Yesterday, the BBC revealed that the 13th Doctor in the long running serial Doctor Who will be portrayed by Jodie Whittaker, marking the first female Doctor to feature in the show. The reaction from fans has been mixed, many are pleased to see the lead finally not being portrayed by a white male actor, however some fans have unsurprisingly voiced anger and outrage at this casting choice.
Personally, I welcome the news. I have thought that the show could do with changing up its dynamic for some time, and a female lead could well be the breath of fresh air that the show needs. Jodie Whittaker was fantastic in her role on Broadchurch, and given that the new series will be helmed by the same showrunner this should allow for a great dynamic to the series. Moreover, seeing the Doctor, a character who has commonly been a know-it-all, sarcastic and superior alien, portrayed by a woman will undoubtedly provide a role model to a new generation of female Doctor Who fans. This is particularly important for the show to achieve, especially given the criticism that the current showrunner Moffat has faced regarding his simplistic and sexualised versions of female characters in the show. What is interesting is that in comparison to this new casting news, there was no such outcry of anger when the character of Missy was revealed to be a female version of the Master, and given that the latest series finale made several references to the fact that Timelords often alternate genders, I was surprised to see how much backlash there was towards this casting choice. I have talked about my views on the casting news with several fans of the show that I know, and all are interested and excited by the casting news, however most of these conversations have come back to the same overall question, will this casting change the dynamic of the show?
My immediate reaction is no. Looking at the storylines of Doctor Who since its resurrection in 2005, I can name no episode that has been overly impacted by the Doctor’s gender. Many overarching storylines have had romantic overtones, such as those involving Rose Tyler and River Song, however given the Doctor’s commonly ambiguous sexuality, there is no real reason that these storylines could not continue with a female Doctor. This would be an interesting move by the BBC if they did follow this route, however the Doctor’s sexuality has never really been clarified so this would allow them to proceed with these storylines. Equally, the show may choose to, for the first time since its return, have a male companion for the Doctor. While I would be interested to see a series in which the Doctor and the companion were female, it would not be surprising if the BBC chose to provide a male character to still have a ‘relatable’ character for its male audience. If this route was taken though, I think for the BBC to make the full weight of its casting choice felt, the dynamic between the Doctor and the companion would need to remain the same as it is now, otherwise they would severely run the risk of undermining their choice to change the gender of the Doctor.
In summation, providing the BBC keep the dynamic between the Doctor and the companions, the casting of Whittaker as the Doctor is exciting to me. This change has been a long time coming, one of the creators of the show suggested this change in the 80’s as an attempt to provide a fresh take for the show. A number of previous Doctor Who actors have also expressed their own joy and excitement for this casting choice. Now we just have to await the Christmas special for our first experience of Whittaker as the Doctor, and for me, it cannot come soon enough.