Our darling internet is on fire, right now, by a certain casting choice Chris Chibnall finally announced. In some ways, I actually think this is great. It's given my favorite program lots of attention and also created some interesting discussion and debate. As usual, some fans are making fools of themselves' - but that's nothing new!
Of course, I have my own opinion on the matter. As a rule, I've only offered it if it's been asked for. But there is a certain advantage to being the author of a well-read blog. On certain occassions, you can express your blowhard ideas to an audience who might find them interesting even though they weren't solicited.
So, here goes:.
As the Beeb naturally expected, a certain amount of yule and cry occurred after the announcement that Jodie Whittaker would be the Thirteenth Doctor. While I have heard some legitimately convincing arguments about why the Doctor should never be a woman, there are a few opinions that I feel compelled to utterly dismiss. They're just so outrageous that someone needs to shoot them down.
OBJECTIONS I FIND OBJECTIONABLE
There's really only two theories circulating that, in my opinion, really need to be addressed:
1) The Beeb is just trying to be PC
Certainly, there are still some imbalances within the British television industry and Doctor Who, itself, that need to be re-dressed. Moffat has discussed these problems within his own era. We've seen him, for instance, make a conscious effort to commission more female writers to provide us with new episodes. In this sense, I think a bit of political correctness is required. There's still just a little bit too much of a "boys' club" going on in television and conscious efforts to change that are genuinely needed to make the business a fairer practice.
But some fans would have you believe that this latest bit of casting was done purely on that merit. That Jodie Whittaker did not receive the role because she deserves it but because the BBC just wants to make itself look like its practices are always fair and equitable. That they are social justice warriors rather than a TV station that's trying to produce quality entertainment. And that, because this is their intent, the quality of the show will now drop dramatically.
I find this opinion difficult to swallow. This sort of decision-making is just far too impractical for many reasons. Which is not to say, of course, that the BBC never makes poor choices. Let's remember, they did cancel Doctor Who, once! But I do think that this is just too ridiculous of a motivation for them to have. They just couldn't be that stupid.
The BBC treat Doctor Who as a flagship program. They want to see good ratings. Anyone with half a brain can see that casting a woman as the Doctor will lose a heavy segment of viewers. It might gain some new ones, too - but that's still a big risk they're taking. I can't see the BBC being that counter-intuitive. To want to appear PC but take that kind of chance with one of their highest-grossing and most expensive programs doesn't make sense. There has to be more to this decision than just the desire to look good to the Left. The Left won't give them the ratings they need.
2) It's all just stunt casting
This one seems even sillier. There are fans that seem to believe that Jodie Whittaker got the role simply as a "gimmick" or a way to grab attention. That we're, essentially, observing a piece of stunt casting.
I am actually hearing mention of Beryl Reid in this sort of discussion. Fans are comparing Jodie to her. Beryl Reid is, of course, the most notorious stunt casting in the entire history of the show. She was hired to play the captain of a space freighter in one of my favorite stories. If ever there was someone who was most unlikely to play a space captain, it was Beryl Reid. But such an unlikely casting got attention and, apparently, lots of people tuned in to see if she could pull it off. Which is, of course, the whole point of stunt casting!
While such a ploy might work with a supporting character like the one Beryl played, you can't pull this same stunt off with the protoganist of a show. An audience will only put up with a certain level of stunt casting. A cameo or a support is small enough to make us curious. But anything bigger than that and we just naturally assume that the show will be ruined. You can only go so far with this trick. And even the most open-minded of fans will offer consumer resistance. The BBC are smart enough to know this. They are not going to stunt cast a lead in one of their most popular shows.
I think what bothers me the most with both of these theories is that they imply that Whittaker did not earn the role. That she was cast for political reasons. Or simply to create hype. I can't imagine how insulting it must be for her to hear this kind of stuff. I know I'd be offended if I were in her place.
