by Miriam Aarons
Since its debut in 1963, Doctor Who has become a British cult- classic. Through the reincarnation of thirteen Doctors, the show possesses a unique ability to evolve with its audience. Unlike simply replacing the actor of a specifically defined character, each reincarnation of The Doctor allows the character to change without limit. From the series’ first Doctor, William Hartnell, to the most recent reincarnation of the twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, each actor has added depth and contrast to the iconic character.
Although the show’s canon supports unlimited diversity in casting, all twelve reincarnations of The Doctor have been cast as white males. Their ages, personality, and appearance have covered a wide spectrum; however, the character’s gender and race have never wavered. Although the character has an unquenchable thirst to provide support to the disenfranchised and build bridges of peace between hate, real-life minorities have remained unrepresented in his reincarnations. While a racially diverse Doctor has yet to be seriously discussed by the show’s writers and producers, Doctor Who will debut its first female Doctor in the show’s 2017 Christmas special.
The thirteenth Doctor will be played by British actress, Jodie Whittaker. Whittaker’s performance debut was her role as Jessie in the 2006 film, Venus. She has since acted in several films and television shows including Wired, Black Mirror, and Broadchurch. It was during her role as Beth Latimer on the BBC series Broadchurch that Whittaker worked with Chris Chibnall. Chibnall eventually cast her as the thirteenth Doctor when he took over the series from Steven Moffett.
Despite the shows consistent mantra that The Doctor can reincarnate into any physical and psychological version of himself, Doctor Who fans have deeply seeded opinions on whether changing The Doctor’s gender is the natural progression for the character or a betrayal to his identity. Immediately after the announcement that Whittaker would play the thirteenth doctor, the internet erupted with nasty, sexist insults and dramatic odes to a fandom now lost forever in the minds of men (and even some women) who refused to imagine a world where this iconic character could be played by anyone other than a white male. For anyone who has been attention to Doctor Who fan pages for the last several years, the uproar was not a surprise. This subject has been deeply and viciously debated for years. Whitaker even felt the need to preemptively address the prospect of the backlash in her first statement;
“I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
It wasn’t too long before the sexist memes began to make their appearance in the threads of Facebook articles and tweets. This clever meme plays on the age-old classic “Women belong in the kitchen” mantra:
This next meme is full of such imagination and originality, the argument against a female Doctor may actually take hold in your mind, Dear Reader. Proceed with caution.
The female characters of the Doctor Who franchise have historically served as a companion to The Doctor. While these companions can be defined as strong, intelligent, unique female characters, The Doctor exudes abilities and characteristics companions do not possess. It is important for women and girls to see themselves in fictitious powerful roles so they can then see themselves life’s powerful roles. Beyond that, casting a gender diverse Doctor just makes sense. Thankfully, the negative responses to Whittaker’s casting were exceeded by positive, uplifting responses.
Tim DiChristopher with CNBC reports that the analyst company Amobee “counted 770,000 tweets around “Doctor Who” or the hashtags #DoctorWho13 and #Doctor13 on Jul. 16, the day of the announcement. For those that mentioned Whittaker, sentiment was 39 percent positive and just 6 percent negative. Amobee determined the remaining 55 percent of tweets were neutral.”
The constant reincarnation of a white male into a white male perpetuates the idea that anyone who is not a white male is not a desirable Doctor. The fear of diversity rears its ugly head even when diversity is the foundation of the character. Even a fictitious character from a fictitious universe who shape shifts and travels through time could not escape the hatred and bigotry of people who refuse to see the world beyond themselves. While Doctor Who has finally dipped its toe into the pool of diversity by casting a female Doctor, racial diversity doesn’t seem to even be on the table. The Doctors true potential will never be reached unless the writers and creators take direct action to ensure the Doctor’s diversity does not stop with white females.