It’s Timey Wimey for a Female Doctor

Sophia Davidson Gluyas, Deakin University |

On the 4th of August 2013 it was announced that Peter Capalidi would play the 12th Doctor. It’s a good piece of casting and I know Capaldi will do a great job, only I no longer hear any profundity in the resounding question of the show.

Doctor Who?

Well, we know who don’t we?

The Doctor is human-looking and white and British and presents as male.

Regeneration in Dr Who

Regeneration in Dr Who

I’m not interested in discussing whether the doctor can regenerate as a woman, it’s a moot point for anyone who truly understands what a writer is. I’m interested in why fandom is so against the idea. I’m saddened that a genre that’s supposed to be riddled with possibility, philosophical conundrums, imagination and curiosity has such useless ‘fans’.

I set myself the masochistic task of reading the thread started by the popular Doctor Who and the T.A.R.D.I.S Facebook page, who asked its readers ‘…how would you feel if the 12th Doctor was female?’[i] After reading 2153 comments my head is drumming like The Master. The naysayers aren’t just sexist; they’re racist, homophobic and transphobic. Of the 2153 comments on the thread, just 659 are keen to see a woman cast in the role. 1327 of the ‘fans’ oppose the idea of a woman playing the doctor, (167 were undecided, indifferent, or just wanted a red-head). Of the opposed, 87 swore they’d stop watching the show if it came to be.

The main points of contention are:

1) ‘While modern 21st Century [audience] could handle it easily… the HISTORICAL episodes would see her not listened too [sic] and dismissed as silly at best or called a witch at worst, meaning we would be looking at the probability of the Doctor being burned at the stake every 3rd week.’[ii] The fact a female doctor would have difficulty being taken seriously in the past is exactly why we need a female doctor. To cure the past and inoculate the future.

2) Apparently fans ‘don’t think they could find an [sic] quirky enough female [for the] role’.[iii] Or they offer a patronising, conditional, concession that yes it could be a woman but ‘it would solely depend on if the actress would be good enough to play ‘the doctor’.’[iv] The Misogyny hurts. This implies that any man and his K9 could do the job but it would have to be a special lady.

Joanna Lumley and Julia Sawalha

Joanna Lumley and Julia Sawalha in Comedy Relief

3) ‘River would be mighty confused.’[v] Despite Alex Kingston admitting that she’d have trouble kissing Helen Mirren,[vi] (who has made it known she’d quite like the role),[vii] I really don’t think some (cigendered) Sapphic undertones are really such a big deal. In 1999 Steven Moffat wrote a Comedy Relief episode of Dr Who in which we saw Joanna Lumley as the 13th Doctor. Julia Sawalha played the besotted companion Emma set to marry the Doctor. Emma loved him unconditionally through each regeneration (he regenerated 4 times during the episode) but had to split when the body was Lumley’s. While I’d have liked to see a Nobody/bodies perfect Some Like it Hot -esque ending,[viii] I suspect the rejection had more to do with the rivalry between Saffy and Patsy than with a lack of sexual fluidity.[ix] ‘Fans’ fear that River, like Emma, will declare ‘you’re not the man I fell in love with’. This lack of imagination is frightening. Of course the Doctor and River will still be in love. It might indeed look a little lesbian but we must remember the Doctor isn’t human. (Time) lord only knows how the doctor identifies sexually. Until we’re told, it’s kind of rude to assume and project earth notions of heterosexuality.

4) Dr HOW? I won’t dignify ‘how’ with a response, however I want to consider the transphobia latent in these complaints. ‘It wouldn’t make sence?… [sic] How can someone change there [sic] gender? Sure the show [is] farfetched but that would take it to [sic] far!’[x] While I don’t think it should be the Doctor’s job to explain this to humanity someone has to. Because transsexuality is definitely not far-fetched and, while many ‘fans’ on this thread hyperbolically threatened suicide if there were a female actor cast in the role, 41% of trans people in the US have attempted suicide.[xi] While a female Doctor wouldn’t be trans in the strictest sense, if it allowed space for some of this ignorance and bigotry to unravel it would be a very good thing.

5) ‘Since all the previous doctors have been male, it would just upset the pattern. If some were female, then possibly.’[xii] And we couldn’t upset the pattern, could we?

David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, in drag

David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, in drag

6) ‘We don’t have many good, strong male role models anymore and we have PLENTY of strong female role models. The heroic male is disappearing and our boys need the role model!’[xiii] The idea is more eloquently, but still misguidedly argued by Claire Budd in The Independent : ‘…he shows boys that violence and aggression won’t get them what they want… As feminists we are always asking men to change, to become less aggressive, and to value equality. The idea of feminists arguing that we should take away the only male role model that appears to use his brain rather than weapons or fists seems rather alien to me.’[xiv] We also want men to understand that women can be powerful, clever, witty, wise and assume leadership positions too. As Dan Roth points out ‘The boys already have 50 years worth of Doctors they can pretend to be and, believe it or not, some of them will enjoy pretending to be the 12th Doctor even if she’s a she!’[xv]

7) Investment in eroticising a male Doctor and fear of discovering ones lesbian tendencies, (694 in the against camp are female ‘fans’). ‘I’d swoon and fall in love just like the last few. Probably be the most confusing time of my life.’[xvi] Good, because as a lesbian, I’ve felt far too confused about my feelings for Matt Smith for far too long. It’s your turn ‘fans’. Then there’s the self-loathing variety: ‘No. They can’t break tradition and [a] female doc looking for a male companion is a tad slutty.’[xvii] Sigh.

So many of the ‘fans’ evoke the idiom – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, if a science fiction show isn’t  opening closed minds and has ‘fans’ speak of ‘tradition’ and of things being ‘impossible’ then something is most definitely broken, and let’s just hope there’s a ‘fixed’ point in time, in the future, where the doctor is played by a woman.


[i] Full Question: ‘There has been a lot of talk regarding the 12th Doctor since Matt made his statement about his departure from Doctor Who. The truth is we will not know until the BBC are good and ready to tell us however how would you feel if the 12th Doctor was a female?’ June 16th, 2013, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Doctor-Who-and-the-TARDIS/276710412383657

[vi] Alex Kingston, interview: The One Show, June 5th, 2013, ‘I don’t think I could kiss her though’. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTnyGG8NL2Q  Accessed 6th October 2013.

[vii] Helen Mirren: ‘I would like to play the new female Doctor Who…I don’t just want to be his sidekick.’ In: Christopher Stevens, ‘Who should be the next Doctor? ANYONE but a woman!’, Mail Online, June 2, 2013.

[viii] Billy Wilder, Some Like it Hot, 1959.

[ix] Characters the actresses play on the series Absolutely Fabulous. (1992 – 2012)

[xi] According to the report, titled Injustice at Every Turn compiled by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which surveyed 6,450 trans people. http://jezebel.com/5752081/nearly-half-of-transgender-people-have-attempted-suicide Accessed 7th October 2013.

[xiv] Claire Budd http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/so-some-feminists-are-calling-for-a-female-dr-who–but-isnt-that-missing-the-point-entirely-8649972.html Accessed 6th October, 2013.

[xv] Dan Roth, Why You’re Wrong About a Female Doctor, June 9th, 2013. http://www.doctorwhotv.co.uk/why-youre-wrong-about-a-female-12th-doctor-50442.htm

Bio: Sophia Davidson Gluyas completed her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney in the Art History and Theory department. She is currently a PhD candidate at Deakin University in the School of Communication and Creative Arts. Her research is on lesbian visibility in 1990s Australian cinema.

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