone can save the day. There is no longer an archetype for what the Doctor should look like, in fact what any lead hero should look like. We still need to see what Whittaker is like in the role (and she certainly has the massive shoulders of Capaldi to stand on), but if she's done well, she can certainly join modern heroes like the cinematic Wonder Woman and Jedi Knight Rey.
I can sum it up the announcement in the reaction of my two children. My eleven year old son (and huge Doctor Who fan) did not react with outrage that his idol was becoming female. His first thought was 'I can't wait to see what she's like' followed by 'I wonder if we'll have a male companion to keep the old dynamic'. My daughter simply looked at me, smiled a huge grin and said 'I'm happy'.
Personally, I'm just excited by the upcoming changes. I've loved so much of what Moffat has done over the years but it feels right that he's moving on. I am still gutted Capaldi is leaving. Anyone replacing him as a lot to prove - but for Whittaker, it's not about being a woman, It's about being a bloody good Doctor.
So I'm going to savour the Twelfth Doctor's final performance and then look forward to what Chris Chibnall brings us. And judging by yesterday's announcement, he's not doing too badly so far...
And here's some thoughts from my fellow writers at The Digital Fix...
Colin Polonowski (Editor in chief)
Jodie Whittaker's casting is possibly the best thing that could have happened to Doctor Who to usher in a new era. Previously Chris Chibnall had suggested he didn't want to get up in 'stunt' casting and with this move he's cemented that by picking someone who is not only utterly talented but also breaks a long-standing mould. From this point on, The Doctor can be anyone.
Anyone who has seen Whittaker's work in Attack the Block or Adult Life Skills can't be anything other than excited by this news.
It's also exciting for me, as a father of three girls, to see them have the chance to enjoy Doctor Who as much as I did growing up. By giving them another strong role model who shows them that there are no limits to what they do, Jodie Whittaker's Doctor will be a triumph. And for a woman to be put front and centre of a show that is watched by so many boys can only be a good thing, giving them a new, but familiar, role model that doesn't share their sex.
As for Whittaker herself - it has to be said that she's brave for taking on a character with so much history, and the fact that she is breaking utterly new ground for that character is something I'm really looking forward to. I AM concerned that a certain element of the most vocal and militant fans may make her a target of harassment and abuse because they see her casting as an affront, but I'm hopeful that for every middle aged man who now refuses to watch the show we have an army of young girls stepping up to take their place. They won't be missed.
We still have one episode of Peter Capaldi's Doctor left to enjoy and I'm really looking forward to seeing him spar with David Bradley's take on the First Doctor - but now I'm looking forward to 2018's new series even more; and that's something I didn't expect to be saying even at 3pm this afternoon.
Craig Huntley (TV, music and film writer)
Thoughts on the new Doctor -
FIRSTLY, whenever I talk about anything 'feminine' based I always feel ill educated or someone reading would get the wrong end of the stick so to speak. So just to make clear I am beyond positive about the announcement!
1) Never been a massive Who fan as it feels very stuck in its way but this may bring me back to watch the show regularly.
2) I feel it's VERY of the moment. If they were going to do a female doctor now is the time with strong women and feminism being so much the topic of the time. I mean this all in a positive light. It's such a good announcement!
3) Does this mean we will have a male companion? Doesn't bother me either way but would be a good reversal.
Hel Jones (Film Editor)
I have face-ache at the moment...