Confession #112: I'm Psyched for Thirteen

As I scrolled through my news digest from The Washington Post on Sunday around noon, I came across a headline saying that Roger Federer had won an unprecedented eighth time at Wimbledon. "What?" I screeched. "The men's final is over?"

I scrambled for a new browser tab so I could search for the announcement. If I'd been clever, I'd have gone right to the BBC's Doctor Who page so I could watch the announcement trailer myself, but I was in too much of a rush. And then—there it was, in picture after picture splashed across my Google results page: the Thirteenth Doctor will be played by a woman. Chibnall actually had the ovaries to break with tradition and cast a woman.

I'm not even sure what sort of noise I emitted; it was enough to make my 11-year-old daughters ask what was up. When I told them they'd announced who would play the next Doctor, they scrambled to look over my shoulder—and started screaming. They jumped up and down. They made their own set of incoherent excitement noises (driving their poor father from the room in a desperate act of self-preservation). I had almost managed to calm them enough to save my own ears when it dawned on them that she'd be number Thirteen—their favorite number(!)—and they went hypersonic again.

Needless to say, our household is on the pro-change side of the equation.

And yet, it's not all puppies and rainbows. It took me probably 30 seconds of processing time to shift from "OMG, woman!" to "Oh... still white." The vitriolic negative reactions I've seen to Whittaker's casting make me shudder to think what sort of backlash there would've been if race issues had been added into the mix. Nevertheless, I'd really been hoping for a woman of color to be cast. I know diddly about British actors, but there have got to be several amazing WOC out there who could rock the role. Maybe Fourteen will be a woman of (South Asian) Indian descent; that would be pretty damn British. To quote Twelve, "One can only hope."

Here I have to pause to give props to Moffat. He's done a lot of things with the show that I didn't like (e.g., Companions as puzzles instead of as people), but he did important work prepping the audience for this inevitable change. Building on Neil Gaiman's mention of an acquaintance of the Doctor named the Corsair, Moffat brought the idea of Time Lords gender-swapping between regenerations into dialog now and again before making it more and more blatant on-screen.

Missy, of course, is the most obvious example: the Master made the switch and proved to be such a great character that perhaps some who were previously opposed changed their minds. On the other hand, some fans refused to believe they were the same Time Lord. After all, we never saw the regeneration; she could be anyone, and just pretending to be the Master.

So Moffat one-upped the audience again. At the end of Series Nine, we watch as a Time Lord general, presenting as a white man, regenerates into a form presenting as a Black woman. (Perhaps that scene was why I allowed myself to hope that Thirteen would be a WOC, too.) Putting that change on screen eliminated the option for fans to argue (with a leg to stand on) that all the talk was just that—talk. "After all, we all know the Doctor lies!" Yes, he does. Just not about that.

I was also anticipating a big change in casting because of the way Series Ten ended. Everything in the way Twelve has approached his impending regeneration points to a Christmas Special full of self-reflection, and eventual acceptance. Here's my thought process.

Capaldi's Twelve says he doesn't want to change anymore, and it really looks like he'd rather die than do so. Regeneration seems largely to be a traumatic time in a Time Lord's existence, so I can understand not wanting to go through all that "reboot" nonsense, even if it feels rather melodramatic (from the outside) to resist it that strongly.

As we left our hero(es), though, it was clear we are about to get an encounter between the Doctor's First incarnation and the latest one. The First is also muttering about a refusal to change. This fact, more than anything else, indicates to me that these two incarnations will come to reassure each other that no matter what other changes occur—how the outer trappings or superficial personality or even the company he keeps—the Doctor is always the Doctor. And that will finally give him the freedom to make the necessary change he's been resisting.

I hope it's enough to convince a few more of the fans.

Of course, as many folks have pointed out, what makes or breaks Doctor Who is never the lead actor. Some will like the current Doctor, some won't—no matter the era. What really drives the show is good writing. That, more than anything, will be critical during Whittaker's tenure. Even aside from stories, if Thirteen is not written in a way that the women/girls/femmes currently ecstatic to see her cast can recognize themselves and each other in her, the show will suffer.

The BBC is clearly 100% behind this change. If they didn't believe it would yield a net-positive reaction to the show, they'd never have green-lit the casting. And evidence suggests they're prepared to continue backing the show for the long haul. The Radio Times has reported that Shanghai Media Group Pictures has signed a deal for rights to distribute Doctor Who in China, including access to Series 11 and "a first look for Series 12-15." You can bet your bottom dollar that Auntie Beeb has crunched all the audience numbers and believes this casting is a sound business decision.

Now comes the speculation over Thirteen's costume (will she wear pants, skirts, neither, both?), her Companion (please, Please, PLEASE bring back Bill!), and the writers and directors that Chibnall will line up to create her first series (there need to be  more women behind the scenes, especially in the writer's room). This is a pivotal moment in the history of the show, just as it was when Troughton stepped in. I'm crossing my fingers that Whittaker will wear the mantle as brilliantly.

I'm sad for those who feel their show has been taken from them, but happy for those who are finally seeing themselves as the hero (while I ache for those who still feel ignored). Regardless of how you feel, what's done is done. We will have to wait to see what comes of it.

