The Tardis: No girls allowed as the Doctor

August 5, 2013

Although at least one woman was said to be in the running to play the 12th Doctor in the BBC’s iconic sci-fi series, “Doctor Who,” it went instead to 55-year-old Scottish actor Peter Capaldi.

Scottish actor Peter Capaldi will play the 12th Doctor Who. (Dominic Lipinski, PA, FILE/Associated Press)
Scottish actor Peter Capaldi will play the 12th Doctor Who. (Dominic Lipinski, PA, FILE/Associated Press)

“Another white guy,” my daughter complained. Or as comics artist and writer Evan Dorkin tweeted, “Doctor Who’s okay. But he’s always white, he’s always a he. Kind of weird in an ‘anything goes’ universe, eh?”

Even Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren was rooting for a female Doctor.

“I do think it’s well over time to have a female Doctor Who,” Mirren told the British television program “Daybreak” in July. “I think a gay, black female Doctor Who would be the best of all.”

Perhaps that answer was over the top, but it does express the complaint that the Doctor — a time lord from the planet Gallifrey — continues to regenerate into yet another white man on a show that seems to have no lack of imagination when it comes to other characters and situations.

Steven Moffat, the show’s producer, though, fails to agree. His response to Mirren? “I like that Helen Mirren has been saying the next doctor should be a woman. I would like to go on record and say that the queen should be played by a man.”

For those unfamiliar with “Doctor Who,” the show first aired from 1963 to 1989 on the BBC; IMDB describes it as “the adventures of an eccentric renegade time traveling alien and his companions.”

It reappeared in 2005, and I started watching the episodes featuring Scottish actor David Tennant as the 10th doctor. I don’t consider myself a sci-fi fan at all, but it was something my daughter wanted me to watch and I soon got hooked on Tennant’s charm and the intriguing storylines. (And for those who watch it, Donna’s my favorite companion.)

Catherine Tate plays Donna Noble and David Tennant the 10th Doctor in the Tardis. (BBC photo)
Catherine Tate plays Donna Noble and David Tennant the 10th Doctor in the Tardis. (BBC photo)

Who wouldn’t get hooked on the stories of the Doctor’s travels through time and space in the Tardis, which looks like an old-fashioned British police box that’s “bigger on the inside?” And the Doctor himself? Well, he’s centuries old but doesn’t look it; he can regenerate a perfectly good new body when required. That’s led to a series of actors giving their own twist to the Doctor’s portrayal, and quite a few fans don’t believe there are any rules against that new body being female, black, gay or anything else.

We’ve been teased for years with the possibility of a female Doctor.

Tom Baker, the actor who played the fourth Doctor, may have started it when he referred to his successor as “whoever he or she is” at a 1980 press conference to announce his departure from the show.

A group of UK women scientists lobbied for the 11th doctor to be played by a woman, saying that a high-profile character like Doctor Who “would help to raise the profile of women in science and bring the issue of the important contribution women can and should make to science in the public domain.”

When the 11th doctor — played by Matt Smith — made his first appearance in “The End of Time, Part Two,” he actually says, “Hair … I’m a girl!” as his hands discover his long hair. Then he checks for his Adam’s apple. “No! No! I’m not a girl!”

That, wrote novelist Neil Gaiman, convinced him that a time lord could change gender when regenerating. In “The Doctor’s Wife,” an episode Gaiman penned for the series, there’s the teasing comment when the Doctor talks about another time lord, the Corsair, having been a woman “herself a couple of times, oh she was a bad girl.”

What fun a female doctor could have been.

“You see kick-butt heroines in shows from writers like Joss Whedon, but Doctor Who’s writers just don’t seem to grasp the concept that girls can kick butt or solve problems just as well as the boys,” Rachel Hutchison, a friend of my daughter’s, told me. “Early companions such as Sarah Jane and Donna Noble were great. They helped the Doctor as well as kept him in line when he lost control, but newer companions are being portrayed as lovestruck damsels in distress who need constant saving.”

For those who want to see a woman wielding the sonic screwdriver, there’s always hope for the 13th regeneration. Maybe next time fans of a female doctor will get lucky.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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