A Call for Optimism

So, the initial dust has settled and the people behind what’s become known as the internet seem calmer. How are we all doing out there? Everyone excited? I certainly am, a new era is coming to Doctor Who, something bold and fresh and new and quite frankly, it’s just what the Doctor ordered.

Doctor Who has been at the top of its game for the last 10 years, offering wonderful adventures, sumptuous visuals and top notch acting. But over the last two years, the wind has left the sails somewhat. There’s a slight need for the show to catch a second breath and start moving forward powerfully as it did when it hit the ground running in 2005-cue Jodie Whittaker and what will surely be the boldest take on Gallifrey’s most infamous child yet.

There’s been a lot of whining the past few days regarding the Doctor’s gender- quite simply, this shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. The Doctor will always be the Doctor provided the actor playing the role gets it right and in 53 years we’ve not seem one board-treader get it wrong, why should things be any different for Whittaker? Of course, Doctor Who has been a bit of a boy’s club for the last half century with only men taking up the mantle and so when something like this comes around, as it always would, there’s going to be a fair bit of fear and probably disregard and definitely abject horror and in one odd case on Twitter, swearing in caps lock at no one in particular.

But this is a show, as we all know, that moves forward on hopes and dreams, on inclusivity and fairness and on fun and kindness. Why is it that some think that a woman can’t be the Doctor amd the Doctor can’t be a woman? Absolutely she can. There is not one argument to be had that says Time Lords are absolutely male or female. It’s happening, it has already happened and years from now 2018 will be heralded as a new Golden Age for Doctor Who, mark my words. Finally, young women watching the show can have a heroine to follow, not a show dominated by male leads but something different. Doctor Who will always have a wonderfully rich history and this will only serve to make it bigger and bolder. Once Whittaker has taken on some Zygons, defeated some Cybermen, sorted out the Master (or Mistress or whatever name he/ she goes by next) and blown up some Daleks, no one will ever wonder how anyone else managed to do it so well, and can you imagine the exchanges with Davros? Fantastic.

Don’t be scared of something new, embrace it. In the scheme of things, none of it really matters, we’ll all be dust in 500 years time but Doctor Who will remain, probably as a holographic show that you can take part in via retina installed VR simulations. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that fans in the future, who we would hope are inclusive and kind and aren’t hopeless bigots, were looking at all of the acting talent available when making a wish list for their next Doctor and not just a list of men who aren’t quite up to scratch for the role but are men nonetheless and so fit the preconceived notion of what the Doctor should look like.

Buckle up, ’cause there’s going to be a new Doctor in town come 2018, and she is definitely going to earn the title of’ The Oncoming Storm’

  • I love what You learned from the Doctor: Compassion and an open mind! Thank You for your wonderful words.

  • FrancoPabloDiablo

    For the last 66 years my father has been a man. I identify him as male and have looked up to him and still do as a male role-model. But jeez, it’s 2017 already, isn’t it about time he changed sex for goodness sake! I’m sick of this patriarchy he’s imposing on me and his granddaughter.

    A bit of a boy’s club has it been? Just because they haven’t played the Doctor you are doing a serious disservice there to the wonderful actresses who played Susan, Barbara, Vicki, Dodo, Sara, Polly, Victoria, Zoe, Liz, Jo, Sarah-Jane, Leela, Romana (both of the Time LADIES), Nyssa, Tegan, Peri, Mel, Ace, Grace, Rose, Donna, Martha, River, Amy, Clara and Bill!

    And Mez, you are not the first to do this but you mention the words “fear” and “scared” regarding the new appointment – in fact the lady herself implored people not to be scared by her gender (nonsense). I’ve literally not met or spoken to one person that has a phobia or is scared by this. Disappointed, upset and dejected, yes. But definitely NOT scared.

    Another argument yourself and others keep making is “the Doctor CAN be a woman”. Just because it CAN happen doesn’t mean it should. I CAN go out right now and punch some stranger in the face but I won’t because it would be a ridiculously stupid thing to do.

    “young women watching the show can have a heroine to follow, not a show dominated by male leads”: Again please note my paragraph above about doing a disservice to Doctor Who’s long history of strong female role models. I hope you are not suggesting that female children like my own are wrong to look up to Sarah-Jane, Rose, Donna, Bill or any of the others – who throughout 54 years of adventures have been an integral and equally important part as the Doctor. She also doesn’t like the new change – nor do all but one of her friends I’ve interacted with.

