Jodie Whittaker is the Thirteenth Doctor.
Take a moment, consider it, and scream as you see fit. I know I did.
It should be no surprise that I support this move. If it is, then you really haven’t been reading the Timestamps Project. All throughout my journey with Doctor Who, from every new series episode to the (approximately) 150 distinct reviews and analyses of the classic serials, I have wholeheartedly embraced the morals, messages, and meanings in each, and critiqued how their impact relates to my values and expectations. Because of that journey, encompassing the canon of regeneration, representation in fandom, and the reputation of the character and franchise itself, Jodie Whittaker’s casting is music to my ears, heart, and soul.
At a later stage, Doctor Who would be metamorphosed into a woman. Don’t you agree that this is considerably more worthy of the BBC than Doctor Who’s presently largely socially valueless, escapist schlock? This requires some considerable thought – mainly because I want to avoid a flashy Hollywood ‘Wonder Woman’ because this kind of hero(ine) has no flaws – and a character with no flaws is a bore.
–Sydney Newman, creator of Doctor Who
As the concept of regeneration has evolved throughout Doctor Who‘s history, it has been discussed more and more as a lottery. The Fifth Doctor remarked that the trouble with regeneration was “not knowing what you are going to get.” The Ninth Doctor seemed surprised by his appearance in Rose, and each incarnation since has enthusiastically explored their new teeth, hair, and legs (as did the semi-Time Lord River Song, who apparently needs more jumpers). Even the War Doctor, a critical touchstone between the classic and new eras, lamented the shape of his ears as he moved on.
Throughout the 53-year history of the franchise, we have plenty of evidence that regeneration means more than simply shifting around inside a similar matrix. Most recently, longtime nemesis The Master changed genders into Missy (Series Eight, Series Ten), and in the middle, we had the Gallifreyan General’s regeneration from an old white male to a younger black female (Hell Bent).
Similarly, we had River Song, who regenerated from a white girl in New York City to Mels, then to River Song (Day of the Moon, Let’s Kill Hitler). Both Maya Glace-Green and Nina Toussaint-White are women of color, which means that Melody Pond/River Song shifted skin colors during regeneration. As far as we know, both of her parents come from white families, so it seems that DNA input has no bearing on a Time Lord’s appearance.
Upon his regeneration from the Tenth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor was momentarily concerned that he had become a woman, which indicates that gender shifts are possible (The End of Time). But the largest piece of evidence that we have is the Corsair, a Time Lord friend of the Doctor’s whom he had known across several lifetimes, two of which were female (The Doctor’s Wife).
But these are all “nu-Who” examples, so they’re tainted with some kind of twenty-first century social justice warrior progressivism, right?
Romana’s regeneration from Mary Tamm to Lalla Ward in Destiny of the Daleks took viewers on a regeneration merry-go-round, including at least one complete “species” shift. She was still a Time Lord underneath, but her blue-silver Fifth Element skin was definitely not human-based. Ergo, Time Lords aren’t limited to human forms. Also, behind the scenes, the concept of a male-to-female regeneration has been discussed since the 1980s by Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and Sydney Newman (the creator of the show).
Based on the canon evidence, it’s apparent that a gender-change during regeneration is no big deal.
Because it’s got that cross-generational appeal, which few other things have. It’s not a working-class thing, it’s not a middle-class thing. The competition winner from Doctor Who Magazine was on set today, a 15-year-old girl. When I was a kid, 15-year-old girls didn’t watch Doctor Who.
–David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor
Sure, the Doctor has been a hero to viewers – and, by extension, readers and listeners – of all types for over a half-century. But that doesn’t compare to having a hero who more closely represents you in the spotlight.
Luke and Anakin Skywalker wielded lightsabers for a collective 40 years, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens unconditionally showed girls that they could too with the new hero Rey. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jyn Erso showed girls that they could save the day without being Jedi. Star Wars: The Clone Wars brought us Ahsoka Tano, a massive fan favorite, and voice actress Ashley Eckstein developed an entire business around the underserved female fan base.
The Star Wars franchise showed minorities that they had a place in the galaxy – with Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, Finn, Poe Dameron, Cassian Andor, Baze Malbus, Chirrut Îmwe, and Bodhi Rook. The galaxy far far away is still heavy with men, but at least it’s diverse.
Supergirl and Wonder Woman put feminine heroes front and center in a golden age of comic book properties that focused mostly on men. The silver screen’s history with female-led comic book movies in the last thirty years was sparse and disappointing (Supergirl, Elektra, and Catwoman, just to quote the big ones). Marvel also helped with Black Widow’s increased screen presence, but their first movie with a strictly female lead (Captain Marvel) is still years away.
