Thoughts on the Twelfth Doctor

4 Aug

(Ware! Doctor Who spoilers ahead!)

So the makers of Doctor Who have announced who’ll be playing the Twelfth Doctor. There’s been a lot of lead-up to this, and a lot of speculation about who it might be. Since the series has established on-screen that regeneration can change a Time Lord’s skin colour or even their gender*, the pool of possible actors for the next Doctor was a lot larger than it would be for many roles. There’s even examples of a Time Lord being able to control their regeneration and choose a specific appearance, which may be the appearance of someone they’ve previously met – meaning an actor who’d already had a major role in Doctor Who would still theoretically be able to play the Doctor. It could have been anyone.

So I’m a little disappointed (albeit not particularly surprised) that after all the hype about how it might finally be time for the Doctor to be played by someone other than a white guy, they’ve chosen… yet another white guy. For the twelfth time. (Well, technically for the thirteenth). Nothing against the guy they’ve chosen – I’m not familiar with his work, but I’m sure he’s a great actor who’ll do a wonderful job with the role, and I do like the fact that he’s apparently a longstanding fan of the series. But I’ve talked before on this blog about how problematic it is for the vast majority of protagonists to be white guys, as though nobody else deserves the role of “hero”. This isn’t the 1960s any more, and there are plenty of talented people out there who are non-white and/or female, fans of the show, and more than capable of being an excellent Doctor. Why not give the role to one of them?**

Steven Moffat, executive producer of Doctor Who, was kind enough to address the “why not a woman?” question during the show in which the next Doctor’s identity was announced. No wait, just kidding, he didn’t address it at all. Instead he made a joke about how he “thinks it’s time the Queen was played by a man”. Because obviously there’s no difference between a real person with an established gender and a fictional character with an established ability to change gender! More gallingly still, he made this joke literally fifteen seconds after reminding the audience of this established ability to change gender. So not only does he seem to consider the “why not a woman?” question unworthy of an answer, he also seems to believe that his audience aren’t paying any attention.

(Incidentally, Stephen Hawking’s contribution – yes, they had Stephen Hawking on the show, a fact which I found totally awesome – was “it would make a change if the next Doctor was a woman with a male assistant”, accompanied by a great little smile. You tell them, Hawking.)

One argument I’ve heard is that having a female Doctor would “change the dynamic of the show too much”. This argument makes little sense to me, as the dynamic of the show already changes whenever the actor does. Every incarnation of the Doctor has a different personality and style from previous Doctors, but once we’ve watched them step out of the TARDIS and save the planet a couple of times, we’re perfectly willing to accept them as the Doctor. Why should it be any different with a woman? We may tend to have slightly different proportions, but we have the same range of possible personalities. We’re not a different species.

Another argument is that a female Doctor would “have to be a lesbian”, and that the writers don’t want to include that. Which is an odd assumption to make, because the writers have shown themselves perfectly willing to include lesbians elsewhere in the show. But say they didn’t want to write a lesbian Doctor. They wouldn’t have to. The most recent episode felt like a clear farewell to River Song, the Doctor’s wife, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we never saw her character again. Many of the previous Doctors have been apparently asexual. And let’s face it, the Doctor’s sexuality and love life are among the least interesting facets of their character. It’s a kids’ show about an alien who saves the universe; we don’t need to know who they want to kiss.

I haven’t seen or heard any arguments about why the Doctor has to be white, presumably because such arguments would be obviously horribly racist. And yet apparently 23% of people still consider the Doctor’s whiteness to be important. I strongly hope that the makers of Doctor Who aren’t among them, but I’d like to see more evidence, and today’s announcement hasn’t given me any.


* Indeed, the last time the Doctor regenerated, he briefly thought he had regenerated as “a girl”. So the series hasn’t just established that gender-changing-on-regeneration happens for a few rare Time Lords: it’s established that it’s a possibility for the Doctor.

** In addition to not getting the role, these people weren’t even given a chance at the role – there was no audition held. Instead, the writers picked someone they liked and asked them to be the Doctor. Given that the last Doctor was played, and played well, by a previously-unknown actor, I feel like they’ve risked missing out on some great potential talent by taking this approach. Plus it’s an approach that exacerbates the white-male-protagonist problem, because the majority of actors who the writers already know to make good protagonists will be white males, because see above about how we have a white-male-protagonist problem. It’s perpetuating a vicious cycle.


4 Responses to “Thoughts on the Twelfth Doctor”

  1. May August 5, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    I didn’t expect the new Doctor to be a woman, and I’m not quite sure I want that anyway – at the moment, it would feel like tokenism. I can certainly see the show slowly moving in that direction (a big part of that would be ditching the love interest side of things, not because I don’t think it would be possible for the relationship with River to be a very interesting facet of the character if female, but because I don’t think the BBC would go there) but not yet. I was very disappointed that the new Doctor is white, though. I’m sure he’ll be great. But there are lots of great non-white actors too.

  2. Anna August 5, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    I think a female Doctor might feel like tokenism, but it would depend on how she was written. I don’t much trust Moffat to write a non-token female Doctor, but that’s just another source of frustration with the show (which I still love! I wouldn’t criticise it this much if I didn’t care about it!) – ideally I want to see someone in charge who can write women, with a Doctor to match.

    There’s a regeneration scene idea that someone suggested a while back (I can’t remember who, unfortunately, so can’t provide credit) and that I absolutely love: the Doctor regenerates as a redheaded woman, exclaims with delight “I’m finally ginger!”, then goes off to fight the monster of the week with no further comments on the new body. It’d be great 🙂

  3. JPK August 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    good blog. I’m sad that they didn’t audition and discover a new talent, like they did with Matt Smith. We shouldn’t be able to remember the Doctor being someone else in another show, he should come to the part with no history, and actors fresh out of drama college need a break! Don’t mind what gender or colour the new Doctor is, but , yes, it ‘s time for a change and it would have been nice to see one.


  1. This, too, is a feminist act | Tea-fuelled Musings - May 29, 2014

    […] of straight white men are seen as more worthy of attention and accolades. When I talk about the team behind Doctor Who casting yet another white man as their title character, I’m talking about one example of a world that affords fewer opportunities to women and people of […]

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