Is A Female Doctor Who Not Good Enough

Leah Burrows | Jun 14, 2013

Let the debate begin.

Matt Smith announced his retirement from the titular role of Doctor Who less than a week ago, and already the Internet is swirling with speculation about who will be the next Doctor.

Multiple lists of goofy-looking, sexually non-threatening men are circulating online, among them Being Human‘s Russell Tovey and Misfit‘s Joe Gilgun and Harry Lloyd, who many Doctor Who fans will remember from his role in the brilliant episode “The Family of Blood.” Let’s not forget that Tovey is also a Who alum, co-starring in “Voyage of the Damned” and making a brief appearance as Captain Jack Harkness’s objection of affection in “The End of Time: Part Two.”

But there is another list circulating with names like Dame Helen Mirren, Tilda Swinton, and Ab/Fab‘s Jennifer Saunders.

Many fans, male and female alike, are calling on Who head writer and executive producer Steven Moffat to introduce a female Doctor. We know the Time Lord can regenerate into a Time Lady, but the question is, should he?

There are many compelling reasons to see an actress take the T.A.R.D.I.S.’s helm, not the least of which is Helen-freaking-Mirren.

On the feminist blog BitchMedia, Alley Pezanoski writes, “What the argument against a female Doctor proves to me is that as a society, again, we still think of white and male as the norm. The question is: are we brave enough yet to rethink that?”

I agree the writers of Doctor Who desperately need to rethink norms, but as a proud Who fan and prouder feminist, don’t think that means changing the Doctor’s gender.

Let’s face it: The Doctor travels millions of years into the future, but the show’s antiquated gender roles haven’t changed very much since it debuted on television in 1963. Doctor Who is a show about a significantly older man who travels with young, pretty female assistants — there is no denying that.

Sure, some of these assistants are stronger and more self-reliant than others — especially the in the Russell T. David era — but mostly, these women are relegated to damsels in distress. Under Moffat, who seems to confuse sassiness with strength, these tropes have been especially bad.

But having a female Doctor won’t change that. The show needs to do much, much more to change its portrayal of women. It starts in the writer’s room.

Here’s an appalling fact: In Moffat’s four years as head writer, there have been no episodes written by women. Zero. What’s more appalling: Since the show’s reboot in 2005, there has been just one female writer. There has also been only one female director under Moffat and three overall since the reboot.

I don’t want the only strong, female character on Doctor Who to be an alien. I want strong, female, human companions and I want female writers to create them.

Pezanoski is right about rethinking the norm, and the best, most productive way to do that is to have a person of color take the role when Smith leaves. The Doctor has changed his appearance 11 times — he’s been old, he’s been young, he’s been handsome, he’s been odd, and he even had a Northern accent once. It’s well past time for him to be something other than white.

For a show about time travel, Doctor Who sometimes feels stuck in the past. A diverse writing staff and actors of color could truly bring the show into the 21st century.

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