IF YOU OBJECT TO JODIE DOES THAT MAKE YOU A SEXIST?
Having berated fandom a bit for some of the stuff they've said, let me defend them where they deserve it. If you don't think Jodie Whittaker should be the next Doctor, I don't believe that this, necessarily, makes you a sexist. I have heard some concerns about this casting choice that I might even consider legitimate.
The biggest one being that some of you have seen her in other stuff and have disliked her performances in those shows/movies. So you don't think she'll do well in this role, either. I can't really argue with that. It's your own opinion, really. Personally, I've seen her in other roles and greatly enjoyed her performance. But if she's not to your liking - I can't help that.
Besides tastes in acting styles, there are a few other opinions against a female Doctor that are floating around that I also find have some credence. But I will add that there are many more opinions that I hear that sound like thinly veiled sexism. That some of you really can't accept a woman as the Doctor simply because she's a woman. But you don't want to say that because you know how that will make you look. So you've come up with some weak theory to disguise your true beliefs.
But I do hate that some people are implying that not accepting Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor instantly makes you a sexist. That line of thinking is almost as oppressive as sexism, itself.
There is already a satirical video circulating the internet that was posted to my Wall. It's meant to be a fake ad for a helpline that assists people who are having a hard time accepting a female Doctor. The person working the helpline is female and she keeps rolling her eyes as men are calling her with concerns that are blatantly sexist ("She better only be making 79 cents on every dollar Capaldi was making!"). The video was a bit amusing but it bothered me more than anything. I took it upon myself (for what it was worth) to point out in the comments that there is an abundance of female fans who disagree with the casting decision. Do they all hail from repressive cultures that have brainwashed them into believing that women are second class citizens? Or could it be possible that someone can object to Jodie Whittaker being the Doctor and not be a complete chauvinist pig?
WHAT DOES ROB REALLY THINK?
Okay, as usual, I've beat around the bush and dealt with some side issues before getting to my real point: what is my actual opinion on Jodie Whittaker being cast as the next Doctor? Am I elated over the fact that my favorite show has become even more progressive? Or furious that the image of an iconic character is being too harshly altered? Or somewhere between the two extremes?
The truth is: I'm pretty neutral.
I will confess: changing the Doctor's gender is a bit hard to accept. Mainly because he has been male for 36 seasons. But I do think they can get it to work and that it can even be very fun and exciting if they do it right. But I really have to see Doctor Thirteen in action before I can say much. And that's really my strongest point in this whole essay: how can we really pass any kind of judgment on a woman as the Doctor until we see some episodes?
I do think the gender issue needs to be addressed head-on from time-to-time. When the Doctor first regenerates into a woman - there should, perhaps, be some conscious adjustment. Not a lot, but some. This would only be realistic. You can't walk around in a male body for over 2 000 years and transition into a female without having a few problems with it. As the Doctor makes those compensations - the audience does, too.
Whenever the Doctor visits a place in Time and Space where women's rights are still being violated she should need to have to deal with that, too. She doesn't need to change the thinking of the whole society but she should change the minds of a few key characters who might be trying to restrict her. These characters might think she's incapable of doing anything useful because she's a woman and the Doctor's sheer brilliance proves to them that they need to open their minds. Something similar to Martha going through the bones of the hand when Nurse Redfern can't believe she's studying to be a doctor because she's black.
But, aside from those scenarios, the Doctor really shouldn't give a damn about the fact that she's now a woman. She should just go on with being the Doctor. And that's the only way I think the change will really work. It can't always be about the Doctor being a woman - but it can't be ingnored, either. The formula needs to sit somewhere in the middle.
And I wouldn't be surprised if someone as skilled as Chris Chibnall knew that.
Which means, of course, that I think things will be very exciting with Jodie Whittaker piloting the TARDIS. They might not always be perfect. But when has Doctor Who always been perfect? I just hope that, when the show does misfire, that we don't get a gang of idiots proclaiming: "See! I told you it wouldn't work! It's because she's a chick!".
