Introducing a female Doctor isn’t really a new idea – I want to say that the earliest time it was brought up was at the end of Tom Baker’s tenure, but it’s entirely possible that it happened before then too. At one point in the 1980s, Sydney Newman (one of the creators of Doctor Who) made a serious pitch to the BBC, in which he advocated for a female Doctor: he wanted to move on from the “presently largely socially valueless, escapist schlock”, and create something that would “engage the concerns, fears and curiosity” of the audience, by having the Doctor “metamorphosed into a woman.” (He also said Patrick Troughton should come back for a couple of years first, but that’s beside the point.)
So, it’s been something that has been given serious thought at some stage. Moffat has, in the past year, said that eventually someone will cast a female Doctor, because the time will be right, and they’ll think of an actress who is worth pursuing in particular – but that it’d very much be a case of casting a person, rather than a gender.
What I’m saying is essentially what Sydney Newman said – the BBC should specifically look for a female Doctor. From conception to casting, the thirteenth Doctor should always and completely be explicitly female.
Doctor Who is always at its best when it’s doing something new. The key appeal of the program is the breadth of the narrative; when Doctor Who fully realises the concept of “anywhere in time and space, anything that ever happened or ever will”, that is when it really sings. Innovation has always been the biggest achievement of the show.
And a female Doctor is the next logical step. It’s the next thing that the BBC can do to open up new possibilities, bring new potential and create new stories.
It comes back to a Steven Moffat quote, actually – “when your new idea has become your old idea, it’s time to get a new idea.” The male Doctor has become an old idea. At this stage, it’s time for there to be a new idea – a female Doctor. (Or, at least, it’s an old idea, but it’s one that’s never been realised, so…)
Think, for a moment, about all the different actresses who could play the Doctor. Olivia Coleman. Lara Pulver. Tilda Swinton. Angel Coulby. Katie McGrath. Sophie Okonedo. Natalie Dormer – my own personal choice.
I would say there are very few fans who, if you asked them, couldn’t think of an actress who’d do an amazing job as the Doctor. One who’d be just as good as Matt Smith, David Tennant, or Peter Capaldi. One who’d be just as good as Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Laurie, or Alexander Siddig.
Surely the fact that so many of these fantastic actresses could play the part, and that plenty are willing to do so, is a compelling reason to actually cast one of them? The idea of casting a person rather than a gender is a perfectly fine one – but the fact is that, at the minute, the thinking process is inevitably skewed male. They are, if you like, thinking inside the box. Peter Capaldi was the only person who was auditioned for the role, because they thought he was perfect for it; the thinking leans towards a man. (Not a slight towards Peter Capaldi, of course, he’s excellent.)
Now, okay, I say it’d be new, and at this point, you’re perhaps asking why, or it what way. (Apart from the obvious, that is)
The female Doctor presents a variety of different stories and approaches that you wouldn’t have got with a male Doctor, because it changes the dynamic, and it changes the way in which other characters are going to relate to the Doctor. It’s a new place to take the character – after 50 years now, with a fairly broad character arc, this change offers new choices about where to take the character next.
And that’s key – it is a set of choices. There is no one specific way to do this. Maybe you’d want to tell a story about how someone feels when adjusting to a new gender – the transition between regenerations, and the impact of it, isn’t always focused on for very long, and perhaps this is an opportunity to do so. Or maybe you’d not make such a big deal out of it; concepts of gender could be very different for the Doctor, and it could be as simple as dialogue “This isn’t that different. After all, I’m not sure I ever was a man, exactly.” (I adapted that from an EDA, so there’s a precedent, at least)
I was reading a Doctor Who book once – I forget what it was, probably a guidebook of some sort – and it was talking about the younger Doctors, Davison and Smith, and how they experienced something of a culture shock after their regeneration; because they appeared much younger outwardly, people wouldn’t initially give them much respect, and it’d be harder for them to command authority initially. Obviously by the end of the episode, when they’ve saved everyone’s lives, it’s a little different, but I liked the idea that the Doctor has to adjust to the fact that people’s perceptions of them are different, so they perhaps can’t get they want quite as easily anymore.
Personally, I think that could potentially be an interesting idea to explore with a female Doctor. It could be hard to get right, I suppose, but I think it’s necessary to explore the fact that she would, at some stage, be on the receiving end of sexism. It fits quite well with Doctor Who though – if one of the big themes of the show has always been standing up to oppressors and to bullies and to people who are in the wrong, then misogyny and the patriarchy are logical things to address.
But, you know, that’s just something I’d find interesting. There’s any number of interesting approaches you could make, and I think it’s something that would really improve and revitalise the show. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you’d actually increase viewing things by a fair amount, if done right.
The first episode of any new Doctor always attracts a larger audience, because you get more of the casual viewers and general public who are curious to see how it goes. This would apply even more so with a female Doctor, I imagine, because the curiosity would be even greater. I don’t even think you’d alienate that many people, to be honest – everyone is going to be curious enough to watch at least the first episode. Even the massive nerds who threaten to quit the show won’t, because they want the chance to bitch about it online.
If that first episode was successful enough, I think there’s a chance to capture the attention of a lot of people who are more casual viewers, and get them to watch the show again each week. It’d require careful thought – you’d want something more in the vein of The Eleventh Hour rather than The Christmas Invasion. Perhaps it’d be worth showing the first two episodes as a double bill? Debateable really.
In any case, I think we can all say with complete certainty that there will be a female Doctor one day soon. Personally, my hope is that when Peter Capaldi eventually hands over the keys to the TARDIS, the incumbent Time Lord will be played by Natalie Dormer.