It's about time for a Time Lady in Doctor Who
PUBLISHED: 14:35 20 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:49 08 October 2018
t's an irony that my favourite television show, Doctor Who, specializes in time travel, as reading some of the media coverage of the BBC's decision to appoint Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth Doctor, I felt as though I'd gone backwards in time by 40 years.
I’ve never read so much rubbish in a 24-hour spell as I did in the day following the BBC’s announcement, including being forced to read other students’ work in Creative Writing modules at the UEA.
Down the years, I’ve felt embarrassed to be a Doctor Who fan (it comes with the territory), embarrassed to be British (usually thanks to football or politics), but the day after Whittaker’s casting become known, I felt embarrassed to be a writer, and I will not let that stand.
If nothing else, Doctor Who has prepared us for this moment for a long time. We met our first Time Lady way back in 1978, when the late Mary Tamm was introduced as the Doctor’s assistant Romana, a role later played by Lalla Ward after the character regenerated. The first villainous Time Lady, The Rani (Kate O’Mara) appeared in 1985 and even by then, the show’s producers had begun to talk up the possibility of a female Doctor, an idea lapped up by the newspapers. A year later, Doctor Who’s creator, Canadian-born television executive Sydney Newman, suggested the Doctor should change gender. In more recent times, we’ve seen a Time Lord regenerate into a Time Lady, and of course the emergence of Missy, formerly The Master, played with manic brilliance by Michelle Gomez.
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Yet still the storm came, with much macho huffing and puffing from media pundits and manboy fanboys alike. A last-ditch attempt to revitalize a failing show? Fifty four years is an awful long time for a television programme to ‘fail.’ An example of typical BBC leftie liberal political correctness? If so, why did it take the BBC so long to cast a woman as The Doctor? You say the show is called Doctor Who, not Nurse Who? I say it’s called Doctor Who, not Mister Who. Oh, and men can be nurses as well! One critic, claiming no interest in the show, even managed to get in a jibe at Jeremy Corbyn, just in case we forgot for one second Corbyn is supposedly more dangerous to the country’s future than an army of Cybermen matching down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Then again, we should expect such negativity from certain corners of the press. As Colin Baker said regarding the news, “the Doctor in all his incarnations has always been a passionate defender of justice, equality, fairness, and resisted those who seek to dominate or destroy,” so little wonder one or two press barons might object to a progressive decision from a public service broadcaster, made in the interest of plurality. The fierceness of the criticism from a section of Doctor Who’s fanbase came as more of a surprise, given one of their proudest boasts is the show’s flexible format; I wonder what such fans would’ve said in 1966, when William Hartnell changed into Patrick Troughton? Doubtless they thought the show ruined forever back then as well. But it wasn’t ruined, and Doctor Who’s ability to embrace change is one of the secrets of the show’s longevity, and a woman in the role of the Doctor will be one of the most exciting changes it has ever undergone, and I can’t wait to see what Jodie Whittaker does with the role.
From a personal perspective, I have two little great-nieces, and it’s wonderful to think they may look upon the Thirteenth Doctor as a role model; perhaps they, and other little girls, will take up acting, writing, or science, inspired by the Doctor.
My one concern for a female Doctor is the danger of writers changing their approach to scripts for the show. I say this only because I recall the words of novelist Louise Welsh, who commented in an interview that while the hero of her first novel, The Cutting Room, was male, when she came to write a novel with a female lead character, she found some difficulty placing the character in dangerous situations; a woman may, for example, be more reluctant than a man to walk down a dark alley at night. However, the Doctor, female or otherwise, is courageous, and as the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) once told us: “Courage isn’t about not being scared. It’s being scared and doing what you have to do anyway.”
The BBC has taken courage and done the right thing – if nothing else, it was time for the time-traveller to be a woman.
Jodie Whittaker was officially unveiled as the thirteenth Doctor Who on Sunday and is expected to first appear in the role after the Doctor’s regeneration during the Christmas special.