By Molly Freeman
Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat at Comic Con 2008. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A little over a week ago, the twelfth regeneration of the Doctor, the titular character for the BBC’s long-running sci-fi show Doctor Who, was announced. If you were on the internet at all last weekend, or for the couple months prior to the announcement, you probably heard about Doctor Who.
Even if you don’t watch the show, you might have cared who the next Doctor would be simply because everyone was talking about it. The subject of who the next Doctor would be turned into a sort of geeky pastime to discuss as people all over the world were throwing out names such as Joseph Gilgun, Michell Gomez, Riz Ahmed, Gina Torres, Lucy Liu, Daniel Kaluuya, and Domhnall Gleeson. The list goes on.
Media outlets from Screen Rant to Yahoo were throwing out names of actors and actresses all across the board of race and gender. Even Dame Helen Mirren and Stephen Hawking had an opinion — they’d like to see a female Doctor.
However, the twelfth Doctor was finally announced during The Next Doctor television special: Peter Capaldi. Who, to no one’s surprise, is a white male between the ages of 25 and 60. To add insult to injury on the subject of a female Doctor, showrunner Steven Moffat said during the television special, “Well, I’d like to see a man play The Queen.”
He went on to say that casting a woman as the Doctor “didn’t feel right to me, right now. I didn’t feel enough people wanted it … Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women … [They were] saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman!’”
Now, this is not to say that Moffat never considered casting the Doctor as a non-Caucasian person. Since the announcement of the twelfth Doctor, Neil Gaiman, novelist, geek extraordinaire, and sometime writer for the series, wrote on his blog, “I know one black actor who was already offered the part of the Doctor, and who turned it down.”
However, Moffat’s comments have caused a backlash amongst Whovians. At least within the internet bubble, it appeared that most people wanted to see a woman or person of color cast as the next Doctor — especially female viewers — so it becomes hard to believe that the majority of people who were against a female Doctor were women, as Moffat claimed.
It’s possible that Moffat just didn’t want to take any risks, especially with Doctor Who in the limelight this year for the show’s 50th Anniversary. Perhaps the BBC wanted to stick to what’s been working for them for 50 years: white, generally heterosexual, men within a certain age range.
But the casting choice of Peter Capaldi, along with some long-running criticism of Moffat’s female characters, have brought the debate over sexism in Doctor Who to a boiling point. Fans have been disappointed in the companions since Moffat took over as showrunner and head writer of Doctor Who. Amy Pond, River Song, and Clara Oswald are arguably flat characters that function more as a problem for the Doctor to solve than actual, three-dimensional people.
Moffat’s comments regarding a female doctor and how a man should play the Queen have made some fans (such as blogger The Boob Tube Dude) come to the conclusion that Moffat might not be right for the job. In the blogger’s analysis of the Moffat’s comments, he wrote, “It’s as ludicrous to him that a woman would be the Doctor as a man would portray The Queen. Both represent a type of drag performance that might be amusing but certainly not authentic.”
Though it may seem inauthentic to some to have a female Doctor, it’s always been the function of science fiction to push the limits. In a 2011 interview, television writer and produce Jane Espenson said, “If we can’t write diversity into sci-fi, then what’s the point? You don’t create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones.”
To be fair, Doctor Who isn’t the only franchise within science fiction and fantasy to be pushed to diversify. In 2010, there was a massive online debate over whether Donald Glover could portray Peter Parker in Marc Webb’s reboot The Amazing Spider-Man. Although the part went to Andrew Garfield, it brought up the question: Why not?
In 2011, Marvel published Ultimate Comics: Spider Man in which Peter Parker was replaced by Miles Morales, a teenager of African American and Latino descent. In an interview with Collider, Glover said Morales was partially inspired by his appearance on NBC’s Community in Spider Man pajamas.
While there was some initial backlash online from some fans, as well as conservative pundits Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck, both Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso and original Spider-Man creator Stan Lee both approved of Morales. Ultimate Spider-Man #1, Morales first appearance, also broke sales records for Marvel.
But there are some nagging questions surrounding this talk of a more diverse Spider-Man: What if he was next portrayed by a woman? Would that ever happen and would the backlash be even greater? Is the world ready for a Spider-Woman?
Is the world even ready for a female Doctor in Doctor Who? Different people will have different answers to these questions. Undoubtedly, Steven Moffat believes the world is not ready for a female Doctor. On the other hand, many fans disagree.
However, the question then becomes: is Moffat ready for a female Doctor? Since he is in charge, he gets to make the ultimate decision, but as he explicitly stated during The Next Doctor television special, he doesn’t feel the time is right. Given Moffat’s track record with weakly constructed female characters, fans should be relieved he did not choose a woman for the twelfth Doctor because he is definitely not the best writer for that particular job.
But does that mean we’ll never have a female Doctor? No, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, but now is not the right time. Fans who want to see a woman play the Doctor — myself included — also want it to feel genuine and authentic, rather than a politically correct stunt forced on a showrunner who cannot handle it.
On the bright side, Doctor Who is 50 years old, and if the show continues on building popularity the way it has in recent years, it might last another half-century. Eventually, Moffat will need to give up the helm. Once he passes the torch, then maybe we can hope for a genuine, strong, sometimes-vulnerable, sometimes proud, sometimes arrogant, sometimes sympathetic, but most of all well developed, female Doctor.