    And seriously, you used the word bigot I assume to refer to those that don’t fancy the idea of a female Doctor. I might expect as much from some mud-slinging commenters but not a contributor like yourself. Disappointing.

    • DonnaM

      Sarah-Jane wasn’t my role model (for reasons explained elsewhere) but she was a heroine to this little girl. My eldest niece wanted to be Rose (in some ways now she’s a stroppy teen, she probably is :-)) and her sister adored Clara. None of them were without flaws – apart from Sarah, obviously – but then neither is the Doctor. He’s often arrogant, egotistical, rude and difficult. Yet he’s still a hero.

      • FrancoPabloDiablo

        Yes, HE is. And hopefully in a year or two HE will be again. In the meantime what better opportunity to catch up with some of the 54-year-old history I’ve not watched for a while to tide me over. I answer this articles call for optimism – not too long from now I’m optimistic we’ll have our hero back and leave this silliness behind us 🙂

        • James Lomond

          FPD what is the reason you’re not keen on the Doctor changing into a woman?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            Because I personally identify the character as male. I’m much more interested in the creation of new and original female characters. I think that is far more progressive than gender-jacking the Doctor. Is that OK?

          • James Lomond

            Of course it’s OK. I have not interest in attacking anyone or unhelpfully labelling them a bigot.

            I’d equally appreciate you avoiding inflammatory/ pejorative statements like “gender-jacking”.

            So if the BBC was, at the same time as casting Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, creating 2 new series – one with a kind, compassionate pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword male lead and the other with a confident, practical and problem-solving female lead – your concern over availability of role models would not be an issue but your identifying the Doctor as male would be?

            Can you explain more about what you mean by the Doctor being identified as male and how a female actor would not be able to deliver what it is that makes the character who they are?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            No probs, instead of “gender-jacking” what phrase would be more palatable to your needs? If the BBC was creating two original series concurrently they could cast whoever they wanted for all I care as the shows and characters would be new original ones and I’d watch them if I liked them.

            I’ll try and explain my personal opinion more easily for you, if I possibly can. You see, the Doctor is and always has been a male character. I Identify him as such. I don’t see the need to change that. A female actress will be unable to deliver to me personally what I identify as a male character because – you guessed it – she’s the wrong gender for me and a lot of other people. I think I mention somewhere else that just because something CAN happen doesn’t mean it SHOULD. I identify the Doctor as a male character – pure and simple, right? My 10-year-old daughter also identifies the Doctor as a male character and was slightly disjointed when we watched Jodie’s announcement, I’m interested to know what you would say to her. Is she wrong for wanting the Doctor to remain male? Should she be ashamed because she loves Bill, Donna, Rose, Ace Sarah-Jane and Jo (her personal favourites)?. Would you yourself not rather advocate new female characters?

          • James Lomond

            Hey FDP, thanks for the reply- when I mentioned gender-jacking you’re comparing the casting to hi-jacking which is implicitly negative (there is no way of positiively describing something as a hi-jacking) and I think that’s a milder form of the same unexplained attacks as calling people bigots without really understanding their position. Describing it as “my needs” is playing into the same demeaning language as “snowflakes” etc and I thing that’s a bit below you as well.

            So my point about creating two other shows is that it negates any claims that this casting is a loss of a positive (e.g. non-violent) male role model. A new one has been created. A new positive female role model has been created so there’d also be no legitimate way to describe Whittaker’s casting as an inappropriate way to support female representation. It would just be a casting and isolate the issue to your (and other viewers’) feelings about the Doctor changing to a woman rather than wider issues of representation – my impression is that these tend to cloud the issue and distract from what’s really going on. Particularly where we’re trying to establish once and for all that you and other’s with the same views who are clearly not “woman haters” are not bigots.

            The argument around being able to make a change not meaning you *should* make the change is not helpful either as we’re discussing your objection specifically. The fact that it’s an option and may be a neutral option (there’s no *should* about it) does not help me understand why you don’t feel positively about it and why you feel negatively about it.

