Doctor Who is back on our screens, with Jodie Whittaker playing the show’s first ever female lead. But should the Doctor’s gender really make a difference?
Cast your minds back 15 months ago. The date was 16th July 2017, and Jodie Whittaker had just been unveiled as the Thirteenth Doctor in a specially-filmed trailer. It was an announcement that shook the nation – nay, the globe! – with its ramifications for the future of Doctor Who. Naturally, there was fevered excitement and speculation. There always is after a new Doctor gets announced. But for the first time in over 50 years, the Doctor was regenerating into a woman. For better or worse, the show (and the character) would never be the same again.
This caused a mixed reaction, to put it mildly. Most fans welcomed Jodie into the Time Lord pantheon with open arms. But wherever you looked – be it Twitter, tabloids, or message forums – you’d be just as likely to find someone claiming Doctor Who had been ruined forever. The TARDIS was finally opening its doors to a wider audience than ever, yet it also seemed to be shutting out purists who had been following the series since the start. It was a vocal minority, for sure (as the impressive viewing figures for Jodie’s debut, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, now prove). But it was one that was also very hard to ignore.
Change, My Dear
Personally, Jodie’s announcement thrilled me to bits. She’s a fantastic actor and I loved her in Broadchurch, Attack the Block, and Black Mirror. But was she right for the Doctor? Sure, the character’s been a man for the last 55 years and 12 (or is it 13?) regenerations. But there’s absolutely no reason, on or off-screen, why the Doctor shouldn’t be a woman. Steven Moffat started sowing the seeds a long time ago. There was the Corsair in The Doctor’s Wife and the General in Hell Bent. Then of course, there was Missy, the ultimate test-run for a female Doctor. Casting Michelle Gomez as the Doctor’s best frenemy was (if you’ll pardon the pun) a Master stroke. After her storming success, it was only a matter of time until the Doctor followed suit.
Plus, if ever there was a time to make this change, it was now. Just like 2005 and 2010, there’s a clean slate. A ground-breaking regeneration is one sure-fire way to make that count. Still, I was sceptical about a female Doctor at first. Not because I didn’t think it could work, but because I knew it would split the fanbase right down the middle. Whenever this decision happened (and whoever it involved), it was always going to be the same. But it’s been said repeatedly that the Doctor should be cast because they are the right person, not because they are the right gender. Having a female Doctor for the sake of a female Doctor would just be a tacky gimmick. Thankfully, I wholeheartedly feel that casting Jodie as the Thirteenth Doctor was not only a good choice, but also the right one.
And It Seems Not a Moment Too Soon
Chris Chibnall, love or loathe his previous work, undoubtedly writes incredible characters. More specifically, he writes incredible female characters. Everyone in Broadchurch was well written, but the women really stood out. Jodie Whittaker was a particular hit as grieving mother Beth Latimer – arguably the highlight of the show. Therefore, she was an assured and safe choice for the Thirteenth Doctor. Just like Russell T Davies and David Tennant before them (what a dream team that became!), Chris knows how to write for Jodie. He knows her strengths and he knows how to get the best of her talents. Female Doctor or no female Doctor, Series 11 was always going to be a massive risk for Doctor Who. It’s a huge and daunting task for any new showrunner – Chris Chibnall wouldn’t have taken this casting decision lightly. He’ll have wanted someone he can trust to make his new era a hit.
Hopefully you’ve all seen The Woman Who Fell to Earth now, and hopefully you all agree that Jodie is an instant star. It’s also clear that we haven’t got a female Doctor “just because”. A couple of knowing winks aside, the Doctor’s gender proves all but irrelevant. There’s no feminist agenda, and no TARDIS full of bras. Just an incredible actor in an incredible role. And yet, still there will be those who hold Doctor 13 to an unfair standard, waiting for any misstep they can latch the blame onto. Admittedly, yes, there are still nine episodes left – but if Series 11 fails to impress, it’ll be because of bad scripts or bad direction. Not Jodie herself. She’s an actor with her head screwed on and her heart(s) in the right place. She knows the significance of this job, and she won’t be the one to let the side down.