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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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Time Lady? Sorry, “Doctor Who” Fans, Only Another White, Cis Man

Time Lady? Sorry, “Doctor Who” Fans, Only Another White, Cis Man

| On 06, Aug 2013

After a few months of betting and speculating and hinting, we have a new Doctor.

It’s Peter Capaldi. To him, I say congratulations– it will change everything about his life. To the fandom, I say get ready– getting used to a new Doctor is always a bit of a bumpy ride. It’s like having your favorite food replaced by something that tastes exactly the same but looks completely different. You can’t wrap your head around it at first, but we’ll all get there in the end. I don’t know Capaldi’s work very well — apart from his turn in Fires of Pompeii and Torchwood: Children of Earth – so I’ll sit back and try to get excited and reserve criticism for when we finally see him onscreen.

No, my criticism isn’t for the choice of Peter Capaldi to play the Twelfth Doctor. My criticism is for who wasn’t even ever considered to play the Twelfth Doctor. Anyone who wasn’t a straight white cis dude.

This is a character who, every time he is mortally wounded, literally becomes a different person right in front of our eyes. He retains his knowledge and his memories, but gets a new face, new body, new personality, new preferences, new quirks– you name it. About every five years (if you leave out the dark years between the old and new show), the Doctor becomes a completely new person.

Therefore, there is nothing to suggest that the Doctor has to be a white man. Nothing at all. And if you needed any further proof, it’s been explicitly stated in canon that Time Lords can change sex (The Corsair) and race (River Song).

So, it’s been said in canon. There shouldn’t be a single naysayer now, right? Well, wrong. The Internet is full of them. And they all seem to ignore one fact. I don’t think that the choice of Capaldi (a white man) to play the Doctor is sexist. The Doctor doesn’t have to be a woman, but women should be considered for the Doctor.

And yet, there’s no evidence that a single woman was ever considered for the role. According to an interview with Moffat in The Radio Times, Capaldi was about the only actor ever seriously considered. Every news outlet and casting director would like to go on record saying that the always cast “the best actors for the role,” but can you really be looking at the best actors if you’re shutting the door on at least half of the reputable actors of Britain, either for their gender or skin color? The answer, of course, is no. You’re just practicing casual sexism. You’ve never seen a female or person of color play the Doctor, so it doesn’t even occur to you that there might be a problematic cycle to break.

I called it casual sexism– but maybe I was being generous. As if to top it all off, in the announcement on Sunday, broadcast simultaneously on live TV all over the world, Steven Moffat said this:

I like that Helen Mirren has been saying the next doctor should be a woman. I would like to go on record and say that the Queen should be played by a man.

I can only assume Moffat thought he was being funny, because otherwise I cannot conceive how anyone would think it’s OK to say such a thing. Because it’s not funny. It’s a condescending misogynist joke. To compare the Doctor to the Queen does not even begin to make sense in any kind of universe.

People keep encouraging me to dismiss what are obvious signs of Moffat’s sexism, namely the treatment of his female companions. Guess what? I can’t dismiss it. Nor can I ignore this obvious, blatant demonstration of his misogyny in casting.

I would love a female Doctor. Not just for the political correctness, not just for the representation, not just for the idea of seeing the Doctor as someone truly dynamic. I would like it because I feel it would add depth and breadth to the character. It would create better plots, more compelling personalities, and far less conventional stereotypes. It has such immense potential– to make the show better, to make it grow, to bring it to new heights at its 50th anniversary. Really, the idea that an alien from Gallifrey has, for 12 regenerations and 1200 years, been confined to the physical appearance of a white human male, is ridiculous. It was never necessary to begin with, and it still isn’t.

To those who say they don’t want a woman or non-white actor playing the role while Moffat is at the helm? I see your point. I agree with you on some days, and disagree with you on others. But we’ve got to take the risk sometime. And really, this is a discussion for another day.

