Lenny Henry, who guest stars in the upcoming Doctor Who Series 12 opener, Spyfall, has criticised the show, saying that the BBC “would rather have a dog do Doctor Who than a black person” – which yes, is quite an astonishing thing to say.
During an interview for Colourful Radio, Henry said:
“Why have we never had a black Doctor Who? They would rather have a dog do Doctor Who than a black person. There’s no black people in Doctor Who.”
This is a shocking statement, made to be sensationalist and grab headlines. Well, it’s clearly worked. We should point out that we know black actors have been offered the part of the Doctor but have either turned it down or were contracted to other jobs so had to withdraw from the role.
He also sarcastically criticsed former showrunner, Russell T Davies, saying:
“When Russell T Davies was doing Doctor Who, there was so many black people in the show. I rang up and said, ‘There are too many black people in the show — put in some white people, it’s getting embarrassing’.”
Note that Davies gave us the first black companion, Mickey Smith, played by Noel Clarke; Freema Agyeman also joined the cast as Martha Jones during this period. Let’s not forget Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts and current companions, Mandip Gill as Yaz Khan and Tosin Cole’s Ryan Sinclair.
Henry went on to say:
“I only think when the decision-makers and the gatekeepers and producers and the executives look like the people you see when you’re walking down the street in your area will things change. We’re still a long way away. The ‘in’ group who are in charge of everything are getting complacent. They’re mistaking pro-black for anti-white. People have to stop being upset when racism gets called out. Not everyone is racist, but when we hear monkey chants at football matches somebody is doing it. Somebody has to take responsibility for it.”
And that’s an absolutely good point. But we can’t help but be a tad irked that he’s attacked Doctor Who merely to get his statement covered more widely. If we were being cynical, we’d say he’s okay to criticise the show because he’s now cashed the cheque.
However, it would be more fair to question why there hasn’t been an Asian Doctor, for instance.
Doctor Who returns on New Year’s Day 2020.