            Your daughter has awsome taste and I hope she’s seen the SJA episode with 11 meeting Jo and Sarah-Jane.

            What I would say to your daughter in the interests of supporting her with continuing to engage with a wonderful show that she enjoys rather than discouraging her (so that she has the option – she can get on board with Jodie Whitakker if she finds that she takes to it an not if she doesn’t) is the same as what I’d say to my niece if she were old enough (bit too scary yet)… something like: “Yes it’s confusing isn’t it. How can the Doctor change from being a man into a woman?? Well it’s because he’s an alien and his body works in a different way and sometimes one of his lives might be as a lady then he might stay being a lady or change back. It’s becasue he doesn’t think being a man or being a woman is better he just thinks it would be nice for a while. And what is important about the Doctor is that whether he’s a man or a lady, he *or she* will always do what is right, do what is kind and brave and always have exciting adventures. So the new lady will still know how to fly the TARDIS and how to fight Daleks and she will still be super-clever, mysterious and have best friends who travel with her saving people.”

            Thanks for the further info on your position – so what I would ask next is what does that actually *mean* that he is a “male” character? Does that mean that while changing body/ accent/ height/ skin colour perhaps/ hair colour is not an issue, there’s something about changing into a woman that means it just doesn’t feel like the same character or you couldn’t imagine it being the same character? If that’s what it is then I’m curious why – I had similar feelings when I first started thinking about it a year ago but I’ve come round to a different view. I’ve decided I can accept that the same mind, the same values and personality can exist behind Jodie Whitakker’s eyes as Tom Baker’s eyes. I have no problem with that and look forward to her using her considerable talent to deliver that (hopefully – as with every new actor) though I’m aware of a niggling feeling that it *can’t* be the same person – I’m also clear in my mind that that niggling feeling comes from social pressures, is imposed by early life gender policing (that no one individual is responsible for) and is neither necessarily the case nor should it be. It’s a personal internal challenge as is the case with every new actor to take on the role and there’s an added social element to the challenge this time. It’s still one that i think is worth taking on and while I totally get that some people won’t want to, I think it’s a massive shame and what have we got to lose?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            I’ve used the terms ‘character-jacking’, ‘gender-jacking’ many times before. I’ll apologise if you are offended by these terms but I hope you note they are not personal attacks on specific people, including yourself, simply how I see the situation. You didn’t mention what terms you would prefer I use, baring in mind that maybe the reason the terms sound negative is because my reaction to the new casting is negative so I’m not willing to employ any positive phrase. I also apologise for asking what you would find less offensive by using the words ‘your needs’.

            And like I said, if they created two new series with a different gender as the lead in each wouldn’t bother me. The point you are missing is I identify the Doctor as a male. He’s an established character that has been about for 54 years so to change it now is, I’m sorry, gender-jacking the character. I implore the BBC and other broadcasters to do as you say and create new female characters and shows.

            “does not help me understand why you don’t feel positively about it and why you feel negatively about it”
            My God man, I have just finished telling you my reasons why. This is what I was saying about if you have nothing new or original to ask then just bother somebody else. Go, read all my posts where I have stated my reasons numerous times before – I’ve tried to make them quite easy to understand.

            Yes, thanks, my daughter does have awesome taste. She has all the SJA boxsets. But her and all but one of her friends I’ve spoken to think it is stupid. And you may not know but 10-year-olds can make up their own minds and are usually the most brutally honest critics as they tell it how it is. And I can only speak for my daughter on this, she is open and aware of same-sex couples and trans people. To say she doesn’t understand these issues to a degree, even in her little brain, would be a criminally untrue opinion. I can’t speak for her friends but what I can say is my daughter knows what she knows and still thinks it is stupid. ‘Stupid’ was her word, not mine – though I do concur.

            In answr to your next question, what I mean by saying he is a male character is that he his male. You are aware of the difference between male and female aren’t you? A man can be any height or skin colour and can have any accent or hair colour. Same goes for a woman. And sorry, I’ve given up with you after the phrase “early life gender policing” haha! Seriously, If I try and refrain from using gender-jacking in future can you promise to try never to use that phrase ever again? 🙂

            And as for what have we got to lose? I think we may have already lost it. No, that’s not true actually, we still have 54 years of history, we’ve might just have lost any meaningful future for it.

