Sunday 2 June 2013

Mrs Who?

And so, Matt Smith has announced that he's leaving the role of The Doctor at Christmas and the usual barrage of speculation has begun. Who will be the new Doctor? Will it be someone established? Will it be someone we've never heard of? Will he be black? Will he/she be female?

That last option is what I want to talk about here. Should the Doctor regenerate into a woman?

I can see why people ask for a female Doctor, or a Doctor with an obviously non-Western ethnic background. It would show that the BBC is committed to fairness and equality. Casting a woman or a person from a visible minority in such a major, iconic role would definitely send out a strong message; just as the inclusion of openly gay and 'omnisexual' characters has. However, much as I heartily support positive moves like that, I can't help feel that there are better ways to do it. My issue is not with the sexual politics of such a change. It's with the logic of doing it (and, by logic, I mean the show's internal logic).

I've been a fan of Doctor Who from the outset and I'm old enough to have seen all 10 regenerations to date. My family rented its first colour TV (everyone rented back then) because I went on and on and on about new Doctor Jon Pertwee being in colour. In the mid-1980s, I actually had a script I'd written selected by then-producer John Nathan-Turner and went to a number of production meetings at the BBC before, sadly, my script was bumped in favour of Frontios. Dagnabbit. I am pretty much everything you'd expect from a life-time long fan. But I'm also someone who worked tirelessly for fairness when I was a police officer. When I was a trainer at Hendon Police College, it was me who forced the decision that women could wear track suits or shorts instead of gym skirts during physical training. After the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, I was one of the team selected to totally overhaul the Met Police's diversity training programme. I now work as a writer for TV and radio shows like QI and The Museum of Curiosity and no one shouts louder than me for more women to appear on the shows (although, to be fair, everyone on those shows shouts equally loudly). I'm not some sexist, misogynist nob who spends his days fuming over the number of female news anchors or the loss of the word 'gay' even though I never once used it to mean 'happy and abandoned'. But I still think that it makes no sense to have a female Doctor. Here's why.

Firstly, there's no real precedence for it. Time Lords can have 12 regenerations - 13 bodies - and the Doctor is on body 11. He's never changed sex before, so why would he now? His arch-enemy, the Master, has also had a number of bodies and they've all been male (although I'll concede that we haven't seen most of his regenerations). Time Lord President Borusa has appeared in several incarnations, all male. And when the Doctor and Morbius had their mind fight in The Brain of Morbius, we saw all of their previous incarnations on a screen. All male. Meanwhile, we have met a number of female Time Lords (Time Ladies?) over the years, such as the Rani, the Inquisitor, and Chancellors Thalia and Flavia, but we've only seen one regeneration - Romana, who changed from a woman into a woman. In 50 years there has never been a mention of Time Lords changing sex ... except just once, where Neil Gaiman muddied the waters in his 2012 script, The Doctor's Wife, in which he mentions a Time Lord called the Corsair who's been male and female (though the name suggests a somewhat campier Time Lord than we're used to - I imagine him/her cross-dressing or using technology to change sex on a whim). The only time a Time LOrd gender swap has ever been seen was in the 1999 Red Nose Day spoof Curse of Fatal Death where the Doctor morphs from Rowan Atkinson to Richard E 'lick the mirror handsome' Grant to Jim Broadbent to Hugh Grant to Joanna Lumley (incidentally, Jonathan Pryce would make a great Doctor and was, in this, a great Master).

Secondly, how would family relationships work if the parents kept shifting genders? And how would that affect reproduction? We know that Time Lords have kids - the Doctor certainly had children and at least one grandchild - Susan. I'm afraid that I don't buy into the whole 'but Time Lords are aliens and don't have to follow the same rules as humans'. From what I've seen, they're not that alien. They have all of the same emotional responses as us; love, grief, anger, surprise, fear, longing, anguish. They are upright, bipedal warm-blooded mammals (we've seen the Doctor's nipples many times and female Time Lords definitely have breasts). Yes, they have two hearts. Yes, they have some organs we don't. But, otherwise, they're still more like us than koalas, blue whales or fruit bats are, and they share our DNA. And how would long-term relationships work if your partner kept changing sex? Or are all Time Lords 'omnisexual' like Captain Jack? I've never seen the Doctor come on to a male companion, have you? But I have seen him fall in love with Rose Tyler (a woman) and marry River Song (a woman) though. Then there's the Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS itself. Or herself. How would that be affected?

I'm not suggesting for a moment that the show would be harmed by having a female Doctor. I think it's popular enough to survive (Mind you, I said that back in the classic era). And I'd carry on watching and enjoying. But unless it's done for a good, logical reason, it'll just come across as box-ticking tokenism by the BBC and that does the equality cause no good whatsoever. What I'd much rather see is the introduction of a strong female Time Lord character. Or, even better, why not a spin-off series starring her? We've seen just how popular a show The Sarah Jane Adventures was with barely an appearance from the Doctor. So why not create a whole new character and give her equal billing? There is quite definitely a Time Lady-shaped hole in the schedules and it could be a wonderful counterpart to Doctor Who. And how about more female writers on the show, eh?

The Doctor has such a weight of history and character development behind him that it seems highly unlikely that he would not have become female before if it were possible. Or at least mentioned the fact that he can. We know that gender roles can be successfully swapped out - just look at Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, or Watson in Elementary. But they immediately become wholly new characters by doing so. A female Sherlock Holmes would not be Sherlock Holmes; she would be something equally interesting but she wouldn't be Holmes. It's very hard to imagine what a female James Bond or Bertie Wooster or Darth Vader would be like. The fact that Doctor Who is science fiction and has a lead character that can change bodies and personalities doesn't alter the fact that the character would be completely different if they were female. Gender is an enormous part of a person's identity and affects all of their actions and decisions. All 11 actors who have played the Doctor have had their own personal quirks and eccentricities but beneath the scarves and the cricket whites and the leather jackets, the same Doctor has always been there. James Bond is a good analogy; the actors may change and they bring their individual flavour to the role but he's still undeniably Bond. I'm not sure he would be the same character if he were a woman.

So, there you go. Only my opinion of course and it carries no more weight than yours or anyone else's. I just feel that it would change the essential character of the show to make such a major change. To be honest, I think it's all academic anyway as it's way too big a change for the risk-averse BBC to take. And, even if they did, I reckon they'd cast someone based on gorgeousness rather than acting brilliance to keep the fan boys happy and the ratings high. Not to say you can't be both (Helen Mirren et al) but it does rather defeat the point of such a change in the first place.

But what do you think?

P.S. Michael Legge has done a great blog on the same subject here.

P.P.S. Oh and my theory for the 50th anniversary goes like this ... McGann regenerated into John Hurt who, because the Time War was raging, became the Valeyard, rather than the Doctor. We've met the Valeyard before - he's the Time Lords' equivalent of a war lord and chief of police. As Time Lords choose the name they believe defines them, Hurt might choose the Valeyard. I reckon we'll see what happened to the Doctor's family - particularly Susan (interesting that Matt Smith mentioned her 'I used to come shopping here with my granddaughter' - in the recent Rings of Akhaten). And, when the war is over, the Valeyard will regenerate into Ecclestone, maybe with some kind of memory suppression of what has happened - maybe to ease the pain of loss. There is some evidence for this.

Unless it's a very clever decoy by Moffat, this paparazzi photo (below) seems to show Hurt wearing parts of McGann's outfit under Ecclestone's coat.

Of course, that would mean that Matt Smith is actually Doctor 12 ... which means that whoever replaces him could be the last. Unless, of course, he/she finds a way to extend their lives, like the Master did.
Can't wait!

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