Doctor Who: should there be a female Doctor?

News Andrew Blair 3 Apr 2012 - 21:15

It was amongst this year's crop of April Fool’s stories, but is the idea of a female in the TARDIS so laughable? Should the twelfth Doctor be a woman?

Should there be a female Doctor? Yes, if an actress is the best person who auditions.

Will an actress ever audition, though? Will a showrunner ever audition a woman for the role? That doesn't guarantee them it, for starters. If I may point your attention to the point in time where Paterson Joseph seemed to be the front runner for the Eleventh Doctor, only for the press release to read 'the youngest ever actor' rather than 'the first black actor to play the role'.

While no one running the show is going to ignore an actor because of their skin colour, a woman has yet to be publicly revealed as ever having auditioned. A person's sex is part of their identity, as is their skin colour. Whether or not it should be is another debate.

Outside of the story universe, how much detail do you have to go into to explain to a child the differences between a hypothetical female Twelfth Doctor and Matt Smith? Would children cope? Children would probably be more willing to accept it than adults, because they're less familiar with the history of the character. Would adults cope? They're the ones who might have to get into overly-technical explanations if they are blessed with sufficiently inquisitive children. Then again, would it be any harder to explain than Jenny and Madame Vastra?

Explaining that he looks different should be easy, because he always does look different. Some children stopped watching when Eccleston became Tennant. Other children started. Audiences come and go with change, but would this risk losing too many viewers? Explaining that he is now a she might seem to have more potential problems than explaining another man in the same role, but we simply don't know. However, the real-world arguments against a female Doctor seem more potent to me than the in-story ones.

So far, the Doctor has been played by white men. Even alternative versions of him have been nearly entirely white (unless you count Daniel Anthony playing the Eleventh Doctor in Clyde Langer's body). There is a strong argument to say that the character is simply a man, because he has always has been. He's just...mannish. Professorial. Or, looking at the history of Gallifrey and the Time Lords, he's quite possibly the embodiment of Middle-Class White Man Guilt.

It's certainly a valid interpretation: he gets bored with his life on a planet of dusty academics and administrators, having graduated from the Time Lord Academy. He then runs away from it all to explore the societies considered beneath his race, and overcomes his own snobberies as he goes. He would love to fit in properly on Earth, but he can't quite manage it. This is a very British creation. A post-colonial alien race based on the British upper-classes. The Doctor is an Oxbridge graduate allegory, fleeing from what is expected of him by traditional values, ashamed of his lack of real world knowledge.

It's a staple role in British satire (think Wodehouse and Waugh, Douglas Adams and Monty Python). The character is traditionally male, the brilliant but insecure middle class man who gets easily bored and distracted. It's part of the essence of the character (the main gist of the argument is that he has to be male, even if you disagree with this idea of the character). 

This trope is ingrained. It is hard to shift. In medical circles for years 'The Doctor' was associated with men, as 'Nurse' was with women. That stigma still exists today.

In reality, of course, that's simply not true.  As society has changed, so too has the character of the Doctor. Some incarnations have been more like the lapsed academic than others, but since 2005 Matt Smith was the first incarnation to really exhibit this side of the character. Russell T Davies created more modern Doctors in a universe without the Time Lords. Eccleston was bullish but damaged. Tennant was all quicksilver synapses. Of course it would be possible for a woman to have the characteristics which have worked so well for the character.

If you prefer the Middle-Class-White-Man version, well, do you not know any women who resemble this character? Miranda Hart has become incredibly popular playing the female version of this in her sitcom. It exists. And of course, actors play other people. Character actors have been successful in the role before. The actor doesn't have to exhibit these qualities in their personality.

Joanna Lumley played the Thirteenth Doctor in Comic Relief's The Curse of Fatal Death, and Arabella Weir played the Doctor in the alternate universe, 'Unbound' Big Finish audioplay Exile. This is it, so far. Two performances outside of canon, one of which lasted for about thirty seconds and the other written deliberately to be different. After years of speculation, jokes, and spin-off material postulating, it has been confirmed on screen (most recently in reference to The Corsair in The Doctor's Wife, The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2012, and Shada) that Time Lords can change sex when they regenerate. The story universe would allow for this change to happen if it came to pass. 

