On Saturday, the BBC announced that, for the first time in Doctor Who’s 50+ years, it would be introducing a female Doctor.
Let me say it again for the people in the back (and for the haters): the next Doctor will be a WOMAN!
For those unfamiliar with the concept of the television show, Doctor Who chronicles the life and adventures of a time traveling alien from the planet Gallifrey — and we can now add “genderfluid” to that description. There have been twelve different doctors, all of whom have been white men. When the Doctor is near death, he “regenerates,” meaning that he becomes a shiny new version of himself — portrayed by a new actor. The history is the same, the ideology is the same, but it allows the Doctor to experience the universe through new eyes.
There have long been requests to have a female doctor but this has been dismissed by fans and showrunners alike, citing that “it’s too soon for a female” and “the Doctor can’t be a woman!” While I waited for the announcement to be made, refreshing my twitter page about twenty times a minute, I remembered these comments and wouldn’t allow myself to get too excited about such a groundbreaking possibility. A friend even told me not to get my hopes up because Thirteen was going to be a white man — again.
And so, when I heard that Jodie Whittaker would be playing the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor, there was much shrieking, flailing, and wiping of tears. I’ve been a Whovian for years and I always dreamt of having a female Doctor, exploring all of time and space and saving the universe whenever in peril. To finally have this day arrive was an emotional one for me, thousands of other fans, and for Whittaker herself. When asked how she felt to be the first female doctor, Whittaker said, “It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be. It feels incredible.”
The show has always pushed boundaries about gender and sexuality. Since the show’s reincarnation in 2005, there has been a feminist, queer bent. And, because the show’s genre falls under the diverse realm of science fiction, there’s room for fluidity. Doctor Who has had a bisexual, immortal time traveler (Captain Jack Harkness), a sexually fluid time travelling half-Time Lord archeologist (River Song, who also happens to be the wife of the Doctor), an interspecies lesbian couple (Madame Vastra and her wife Jenny), and the first openly gay black companion (Bill Potts).
Perhaps in anticipated response to criticisms about a female Doctor, showrunners have already introduced the notion that a male Time Lord can, in fact, regenerate into a female in the character of Missy/The Master. It can be done — anything can be done in science fiction — and rejecting this possibility is simply a sexist response out of fear of the unknown. As Whittaker urged to those who are not happy with this groundbreaking news: “I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
There is so much possibility in a female Doctor. Not only will there be an opportunity to revitalize the show, there will be an opportunity to see how gender and sexuality are portrayed. There will be an opportunity to explore how this character relates to being in a female body for the first time. The Doctor has had literally thousands of years of male privilege that she will now have to learn to go without. It will be fascinating and exciting to see how showrunners broach the topics of a female Doctor in historically misogynistic settings and also having a wife.
There will certainly be barriers to overcome, and there will be an inevitable minefield of missteps that could be taken if this transition is not handled sensitively, but there’s also hope that this will breathe fresh life into the show and show young viewers, male and female alike, that a woman can be the hero and save the day.
We just had to wait for lucky number thirteen.