          • James Lomond

            Thanks for the thorought reply!

            The bit about not helping me understand was isolating the can/should argument (doesn’t inform the argument) from the he’s male therefore can’t be female argument (which remains sociologically/ conceptually opaque).

            Gender policing starts around 3 years old as far as I’m aware. Children have been observed to punish/ criticise peers who behave in non-gender conforming ways from that age whereas before that it’s just the adults. Gender behaviour is suggested/ implied in almost all media children consume (though there have been efforts to reduce this recently) and it’s been shown that adults treat even newborns differently based on whether they’ve been told it’s a little girl or boy. Gender policing is a concept from developmental psychology with an empirical basis though I agree the “policing” part of it has a potentially negative connotation. Gender-“jacking” is you being annoyed. I’m not offended by it but I think the debate is helped by less vitriol and more neutrality. No biggie. The “your needs” was a deliberate provocation so thanks for the apology and I’m sorry if any of the way I’ve been putting stuff across has offended you.

            Your daughter sounds like an awesome young lady. Regardless of whether she thinks the casting is stupid (fair enough) I suppose I’m referring to the possibility that she might change her mind after she sees some of it (if she wants to see it) or she might not. I was unsure about Matt Smith but totally changed my mind when I saw him in action.

            Thanks again for the discussion FPD. Never change 😉

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            OK, sorry, one last thing. You agree that ‘policing’ is potentially negative yet that is exactly what you accused me of originally for saying ‘gender-jacking’ – now you say that is just me being annoyed??? I’ve asked so I’ll ask again, how would you rather I said or referred to it baring in mind it’s my opinion of the current situation? No sarcasm meant or intended. And also, I’m not annoyed. Upset and disappointed by the casting and sticking up for what I believe in sure! You keep being yourself too. I look forward to future debates and chats with you in future 🙂

          • James Lomond

            Yeah sorry you totally asked and I totally forgot to say – I’d prefer “gender-swap” or “change” or whatever just so that it avoids the expression of disvalue/ negative connotation every time because if you’re having a debate trying to get to the heart of the issue, peppering things with value-statements obscures stuff. And absolutely you’re right – the policing term has a potential negative connotation but my point is that “gender policing” is an established academic term which is notionally supposed to describe an observed phenomenon (though scientists of any kind never truly achieve neutrality when they chose/ create language) whereas “gender-jacking” was intended to express a personal view-point.

            Hope that explains.

            And yes! I look forward to more of this when the first android is cast 😀

    • The Lazy Womble

      Let’s not forget Verity Lambert, Paddy Russell, Fiona Cumming… the list goes on

  • DonnaM

    Thanks Mez for an interesting positive take.

    I’d take issue with the assertion that the show, particularly in its modern form, has been “dominated by its male leads”. Rose was the focal point of Series 1, and are we forgetting the whole “Clara Who” furore already? From Liz Shaw and Sarah-Jane Smith onward Doctor Who has offered strong, capable, generous female figures. The title character’s been male, certainly, but that’s not entirely the same thing.

    Personally I’m not into the whole “role model” argument. The Doctor is an alien from Gallifrey. He (and I’m not being sexist, I’ll continue to use that personal pronoun until I see the regeneration on screen at Christmas) is brilliant, generous and better than any human can be in a stack of ways. What he isn’t is perfect, any more than his occasionally selfish, manipulative and moody best human friends are.

    Can the Doctor be played by a female actor (I’m almost scared to say actress now in case I offend someone)? Yes. Should the Doctor be played by a female actor? Let’s wait and see. It depends purely and simply on the writing.
    If Thirteen is emotionally obtuse like Twelve; socially oblivious like Eleven – she’ll be The Doctor. If she develops a human sensitivity – call it empathy – beyond that the character has shown before – perhaps I won’t think so. If she develops the common sense and human practical competence which has in the past been supplied by the largely female companion – well what’s the point of having a human at her side at all?

    My biggest fear is that Chris Chibnall will produce scripts down to his usual Doctor Who standards. That I’ll find too many episodes leaden, lacking wit and cursed with clunking dialogue. I drifted away from the show midway through Matt Smith’s first series because I wasn’t enjoying it and I’m not sufficiently masochistic to watch something that gives me no pleasure because of its title. If I turn away, it won’t be the fault of Jodie Whittaker’s reproductive organs, it’ll be because I don’t enjoy the whole package.