At the end of the day, it is up to the people who run the show whom they cast. If they audition a woman, though, and they don't give her the role, there might well be a wider outburst of the undercurrents of discontent after the last few major casting announcements: all white people. Is it prejudice, or is it because they were the best people for the role? There have been disparaging comments saying 'Oh wow, another white person, what a shock', which brings forward the question of positive discrimination.

Looking back, any initial disappointment or anger concerning Matt Smith winning the role over any black actors largely abated about three seconds after he said 'Can I have an apple?' If they cast a woman, is the risk any bigger than the casting of Matt Smith? If we recall, the pressure was huge for him, and he won an audience over. Would the pressure really be any greater? It can be done again by any other actor or actress of sufficient quality. 

If the show remains popular, then the ethnicity of the leads won't be questioned by anyone other than a minority. If the casting is right, then the actor will be popular enough to convince the audience. Personally, I don't have any problem with an actor of any age, sex, creed or colour playing the Doctor if they're good, but I doubt a female Doctor will ever happen, because the character has been male for so long, and because it doesn't need to happen.

The show, for all its flexibility, has a formula that works, and just because a woman playing the role could work, doesn't mean it we'll ever get to find out if it does.

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"What next, a gay Indian female with a disability as Sherlock Holmes?"

Ooh, I'd watch that!

The difference here is that Sherlock Holmes is a human being, with a mortal lifespan, and is therefore locked into a certain gender, background, and ethnicity.  Even the modern series doesn't stray too far from Doyle's original description.  Sherlock Holmes is a lanky, British dude.  Anything else, and it's not the same character.

The Doctor, though, is *not* human, can his appearance through regeneration, has had many different body types, personalities, hair colors, etc.  Would a woman work as the Doctor?  Sure.  My only question would be: why now?  Why, after eleven lifetimes in a male body, is the Doctor suddenly female?  It's more of a switch than skin color, which is about as arbitrary as accent.  And up until recently, no Time Lord we've seen has ever switched genders.

Interestingly enough, after "The Doctor's Wife", I feel better about the idea - just because of that throwaway line where the Doctor said the Corsair switched genders a couple of times.  It's like, okay, it's been established that this is possible, let's try it.

I fail to see why a black gay female Doctor would necessarily make the show "shitty" (or "great", for that matter...)  Wouldn't it depend on the actress, the writing, etc.?

"Keep him white and male. Because that's the core of the series."

I thought the core of the series was that the Doctor was a 900 year old time traveler who fought power-mad alien dictators and evil monsters throughout time and space, in a clever and non-violent fashion.  Never cruel, never cowardly, all that stuff.

Nope, apparently, the core of the series is that the Doctor is white and male.

I'm afraid the Doctor does have sex. When portrayed by Christopher Eccleston he and Rose discuss "dancing", a sexual innuendo. He mentions this "dancing" once again in the episode as David Tennant, with Madame De Pompedore. This is confirmed on the Doctor Who wiki.

imho the fact that the doctor regenerates is a plot device. The show can go on with out the same lead actor. Story lines and personality can change. But there is always some type of unity. Despite the changes the show and cast go through we can with out cognitive dissitence say that William Hartnell played the same person that Matt Smith now plays. So what is this force of unification in doctor who? What is it about the show that makes it logical to us that Patric Troughton and John Pertwee play the exact same character even though they look and act completley different? No need to answer these questions in this post. But think about it. A female doctor while not being "wrong" in any conventional sense would be less than wise. A sense of continuity would be thrown out the window. That being said. I want them to bring Romana back. She was the perfect companion for the doctor. My favorite of all the years. She is as close as it comes to a female doctor. The fact that there is so much differences between actors who play the part, writers who make the shows is offset by the fact that somehow we see two different people as being capable of being the same person. People can see Tom Baker and Peter Davison as the exact same because there is similarities. One of those similarities is his gender, but the not only similarity. To me and to others, it is impossible to consider Peter Cushing or whatever his name is as being the same doctor. It's not his gender obviously, it's just that he is not similar enough. Too many differences. So no, it's not sexist. It's just that in the whoniverse where there is constant change, but we are expected to see and believe despite these changes that the basics remain the same. A female doctor would not help.

