LOUISE WILSON discusses the ‘First Female Incarnation’ of Doctor Who, and its future...
As rumours swirl around Jodie Whittaker’s departure from Doctor Who, we can look back at her time as the first female incarnation of the timelord, ask how the change has affected the character, and whether we really needed a female doctor.
Grab your pitchforks…I have an opinion.
I should preface all of this by saying a couple of things. Firstly, I am a big Doctor Who fan, and have been watching the show since I was 5. I have stuck with it through its highs and lows, from its multi-doctor stories to whatever the hell Peter Kay did. I love Doctor Who and I probably always will. Secondly, I am a feminist. I am not trying to argue that the Doctor shouldn’t be female, but I think there should be some discussion around what the past few years have meant for the show. A lot of the criticism for the current era of Who comes out in the form of veiled misogyny and I have absolutely no desire to go anyway near that.
I’ve always believed that female characters deserve to exist in their own space. It’s why I don’t believe in the idea of a female James Bond. However, with Doctor Who, it feels different. Despite some claiming that it was “PC nonsense” (because women exist only as a vessel to political correctness), changing the gender of a 2000-year-old alien with 12 other faces didn’t feel far-fetched.
Does it matter if the Doctor is Female?
Now I’m going to say something controversial here; I really don’t care if the Doctor is female or not. It honestly doesn’t bother me. I think the show is filled with many great female characters and since the revival, I don’t think they’ve ever been portrayed as inferior to the Doctor. With that being said, I can see why having a woman in the lead role was important to a lot of people. My youngest sister is now the same age I was when I started watching the show, and she prefers watching the newer episodes more because the Doctor is a woman – she can see herself in the character. That’s also a thing that a lot of people forget about Who, despite having a massive fanbase made up of all ages, it’s primarily made for children. The beauty of a show that has lasted for 57 years is that people start watching as children and are still watching as adults.
Where’s the romance trope?
However, I think there are things about the show that have changed purely because of the introduction of a female lead. When Russell T Davies revived the show in 2005, it set a new kind of precedent for romance in Who, and it is an element that stuck through till Peter Capaldi’s departure. There’s even reference to it in the 50th anniversary special. I know this subject is controversial with fans and I don’t want to debate that, but I do think that there is no chance in hell that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor will go anywhere near that element of romance, out of sheer terror of the repercussions (I may be proven wrong at some point, but I highly doubt it). After the official Doctor Who Twitter account tweeted: “[t]he Doctor and her wife” above a picture of Alex Kingston and Jodie Whittaker in 2018, the tweet was very promptly re-captioned. There’s this odd belief in some popular culture that giving women love interests makes them weak, which is not remotely true, but avoiding a pretty significant aspect of the show once you get a female lead seems a bit...iffy.
Bad Writing Equals Bad Characterisation
I am by no means saying that romance is the biggest part of Doctor Who and I can recognise that it was pretty non-existent in the classic era, but another key difference between 13 and her predecessors is that they had defining character traits. This is by no means a criticism of Jodie Whittaker; I think she’s great. I think the issue comes with showrunner and head-writer Chris Chibnall. I don’t think Chibnall is a bad writer, Broadchurch is fantastic, and he was head writer for the first two seasons of Torchwood. (Sidenote – it’s worth noting that during his tenure at Torchwood he penned a story about a woman who had been partially converted by the Cybermen, and she spends the episode trotting about in a strappy metal bikini. It’s sexist, there is no other way to phrase it). Chibnall just doesn’t seem to have clicked with Who. Steven Moffatt had massive shoes to fill when he replaced Davies in 2010, but his debut series turned out to be one of the best. Chibnall is almost three years in and none of his characters have any depth. When you have a character with 57 years of history behind them and still struggle to give them discernible character traits; you’re in trouble.
What happens next?
With rumours about Jodie Whittaker’s departure from the show circulating, it’s interesting to consider what they’ll do next. There’s nothing about changing the Doctor’s gender that should have any negative impact on the character, and Michelle Gomez’s iteration of the Master proved that. However, if the writing continues the way it has been going, I’d take the well-written female companions of past over badly written female Doctors any day.
Written by Louise Wilson