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The female Doctor Who: a step forward with the times?

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Sunday saw a huge surge of Doctor Who fans take to their keyboards to comment on the long-awaited revelation that rumoured actor Jodie Whittaker, star of Broadchurch, will be replacing Peter Capaldi as the iconic hero in the upcoming Christmas Special. Unsurprisingly, the controversial decision to place a female actor in what has remained a male role for the show’s near sixty-year duration was met with a significant amount of online backlash. With female actors normally taking the role of the human companion to the Time Lord hero, many fans expressed concern that the BBC’s decision was pandering to political correctness, while others expressed joy that a female actor was to finally able to make the step up from companion to heroine.

Although met with a lot of opposing reactions from its fan base, one cannot help but feel the decision is paramount to further establish equality in fictional TV. Doctor Who’s entirely unique premise has always been that of its continually evolving nature, which has seen the show have such a long-standing success. With the Doctor’s alien ability to regenerate, the entire show does just that: as a new actor steps in to present their unique spin on the character, the show modernises and fans are left excited to see what the new Doctor has to offer.

The continual casting of white males to play such a uniquely adaptable character was reaching inexcusable

Since the reboot in 2005 five actors have stepped up to the role, ranging widely in looks, age and personality. Show makers have previously discussed the casting process in interviews, telling of how they invite the actor to give details of their ideas of possible costume and quirks for their new take on the role. With women able to come up with ideas just as original as men, gender should present no limit on creativity when creating a new persona for the character.

With this in mind, as well as the premise of the show being that it follows a time traveller who fights monsters in space, it seems absurd that the next regeneration being a woman comes as such a shock to so many viewers. The Doctor is after all an alien: there has never been any mention of Time Lords being limited by race or gender, and yet neither of these factors have ever varied when it comes to the protagonist. With the role having been consecutively portrayed by thirteen white men, and with women having a lot of time over the decades to prove themselves in leading and adventurous roles, it would seem that without any shake up this time around the show would have become remarkably dated. Even with recent attempts to modernise the show, such as introducing a lesbian couple and with the most recent companion identifying as gay, the continual casting of white males to play such a uniquely adaptable character was reaching inexcusable. This is also overlooking some very questionable decisions regarding past companions, who bar a few rare exceptions were presented as head over heels for the protagonist, so far as to allow themselves to be manipulated, or even cheat the night before their wedding (looking at you, Amy Pond).

It is clear that underlying (or in some cases blatantly obvious) sexism is still very present when it comes to our screens

Casting a female lead in the show presents many new opportunities for the show runners, who could use the change as a chance to address gender stereotypes, possibly in unique contexts and historical settings available only to the nature of Doctor Who. Following the reactions of several fans, this might be a necessary addition to the new series, as it is clear that underlying (or in some cases blatantly obvious) sexism is still very present when it comes to our screens.

However, Doctor Who’s future now hangs in the balance. With the dramatic rating drop in the most recent series, and the reaction divide from the new casting, it is unpredictable as to the effect show runner Steven Moffat’s leaving and actor Jodie Whitaker’s joining will have on the show’s ratings. One can only hope for a positive effect: that this could perhaps lead to the BBC introducing more original shows with a more diverse cast in terms of race, gender, disabilities, and sexual identity, and hopefully the introduction of more original female leads along the way.

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