    Is that me being fearful or sexist? No. It’s me looking at the new head honcho’s track record and thinking – I’m not sure he’s going to do it for me. Please, let’s stop name-calling and assigning specific reasons for scepticism! It’s not helpful, productive or – most importantly – kind.

    I was blessed with strong role models as a child – specifically my late grandparents and my wonderful Mum Decent, honest, hardworking people who strove every day to be kind and to do the right thing. I didn’t need fictional heroes of either gender to cling to then, and I don’t now.

    Every kid should have good role models, period. My granddad was one of mine. It’s only a gender issue if we make it one, surely?

  • Simon Danes

    OK… here’s my two pennyworth…

    I haven’t seen much of Jodie Whittaker’s work, though I did rewatch the ‘Black Mirror’ episode she starred in — and she was very good. (And Charlie Brooker has simply got to write for ‘Doctor Who’!) I don’t really have a problem with the Doctor being female, though I hope she’s played straight and they don’t go down the road of seeing how silly and eccentric they can make her. But anyone who can play Antigone at the National has got to be a very, very good actor indeed. There is no doubt that Jodie Whittaker is talented enough for the part.

    I do sympathise with those who find the concept of a sex change for the Doctor difficult to accept. There are good reasons for saying the character is male and I understand those arguments.
    And yet… the programme has to be made for the general audience, not for the hard-core fans; for the millions, not for the thousands. When DW has tried to appeal most to its fanbase, it’s gone pear shaped. It has to continue to push boundaries and to appeal to an ever-renewing audience. It has to change. There is a huge diversity in its back-catalogue; ‘Pyramids of Mars’ and ‘Dragonfire’ are almost unrecognisable as the same programme. Eccleston was massively different from Pertwee.

    Some will not like the new run. Some will. There are eras of DW which are hugely popular with some fans and loathed by others; those of us who were fans in the seventies and eighties remember the polarised fan reactions to the stories put out under Graham Williams and JNT. Even Hinchcliffe was derided for not being like Barry Letts. In the nineties, many reviled Pertwee’s Doctor as a snobbish Tory and hated the performance which I loved in my childhood (and still do). Robert Holmes was loathed for suggesting that Time Lord society was corrupt. People couldn’t wait for Tom Baker to leave.

    Let’s listen sympathetically to those who don’t like the things we like, and who like the things we don’t. It took me twenty years before I liked the Colin Baker stories.

    I don’t like people being upset or disappointed. Ultimately, though, the question has to be what the general audience makes of the casting, not what we make of her. It reminds me a bit of when the CofE first ordained women as priests in the 90s. All priests had been male for 1,960-odd years before then. And when I first went to a service presided over by a woman priest, my initial reaction was to be taken aback. Ten minutes into the service, I had forgotten all about it. It was fine.

    OK. I’ll shut up now.

    May you live a long life and may energy shine upon you from a million stars.

    • The Lazy Womble

      A compelling argument eloquently made

    • Peter Rabytt

      I agree. You are talking sense to me. And I will also shut up now.

  • kwijino

    Nope. The best man for the job is _not_ always a woman, and patronizing me, it ain’t helping me.

    She can be the next Judi Dench for all I care. For me, Doctor Who ended as a show this week. Sorry.

  • Jack Ashcraft

    While I’ve accepted the reality that this is the direction of the show, I have tried repeatedly and failed to muster up much enthusiasm for it. As I said elsewhere here, the Doctor is no longer a person- neither a he nor a she- but an “it”, and has lost something personable about the character. The Doctor is now not just an alien, but a nebulous idea- a wholly other thing- and in that change has lost a part of what allowed for veteran fans to identify with or have an affinity with the character. It simply doesn’t feel like an “exciting new direction” or a “hopeful future”. It feels like the death of a beloved character with a totally different one taking over the space he occupied. I’ve been a fan for 36 years. Perhaps DW is simply not for someone like me anymore.

  • Planet of the Deaf

    Doctor Who is “art” not real life.

    If someone didn’t want female politicians or managers or medical Doctors, then yes they could be considered bigots.