Unfortunately, we probably will. That's just the way certain segments of Fandom can be.
So, ultimately, my feelings on the matter are largely positive - with a hint of trepidation. Which is how I feel whenever the Doctor regenerates. There is always the slightest fear that this new actor might finally be a mistake. And I think that's just a natural thing to go through during such a large change.
I will go so far as to admit that I'm a bit more concerned than usual because the change is greater than normal. Not sure if that makes me a sexist. I experienced a similar sentiment when they announced Matt Smith as the next Doctor because he was much younger than normal. Which means I might also be ageist. Or I just recognize that a greater risk is being taken and that might make me a little more nervous than normal about something I'm always a bit nervous about.
But, overall, I can get behind all this. This is something the show has been preparing us for (read my footnotes) and I certainly feel ready for it. I also think it can represent some very interesting new directions that the whole program can move in.
But I really can't say much more than that til I see some eps. And I really think it's a bit ridiculous that some fans have decided to pass such harsh judgement without actually seeing Whittaker take on the role, yet. In all honesty, it's a pretty foolish stance to take.
In my opinion, at least.
So, that's my Unadulterated Boorish Opinion on the matter. Hope you like it.
When I first started writing this, I decided to chronicle just how long it's been since the idea of a female Doctor was first introduced to the audience. I realized I was "beating around the bush" even more than usual and that I needed to get to my point faster. So I cut and pasted it down to a footnote. You can have a look at it if you want to hear even more of my jaded opinions!
FOOTNOTE: THE HISTORY OF A FEMALE DOCTOR
I do find it fascinating that some people seem a bit shocked that such a casting decision has been made. In terms of continuity, the show has made a conscious effort in its last few seasons to clearly establish that Time Lords can change genders when they regenerate. It started with a piece of dialogue in The Doctor's Wife and moved on to a surprise revelation about Missy in Series 8. Finally, we actually saw a gender switching regeneration happen right before our very eyes during Hell Bent. Just to make sure we were well-and-truly braced for it, the Doctor had one more discussion about it with Bill in the penultimate episode of Series 10.
So the actual content of the show has done its very best in the last few years to brace us for this. It's been very clearly established within the mythos of the actual program that if our male protagonist suddenly stops being male - no one should be shocked.
But it's not just in the writing. Behind the scenes, Doctor Who production teams have been bracing us for this since the early 80s. Admittedly, it started off as a bit of a prank. As the story goes, Tom Baker and Jon Nathan Turner were on their way to a press conference to announce that the Fourth Doctor's era was about to reach its conclusion. Baker, lover of controversy that he is, suggested to JNT that he allude to the public that he might be considering a woman for the role. An uproar ensued and the 80s showrunner got the media fireworks he so frequently relished (if you don't know it, look up the story about where the name "The Doctor's Wife" came from - it's a fantastic example of JNT's love of stirring the pot!). Although this was more of a stunt than something the producer was legitimately considering, it still did set the whole "Should the Doctor Ever Be a Woman?!" Debate into motion. From this point onward, every time a regeneration was due in the Classic Series, at least a bit of speculation would ensue about whether the next incarnation would be a man or a woman.
For the 96 Telemovie and the first series or two of New Who, the casting of the Doctor was never in doubt: it would always be a man. But, even as Tennant announced he would depart, those Chinese Whispers seemed to start up again. The possibility of a female Doctor was being discussed by the media and in fan forums.
But, if you really want to be accurate, this didn't truly start with Baker and JNT on their way to a press conference. It can be traced all the way back to the first time regeneration was introduced to the program. Fans are digging up quotes from Patrick Troughton and Sidney Newman claiming that they think the character should be played by an actress in some future incarnation.
Truth be told, this is something the show has spent a long time preparing its audience for. So if anyone is truly surprised by this - you've been living under a rock