I was the Doctor and I’m over the moon that at last we have a female lead
Colin Baker | Jul. 17th, 2017
Whenever I have been interviewed about Doctor Who, the question has come up about the possibility of a female Doctor. I have never been able to think of any logical reason why an alien being capable of regenerating in extremis would necessarily retain all or indeed any of the characteristics of his (or her) pre-renewal self. (Pronouns are about to get tricky when talking about the Doctor).
The dozen or so personalities to emerge thus far from the chrysalis of regeneration have been as different as any you could pick at random on the Clapham omnibus on Gallifrey; except in one particular – gender. They have been young and old, they have been Scottish, northern and received pronunciation, they have been grumpy, feckless, patrician, barmy, innocent, brash and potty – but never female.
I have always found that problematical, not in the world we live in, but in the world the characters live in, particularly the Doctor’s world. The world we live in has a history of male domination, of stereotyping, of resistance to change, of playing it safe. Doctor Who has never been about that. The Doctor in all his incarnations has always been a passionate defender of justice, equality, fairness and resisted those who seek to dominate or destroy.
Admittedly, when the programme was first broadcast in the 60s, the character of the Doctor reflected the zeitgeist of that decade. William Hartnell gave us a patriarchal Doctor, perhaps patronising and condescending to our eyes today. But we have evolved, thankfully, and most of us see the absurdity of a world in which either gender should dominate the other or be regarded as second-class citizens. There is undoubtedly still much work to do but we are making progress.
So when I have been asked that question at conventions I have taken the opportunity to take a show of hands (from large numbers of predominantly Doctor Who fans in most cases) about their view of whether the Doctor could or should be a woman. I confess to being surprised when about 20%, or sometimes more, have considered the notion unthinkable – and many of them were women, whom one might think would be offended by the exclusion of their gender from the Tardis.
I like to think that it is not just because I am a father of four daughters that I resent the barriers to advancement and opportunity that are routinely thrown in their path. But it is certainly true that there are fewer striking role models for young females in our society – and on television and film – and fewer realistic opportunities to see paths through to the kind of success to which they have every right to aspire.
I have repeatedly stated publicly that I personally would not just welcome but expect a female doctor, but that I doubted the courage of the decision-makers at the BBC to allow a showrunner to explore the exciting opportunities afforded by such brave and game-changing casting. Clearly I was wrong and I congratulate Chris Chibnall, the incoming executive producer and writer, on succeeding where others may have failed or maybe not even tried. What is doubly encouraging is the fact he has very long track record of writing good strong parts for men and women alike, including the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, who was superb in Broadchurch (written by Chibnall).
But I have been shocked by the reaction of some people who would describe themselves as fans of the programme to the casting of a really good actress in the role. Some of them I know and am sad to see them vowing to “never watch the programme again”.
It is not an unfamiliar position in fandom (and I know I risk being a troll magnet in saying this) to mistake being a fan of something to owning it. A true fan of a football team supports their team even in defeat and as they slide down the leagues. I do not believe such catastrophe awaits Doctor Who and expect a renaissance – not that one is needed. Peter Capaldi was magnificent and was a refreshing contrast to the youthful trend that preceded him (who were also superb I hasten to add).
Let’s hope the disgruntled can be convinced in the end. But if we do lose some fans we will gain many more when it’s not just little boys in the playground (or bigger boys in the acting profession) saying: “I want to be the Doctor one day.”