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.

Cons

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.

Pros

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.

Comments (15)

  1. Daley Downing July 16, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    My views are rather mixed, as well. Overall, this decision does not encourage me in the slightest to watch the new season. I hope that Whittaker will be a great actress, and that she gets good scripts. I really hope they don’t find it necessary to do something like make her new companion a gay man, or an artichoke in the midst of an “identity crisis” or such. I honestly feel they’re on a slippery slope, and have been for quite a while (since they decided to make Missy the new incarnation of the Master, basically). It’s becoming harder and harder (from a conservative parent’s point of view) to find appropriate stuff for kids to watch, and while Tennant and even most of Smith generally was that, this new move is going to make a lot of parents very, very nervous.

    The political push is so obvious, and that really bothers me. If the decision had been made in a year without a major election including some very controversial social issues, I’d find it an unusual, and maybe innovative, choice. But based on the Western world cultural climate at the time, I can’t rule it out, and for me it’s just another reason that gives me no desire whatsoever to keep watching the series.

    • Kyle July 16, 2017 at 4:21 pm

      Artichoke… πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ But I agree with you for the most part. I’ll be honest; I did like Missy–she was an intriguing new take on a character who had outlived his usefulness thus far, and Michelle Gomez is a remarkable actress (in my opinion). Whittaker could provide a similar boost to the character of the Doctor, IF she has good writing behind her. However, as you pointed out, that doesn’t change the fact that her casting is problematic in today’s climate. Even though I want this to turn out well for the sake of the show, I can’t ignore that reality or take issue with people who choose not to watch the next season. But for what it’s worth, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Chris Chibnall is known for a less rabidly liberal attitude than Moffat on various controversial topics. Hopefully, that will be reflected on the show moving forward. Time will tell, I suppose.

  2. S. M. Metzler July 16, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Hmmm. Jodie Whittaker even LOOKS like a good Doctor Who to me. πŸ˜€ I feel like it’s strange to have strong opinions about a female taking on Doctor Who’s role because I only just finished watching the 9th Doctor; I am but a new member of the fandom. I haven’t even watched Tennant’s series yet, and I felt sad after reading this post lol. πŸ˜› (But also EXCITED because Doctor Ten is next for me!!! :D)
    Personally, I’m exited for Whittaker (once I get there). I’m interested in how different it would be compared to earlier Doctors, particularly what the companion is like. (Male companions for Doctor Who is just weird to me right now.) And yet, it’s kind of obvious why BBC would choose a female as the 13th Doctor. In fact, I was almost kind of waiting for it, but not with any specific longing. But that’s just a baby Whovian speaking.
    Thanks for the excellent points. As a Christian who is indepent when it comes to conservative/liberal stuff, I definitely agree. πŸ˜€

    • Kyle July 16, 2017 at 6:27 pm

      So glad you liked the post! And you are so lucky!!! I’d give anything to see the Tennant era for the first time all over again, but it would probably require a universe-breaking paradox. πŸ˜† You should look into the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas as well. They’ve made tons of great stories.
      There’s actually a fantastic male companion in Rory Williams once you get to the Eleventh Doctor era, but I won’t say too much about him for fear of spoilers. He’s awesome. And don’t be scared off the Moffat era by what I said. It’s still lots of fun for the most part; there were only a few episodes here and there that were actually “bad.” (You’ll quickly discover that deeply-entrenched Whovians are VERY critical.) πŸ˜‚

  3. Benita J. Prins July 16, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    I stopped watching after Ten, mainly because I had loved Tennant’s Doctor so much. Months later I did give Eleven a chance, and enjoyed series 5 and 6 to a certain extent. I never fell in love with Eleven as I did with Nine and Ten, though, and finally quit altogether after a couple of Clara episodes. I simply found the stories somewhat boring and thought Clara lacked the depth that made me love Rose and Donna. Not to mention how there seemed to be missing episodes, so much was random and disconnected!

    I’ve tried a few of Capaldi’s episodes and couldn’t get into them. It wasn’t so much a problem with Capaldi as with the writing. I think I just don’t care for Moffat much.

    As for a female Doctor, I have a lot of misgivings about the possible agenda behind the choice. But hopefully Chibnall won’t be as aggressively progressive. I’ll give Whittaker a chance! Maybe she’ll bring back the freshness of the first four series.

    Also this comment is far too long. X|

    • Kyle July 16, 2017 at 11:56 pm

      πŸ˜€ It’s the perfect length! I have heard it said that Chibnall is not as aggressive with his agendas as Moffat. If Moffat were writing a female Doctor, I’d be done. He took every opportunity to insult his own gender in his writing, so a female Doctor created by him would probably be a perpetual man-basher. In any event, BBC must know that they’ve shed quite a few viewers over the last several years, so here’s hoping that they’ll push for more sci-fi and less politics in the new era.