    Not wanting a fictional character to change sex isn’t bigotry. Being for or against this change at the moment are both perfectly reasonable positions to hold, as is the “I’m not sure at the moment but will decide when I see S11” position which I imagine a lot of people fall into – that Radio Times poll had 43% of people in this category, despite their headline

  • Ben

    Something I’m looking forward to is when the new Doctor chooses a costume. It could be something remarkable, outlandish, silly, maybe colourful, hopefully with a hat. There’s a whole new world of clothing and accessories that might not have been considered previously.

  • daft

    Let me couch this is terms hopefully those stridently for change will understand. Buffy The Vampire Slayer has been mooted for a reboot for some time now. If tomorrow the incumbent producer came out at a ComicCon panel and announced Warner Brothers had slated a new series for 2019, everything would be the same, but s/he had a different vision for the lead, elevating his/her talented James Dean-like male protégé to the lead role of Buffy. Given that Buffy is a cherished 90s feminist icon and role-model to women (and men) of a certain age, I don’t think it’s outlandish to suggest within a week there would be an online petition over 100,000 signatures calling for WB to quickly change their decision, there would be a small, dedicated group of fans protesting outside WB HQ, the producer would be routinely vilified online and the general phenomena would soon become the cause célèbre of most TV discussion programmes and print lifestyle magazines.There would also be some genuine misogynists out there delighting and celebrating the victory over the ‘PC brigade’, but the majority of males would be pretty embarrassed and uncomfortable with the appropriation. Said producer would likely trumpet that the brave choice ensured that finally a lead actor in a major U.S. series was openly gay, Buffy still loved Angel, but it would only be seen as some kind of concession. Significantly, it wouldn’t be OK when debating the change to consider those opposed as ‘bigots’, question their maturity or ignorant of the possibilities of change. I think it’s significant that despite this being an interconnected world where debate between the masses can take place that individuals are all to ready to close down debate by using words such as ‘bigot’ after only a few lines of text, that’s an awfully big call to make about the totality of an individual. I’d suggest, yes, some male Doctor Who fans are uncomfortable in their skin and around females, but if you are looking for hard core misogynists they’re elsewhere. Finally, it ultimately doesn’t matter, it’s a TV show, life goes on whether you continue to watch of not, but more importantly, in this Trump/Brexit/Middle East Peace Talks world, it’s an opportunity to appreciate that everything is political, everything is negotiated.

    • Ranger

      Well said, daft

    • DonnaM

      Nail, meet head.

      For what it’s worth, I believe very few of the men objecting to this casting are intimidated by or afraid of successful, capable or powerful females. And I firmly believe they would take the same view if a well established female fictional character was to be suddenly recast as a man “because she can”.

      The name calling and the casual, unfounded accusations of being fearful won’t change minds. Haven’t we seen often enough of late that yelling abuse never persuades, only alienated?

      Personally I had the good fortune to grow up with incredible real role models. My late grandparents and my wonderful Mum showed me how to be honest, decent and how to strive to do the right thing even when it’s not the easiest. I was never conscious of my sex as an impediment to my potential. I was blessed, I know.

      Sarah-Jane was a hero in my eyes: I knew I wouldn’t be a time travelling alien when I grew up, but I could be a journalist. Is that not how inspiring children of either sex works?

  • DonnaM

    “Dominated by its male leads”? Blimey, have we forgotten the Clara Who furore so soon?

    The title character has been male for fifty-odd years, but the companions, overwhelmingly women, have been integral to the show. I would argue that Rose was the key figure of series 1 modern: Clara was as key to series 8 and 9 as the Doctor himself. It feels somewhat simplistic to say that because the Doctor has been presented in masculine form there have been no heroes with their own reproductive organs for young women and girls to admire.

    And please, can we stop asserting that any objection to the casting of Jodie Whittaker is bigoted? Name calling is neither compassionate, tolerant or helpful.

  • Rick714

    It just occurred to me that with this change, the Doctor will be listed as part of the trans-gender-gender community. And will be simply identifying as female. I’m surprised no one has mentioned this before now. Surely this is a victory not for women but for the transgender community?

  • Mark Evans

    Don’t you just love a call for optimism, absolutely littered with insults for those who will not do so? Oh..and of course, busy telling everyone what their attitude should be. SJW much?