(This is a short piece was written back in August 2017 that was never published, so outdated information aside, this is as was written at the time)
On Christmas day the world will finally be introduced to the 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker; the first woman to ever take on the title role in the canon of the series. The news story blew up in expectedly spectacular fashion, drawing more attention to the show in almost a decade since the summer of ‘Doctor Who Fever’ back in 2008. As is to be expected of the internet in an age of immediate quick-fire response it drew a great amount of ire from many people.
When the series was revived by Russell T Davies, he brought the show into the 21st century in more ways than just setting and technological basis (as well as fantastic production design). His work varying from Queer as Folk to the heavy hitting drama and philosophising of The Second Coming, he was an odd choice but a perfectly suited one who loved who and endowed the show with a very modern sensibility; from the portrayal of working-class companions and people of colour to the openly bisexual Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). The show felt more intimately dramatic, emotional and character driven than ever before, without sacrificing any of the science fiction smarts or scares in the process.
The series has needed a pick-me-up for some time, a return to classic format serials and a sense of adventure spurred on by an energetic orchestral ballet and Davies’ humanist perspective. As well as Whittaker coming on board, Broadchurch scribe Chris Chibnall will be taking over as showrunner from the long-serving Steven Moffat.
It has been established for a few years that the regenerations of a Time Lord/Lady are not fixed to one particular sex, with John Simm’s Master transforming into Michelle Gomez’s Missy back in 2014. As such, there is no longer a narrative reason as to why the sex of the titular character can’t change. The rules may have changed before in the series – such as the Dalek’s origins changing by the time of Tom Baker, and the very existence of the Time Lord race not even established until Patrick Troughton’s final episode. The internal universe is in a constant state of change unfixed by specifics and changing to suit the writer’s needs, a constantly evolving piece of light entertainment not to be taken too seriously.
For all the talk of how this might alter the character, this is a show that has always been about change. The Doctor is one of the most perfectly conceived characters in the entire medium, changing attitudes and personality to suit the performer and adjusting in the process of it. To chart the growth of an actor in the role from unknowing starts to the template model and the passing of the torch is a wonderful experience of onscreen evolution.
The change in sex should be no different. In her first interview since casting, Whittaker stated that she would be “stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope”. This is the defining core of The Doctor as a character; it is a heartfelt, enigmatic and optimistic outlook that doesn’t prescribe to either man or woman.
The inevitable debates to rage now will cover the costume (trousers or skirt?) and other aesthetic attributes, but it won’t matter. Regardless of the stance of feminism in the modern age, this is not an act of Political Correctness seeping its way into the series since, as established, this has been ingrained since the start of the revival. To rally against the new, to be cruel or cowardly, is to go against the very virtues of the series and the character of The Doctor.