In just a few minutes, my wife and I will be sitting down to watch the premiere of Doctor Who’s 11th modern series. This will be our first chance to see the 13th Doctor in action, not counting her brief introduction at the end of the Christmas Special. I’m taking this moment to record my thoughts on the concept of a female Doctor (before my thoughts on the concept are influenced by the reality).
I could have shared these thoughts a long time ago, when the news was first announced. However, I have a standing practice of ignoring BBC press releases, since the network doesn’t have many qualms about spoilers. (River Song would be ashamed.) Honestly, I wish we could just see the events of the show as they happen, and react to them organically, rather than hashing them out in response to press releases that appear months in advance.
But I digress. The question is whether choosing a female Doctor is a good idea… and the answer is that I have no idea.
When the news was first announced, reactions were (in typical Internet fashion) polarized.
Some people said that it doesn’t make a difference whether the Doctor is male or female, but I can’t agree with that. It does make a difference, both in how the audience reacts to the Doctor (because I don’t think humans can avoid reacting to men and women differently, despite our best efforts to treat everyone the same) and in how other characters react to the Doctor, especially in many of the patriarchal times and places that the Doctor visits frequently.
Other people said it was a mistake to change the Doctor, but I can’t agree with that either. Since the Doctor’s first regeneration in the 1960s, the character has been defined by change. In fact, the show’s longevity is based on its ability to change! (The Doctor changes, the companions change, the TARDIS changes…) Everything that usually defines a show – from the cast to the sets to the setting – has been erased and rewritten, again and again.
I understand why people are saying, “A female doctor won’t be the same!” but that’s not the point. This is Doctor Who! It’s a show that’s predicated on the question, “How much can we stretch and reinvent this premise without losing what makes the show special?” By asking that question for decades – through 12 leading men and countless companions – Doctor Who has already challenged our notions of what defines a show’s identity. Why can't it also challenge our notions of what defines the Doctor’s identity?
In short, I acknowledge that a female Doctor is a huge creative risk. And I’m thrilled to see them take it.