The powers that be in the BBC universe announced that Jodie Whittaker would take over the role of Doctor Who from Peter Capaldi. This caused some fervor because the new Doctor is a (Gasp! Shock! Horror!) woman. The media seems to be whipping this up into a controversial frenzy but I don’t see why. With any major changes to a longstanding series, the audience should consider a few questions before making a judgement on whether it is terrible or not.
Does it fit the established universe?
Many articles have pointed out that the Dr. Who universe included gender switching before, with the most notable example being the Master becoming Missy. I love Missy and find her much more chaotically evil than any other Master portrayal. She also adds a flirtatious aspect to the role that the men did not supply.
What will the companions be like?
Why does it matter? Male doctors over the decades took on companions of both genders, some likeable, some not. It’s true that the guys tended towards female friends, but the reason is simple. TV audiences love hints of deeper feelings and love, even when those emotions are unrequited. Most of the audience identifies more readily to a strong male getting emotionally attached to a female, but nothing says it can’t go the other way.
Many (but not all) of the companions featured young, extremely pretty woman. Another no brainer. Beautiful women make for better TV ratings. The same is true for handsome males. If you doubt that, then consider shows like the 2015 Poldark and how often the lead man, delicious Aidan Turner, takes his shirt off in a society where any show of skin, even bare arms, was rare. Similarly, think about how much Wolverine goes around shirtless in the X-Men and Wolverine movies.
So, does that mean the Whittaker Doctor should have hot, young male companions? I hope not, at least not much. First of all, women can travel together without getting all weird and falling in love. I assume men can too, but you don’t see it as often in television. Secondly the companions should be chosen on basis of intelligence, adaptability, and charm, not sex appeal. None of the pretty companions, to my knowledge, actually dressed up in sexy gear and strutted around like models. They weren’t there for the sex game. Having a woman at the helm should not change that. Therefore, male companions should definitely keep their shirts on.
Can the TV Audience take a strong female Doctor?
Even asking this question seems like an insult to viewers. I know Dr. Who is a British product gone global, but I’m concerned with what’s going on in the US. Under a president that devalues and denigrates women and a political party that thinks women can’t make choices about their own bodies, progress for humanity is taking a giant back step into stupidity. Women, who have fought for decades for equality in voting rights, the workplace, and the battlefield, are never going back to being only housewives and baby makers. We demand control of our bodies and our destinies. Cinema reflects that fact in movies such as Wonder Woman and strong female characters such as Alien‘s Ripley, Star Trek‘s Janeway, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck, and Star War’s Rey and Leia. Dr. Who by these standards is dragging behind the times. If you can’t handle a strong female doctor, then stop watching the show and crawl back into your man cave. The time for a doctor revolution is now.
On that note, I’m also delighted that Ms. Whittaker, although attractive, does not have the super model body or a make-up enhanced face that could launch a thousand ships. She is an experienced woman with a no-nonsense appearance. As she travels through Earth’s time, she’ll have to fight harder to be taken seriously in those decades where women are told to shut up and sit down. That adds twists and turns. The plot turns open up and can evolve from the normal get-into-trouble-then-save-the-day routine.
And that is what makes good television. I for one can’t wait to see what she will do.
For more information and discussion, I recommend checking out “A Female ‘Doctor Who’ Is Exactly What the Franchise Needed“ by Ross Ruediger.