54 years after first gracing television screens, the British sci-fi series Doctor Who is ready to let its title character take on a female form.
Doctor Who is something of an anomaly as television shows go, in that its main character, the Doctor has always been at the heart of the show and yet has gone through numerous facelifts and personality shifts. When the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell, was feeling too worn out to continue with the role, producers had to find a solution. They decided that, as an otherworldly character, perhaps the Doctor could be reborn into a new body whenever his current one couldn’t continue anymore. With that in mind, Patrick Troughton took over as the Doctor in 1966.
Since then the Doctor has been old, young, English, Scottish, impulsive, whimsical, charming and disagreeable. He’s been brilliant and hopeful and the saviour of the universe. He’s been saving the day as 12 different versions of the Doctor (and as one un-numbered version that fought as a soldier in the great time-war, of course). But he’s always been a man. Until now.
Now, with a change in lead actor and showrunner looming, the show is ready to head in a brand new direction. It has long since been announced that showrunner Steven Moffat would be handing the reigns over to Chris Chibnall, the mind behind the acclaimed series Broadchurch. What has only recently been revealed is who would be taking over from the talented Peter Capaldi in playing the part of the Doctor. The answer aired on Sunday, July 16th, following the Men’s Wimbledon final. Jodie Whittaker, who’s acted in Broadchurch alongside Chris Chibnall, is set to take over as the latest form of the time-travelling alien.
The announcement of the new Doctor has met applause and lamentation in almost equal measure. Many feel that this moment is long overdue and that an alien time-traveller with two hearts should perhaps be above the need to conform to a single gender identity. Others feel that the series, and the character, are pieces of history and should conform to tradition. Internet comment sections overflow with cries that this will be the end of the series while others see it as a wonderful new opportunity. Colin Baker, who previously played the Doctor, has publicly stated that this change is a positive and definitely overdue.
This is far from the first time that a new Doctor has split the show’s fan base. It will almost certainly not be the last. Every fan has their favourite iteration of the character and is loathed to see them leave. Whittaker has so far only appeared in a short trailer as the character, so her ability to play the Doctor is entirely unknown, though her filmography suggests a talented and highly versatile actor. Each actor has put their own stamp on the legacy of the funny little
man alien in the big blue box.
Since its monochromatic debut in 1963, Doctor Who has been something of a pioneer and certainly an icon to science-fiction and British popular culture. With a focus on travelling all around the universe and across time, there has been clear attention on how far things have come in human civilisation, where they could go and how things should perhaps be done differently. Science-fiction has itself always been a genre which has strived for progress, with the original Star Trek series famously being one of the first examples of an onscreen kiss between two characters of different races. Perhaps all Doctor Who fans can really do is emulate the Doctor and look to the future with hope and empathy.