Arguably, one of the most significant moments of the Twelfth Doctor’s era came with the (re-) introduction of Missy, the latest incarnation of the Master. The Master is, of course, a long-standing foe of the Doctor, who made his (her!) debut in Terror of the Autons in 1971. Often referred to as Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, the significance of this newest version of the character comes from the fact that Steven Moffat has decided to gender-flip the character. She is now a Time Lady, who, physically and in terms of self-identification, appears to be a woman. The question that logically follows, then, is whether the Doctor could ever, upon regenerating, become a Time Lady too. The answer, at least in terms of in-universe thinking, is very simple: of course he can!
We now have two examples of Time Lords who have become Time Ladies. As well as Missy, there’s the General, who changed gender and apparent ethnicity when she regenerated on-screen (which is significant, reinforcing canonicity) in Hell Bent, the finale to Doctor Who Series 9. There we have it. Time Lords can regenerate into Time Ladies (and presumably, vice versa) and so the Doctor can too.
However, some fans and some of the professionals who have worked on the show, including Terrance Dicks, Sylvester McCoy, and Peter Davison, don’t seem too enamored of this idea. This is strange, considering that there has already been more than one female Doctor. (No, honestly, bear with me!) For a start, there was the first incarnation of Romana (played by Mary Tamm). She acted as a great foil to Tom Baker’s Doctor. He was a mercurial anarchist, yo-yoing around the universe, while she was a cosmic debutante, doing some trans-dimensional slumming in service of the greater good. Then there was the second incarnation of Romana (played by Lalla Ward), a sophisticate and wit who has decided to continue her sabbatical from Gallifrey to see what all of time and space might have to offer. Both actresses could easily have fronted the show if the opportunity had arisen. (Imagine a Planet of the Spiders in which Pertwee transformed into Tamm rather than Baker. Creatively, at least, that would have worked.)
More recently, and I’m perhaps wandering into controversial territory here, there’s been River Song. Dial down her violence and you’ve got a female Doctor; a cocky, morally dubious, sexually-uninhibited version, but the Doctor nonetheless.
What real-world consequences, then, would casting a female Doctor have? Well, it would, no doubt, give the programme a shot of publicity and make it a talking point, which is no bad thing. I’ve seen suggestions on various social media sites that the BBC doesn’t know how to market Doctor Who and maybe a bit of ‘controversy’ is what’s needed. I don’t know, to be honest, as I’m not a marketeer or showman. More practically, it would expand the pool of actors from which a new Doctor could be cast. Suitable female performers who could be considered include Tilda Swinton, T’Nia Miller, and, let’s be honest, many, many more. The British film, television, and theatre industries are awash with examples who could easily step up to the mark.
The final consideration when it comes to a female Doctor is representation. I’m very aware that I’m not the best person to write about this issue. I’m a 42-year-old white man who self-identifies as straight and I’m over-represented in pretty much every area of society. It strikes me, though, that it might be nice for the Doctor to be a woman, so that all the girls that have been drawn to the show could have a point of self-identification in their favourite hero(ine).
Will the Doctor ever be a woman? Maybe. I hope so. I think it would be a welcome change. After all, for over 50 years, boys in playgrounds nationwide have been able to play as the Doctor, wielding an imaginary sonic screwdriver and fighting the Daleks as girl companions trailed behind. But wouldn’t it be nice, for a few years at least, if it were the boys who did the trailing?