Thursday, July 27, 2017

Jodie Whittaker: Lucky 13

So, Jodie Whittaker will be playing the new incarnation of the Doctor. You may have heard this. It got some attention. Here I am to offer my thoughts, which are even more irrelevant now that it’s two weeks after the announcement.

Someone whose opinion I generally respect made the rather bold claim that very few people are genuinely sexist. Uh, no. Maybe a very tiny minority of people are genuinely Red-Pill, Get-in-the-kitchen-and-make-me-a-ham-sammich sexist out loud where people who might not share their viewpoints can hear them, but institutional sexism influences everyone (including me!) so we in large part accept the way society happens to be structured as the way things ought to be.

I’m sure most fans have considered, at least in passing, the possibility of a woman being cast as the next Doctor.  I was mostly neutral on the matter, with no strong opinions either way. I don’t know a lot of British performers, so I wasn’t in a position to offer an informed opinion on who should be next. I was hoping for Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mark my words, Chiwetel-mania will soon be sweeping the nation!) as the Thirteenth Doctor, but I also resolved to be open-minded. I’m on record somewhere saying that I thought it was unlikely Chinball would shake up things this much so early and predicting that he would go with the safe choice of a white male Brit. (Well, safER choice. No pick is going to please everyone, and fandom isn’t shy about making its displeasure known). He could hardly have been unaware that this decision would be controversial, but fearing a backlash from a vocal section of fandom would have not been a valid reason to avoid it.

I was involved in some discussions online in the run-up to this, including one that asked the question, “Does not wanting a female Doctor make me sexist?” My initial thought was, “Not necessarily. There could be other reasons.” But here’s the thing. As the conversation progressed, no one was able to give any reasons beyond “Loss of a male role model” and “I see the Doctor as a man.” So I am forced to the conclusion that opposition to a female Doctor probably has some roots in sexism.

Let’s look more closely at those two reasons.

Role Model: I’m torn between admiration and annoyance for Colin Baker, who said that “You don’t have to be the same gender as your role model.” I admire him because that’s a full-throated and articulate repudiation of a facile complaint. I’m annoyed by him because I had that thought before I heard it from him, and now it looks like I’m copying him. But it’s hard to argue with that.

(However, is the Doctor really the best role model?)

Speaking of former Doctors, I was glad to discover that Peter Davison’s comments that seemed to be critical of Whittaker had been taken out of context to such an extent that I have to assume it was deliberate and malicious.  Also, I saw one of his tweets where he said something like, "It might be more helpful to be encouraging, and not simply scornful, of fans who are uncertain about change."

That is absolutely right. I saw Davison’s comment as acknowledging that people sometimes don’t know what the appropriate response is to something outside their usual realm of experience and they take a little while to suss it out. That’s perfectly reasonable. We only know what we’ve experienced.  Older people sometimes have difficulty adapting to changes in language and society.  I’m not that old, but I’m old enough that phrases that were considered acceptable in my youth are no longer acceptable and I do my best to adjust my speech as I become more informed. (I don’t want a gold star for doing the bare minimum to qualify as a human being, but I’ll take one if you’ve got it in case I need to defend myself from Cybermen.)

Too soon?

“I see the Doctor as a man”: This isn’t even a reason. It’s an expression of a preference. (And the inability to imagine the character as a woman is a product of institutional sexism.) And, hey, you know what? You’ve got fifty years and thirteen men to choose from, and if you wait a couple years, I’m sure you’ll have another.  I don’t see the woman as the Doctor is fine as a preference, as long as we recognize that’s all it is. There are actors I didn’t particularly like in the role, but I never suggested that those actors were illegitimate or “Not really the Doctor.”

There are some complaints about the casting, but fewer than the coverage would lead us to believe. Largely, it’s the usual “I can’t believe the SJWs at the BBC are shoving their identity politics down my throat” collection of entitled Broflakes, so I feel fine in ignoring them. It’s not like there’s a shortage of white male protagonists in popular entertainment. These are the guys who say things like, “I can’t believe they cast a female as the Doctor.” It makes “female” sound like a pejorative. I try to address people by the terminology they prefer, but having no other information, I would use “woman” in place of “female” in that sentence. I mentioned this gripe to a friend and she asked if the poster was Ferengi.

I wish I had thought of that joke.

My final thoughts on the Thirteenth Doctor at this time? I think she’ll be a creation of Chris Chinball* in the same way the Eleventh was a creation of Steven Moffat, a way of signaling “This is what I want the show to be about.” I don’t know much about Jodie Whittaker’s earlier work, other than that she’s very well-regarded. Since they’ve worked together in the past, I’m confident that they’ll be aligned in their thinking and that they’ll be able to bring that vision to life and tell the stories they want to tell. Will it be good? Will it be bad? I don’t know yet. But I’m more than willing to give them the chance to tell that story.

My friend Jen said it very well in a post of her own, so I’m going to end this post with a link to and a quote the relevant portion of her post: In science fiction, there aren't many female heroes. Aside from Princess Leia and Wonder Woman, who did I have? When I wanted to see myself in the stories that I loved, most of the time I just wasn't there. In Doctor Who, I always liked Romana. She was the closest I could get to seeing myself in the Doctor. She was a Time Lord. She was smart and strong and could save the day, too. But I could never be the Doctor in those stories. Now I can.

*I do actually know it’s Chibnall. I just think Chinball is funny to say.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. I think it came out pretty well. Except for that bit at the end :)