I found myself thinking about the idea of a visually female doctor on the way to work today. I was coming at it from a writer’s or actor’s standpoint and thinking how difficult things will be come for the character, both in the ‘whoniverse’ and in the real world when it comes to the viewers watching the show. In the show’s favor, the fanbase is going to be one that’s rather open-minded in their approaches to life by and large. Though you still have plenty of people who like to go, “THE SHOW IS OVER FOR ME WITH THIS NEW DOCTOR! WHAT A TERRIBLE IDEA/ACTOR BECAUSE REASONS!!”
And of course... they’re entitled to their opinions, just like I’m entitled to believe those people are wrong, and are likely crab people bent on destroying all that’s good and right in the world like neighborhood associations and televangelists.
But it will be something of an uphill climb for the show, if only just because expectations of the character are going to be challenged and subverted in greater ways than ever. And all sorts of things the character has had to deal with in the past will now be things he’s got no experience with because he will be treated entirely differently by the other characters she must now interact with. (And bear with me, my personal pronouns in this article are going to be going back and forth pretty fast and furiously.) To a large degree, she’s going to have to rediscover how to live and interact with the universe around her.
I think about all the societal double standards still in play for women that The Doctor would have to work twice as hard to overcome when trying to deal with any situation. Especially in a historical context when they go back to some earlier year when women were considered to be more property than people.
“This is actually important. You really need to listen to me or the earth will be eaten by all these things you see swarming down there.”
“You’ve a woman’s heart for battle, Doctor-Dear. FORWARD, MEN!”
“Annnd they don’t listen again. Is this yet another face that no one listens to?”
“It’s not your face, this time, Doctor.”
Now, this is not inherently a bad thing. It’s an opportunity to show such outmoded sexist thinking for what it is when she teaches ‘em a lesson. As it were. The Doctor in this form can be an inspiration to young girls everywhere. That said, I’d rather not see the show turned into a vehicle for feminism when it’s supposed to be about science fiction. That can so very easily lead to something like the perceived misandry that came with movies like Velma & Louise or the homer-simpson-ization of any man in the show as crass, incapable and simple. This is Doctor Who. Not some 1940's ‘fun filled romp in a battle of the sexes.’. Though I’d absolutely love to see the show contributing to more acceptance of transgenderism in our society in the ways shows like Sense8 are doing. (with a Doctor Who alum in tow no less.)
But on to an uglier point... Nowadays, in the midst of shows like ... well Game of Thrones and The Expanse, or the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, and any number of shows that like to get gritty and brutal with the womenfolk, one trope I’m getting particularly tired of is the need to establish how unlikable/evil someone is by how he mistreats or brutalizes women. Now stick female Doctor into that. How long before some Nazi tries to rape her? (sets stopwatch.) I’m guessing, not very long.
The Doctor also gets smacked around, knocked out rather a lot. How’re the Beeb or the viewers going to react to seeing an actress starring in the show get roughed up like the other actors have in the past? Not that there aren’t some asskicking women out there who can hold their own in a fight. But there’s a lot of 19th century minded people with standards and practices departments that have a problem with that sort of thing on the small screen, not to mention advocacy groups that will cheese off.
So... what do they do in response? Do they revive the 3rd Doctor’s affinity for Venusian Aikido to defend herself? The 4th / 7th Doctor’s impressive hypnosis skills? (“Listen to me. You are now in a state of deep hypnosis.”) Or perhaps an amped up ability for social engineering and fast talk? Or do they go the other way and let her deal with all the double standards he’s been somewhat guilty of over the years? (“SHHHH!! My prophetic soul, was my first question to Romana REALLY whether or not she could make TEA?”)
Regardless of which way they jump, and as much as Maisie Williams kicked a lot of ass last year as Lady Me, going with young and cute for the first woman playing the Doctor may not be the way they want to go. Besides which, I’d really like to see her playing Lady Me again. She’s too good a character NOT to have return. And honestly, given the way this last season ended, I’d be frankly amazed if she didn’t turn up again with her new travelling companion.
