In July 2017, the nation received a shock when the actor portraying the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor was revealed to be Jodie Whittaker – previously known for her role in Broadchurch. It had become beyond an expectation, at this point, that the Doctor was and always would be portrayed by and perceived as a male. As such, it came as quite the surprise to many avid viewers when it was announced that Whittaker would be the first woman to take on the role.
As a child, I and a lot of my friends watched Doctor Who religiously. I grew up watching David Tennant’s Doctor whizzing around time and space with female companions played by Billie Piper and Catherine Tate. As a teenager I followed Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi through their incarnations, too, but there was one thing that remained prominent: the Doctor was always male, and he almost exclusively travelled with a female companion.
I think a lot of other people grew up with the same expectation and, because of this, a minority of fans of the show took to the internet to voice their concerns that young boys around the UK would lose an influential male role-model with the change of the Doctor’s gender. A perfectly reasonable concern. However, it does raise some questions: why should the Doctor be solely a male role-model for boys? Is there any reason why, in 2018, young girls can’t look up to the Doctor as a female role model as well? Furthermore, should we restrict children to only looking up to role-models of the gender to which they were assigned at birth? There is nothing stopping young boys from looking up to Whittaker’s Doctor as a role model, as girls have with the male incarnations; all that has changed is that she is a woman. Children look up to both their mothers and their fathers where possible, it can be the same for the Doctor.
Other fans complained of the fact that the team behind Doctor Who simply cast Whittaker as the next Doctor to remain on good terms with feminists, without considering that it made little sense for the Doctor to regenerate into a woman. This, however, overlooks a crucial twist from Capaldi’s run as the beloved Time Lord: the Doctor’s long-term nemesis, the Master, has also regenerated into a female body, known as Missy. There was nowhere near as much controversy over this change as there was surrounding Whittaker’s ascension to the role of the Doctor – in fact, Missy is widely loved as a character for her sassy quips and for bringing a new perspective to the Master’s role. With that in mind, surely Whittaker’s Doctor should be judged based on the quality of her performance as opposed to her gender.
After having watched the opening episode of series 11, it’s safe to say that Whittaker succeeded in filling the shoes of the next Doctor. Despite it being a little odd to refer to the Doctor as a ‘she’ initially, Whittaker encapsulates everything that the Time Lord stands for – morality, empathy and hope, being just a few – whilst bringing a fresh new face to the role. The scene in which she creates her new sonic screwdriver, in my mind, is the most poignant; she transcends what would have once been the typical role of a woman, taking on what would have once been the role of a man, wielding dangerous-looking tools to create the Doctor’s classic accessory. This is a brilliant moment for television, depicting a woman battling through hardship and overcoming it using her own knowledge and intuition.
Having a female Doctor as wonderful as Whittaker’s will undoubtedly have a wider effect on the television industry, as she is living proof that a traditionally male role can be given to a woman and still imbue the same timeless character, whilst simultaneously paving the way for more women to take on different roles in their acting careers. So, does this mean we might later see a female James Bond? It’s hard to say; but we can be certain that the first female Doctor has made a mark on the world of television, today.
~ Gemma Matthews.