Following the news that Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi is to hang up his sonic screwdriver at the end of the year, fans have been debating if the time is right for a non-white or female Doctor.
Both options would represent a noticeable change. But in truth, the BBC has already proven that race in not an issue in their eyes. As it turns out, way back before Matt Smith was eventually cast as The Doctor, Paterson Joseph, a highly acclaimed black actor, was initially offered the role,
Hiring a woman however, still seems to be a step too far for the broadcaster and audiences alike.
These days it’s very easy for anyone disagreeing with the idea of a female Doctor to be labeled sexist or misogynistic—after all, we live in a time where equality is, quite rightly, becoming a more prominent issue in society, but it’s important not to confuse preference with prejudice.
Let’s not forget, here is a character that has been male for 50 years, and endured 12 (OK, 13 including John Hurt; 14 including Peter Cushing) televised incarnations, so why change now for the sake of ticking the gender box?
Supporters argue that such a change makes perfect sense and strikes at the core makeup of Doctor Who , with its ever evolving variations of the Time Lord. And it’s not like we haven’t seen a character change gender. In 2014, we saw The Master, one of The Doctor’s greatest (male) adversaries, revealed as a woman. Later in 2015, we saw a male Time Lord regenerate into a female Time Lord—so we know it’s certainly, and canonically possible.
But some things have been at the heart of the show since the beginning: the TARDIS, time travel, the (male) Doctor. If you change one of those core elements, would the show be able to continue without destroying its identity?
Switching the gender of the lead character would also change the dynamic of the show. Tradition dictates that a Doctor/companion team works best with opposite genders—case in point, the chemistry between David Tennant’s tenth Doctor and Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler—and having a main, male companion would certainly shift the focus, arguably as much as having a female Doctor.
In fact, within the context of the series, the companion role serves a wider purpose; this is the person through whose eyes we enjoy the adventures from, it’s someone who the audience relates to, regardless of gender.
There are plenty of truly fantastic women who could play The Doctor. You have no idea how many times Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter and Hayley Atwell’s names have been suggested to to me as contenders. Looking back on Doctor Who over the past 10 years, some of the most memorable roles have been female; Rose, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and Missy (Michelle Gomez) have all been strong women with powerful roles in the show, and I can’t help think that we wouldn’t have had them if there had been a female Doctor.
Perhaps before making that decision on a female Doctor, they should look behind the scenes. Television is still a male-dominated industry, and in the entire 50-year history of the show there have only ever been 10 female directors. That’s fewer than the number of Doctors there have been. Surely this is something we should be changing before considering changes to the lead role?
Sebastian J. Brook is editor of Doctor Who Online, one of the most popular and long-running Doctor Who websites on the internet. Sebastian is also a trained actor, writer and vlogger. Follow him on Twitter: @DrWhoOnline and @SebastianJBrook.