Peter Davison is wrong about a female Doctor Who, but he’s not being sexist – so stop saying he is

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Davison said “if I feel any doubts about it, it’s the loss of a role model for boys, who I think Doctor Who is vitally important for”; in the past, he’s said that he thinks a female Doctor with a male companion might mean “you’ve got more of a stereotype than anything else”. Essentially, Davison considers the Doctor a good example of a non-traditional, non-stereotypical male role model. 

The character is, broadly speaking, counter to a lot of the facets of toxic masculinity and patriarchy; he’s openly emotional, driven by curiosity, intellectual rather than violent. Referring to, say, the various male superheroes of cinema – all of whom, when you break it down, solve their problems with their fists – is rather missing the point a bit. It’s perhaps the only coherent and cogent argument against a female Doctor that isn’t actually a sexist one – one that can be argued from a feminist perspective.

Yeah, this was a difficult one, in hindsight. Especially that title – it’s much too confrontational. Should be something closer to “wait, hang on, slow down”, but I was rather cynically trying to play to multiple crowds at once, getting clicks and shares from both pro and anti-female Doctor crowds. And, I suppose, both pro and anti-sexism crowds. It’s less than ideal, but hey, I don’t get paid a lot for these if they don’t hit 10 000 views. (Actually, that said, I’m almost certain I pitched the more tentative “he’s not necessarily being sexist”, but still.)

Anyway, so. Basically, as I’m sure some will remember, a few different newspapers took a quote Peter Davison gave out of context, and essentially tried to paint him as an out-of-touch old guy in an attempt to get a few extra clicks. This apparently went exceedingly well, because lots of people felt the need to jump in and explain how wrong he was, etc etc. Eventually he left twitter because it got so out of control.

Now, far be it from me to think he needed defending as such – though again I suspect there was a slightly cynical attempt to, I don’t know, befriend him or something going on on some levels of my thinking – but I do find his actual objection to a female Doctor, on the basis of a male role model thing, actually quite interesting. At least, that was how I interpreted it; I was almost certain I’d seen a quote to that effect from him making it more explicit, but I couldn’t place it in the end. Which was a nuisance.

Anyway, though, yeah. So this was just an article basically to the effect of, you know, back off a bit, he said he thinks it’s a good idea, but expressed a brief caveat. (Which I suspect he wouldn’t have bothered with if he realised this would grow beyond a quiet convention interview.) In the grand scheme of things, there are probably quite a few other things to critique.

(Though it would be a pretty fair accusation to level at me that there are definitely other more important things to defend, and I’d accept that.)

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Some Thoughts on a Female Doctor

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So, what with Michelle Gomez being cast as the first female Master (and doing pretty amazingly) it got me thinking about a female Doctor.

Now, in the past, I was pretty set against it. The reasons varied with time (as a stupid 8-year-old, I was making comments about “Nurse Who”, and as a stupid 14-year-old it was “weird fanfiction”) but essentially, I didn’t really like the idea of a change. I became a lot more receptive to the idea over time, and up until recently basically thought, “the audition pool should encompass men and women, and then whoever is the best can get the job”.

But over the past few days, I’ve changed my mind. It shouldn’t be a case of opening the auditions to men and women, and then casting the best of them. The BBC production office should actively look for and cast a female Doctor. The Thirteenth Doctor should be explicitly female from the genesis of her character, right the way to the casting, the announcement, the writing, and the broadcast. She should be created with a specific gender in mind.

Now, I assume a fair few people have just pulled disgusted faces, and are ready to blacklist me from the internet, destroy their computers, and possibly become a reclusive hermit. (Though I imagine most of my fans are already reclusive hermits.)

Hear me out though, because I reckon this is a really good idea.

I mean first, we should sort of dispense with the main arguments against having a female Doctor, rebutting them and just generally getting them out of the way, before I explain why this is THE BEST IDEA EVER. (If you can’t tell, I’m actually quite excited by this.)