Don't change the doctor to being dark skinned or a female... everybody knows the doctor as being white and a male and thats not allowed to change... its like changing the TARDIS into something else other than a blue police box (sorry if any of that sounds sexest or racist im not trying to be :P)

I should be the 21st doctor (last) and im ginger ;)

Instead of him saying 'i dont want to go D:' he'll be saying ''i dont want it to go D:'' lol

Welll guess what. In my opinion your opinion is invalid. It'll be nice to change things op

They need to make a gay Doctor xD

Being lazy as I am, I haven't read all of the comments here, but maybe he couldn't be a female because Gallifreians (Butchered that word, I apologize) have two genders as well, despite their regeneration abilities? I don't recall genders being specified and clarified in any episode I've seen...

The Doctor, should be the best actor that applies for the part. The one who tries their own thing and are a good person for the role. It doesn't matter if they are black or white, male or female, since if the actor portraying the doctor acts the right ways, it doesn't actually matter.

I know no-one likes River Song (Why? She's awesome!) - but has everyone forgotten her? I mean. she's married to the Doctor. Sort of. So if the Doctor regenertated into a woman...that would be wierd, hard to explain to children (remember, the show is supposed to be aimed at children) and just plain wrong. I really wouldn't like watching the show if the Doctor was a woman, even though I am a girl and I think I'm quite a femenist. So I wouldn't like it, but I suppose it could be done.

Why would the American President being black affect Doctor Who? It's a British show.

"Got married - that was a mistake. Good Queen Bess. Let me tell you, her nickname is no longer..." - End of Time Part 1

No No & No in that order, the Doctor has always been male & always should, he is one of the few male role models that's smart & not always outwitted & humiliated by all females on tv nowadays, also you would have a female Sherlock Holmes or male Miss Marple would you, the only reason its being seriously considered now is because Doctor Who has gone from being a slightly geeky program to one of the most popular shows on the tv so the girls want in, I certaintly wouldnt watch the show anymore anyhow if they did do it, end of.

I might also add that Stephen Moffat used as a reason why it could happen as what was described in the episode of the Doctor's wife, but I think he deliberatly added that part as the producer to justify the idea, this is not a sexism thing, why is it that positive male role models seem to be hijacked by women but negative male role models seem to be seen ever more, girls you have your own programs, stick with them, stop trying to rob ours ;-)

I also think the shows makers have to bare one thing in mind from a financial point of view, Doctor who is universaly popular but not all countrys have a view on the sexes being equal so alot of potential profit may go if they made the Doctor female because sexist men in sexist countrys would stop watching.

Sorry in advance for my english, I am not that good yet.
Lets see...
I wouldn't care at all if they choose an asian, black, white actor to play the Doctor, male or female. Actually, I've got some good asian actors in mind right now (don't remember their names, sorry). But the point is, do we really want the idea of the Doctor to change? I mean, though it will be nice if we had some different kind of character to play him (notice the adverb), the idea of "the Doctor", over the more than 50 years the show has been on air, is that he is a white male. His companions has been different as well, many races and genders (though the use to be white females, I give you that), but the idea, in the show and out of it, is that the Doctor is a male. If you look after the Doctor, you look for "a man in a blue box", remember that. It's well said in the show, everytime someone mentions the Doctor, on legends, or as part of a certain mythology, is "a man in a blue box". That is part of what the Doctor is.
In the show, changing that (to female, I mean) would mean that the legends are not true! It is a woman in a blue box, not a man! That would be confusing for those in the show who want to meet him!
As well as in real life. As stated below, I have some attraction for the Doctor as he is now, and changing him to a woman would make me extremely confused. And though the race doesn't matter, it will be a problem on show as well. Considering the fact that he travels to the Dark Ages of racism and all, it will be more clever if he becames white than black or asian, simply because the whites used to be the rulers and more respected, and considering the way the Doctor works, he needs to be well considered from the beggining. Just remember for a moment what happened to Martha when they got stucked in 1913. See?
I think the Doctor needs to be a white male for the story's sake (and though, I think that other options will be interesting for character development and all), and because changing that, IRL, would make the viewers confused.
It will be interesting if they change this idea, sure, but I still think they won't because all of the reasons I listed above.

