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Does the Campaign for a Female Doctor Who Miss the Forest for the Trees?

Doctor Who, the venerable BBC franchise which has starred a host of actors in the titular role over the decades, will once again be ushering in a new Doctor as Matt Smith, the current star, has announced his departure from the series.

In the wake of that news, a growing groundswell of demand has begun for a woman to be cast in the role, which has been played by 11 different men up to this point.

 

Media outlets from UK’s Guardian to Slate have made well articulated cases for a female Doctor, and Dame Helen Mirren kicked the debate up a notch by weighing in herself.  The reasoning is pretty obvious: 11 men, 0 women so far for this wonderful, iconic role of a lifetime. You see, not only is Doctor Who a mega-popular TV show, but the role of the Doctor is the kind that any actor would relish. The Doctor is super charismatic— at turns a genius, an eccentric, childlike, and wise beyond most other living beings in the universe. The Doctor is the ultimate inscrutably magnetic character, and the actors that have played him over the years have each had a unique take on the ever-regenerating Time Lord from Gallifrey. He’s been everything from a wise grandfather figure, to a gentleman squire, an acerbic survivor of galactic war, an irascible eccentric, and an unflappable vaudevillian.  And yet as different as each incarnation has been, somehow they are all still The Doctor.  So why not give a lady a chance after all these years? Isn’t it only fair?

Dr Who female

It’s hard to argue against that.  But some have, as you might expect. The arguments against are varied. The Independent isn’t necessarily against a female Doctor, but laments what would be the loss of a great male role model for boys—one that isn’t about punching and shooting, but rather a character that teaches empathy and uses his mind to solve the problems of the day.  The Daily Mail makes the case that the ascendency of “gender neutral” heroes is damaging to the identity of young boys.  Not too many large media outlets are as ready to be seen as overtly against a lady Doctor, but if one takes to the fan message boards, the push back can be seen in full force.  You’ll find the passionless argument that the Doctor is a male character, and changing his gender would make no sense (although it has been firmly established that Time Lords can and do change gender from generation to generation). And of course there are the more exposed, troglodytic voices, hard to distinguish from second grade school boys, essentially crying that they don’t want an icky girl with cooties embodying their favorite character.

I find the entire debate sad, in a way.  Because what’s at stake, really?  Whether this great, iconic role, originally written for a man, will or will not be played briefly by a woman? In the end, what is really won or lost, either way?   The question we should be asking ourselves is not “Should the Doctor be a woman?” but “Where are the comparable roles for female actors?”  With all the great TV happening today, how many shows boast a strong female lead? Let alone on a sci-fi series.  Shows like 30 Rock (now ended) and The Good Wife prove that viewers will watch one–yet shows led by a woman (even on the BBC) remain as hard to find as the six segments of the Key to Time.

It reminds me of the on-going drive in the world of theater for actors of color to be cast in traditionally white roles.  The black Willie Lohman, or Maggie the Cat, or George and Martha from Virginia Woolf are all well and good. But why should actors of color (or women, in the Doctor’s case) spend their power struggling for the scraps, so to speak, when 99% of the new plays on Broadway feature roles almost exclusively originated by white actors? The same question could be asked in the context of Doctor Who.

There should be no question as to whether a woman could portray an exciting, unique, and memorable Doctor.  Of course a woman could.  But rather than reduce women to fighting for their chance at the Doctor, I’d rather see them get the opportunity to birth their own great legacy characters.

Updated: June 15, 2013 — 1:20 pm

The Author

Hagop

Hagop lives in New York City where he is running out of space for his comic books and action figures. He is a contributor to TheFwoosh.com and TheShortBox.com, as well as the editor of CostumeContumely.com but still doesn't know how to work the internet.

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  1. Usually I prefer to remain neutral on such matters around the internet. However, I agree with your final point. I use the same logic regarding women and non-whites IN sci-fi, fantasy and Comics! I love Diana(WonderWoman) yet, where’s her movie? Supe&Bats(the world’s finest) get blockbuster after turkey,turkey, blockbuster…etc. No respect for our mothers,sisters&wives. If the Doctor is a woman, ok. Then what? Where are the strong roles for the ladies? How about the ladies of color? Seriously. I ask people to name @least 3 females of color in Comics and of course Everyone can name Storm of the X-men! After that, is when it gets quiet 0_0???
    Sure, 1or two fanboys know Misty Knight, Rocket,Vixen, Photon(Capt.Marvel) and Bumblebee, yet that’s far and few in between.

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