The popularity of Doctor Who is at an all time high—but with popularity comes pressure. And now, like David Tennant before him, Matt Smith has decided to move on, meaning that someone has to replace him. Luckily, the Brits are really good at recasting iconic characters, their reimagining of the time and space adventuring Doctor being perhaps the most creative. In the cases of James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, the character is always a white male hailing from the U.K., and pay no attention to the fact that he looks different now! But part of the genius of Doctor Who is that it’s devised a way of explaining why he becomes a different actor, by continually “regenerating” into a brand-new person while retaining the memories of his previous selves. When Jon Pertwee became Tom Baker in 1974’s “Planet of the Spiders,” the Doctor retained the curly hair, lost some of his earnestness, and gained a goofy scarf and hat. In 2005’s “The Parting of the Ways,” Christopher Eccelston’s utilitarian and angular Doctor became the more overtly sexy and flamboyant David Tennant. In “The Christmas Invasion,” Tennant explains it to Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton) like so: “Same man, different face.”
But now, with the floppy-haired, big-chinned Matt Smith departing the show in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, the question has become: must the Doctor continue to be a man? The character is a centuries old Time Lord from the Planet Gallifrey, and before he became the sole survivor of his race, there were also several Time Ladies. In the 2011 Neil Gaiman–penned episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” the Doctor clearly makes allusions to other members of his race who regenerated into different genders. So why not the Doctor? The character is a space alien, for crying out loud—and when you’re dealing with someone who flies around in a wooden box that’s really a time machine, it’s not exactly hard science fiction. Why can’t his gender change?
I’m not alone in pointing out accusations of sexism on the show; the harsh reality is that it features an all-powerful white guy who falls out of the sky, generally to save a beautiful young woman. Yes, the Doctor has had male and alien companions, but the basic structure of the show is a little troublesome.
How to solve this problem? By having the Doctor regenerate into a woman. My votes for the first female doctor include literally any of the sisters from Downton Abbey (Jessica Brown Findlay, Michelle Dockery, or Laura Carmichael), or perhaps the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace. After seeing her wield an axe and fight aliens in Prometheus, picturing her as the world-saving Doctor isn’t too much of a stretch.
Part of Doctor Who’s appeal is that it doesn’t hinge on violence, murder, scheming, and betrayal, but instead on unique science fiction concepts that treat its characters and their conflicts as the focus of the action. Yes, occasionally monsters are trying to destroy the world, but the show’s best moments speak to the positive ponential of humans. In “Rose,” the Doctor says that human beings are capable of “so much more.” Surely we’re capable of seeing a peace-loving, heroic protagonist of a classic and beloved sci-fi show become a woman.
How would you feel about a woman being cast as the 12th Doctor?