Obviously, there’s a lot of nonsense out there. A surprising number of Doctor Who fans are actually sadly quite petty and misogynistic – they’re also amongst the most vocal, naturally. You end up hearing all sorts of nonsense about how this would ruin the show, it’s an unnecessary change, blah blah blah. This article does a far better, and far funnier, job of dealing with those people than I ever could, so here’s a link to it. Some things, though, are repeated quite often, which seems to give them a degree of legitimacy, as if they’re actually genuine solutions.

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Often, you get things like “Oh, there should be a spin-off with Romana/River Song/A new Time Lady instead”, because people tend to think that meets the same requirements that a female Doctor would. And whilst it does solve some of the issues – it’d be a program with a female lead, which is good in terms of diversity – it doesn’t actually solve all of them. It’s something I spoke about a bit last year, with regards to Idris Elba playing James Bond, rather than 009:

James Bond as a character – as an idea – means more than a brand new double-oh-nine character. 009, as played by Idris Elba, could be really cool, but he could never be Bond. And Bond will always take priority. Because Bond means more – because Bond has the history, and the cultural weight – James Bond will have a greater impact. Whereas 009 would be forgotten, Bond would not.

The same is true of the Doctor. If you cast a female Doctor, that is a far greater positive step for representation and diversity than something which would essentially be – not quite dismissed as, but limited to – “just another Doctor Who spin-off”. A female Doctor is a headline. A spin-off is a footnote. Whether that is ‘right’ or not is certainly debatable, but that’s how it would be. The ramifications and impact of a female Doctor would be far greater than that of another spin-off.

The idea of the impact, then, leads relatively neatly onto the next point, which is one of role models. It’s the idea that, essentially, by having a female Doctor, you lose a positive male role model – someone who doesn’t represent stereotypical masculinity, someone solves problems through wit and intellect rather than fighting and violence, and so on and so forth.

That particular argument is a bit of a tricky one, because it does approach a sensible point. It doesn’t, of course, address the question of why boys can’t still look up to a female role model, or suggest the place of a male companion – someone who can just as easily fulfil the role of someone who isn’t typically masculine – or even talk about other positive male role models. Real world examples, like father, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends, teachers, or fictional ones, like Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Spock, and so on and so forth.

So, actually, I don’t think this one is that important. It just seems to approach a sensible point, but by not taking into account quite a few other, very important, factors, it doesn’t quite hold much sway.

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Those two arguments are, really, the only main ones that are bandied around with much traction; most other things can be dismissed with relative ease. The only other ones that remain are worth mentioning because of who proposed them – Peter Davison and Russell T Davies, who are notable for being amongst the few people associated with Doctor Who that weren’t immediately positive about the idea.

Peter Davison stated that, essentially, he believed that a female Doctor would change the relationship between Doctor and companion – or at least, the way in which we saw it. Because the companion, nowadays, often acts as a conscience for the Doctor, having a female Doctor take instruction from and defer to a male companion might create stereotypes, and not actually be as progressive as one might want. And whilst it is actually a legitimate concern – because yes, you’d need to be careful about the ways in which you approach writing the new dynamic – it’s actually quite easily fixed, simply with careful and considered writing. (Or, a female companion AND a female Doctor.)

Russell T Davies, on the other hand, said he thought it was unlikely to ever happen, because he thought the BBC wouldn’t be able to deal with the associated outrage, and cited things like fathers not wanting to explain sex changes to their children. That’s probably quite a considered viewpoint, given Davies’ own experience with the “gay agenda” media nonsense, so it’s fair to say he knew what he was talking about. But it’s also important to remember that he said this nearly ten years ago – back in 2008. Nowadays, the approach to such things is a little different. You’ve got Caitlyn Jenner in the news, Michelle Gomez as the Master was quite well received, and Davies himself is going to great lengths to ensure greater representation in his own programs, such as casting a trans actress in a trans role on Banana. (Which was great, by the way, everyone should watch Cucumber and Banana.) I think that, when it comes down to it, this particular problem isn’t so much of an issue anymore.

That, essentially, is it. There are no real good arguments against a female Doctor – or at least, none that I’ve ever come across. In the second part of this post, which I’ll upload tomorrow, I’ll discuss the numerous reasons for a female Doctor, and why it really is such a good idea.

Related:

On the subject of a female Doctor Who

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