The Thirteenth Doctor: My Thoughts
She’s a comin’. Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor, is officially waiting in the wings to take over from Peter Capaldi in the Doctor Who Christmas special. My feelings? Mixed overall, but leaning towards the positive. Here’s my perspective. Warning: conservative Christianity and extreme geekery incoming.
(By the way, my review of the Series 10 finale is still coming; I just haven’t had any time to work on it lately. I want to get my thoughts about Thirteen down in a post while they’re still fresh in my mind.)
So, on to the pros and cons of this announcement. Let’s get the negative aspects out of the way first.
1. The political/social-justice motivations of this choice are blindingly obvious.
In 2016, many people believed that a certain position held since time immemorial by a man would be taken on by a woman. Instead, it fell to yet another man. (And he’s not even SORRY he’s a man. Oh, the horror.) With that sore subject still on the table, it was probably foolish for anyone (like me, for example) to think that the BBC, confronted with a similar scenario, wouldn’t choose a woman. The “I’m With Her” overtones are hard to miss. This could be a problem if Doctor Who proceeds to become all about the fact that the Doctor is now a woman. We’ve already had a situation similar to that, and it ended badly. Series 8 was basically all about the fact that the Doctor was now a grumpy Scottish bloke. This had a serious impact on the show’s quality and ratings.
Also, while I admit it’s ridiculously early to be asking this question–what’s going to happen when it’s time to pick the Fourteenth Doctor? Will male actors even be eligible for the role any more? Will there pressure from here on out to always select a “diverse” option, automatically ruling out all white straight males? That wouldn’t be very fair to a large number of people who might want to audition for the role. That being said, if true equality can be exercised in picking future Doctors, then this need not be a significant concern.
2. It’s questionable whether this move was necessary from a feminist standpoint.
In my opinion, Doctor Who has already paid its debt to feminism. The days of perpetually-shrieking, ditzy female companions ended even before the 2005 revival (primarily thanks to the under-appreciated Ace McCheyne, companion to the Seventh Doctor). The companion role in particular has provided an opportunity to showcase a wide variety of strong and well-developed female characters. And these women were arguably highlighted even more through their contrast to the traditionally male Doctor. Many people are saying “It’s about time” we had a woman in the main role. Tiresome puns aside, I can’t say I agree with this viewpoint.
3. There are moral qualms about this from a Christian perspective.
For my part, I don’t consider the issue of Time Lords changing gender to have any bearing upon the LGBT agenda–at least, not within the show’s fictional context. According to canon, Time Lords are alien beings which can switch genders when they regenerate. This isn’t really comparable to surgical or hormonal attempts to alter the chromosomal identity of humans. Humans can’t regenerate, so the point is moot. But concerns raised by Christians about this issue should not be ignored–Christians are part of the full spectrum of diversity, and their perogative to speak up should be defended. I respect Christians who may choose not to watch or not to let their kids watch Doctor Who because of this issue. I haven’t made that choice myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong.
In any event, the hatred this decision has brought out of the woodwork is inexcusable. I’m not actually talking about hate directed toward Whittaker as the Doctor. So far, 99% of the dissenting opinions I’ve read have been civil: both men and women voicing their preference for a male Doctor while still being wholly supportive of feminism as an ideal. But the pre-emptive vitriol from the other side is appalling. The predominant response seems to be “You only don’t want a woman as the Doctor because you’re a white straight male, and also, you suck.” (I’ll refrain from mimicking their language more accurately.) This isn’t fair or even decent. People have the right to object to a female Doctor without being disdained and insulted.
Wait, come back! I’m not finished! Here’s the positive stuff.