One thing they DON’T want to do is make our first female Doctor a goof. Let’s get that out of the way right now. There’s a certain goofy-ness or madness to the character, yes. Eccentricity. Alien outlook. Worlds-ly wise one moment, terribly naive the next. This is fine. This is all stuff I love about the character. She should not however, be a bumbling fool. (AHEMMattSmithAHEM ) This will undermine her, and it will not be funny. Think about this, and you will agree. She should exude an air of confident competence, like Davison or Pertwee or Tennant first time out without a penis. (Or whatever Time Lords pack in their trousers. The only thing we sort of know about them is that they are reproductively sterile, if they include Pandora’s curse from the Cartmel Masterplan and Looms into future canon.)
They’re going to want the Doctor to be recognizably adult and authoritative. Someone with all the command of Professor Minerva McGonagall; whom you do NOT question. Lalla Ward REALLY pulled that kind of thing off well during her tenure as Romana. IE: When in doubt, act as if you’re in charge, which 8 times out of 10, people go along with.
Here, I’m thinking someone along the lines of Catherine Zeta Jones (who’s wanted to be Bond in the past.), Tilda Swinton (Gabriel, The White Witch), Keely Hawes (Madame Karabraxos in Dr. Who, Alex in Ashes to Ashes), Emma Thompson (all manner of things), Jaime Murray (HG Wells in Warehouse 13, Aphrodite) or even Eve Myles (Doctor Who, Torchwood). The idea here is that you take one look at this person, and they bypass years of crap social programming and go, “It would be a wise idea to listen to what this person is saying. My life probably depends on it.”
That said? I do look forward to the very, very predictably awkward moment when she decides to try using her ‘feminine wiles’ to influence or get out of a sticky situation. For The Doctor, being mostly an asexual creature, this might be hilarious. Although, she might remember a thing or two from her time with her wife, River. Although, Although, she’s very likely still going over or undercompensate and get it badly wrong.
Speaking of sexuality, we don’t need to have someone who exudes sexuality here. Demographically, casting a sexy character ‘for the dads’ is something the show has been guilty of in the past. (See: most every woman who has ever traveled with the Doctor.) It’s not necessary. At least, not for me it isn’t. Though it might be interesting from a male standpoint to be attracted to the Doctor the same way a lot of women I know seem to be attracted to Tennant and Smith. Certainly weird. I’d certainly prefer her not to be dismissed as ‘a bit of tail’ when she needs to be THE most important character on screen.
I do wonder if they might go the somewhat nepotist route and have her played by someone who’s been in the show once already. The first person to come to mind in that respect is Amara Karan, who played the character of Rita in the Matt Smith episode, “The God Complex”. A character the Doctor was so impressed with, you had the idea he was going to ask her to travel with him by episode’s end. And then of course there’s Eve Myles, who’s been both in Doctor Who (The Unquiet Dead) and starred in Torchwood along with John Barrowman’s Jack Harkness character. (If she’s got time. I hear she’s been seen in Broadchurch with David lately.) Which gets all kinds of interesting when they meet again.
“What? It’s Jack!”
“Yes... I know who you are!”
“Well give us a hug!!”
“Yeah. You are really not Gwen.”
“Yee-ee-es. I know who I am too.”
Given that upcoming showrunner Chris Chibnall has worked with Ms. Myles for so long on Torchwood, She’d likely be a great pick for The Doctor. She’s also right about the age Tennant took the role too.
Were this years ago, I’d have been about seeing Angela Bruce play the role. 80's fans of British Sci-Fi will remember her as the female version of Lister in Red Dwarf, and also as Unit’s Brigadier Winifred Bambera from Doctor Who.
In any case, I’m not down on the idea. I’m just wondering if people have considered all the challenges and changes to the character and how she’d relate to the rest of the universe beyond the idea of, “IT’D BE REALLY NEAT!” It would be. It could be awesome. But they need to be ready and willing to take on all that comes with it without losing the show in the neat awesomeness to come.