I’m looking forward to Peter Capaldi. And for our Thirteenth Doctor, I’m still demanding a Time Lady.

Written by Laura Koroski
You can find more of her writings at her nerdy feminist blog, Challenge by Geek.

  • OldWoman

    According to Neil Gaiman, the part was offered to a black man (not a woman, but still…), and he refused it. So, it looks like the BBC does understand that the white guy is not canon.

    As for me, I still got major giggles/smiles out of seeing Joanna Lumley as the Doctor in The Curse of the Fatal Death (Comic Relief).

  • haleycue

    Neil Gaiman has had a lot to say about all of this on his Tumblr. Seems to think the story line “isn’t right this time around” for a female doctor, but thinks the 13th doctor should be a woman. And, apparently, a male actor of color had been offered the role of the Doctor in the past and turned it down.

    As it is, I fucking love Capaldi so I’m rather excited in spite of it all, though I’ve not caught up on the latest season…I think a binge-watching is in order.

  • Tom

    I think the comparison with the Queen is a good one. The Queen is female, The Doctor is male. Equally, Romana is female, and so is River. James Bond, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, Lord Vetinari, Juliet… let’s not go back to Shakespearian times.

    I think there’s a world of difference between a casual remark about a character who has never previously been mentioned and never appeared on screen, and actually changing the sex of an established character. It would, to me, be wrong to cast a man as River or Romana, or a woman as The Doctor or The Master. Their gender is a big part of who they are.

    Actually, I’d be fine with casting a woman, as long as the character remained male (and vice versa for female Time Lords), but I don’t think that’s very easy to do and it’s a simple fact that actors tend to be better at playing characters of their own sex than actors of the opposite sex are.

    When it comes to black or Asian Time Lords, I have no problem whatsoever. I wanted Idriss Elba as 11. I’m not sure he’d be right to follow Capaldi but he’s definitely still someone I’d like to see take the role.

    This appointment tackles ageism, which along with ableism is one of the common forms of discrimination that is frequently glossed over. To complain that it is “another white man” when you’d presumably be fine with a young black woman is to downplay ageism. And for the record, as a disabled person I wouldn’t want a disabled Doctor (unless he lost normal capacity temporarily for the purposes of plot, but I digress), though again, the actor isn’t important, just the character. So I’d be fine with a black autistic transwoman aged 65 playing The Doctor, but she’d be playing a male from a species that does not appear to concern itself with gender issues and does not have human neurology.

    See also: cis male playing Romana- he’d have to convince me he was female in order for me to accept him. If they want to cast Andrej Pejic as Romana, or an androgynous woman as the Doctor, then I would be supportive, as long as other characters treat them as if they are the sex of the character.

  • RetortForm

    HAHA. Moffatt never said that. You got punk’d with that comic con story and now you act like an asshole to your friends, that’s funny.

  • Daisy

    See, now I’m picturing Helen Mirren as the Doctor, and O.M.G. Wouldn’t that be awesome.

  • John Cox

    First of all Cis Gender and Homosexual are not relevant concepts for Time Lords (and in cannon they are all Time Lords despite their current sex) who change from male to female as they do.
    Second the doctor has flirted with and kissed men as a man so that further invalidates your complaint about lack of homosexual Doctors. The Doctor is bi-sexual but largely doesn’t care about sex at all.
    Third this time around no one but Peter Capaldi was considered for the doctor so I don’t know what percent of actors that discluded but I’d say it’s well over 50%. (We don’t have much info on the casting of the other doctors).
    Finally it’s not casual sexism or any other sort that the Doctor has been cast the way he has. The Doctor is the character he is, and who he is is not up for popular debate. That is what Moffet was obviously getting at when he suggested the Queen be played by a man. We don’t get to decide someone’s gender for them.

  • blankk23

    Not good enough. If they start a show about a timelord who is a woman, I’ll consider it. But as long as the writers & producers aren’t interested in a story where a woman can be the lead and a man is the supporting companion, then meh.