  4. Danielle Pajak July 17, 2017 at 1:09 am

    I thought this was a great and balanced review! It weights all the pros and cons fairly and you give excellent points that I didn’t think about! I definitely agree with you in a lot that you have said. I can’t really have an opinion either way, though, since I left the fandom (The Tenth Doctor era IS gone, and I shall forever MOURN.) And one (of many) reasons I left was because I actually don’t like the changeability of the show. I like my stories to have consistency, and when I give my time and energy towards a story, I’m expecting it to go somewhere, have a goal, a point. However, in Doctor Who one season’s story arc can be obliterated because of timey whimey stuff, and thereby making the whole angst of that particular story a waste of time, IMHO. (No pun intended! haha). So, I’m coming from that viewpoint.

    I hope that there will be great things for this show, though, and that Jodie Whittaker will be given good writing and storytelling! That she won’t be reduced down to her gender and it won’t be all about social justice! She doesn’t deserve that, since she *is* an excellent actress, and the fans don’t either.

    Personally, though, my Doctor will always be a man. I can’t really think of the character in any other way, haha.

    P.S. Always be politically incorrect! *fist pump* haha! πŸ˜‰

    • Kyle July 18, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Thanks so much! 😊 I feel the same way about the show’s future at this point. I want it to work out well, but I guess I have regrets at the same time that my favorite eras of the program are over and probably not coming back. Technically the reason the show has been on for so long is down to its ability to reinvent itself over and over again, and that’s fine, but it has the downside of causing the average Whovian to feel like their favorite show is getting cancelled over and over again. πŸ˜† It’s going to be a very different ballgame next season. I’m looking forward to it in the same way that I look forward to any promising new TV show on the horizon, but it’s not quite the same as anticipating another season of Tennant, Smith, or Capaldi. (I kind of wish Capaldi could have had at least one year with a different showrunner so he could have worked with better scripts.)

      And yeah, I really can’t visualize “the Doctor” as a woman at this point either. πŸ˜„ I’m open to having my mind changed on that point, but right now, it just doesn’t quite fit.

  5. McKellon Meyer July 17, 2017 at 5:14 am

    Nice article! I started watching during the 10th and got sucked in. After seeing a lot of comments online, I am inclined to think the decision of a woman Doctor is overwhelmingly a political, SJW one. Those who disagree about 13 are receiving some vicious ad hominem attacks. If this decision were a natural, organic progression of the show, the comments would be littered with in depth analysis and debates of why the 13th will be good or not based on the last 50 years of show/cannon and Whittaker’s merits as an actor. I’ve seen very few of those arguments which makes me think this was a ratings/pc stunt more than anything else.

    • Kyle July 18, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks! The ridiculous thing is, the reaction has been positive overall and there’s been very little outright sexism directed at Whittaker over yet, and yet the supporters of the change are still shrieking about “middle-aged white men” allegedly being insulting about it. Even though many of those unhappy about 13 are pro-feminist women! What I don’t like is that so many people are assuming this to be the salvation of the show, when they wouldn’t say that about any male actor sight unseen. We’ve gotten one dialogue-free glimpse of 13, not enough to determine whether Whittaker is right for the role. I’m optimistic based on her acting chops, but she’ll still have to rise above the fact that she’s got instant brownie points for being a woman before I can really take her seriously as the Doctor.

  6. Justice July 17, 2017 at 8:31 am

    I’m one of the ones who stopped watching in season 8. I LOVED Capaldi as the Doctor, but the episodes and, specifically, Clara were so boring. I think a female Doctor could be great, removing the context of today’s culture, if the companion isn’t a love interest. They wouldn’t do that. They would know better. ….right?

    Honestly, as much as Moffat pushes ‘feminism’ in his characters, I found his female characters boring. It was 11 and 12 and Rory, the ones who didn’t have to be ‘perfect’ and ‘feisty’ that I liked best.

    And for companions, one of my favorite pairings was 10 and Wilfred, and 10 and Donna. I liked the variety in personalities and ages. I much prefer that to wondering if the Doctor and the companion will fall in love. I hope this Doctor will have a great companion- that could make or break the show for me (if I start watching again, that is XD )

    • Kyle July 18, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      XD I hear from a lot of people who quit watching in S8, and I’m not surprised–that was definitely one of the worst years for the show (despite one or two better episodes.) I’m surprised that there hasn’t been much talk about 13’s companion thus far, given that the role could be significantly affected by the gender switch. I’m hoping they create a widely relatable character rather than making that pick about political correctness as well. If this change is to succeed, picking the right companion will be crucial. And I agree with you completely on Moffat’s female characters. They were all so similar! It was like watching a bunch of clones sometimes. Only the characters played by actresses capable of bringing more to the role were able to rise above that (River, for example).

      And Rory was awesome. πŸ˜€ I’d actually welcome a good male companion this time around, just so long as they don’t use him for another Doctor/companion romance. That would be tiresome and weird.

      • Justice July 18, 2017 at 6:56 pm

        Interesting, I was hoping that they would care less about making the companion widely relatable and instead make them unique and maybe a little bizarre, kind of like Donna, or River. Someone that some people can relate to, but those who don’t still can enjoy.

        I forgot to mention, great post. You gave both sides really well πŸ™‚

        • Kyle July 18, 2017 at 6:58 pm

          Thanks! I appreciate it! 😊 I’d love a companion along the lines of Donna or River. I just hope we don’t end up with a weak, pathetic companion (of either gender) whose only role is to make Thirteen look better…because that would certainly be an ironic step backwards, wouldn’t it?

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