1. Change has always been part of Doctor Who’s success, and it could use some change right now.
Let’s be brutally honest here–Doctor Who has been going downhill in terms of ratings and popularity ever since Steven Moffat took the helm. I say this as a fan of many of Moffat’s stories, characters, and monsters. I’m actually far less critical of him than I am of Russell T. Davies, in fact. But even we Moffat fans need to face facts. It was RTD and David Tennant who really made Doctor Who a success in the modern era, through their action-hero, Marvel-esque take on the Doctor’s adventures. The “dark fairy tale” approach adopted by Moffat had the potential to be just as successful, but was ultimately let down by dubious plotting on Moffat’s part. The Matt Smith era kept the Tennant enthusiasm going for a while, mainly due to Matt’s phenomenal acting, but over time, interest began to wane. The weak and muddled Series 8 was pretty much the nail in the coffin. I’ve talked to many fans who say they abandoned the show after that. Even improvements in Series 9 and 10 weren’t enough to restore Doctor Who’s former glory. It’s telling that the most well-received story of Moffat’s tenure was arguably The Day of the Doctor, which brought back David Tennant.
The point is, Doctor Who needs a shake-up. If the casting of a female Doctor proves to be merely a gimmick, then that won’t be enough. But if new showrunner Chris Chibnall can tell great stories with the Thirteenth Doctor, then the show will have a bright future indeed.
2. It’s possible that this decision wasn’t just motivated by politics.
I don’t envy the person who had to make the final decision about casting the next Doctor. They must have felt like they were between a rock and a hard place. There were the grieving Capaldi fans on the one hand, and the Tennant fans who jumped ship a long time ago on the other. I heard a rumor a while back that the BBC was trying to cast someone in the Tennant mold to evoke the program’s heyday. Kris Marshall, a long-rumored favorite for the role, would have fit that description pretty well. (Poor guy, he’s been hated on by legions of Whovians for months and he apparently was never in the running to begin with!)
But the problem is, there’s only one David Tennant. Matt Smith wisely didn’t try to copy him. Neither did Peter Capaldi. Each of them gave their own enjoyable take on the Doctor (it’s just a shame they were so poorly served by the scripts). The only way to bring back the Tennant era would be to bring back Tennant himself–an intriguing notion, but not in the cards. After Capaldi’s very different interpretation of the character, I have a feeling that Kris Marshall or any similar male actor in the 30’s/40’s age range would have been seen as a poor man’s Tenth or Eleventh Doctor. The Tennant era is over. No one’s happy about that, myself included, but there’s no getting around it either.
So casting someone completely different might not be a bad idea, all things considered. That’s not to say a man couldn’t forge a new path for the show. But we now live in a post-Wonder-Woman age, where female heroes are getting more attention and respect. In terms of marketing, this may be an opportune time to put a woman at the TARDIS controls.
3. Jodie Whittaker is cool.
All debates aside, if the Doctor has to be female, then Jodie Whittaker (two T’s!) is an excellent choice. She’s an extremely talented performer with a wide acting range. She’s been refreshingly gracious so far to fans who might be put off by the show’s new direction. She’s known for championing the cause of Down Syndrome children–which is relevant to me personally, as I’m the brother of someone with special needs. And she’s beautiful. It’s probably VERY politically incorrect for me to bring that up, but I’m doing it anyway because she is and it’s a compliment so I’m not sorry.
To sum up, while I still have some misgivings about the general concept of casting a woman as the Doctor, I’m in favor of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. Whether this change will bode well for the show as a whole remains to be seen, of course. Chris Chibnall can’t rest on his laurels now that he’s achieved this milestone for the program; the cheers of social justice warriors won’t necessarily translate into ratings. Give us a great Series 11 (maybe with a satisfying finale, for once) and then we’ll talk. One way or another, Doctor Who is certain to be very different from here on out. This will be a whole new era, not just an attempt to recapture bygone days. And maybe that’s for the best. I miss the Tenth Doctor. I miss all the Doctors, and I’m going to miss Twelve once he’s gone. But I’m definitely willing to give the Thirteenth Doctor a chance.
How about you? Feel free to share your own thoughts about this news in the comments.