Thursday, 5 February 2015

A Die-Hard's Case for a Lady Doctor

Doctor Who. Doctor. Who. Once upon a time I would have hated the idea of a woman being cast in the role. Not too long ago I was more diplomatically against the idea. Now, I'm all for a Lady Doctor, with the stipulation that they don't fuck it up. As somebody who's been a fan for as long as I can remember (Literally) It's not an easy concept to wrap your head around.

This article is intended to both serve as an argument towards Who fans like me, who have been embedded in the show for a long time, as well as a caution of where I'm worried such a casting could go wrong.

This article is not intended to go into the wider reaching 'big picture' benefits of such a casting, namely because as a man my opinion is not particularly optimised to comment, but also because so many great feminist articles have got there before me. At this point It's a no brainier that it would be a net gain socially, but I'm here to address the conservatives in the camp.

Let's, as is fitting, go back in time. Like I said, I've been a fan of Doctor Who for most of my life. The earliest memory of me visiting my Grandma and Granada is sitting in their home reading a radio times article on the 1994 re-runs. My mother incorrectly identified a Sillurian as an Ice Warrior, that's how vividly I remember it. I was about 7 at the time.

Naturally dedicating myself to every Big Finish audio, novel and comic I could get my hands on in those years, it's ultimate revival has been a bumpy road for one such as me. My issues with both the RTD and Moffat seasons could cover articles, but that's not what we're here for today. I hold no ill will towards 'New Who' fans, but I think it's often overlooked that the experiences of a seven year old English boy in the mid nineties growing up with a patchwork of Hartnall to McCoy are worlds away of that of a fourteen year old American girl watching a consistent story arc unfold every week.

So many feuds could be avoided if only people could remember that. Your show is not mine, nor mine yours, and at the end of the day nothing can change that. It shouldn't be any other way.

Oh wow, we're getting way off subject now. What I'm trying to say is that we all have different ideas of what Doctor Who is, and that intimately influences our perception of what we feel is “proper for it”. Let's jump forwards in time now, to just a little while ago, to when I started to warm to the idea of a female Doctor.

This change of opinion came about through necessity. There have been whisperings here and there of casting a woman in the role for a while now, so I judged that if such a move was only a matter of time then I might as well get used to it. Then Michelle Gomez mastering (poor pun, sorry) the role of the Master (blowing away Simms interpretation, in my opinion), started to turn me around in a big way.

By this point I genuinely started to think about who would be right in the role. Sue Perkins was my first choice, since I love her in everything and she is my spiritual sensai. Helen Mirren came to mind, bringing a certain gravitas to the role. I remember going to a convention a long time ago and hearing Colin Baker mention that he'd like to see Dawn French as The Doctor. I bawked at the time, but I can see it now.

One thing all the women I considered had in common, however, is that they all felt like “exceptions”. They were all either older, tomboys or not conventionally attractive. I questioned myself on whether I was picking them in the same way I would choose a male actor, or were these few the only ones that I could 'bare' watching in the role? Would an outsider, or more traditionally 'feminine' actress ruin it for me? Was I, under it all, still judging potential candidates more harshly purely based on their gender?

Then I had a dream. Not like the great Martin Luther King did, no, this was a literal dream that I had. I dreamed that I was watching a new episode of Doctor Who, and the Doctor was was played by a short, young, tomboyish woman. She dressed with a kind of punk/hipster aesthetic, with a see though shirt with no bra that I doubt the BBC would go for. She had the enthusiasm of the Smith years but had the air-headedness of Baker the first at his best. She was less likely to stand around lecturing about what she knew and more likely to go crawling through air ducts to find out what was going on.

It was fucking awesome, and then I woke up and was disappointed to find it wasn't real.

Anyway, this whole thing sold me on a Lady Doctor regardless of who's playing the part. I don't care who they cast now, I'm interested to see who they'd go with.


Let's go back in time a bit. Remember earlier when I said that at one point I was diplomatically against the idea? At that point my take was that while you could have a Lady Who, I felt there was no way they weren’t going to fuck it up. My biggest fear was that they'd screw up either the casting or the writing and this character would just not feel like The Doctor.

As explained, my mood has changed, but I think my original worries do hold weight when examining what could go wrong. In the interests of hoping for a good Lady Doctor, lets take a look at what I think they are up against.

First up and my biggest problem would be them making a big deal about the gender switch. Old characters cracking out lines like “You're not the man I knew,” “Phwor, I could get used to this,” mistaking them for the companion, The Doctor making jokes about now having boobs and so forth. It not only runs the risk of being grossly transphobic (which never even crossed my mind at the time) it also just comes across as plain cheesy and stupid. I'm not a fan of the comedy in New Who at the best of times and I think this approach would be a big mistake.

The casting is also an issue. I'm not dead set against anyone at this point but subconsciously we never quite know our blind spots. Casting The Doctor in general is always a fine art, and I always advise going against the seemingly obvious choices (People often bring up Jonny Depp. No, there is only one American who could handle the role, and that's the recently departed Robin Williams). I'd hate for the production team to get too swept up in the novelty of casting the first Lady Doctor without really thinking they're the right choice.

Finally, and in relation to the last point, don't treat the casting as a gimmick or a novelty. Idris Elba has always said that he would never accept the role of 'Black James Bond' only 'James Bond'. That's the way it should be. Don't think of this as a new age, a new evolution to the character or whatever buzzword the tabloids will likely pull out of their arses. Think of this as just the the next episode in a show of fifty years. If the Doctor is to be played by a woman then you've got to remember that this era stands side by side with all that came before. This is still Doctor Who. Doctor Who is Doctor Who, stick to that first and foremost.

Basically don't over-think it.

Anyway, to round this little thought piece off, here are a few of my picks for a lady who. (Some of them aren’t even British!) Sue Perkins, Helen Mirren, TamsinGrieg, Dawn French, Gwendoline Christie, Ashley Burch, SarahSilverman, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Jenny Agutter.

I have more, feel free to bug me about it on Tumblr.

Oh and for the curious, if you're going to go for a non-white male Doctor (who's not Idris Elba), I say go for Benedict Wong.

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