Some things must be shared

David Tennant with a cat on his head. That is all.


A female Doctor?

Peter Davison, my beloved Fifth Doctor, has been reported to have said in an interview that the Doctor should never be a female, and this has made the news. Of course, people are coming out to say he’s wrong, that having a female Doctor would be an interesting twist on the character, etc. This has all been discussed before, as back before Peter Capaldi was selected to replace Matt Smith, some people expressed their hope that the next Doctor would be female or non-white.

I think, first, that it’s important to read what he actually said on the subject. One of the articles I’ve read implied that he said that a female Time Lord couldn’t drive the TARDIS. (Sorry, I can’t find the link now.) Another article, protesting his opinion, said that he has “a problem with a female Doctor,” that he thought it would “upset the dynamic of the show.” Personally, it feels to me that this second article was written by someone who was offended at what she thought Mr. Davison said, rather than what he actually said.

So, here’s what he actually said:

How about a female Doctor?

“I have a slight problem with that because it’s not as if genders are interchangeable on Gallifrey. I have no problem with female Time Lords, and my daughter has already whizzed round the galaxy. But I don’t like the idea of the Doctor having a sex change – it’s not as if you would have a female James Bond.”

(For those of you who don’t know, his daughter, Georgia Moffett, played a Time Lord in the new series.)

So, you can see, he said nothing about how it upsets the dynamic of the show, He made no jabs at women in general. As far as the opinion goes, I think he is right. But you have to understand the why behind what he said.

Mr. Davison did not say that there can’t be future female Doctor or that there shouldn’t be one. He did not say that a woman can’t be an action hero, or that it would upset the dynamic of the show. (He did get it wrong when he said that genders aren’t interchangeable, since we already have seen the Eleventh Doctor think he was a girl when he first regenerated.) What he said was that he doesn’t like the idea. In his opinion, the Doctor is a male hero, and he doesn’t think that the character should be changed to female. It has nothing to do with whether or not the Doctor could be a good character as a woman. It has everything to do with how Mr. Davison views the character, perhaps even with the fact that the Doctor was his character at one point and he still feels some kinship with him, as a male hero.

And thus, Mr. Davison is right: he is expressing his own opinion on the character honestly. I applaud his courage, for he must have known people would take it the wrong way.

There is, however, a broader issue beneath all of this. A number of people have expressed the wish of a female Doctor in the future, or for the Doctor to be played by an actor of a different race. Some promote it in terms of inclusivity: why should the Doctor, a being from another planet, always be male and white? The Doctor would be just as interesting as a woman or as a different race. Others say that the show should not be so Anglocentric. Others say that so much more could be added to the show by changes like these. For example, in the comments of the first article I saw about Mr. Davison’s opinion, a commenter said that having a female Doctor would create new situations, such as arriving on a planet and not being taken seriously because she’s a woman, when she was used to always being respected when she was a male incarnation.

A female Doctor, or a Doctor of any minority group, may be interesting, and of course, many new situations may be created, but to me, these are terrible reasons to force a female Doctor. In my opinion, the production of Doctor Who, or any other television show or movie, is an art form, in which the producers and writers are creating characters and telling a story. The actor chosen to portray the Doctor should fit the character and the story they want to create. If that character happens to be a woman, then I hope they choose the actress that best fits that part. But starting with “we have to choose a woman this time” and then molding the show around it is the worst way to go. It is also too prone to fall into the “we’re going to make a political statement with this” trap that so many other shows have fallen into (Star Trek: Voyager comes to mind, with its heavy-handed, didactic plots, designed to teach you great moral and social truths).

Personally, I’d prefer the Doctor stay male, because I don’t want the show to be riddled with “how would a female handle this situation” storylines. What I’d really like is a spin-off about Jenny, George Moffett’s Time Lord, exploring the universe and growing to become a force as fearsome as the Doctor. This would be the ultimate strong female character: a woman with all the abilities of a Time Lord but without the education, training, and experience of the Doctor, striving to learn and grow and hopefully become as wise and compassionate as the Doctor while trying to avoid the corruption that doomed the Time Lords and constantly tempts the Doctor himself.