On that note, I will leave you with the immortal words of Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor himself, as he tweeted his reaction to the announcement: Change my dears and not a moment too soon - she IS the Doctor whether you like it or not!







p.s. Please consider voting in the S10 reader polls, if you haven't already. I plan to post my regular reader poll roundup next week, and could use more robust statistics!

The Pilot
Smile
Thin Ice
Knock Knock
Oxygen
Extremis
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land
Empress of Mars
The Eaters of Light
World Enough and Time
The Doctor Falls

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Comments

So, the next Doctor will be a woman.

Why? He's been a man for over 50 years. I don't see a reason for that to change.

It's not because there were no good female role models for women and girls on Doctor Who. All the way back to Barbara there have been smart, pro active female companions. True, there have also been screaming damsels in distress. But that doesn't make characters like Zoe, Caroline Shaw, Sarah Jane, Romana, Tegan or Ace any less valid. And all the New Who female companions have been smart, strong, brave and generally awesome.

It's not because there were no female Time Lords. Susan and Romana traveled with The Doctor, Jenny was strong and smart, The Rani was a cunning foe. And River Song was... something.

So, why must The Doctor him/herself be female?

I'll tell you why. It's a publicity stunt. It's been a decade since the premier of New Who and ratings are starting to slip. It's not new and different any more. So, let's get the public's attention with a shiny new thing.

I can't tell you how much I hate that. I feel manipulated. I feel like they are taking me for a fool. I feel dirty and used.

It was one throwaway line put into a script for comic effect. The Corsair was male... except when she was female. So, let's use it with The Master/Missy. I didn't like it. Mind you, I'm not saying I didn't like MISSY. The actress was wonderful in the part. She knew when to be broad and when to be subtle and when to be batshit crazy. And she was so much better than John Simms was during the Tennant years.

But still...

I knew it was coming. I knew when The Doctor killed the General and he regenerated into a she. What other reason was there for that in the script, except to set a precedent. For The Doctor to kill the General was way out of character, there was no need for it. He could have knocked out or incapacitated the General without killing him. The General wasn't his enemy. They had different ideas about how to solve a problem but the General was pretty much on his side.

So the General, a white man, turns into a black woman. And there we have it. A Time Lord switching sexes during a regeneration. They can do this to The Doctor and if anybody objects they can point to this and say "See! See! It's happened before. It's totally logical and right for this to happen now."

But it's not. It's not right. Because it's not being done for storytelling purposes. It's not being done to provide a good female role model. It's being done to boost ratings. And I REALLY hate that.

Am I going to quit Doctor Who over it? No. May this new actress grow on me and may I learn to love her? Perhaps. But I'm never going to be happy about why they did it.

BTW, if they had wanted to cast a non white man in the role I would be fine with it. The Doctor has had different hights and builds and hair color and texture, different eye color etc. A darker skin color wouldn't be such a huge change. And it could open a whole world of possibilities for new stories.

But I don't like this female Doctor thing at all.

Sorry.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I know your view is not uncommon. Plenty of fans out there are really unhappy.

For my part, I don't think it's a publicity stunt (or "pandering to fans," as some others have put it). I think it's time. And while yes, there have been some great female role models in the show over the decades, none of them has been the lead. None of them has been the eponymous character, with her name getting top billing. None of them has been the one in charge.

I understand your objection. It's a huge change, and it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. And while I might have a different opinion, I'm never going to be one to tell another fan their way of viewing or responding to the show is wrong. We all come to it from a unique place, and every Doctor (and every showrunner) will resonate with each of us differently.

I hope that some day you are able to appreciate this new Doctor (hell, I hope that I like her), and that your view of why the casting came to be doesn't sour it for you forever. Virtual hugs to you (if you like).

By mrfranklin

I never said that I wanted to tell any other fan how to feel about this (or any other) change. If you're psyched for a female Doctor then more power to you. I hope the new Doctor is all you wish her to be.

But I'm going to have to disagree that the show is about The Doctor and all other characters are secondary. I read a piece about the new Doctor Who comic book. When 9 came in as Doctor they had been doing comics about 8 for years. But when 9 debuted the comic's writers were told the new Doctor AND Rose would now be the stars of the book. Billy Piper was a big deal and there was to be no introductory comic where 8 changed into 9 or any other stories that didn't include her. She was as much the star of the show as The Doctor was.

And I've felt that this carried over to all the other companions who have accompanied The Doctor on his journeys. Rose and Martha and Donna and Amy and Clara and Bill have been as important to the show as The Doctor is. River, in her Mary Sue way, has been MORE powerful and in charge than The Doctor, leading The Doctor around by the nose (and diminishing him in the process).

But neither my feelings nor yours will affect this change in any way so we have to get used to it I guess. I hope it won't be as painful as I anticipate.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I didn't mean to imply you were trying to tell others how to feel. I just meant to say that sharing my opinion wasn't intended to diminish or influence yours! ~blush~

The way the show has been since it came back definitely feels like it's been focused as much (and sometimes more, to my sorrow) on the Companion(s) as on the Doctor—I think we agree there. But it's still the Doctor's name on the tin, and to me there's something special about that. That's the thing I am eager to see a woman given a chance at.

I also hope it won't be painful. I can think of plenty of ways it would sour for me really fast. Here's hoping for some stellar writing! ~crosses fingers~

By mrfranklin

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