Peter Capaldi has announced that he will leave Doctor Who at the end of Series 10, and the eponymous doctor will regenerate once again. This time Peter Capaldi and other actors with longstanding links to the BBC, such as Mark Gatiss, are asking the doctor to regenerate to a woman.
This is by no means a new idea; fans have been clamouring for a female doctor for years now. In fact, in the original series the idea of a female ‘Time Lady’ had been urged by the series co-creator Sydney Newman during the 1980s when the show struggled with ratings.
If the Doctor can regenerate in any form – turn bald, go grey, get younger, have larger or smaller ears – then surely the Doctor can be female? This show is designed for children, so what are we teaching young girls if one of the dominant, most popular heroes of the fantasy world can change into any masculine form but can never transform into a woman? Women are already isolated from the fantasy genre as it is.
Indeed, diversity in the media is a constantly contested issue. Whilst 2016-17 broke new records with 20 per cent of series regulars being black, black women were only 38 per cent of that total. In fact, women remain as only 44 per cent of regular characters on primetime shows, an increase of only 1% from 2015-16.
Taking traditionally white, male-dominated shows and filling them with a more diverse and realistic cast is a great way of increasing diversity in television and challenging people’s perceived expectations.
For instance, few people will now contest that Judi Dench does not do a good role of M in James Bond simply as a result of her gender. The CBS Sherlock Holmes show Elementary was widely applauded for casting female Asian-American actor Lucy Liu as Sherlock’s assistant Joan Watson, and all-female productions of Shakespeare plays are constantly performed. These staple movies and television shows that are repeated and readapted are perfect for increasing female representation in popular media forms.
Doctor Who’s ratings are plummeting. They need to capitalise on this most recent regeneration and bring something new to the show. Not only will the regeneration bring about a change for the Doctor as a character, but it will also bring a new writer in to the mix. Moffat is stepping away and passing it on to Chris Chibnall, writer of Broadchurch. This could herald in more progressive representation on the show, since Moffatt is widely known for his misogyny and sexism. His tendency to mobilise the stereotype of the weak, female companion in the character of Clara Oswald with her round, innocent eyes, and the strong Doctor as her guardian will not be missed.
The sole argument against a female Doctor is that women can create their own shows and do not need to fill male roles. Instead, so the argument goes, they should create their own artistic platforms rather than relying upon existing formats. However, money is tight and new creative endeavours are limited by financial constraints. Within such an environment, existing resources are directed towards ventures that writers know will be popular, such as Doctor Who. The show has been traditionally white, male and heterosexual; the very least we can do is diversify such programmes. Providing a female lead within a pre-existing, popular format such as Doctor Who would certainly be a step in the right direction.
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