Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Thirteenth Doctor: A Step in The Right Direction or Political Correctness Gone Mad?

by Joe Brennan

In 1966 after a strenuous number of encounters with enemies both domestic and alien (topped off by the introduction of the iconic Cybermen), the old man who had been a face of safety and protection for three years collapsed onto the floor of the TARDIS and disappeared in a bright flash of light. Changing not only his face but the world of television itself. A younger, scruffy looking man emerged. Someone who would be the new lead of the show for years to come. With hardly any explanation, The Doctor we knew was gone. The TARDIS was the same, the companions Ben and Polly were still there and The Daleks hadn't changed - but the grumpy old man had seemingly been replaced by a brand new man.

Since then, regeneration has been explained thoroughly and accepted as a normal part of the show. A total of 13 men have portrayed The Doctor and each one has managed to give his take on what makes him special. Whether he be a charming romantic, a dandy scientist or a guilt-filled veteran, every interpretation has been a successful and unique insight into the time travelling alien. They have made the character iconic and have immortalised themselves in the history of pop culture. As soon as (if not before) the announcement in January that Peter Capaldi would be stepping down, fans speculated the possible replacements. and finally on the 16th of July 2017, after a Wimbledon victory for Roger Federer, the BBC announced the next actor to take up a role that has been loved by the nation (and the world) since 1963. In a decision almost as controversial as the initial recasting, Chris Chibnall chose to cast…


And not just any woman, mind you, a female one! The 13th Doctor was to be played by Jodie Whittaker of Broadchurch fame. This news was met with… a mixed response:

While there is a positive majority, there is a strikingly high number of dislikes- with thousands deciding Doctor Who will essentially be over after Christmas this year. “What's next? A female James Bond?” seems to being thrown around. The two sides are complicated and there's a toxic attitude on both sides. A certain group of people whose message of “tolerance” included enough unfounded harassment towards ex-Doctor Peter Davison that he left Twitter. The nature of the issue is one that someone can't voice their concerns or their positive opinions without the opposing side retaliating. Davison claimed that, while he felt Jodie Whittaker would do an excellent job, he felt it a shame that one of the few remaining non-violent, intelligent male role models was gone. Agree with his sentiment or not, it's hard to see this comment as the incoherent ramblings of a “sexist windbag” that some outlets are claiming it is.

A growing concern (after the initial shock of the reveal) is why they chose to do this. Why now? A common feeling is that this was done not for a creative or artistic reason, but a purely political statement in a time where the issue of gender identity is becoming more and more prominent. Did Chibnall pick Whittaker for the role because she was the best choice? Or was it a statement? Is he taking the program in a new direction to better entertain his fans or is he merely pandering to the rising presence of the social justice warrior? 

The unfortunate answer is: we don't know. Only time will tell. Hopefully the next series will make it clear which path the BBC are going to take it. While the change in gender is obviously not something that can be ignored, it should never become the primary focus of the series.

Doctor Who has never been a show to shy away from a political agenda, one of Series 9’s more memorable moments was The Doctor’s anti-war speech. A powerful, beautifully performed high point of Capaldi’s era for some- for others, it was preachy unfounded propaganda that ignored the complexities of modern conflict. Most recently, the show made history with the inclusion of the diverse new companion- a bald android named Nardole! Oh and also Bill, the black lesbian was there too. While Bill was overall quite well received among fans, the biggest criticism of her character was the seemingly shoehorned references to her sexuality every episode. Those who had the sentiment that Bill’s character was limited to “gay”, the fear for the future series is that The Doctor’s change in gender will be dealt with similar level of subtlety (or lack of subtlety) as Bill’s sexuality. If every episode becomes an excuse for The Doctor to spout about her newly found feminist streak, the sceptical may have been proven to be right.

In my opinion, the female Doctor is not something to be feared but something that we should be excited for. Trust must be placed in the creative team as we hope they embrace the changes but don't let it ruin what's special about the show. We as audience members and fans need to understand that adaptation is an important part of Doctor Who and, had change been avoided in the past, the show would have ended in 1966 at the departure of William Hartnell. Jodie Whittaker is a fantastic actress (for those who are still sceptical about that, check out in the National Theatre production of Antigone- clips are on YouTube) and the show is in the competent hands of Chris Chibnall. Should the next series fail, re-evaluation could be necessary but at the moment, the future of Doctor Who is looking extremely interesting. But regardless of whether you support the female Doctor or not, try to make an effort to understand the other side of the argument instead of labelling them “the enemy”. If someone is against the idea, try asking them why they feel this way instead of immediately calling them a sexist bigot who can't stand seeing a woman in a position of power. The same advice goes for talking to someone who is extremely supportive of it; try to understand their enthusiasm before you brand them a feminazi social justice warrior Dalek.

If you've read this far, I'd be interested to know your thoughts. Drop me a comment under the article or if you know me, tell me how you feel about this controversial casting choice. 

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