im ok with the doctor being a girl as long as its not the same actor that played helen cutter from primeval helen cutter is evil and i cant accept her as the doctor

I agree with HotDonkeyBear. I don't think it matters, but it shouldn't be done to be politically correct, only as a part of an engaging storyline. If such a storyline is imagined in which he has a change of gender, I'd hope that incarnation of his character would have a lot of difficulty adjusting and coming to terms with that unexpected reality, wanting to regenerate again. I do think that a change of race or gender could be used as a curious plot tool to get past the 12 regenerations limit, perhaps two timelords could reach that limit together and have to merge to preserve their memories in one character. I just hope they don't do it just for the sake of doing it, because that'd just be crass.

The 12th Doctor should be a woman.
The 13th Doctor should be ginger.
Or we could have a ginger woman as the 12th Doctor, I wouldn't complain.

The Doctor doesn't become a different person. He simply changes his appearances. He was attracted to Rose. He got married to River Song who obviously loved him. Would she still be attracted to him if he was in a female body?

I think a girl Doctor Who would be awesome! Also someone from another race would be about time. After all, it's more interesting in the long run to show a wider scope of people in the role. Why wouldn't the Doctor change?

Though the doctor transforms during regeneration he still has a fixed gender. I can't stand this whole business of changing the doctors gender, would a female, lesbian, Indian doctor in a wheelchair really do anything for the show. Just because we're all crazy on celebrating how we're completely accepting of everything doesn't mean a female doctor is the right thing to do.

Before you read this comment it is important that you know that I am a woman and I think that men and women are equal in fact the only thing men are better at are aiming their pee and Emily Pankurst cant even argue that.

anyway their should not be a woman doctor simply because the doctor is not a woman if i said i think there should be a woman james bound, sherlock or spoc you would laugh me out the room why because their not woman!!!! if all these years ago the first doctor was a woman the show would still be just as good but the point is the that he started out as a man so he has to stay a man, now i don't give toss if the next doctors gay, black, Asian any race because theirs not much difference between a gay and a strait man or a white and a black man, and even though men an women are equal they are completely different and i know that the whole point dw is that the doctor is always changing but deep down he is still the same MAN and making him a woman would be a step to far. and look at it from the doctors perspective imagine being a dude for 2000 years an all of a sudden you have vagina the poor sod has enough to deal with, their is nothing wrong with being a woman but guys would you wanna become no just like i would not wanna become a man. the only reason there only reason their will ever be a woman doctor is if the bbc get accused of discriminating and the show just would not work any more

i for one will no loner be tuning for doctor who if the next doctor is a woman. .

NO. The Doctor has always been male. Has usually had young attractive women as companions, he is married to River Song. There has always been a clear differance between time Lords and Time Ladies. The Doctor, The Master and Rassilon have always been male. The Rani, the Doctors mother, River Song and Jenny are time Ladies. Let's leave it at that.

There are time lords and time ladies so the idea of the doctor just randomly becoming female makes no sense, make a female timelord his companion if you will, but do not just mess around with the established rules of the show , as it seems like a desperate plea for ratings, usually when a show tries to shake things up like this its a sign there out of ideas and to be honest i wouldn't watch, because it would be sad to know how low the show has sunk.

There have been many female actresses who have auditioned including Billie piper who was rapidly turn away because of her already major role. Personally i think Billie is the best candidate for the 12th doctor, she is the most qualified, see know the set and the crew very well. The only issue is the confusion that we would see when ever there was a mirror and she would have to say it's hard looking like rose or i hope rose and i are happy together.

Instead of trying to make every character Black nowadays why not just invent a couple more black characters?