Star Trek put young women in the captain’s chair with Kathryn Janeway, just as it inspired young black men with Benjamin Sisko. Before them was Uhura, who inspired astronaut Mae Jemison and actor Whoopi Goldberg, both of whom are also Star Trek alums.
Just like their male counterparts, women deserve to have role models that they can admire and emulate. At its core, science fiction is all about telling stories about the human condition, through metaphors. It’s about exploring ideas and possibilities, often times from a new point of view. Doctor Who is science fiction, and it adheres to the same Asimov maxim as any other successful sci-fi property: “Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinded critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.”
Until Jodie Whittaker, the only major female heroes we had seen in Doctor Who were companions. As much as I love seeing them take charge of a situation, they still operate under the protection and guidance of the Doctor, who has been a male character despite the ability to not be. The Doctor leads the charge against evil, goes toe-to-toe against the bad guys, and outwits and outsmarts even the most brilliant traps and plans. Nothing in that description requires the character to be a man. It only needs to speak to us.
As genre fans, we seek stories about the human condition that touch us and inspire us. We seek the messages – the salvation – that they offer. In the case of the Doctor, to paraphrase Steven Moffat, we ask for it through a call box and get it through two hearts.
Both men and women talk about it. Both men and women run fan tracks and conventions about it. Both men and women embrace it.
Salvation isn’t exclusive, just as the Doctor’s love is not exclusive. It must represent us all or we all lose.
Tonight’s show is a little different.
Tonight’s show is about a man who’s not really a man.
He’s a doctor, but he’s not really a doctor.
Like Doctor Phil, but awesome.
Most people in the United States of America have not heard of him.
He’s just like me in that regard.
Who is he? He’s The Doctor!
In 1963 the BBC premiered a show about an alien who traveled through space and time to combat the powers of evil.
Sid the Rabbit: He’s a force for good in an otherwise uncertain universe.
You are correct in your summation of his character my profane rabbit friend.
Geoff the Robot Skeleton: Ooh, tell me more!
The show has been running in Britain almost fifty years,
with many different actors in the role of The Doctor.
Wavy Rancheros the Alligator/Crocodile: The Doctor doesn’t die he just regenerates.
The crocodile alligator speaks the truth.
One thing is consistent though and this is why the show is so beloved by geeks and nerds.
It’s all about the triumph of intellect and romance
over brute force and cynicism.
Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism!
And if there’s any hope for us in this giant explosion in which we inhabit then surely that’s it.
Intellect and romance triumph over brute force and cynicism!
–Craig Ferguson, November 2010
Confidence. Bravery. Compassion. Cunning. Curiosity. Intellect.
Those traits have been attributed to the Doctor over the years, from many sources. As Jennifer Hartshorn put it, none of them are gender-specific. But in some corners of Doctor Who fandom, they have become so through tradition. The problem with tradition, however, is that it leads to the argument that the status quo cannot change because it’s the way things have always been.
Speaking from an American point of view, I know how dangerous “it’s the way things have always been” can be. Take a look at any minority and notice how their rights suffer until the outcry drowns out the privilege of clinging to tradition. Pure and simple, saying that the Doctor doesn’t need to be a woman is only a simpler way to state that the Doctor needs to be a man. Based on everything else we’ve discussed here, we know that the Doctor doesn’t need to be a man to showcase the traits and attributes of the character.
I know that change is difficult, but Doctor Who has shown us at least twelve times that change is inevitable. That number is even higher if we count every companion that has come, gone, and even died on the Doctor’s watch. Even the upcoming Christmas Special appears to be dedicated to reminding the Doctor (in two incarnations) that change cannot be stopped.
And it’s not just changing for sake of change. It’s change we’ve seen coming for years. Every time the sci-fi side of this deus ex machinia fairy tale pops up and asks “what if,” it signals that science fiction is fulfilling its mission. The writers correctly asked “what if” years ago, and next year we get the answer.
The biggest problem I see with a female lead on Doctor Who is how writers and producers treat female characters in television. If Chris Chibnall’s team can make it work, Jodie Whittaker’s acting will shine.
Doctor Who will return. The fight against brute force and cynicism will continue. If you choose not to continue the journey, that’s up to you. Fans, like companions, have come and gone, and it’s not the first time that fans have left because the show was “ruined” by a studio decision. If you choose to leave, I will miss you, and I will even forgive you. But I will continue on with the journey and hope that one day you will be back.
But I will carry on with the message in hand. Because it’s what the Doctor would do.
It’s like when you’re a kid. The first time they tell you that the world’s turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standin’ still. I can feel it; the turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinnin’ at 1,000 miles an hour and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, and I can feel it. We’re fallin’ through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go…
That’s who I am.
–The Ninth Doctor, Rose (2005)
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.