Doctor Who? Immortal Time Traveler Arrives in the 21st Century
Britain's longest-running Sci-Fi series has taken a big step in the right direction. But can they pull it off?
3 min read
A green, grassy wood is shown. A hooded figure walks through the frame, the camera follows them through crunching leaves and fallen branches. A hand is shown, and a key appears. The infamous sound of the T.A.R.D.I.S. is heard. Part of a face flashes, and the black hood is removed as England’s favorite blue telephone box materializes. It’s official- Jodie Whittaker will be Playing the 13th Doctor.
Starting in 1963, Doctor Who has entertained fans old and new in the adventures of a time travelling alien penned “The Doctor”. When William Hartnell decided to step down in his leading role as the Doctor in 1966, the show found an ingenious way to ensure that quitting actors would not result in the end of the show. By having the character of the Doctor “regenerate” every few seasons into another body- another actor- the show could, in theory, go on forever.
The BBC recently released a teaser clip to officially announce the 13th incarnation of the Doctor. After twelve years of the BBC series being consecutively on the air, and fifty-four years in total of the T.A.R.D.I.S. yielding time lord existing, Jodie Whittaker will become the first woman to portray the Doctor.
It was about time that Doctor Who incorporates variety into the casting of their leading role. The most diversity fans have seen in the depiction of the Doctor was Peter Capaldi keeping his Scottish accent as the 12th doctor. After years of writing adventures through time and space, the writers of Doctor Who are now finally starting to see into the future.
Broadchurch creator and Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall says he always planned for the 13th Doctor to go to a woman, Whittaker being his first choice. But the real test in this story choice comes in execution. When Peter Capaldi leaves the show we will see how the writers choose to approach Whittaker’s entrance. The only clip of Whittaker we’ve seen so far contained no-dialogue, and gave little information as to how her arrival to the show will pan out.
The show has done a decent job normalizing the first openly-gay full time companion introduced this year, and the same logic should apply to the first female Doctor. If the writing of Whittaker’s portrayal of the Doctor isn’t met with the same basic respect that has been given to previous Doctors, then her casting means nothing. Nor should the show expect an immense round of applause for finally bringing in a woman to play the Doctor, especially in a show that has featured aliens and monsters galore, and is only now catching up to the modern world and realizing the capabilities of women in authoritative, leading roles.
The most important takeaway from Doctor Who casting the first female Doctor is that this should be the beginning of a long reign of diverse Doctors, and not an isolated incident. It is hard to argue that this show shouldn’t take an active effort to diversify when we have seen twelve consecutive white men playing an immortal alien who can take on any face. Jodie Whittaker’s casting isn’t solving all of the show’s problems yet - we still have yet to see a minority play the Doctor, and Pearl Mackie’s role as Bill Potts makes one of only two black actors to play the Doctor’s companion out of over fifty. Whittaker’s entrance in the show is a chance to expand the Doctor Who universe in an entirely different way, and we can only hope that they take the opportunity to do so.
Adriana Chavez is a student and writer based in New York. She currently works as part of the Day of the Girl-US action team where she runs the Girls in STEM blog series. She is passionate about coding and intersectional feminism. When not hidden behind her computer or a great book, she can be found walking the streets of New York with her rescue dog.