It makes sense for the next Doctor to be a woman because River (a woman) gave all of her future Regenerations to the Doctor - he was fresh out of his own- ERGO the next reincarnation should be female. But not some young starlet, no it has to be a mature woman, like Helen Mirren, someone who has presence! Besides think of how funny it will be to watch 'him' have to explain over & over again ' Yes it's me, Yes I am female, yes I have lets go!" ROTFL I can just picture Captain Jack Harkness leering at the new female DR & trying to pick her up too! lol Now THAT would be gold!

Kill of Theta and have Jenny (Georgia Moffett) or Susan (Carol Ann Ford) take over as The Doctor.

If you really want a woman then make it 13 lives and not a fan wank one off.

I completely agree. It's kind of became an iconic male role, like James Bond. Imagine that after Daniel Craig they get Angelina Jolie as Bond. True it would be a sing of moving forward and accepting and embracing changes, but even so, it just would not feel right.

If the Doctor was non white, then that would be fine, its just he is a male character, and it would be to great a risk to try and change that, especially after such a poor series.

I wouldn't mind if he'd change sex (so going from a male body to a female) as long as she stays true to his character. Yes, his, because the Doctor has clearly shown he thinks his gender (different from a person's sex!) is male. So a female that acts like a man... well, that could actually be interesting. The of the prejudices s/he'd bump into. I just fear that should it happen, the Doctor would be written badly.

When the dr changed into a woman the regeneration went wrong plus it was comic relief

Based on the Doctor/Donna storyline it's quite possible so long as the Doctor generated from Donna touching the Doc's remaining hand touched the real Doctor in any way. I had this idea back when Tennant left and my first thought was EMMA THOMPSON after a saw a photo of her in a long black flowing coat wearing a frilly top. The outfit she was wearing sort of reminded me of a combination of Tom Baker and John Pertwee's choice of attire. So that;s my choice for the first female Doctor.

Actually it's quite possible that because of the Doctor Donna exchange where Donna got the Doctor's super intellect when merging with the remnant hand of the Doctor's previous regeneration and if that generated (human) Doctor touched the real Doctor in any way. Donna's femaled DNA could have been slowly working its way through the Doctor's system and poof, up pops a female Doctor!

A female Doctor wouldn't be inconsistant with the show. There have been female timelords and timelords can change gender when they regenerate. This is established. At the same time the Doctor has always been a man. He is an inherently man-like character. If that makes sense.

The reason people are arguing back and forth isn't because the Doctor is one thing or the other. It's because they've missed the point of the incarnation. The incarnation is not there to fulfill expectations nor to break them, it simply goes where it goes. Perhaps a simplification, but that's the beauty of it! No one except the writers knows where it's going and the rest of us can do nothing but enjoy it.

Don't like change? Don't watch Doctor Who.
Because Doctor Who is an everchanging show. The fans who leave because of a different incarnation doesn't understand that the show evolves and keeps changing. And in the words of Captain Jack "And that's fantastic"

..or maybe you're just sexist

man, woman, black, white, asian, vegetable, potato, it doesn't matter. the doctor is not human and has been CHANGING ever since the series has been created. and comparing the doctor to james bond is utter stupidity simply cuz bond is human and has a set of balls and the doctor is an alien who wants to be ginger for a long time.

i second this.. and who said it won't work right? given the right actress or actor that is not white it can still be a very good show. people just don't want to admit that they're sexist and racist inside. these people need to quit being hypocrites

well you're stupid. haven't you heard of a double switch? look it up and maybe you'll learn something. even if the doctor becomes woman at one point doesnt mean it cancels the past male incarnations that we love. and look up some of the top female characters on other shows to see that you're just stupid. if they make it right they should sustain their female demographic and actually add more to the male viewers. just admit you're sexist.

i like this. at least you welcome different possibilities and yes, it should work if done right.

I don't think turning the Doctor into a female would work. I don't mind small changes like his skin colour, age, etc. But turning the Doctor into a woman would do nothing but make Doctor Who confusing he has allways been a male and it should stay like that.

There should totally be a female doctor, despite there being non in the past. I think it would be great to see how a woman would portray 'The Doctor' and besides its nice to have variety.

Doesn't think a well established male character should change in to a female, call the Sexist card, it doesn't work.

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