Who is Doctor Who for? It’s a complicated question with many different answers.
Doctor Who is for the British, an iconic part of their pop culture heritage and history. Doctor Who is for nerds, for anyone who has ever wanted to take off in a little blue box and visit alien worlds and times. Doctor Who is for children, who may have to hide behind the couch while watching, but who can share the excitement of TV-induced terror with their family.
And Doctor Who is for Brexit voters, at least according to outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat. Moffat gave an extensive interview with the RadioTimes (via The Telegraph) about how he considered casting a female Doctor following Matt Smith’s exit, but he “got obsessed with seeing Peter in the TARDIS.”
Prior to that, Moffat said he was worried about casting a woman because of the show’s “Daily Mail-reading viewers,” elaborating…
This isn’t a show exclusively for progressive liberals; this is also for people who voted Brexit. That’s not me politically at all – but we have to keep everyone on board.
This is the thing with progress: It takes courage. Moffat could have done a whole lot less in pushing Doctor Who into a more representative future — after all, he gave us Missy, a female Time Lord, and I think he has legitimately tried to respond to criticisms that his writing of female characters is often problematic.
But he also could have done a whole lot more, most especially in making sure he had more diverse voices behind the scenes, particularly as writers. Because, when writing about identities that are different than your own, the easiest and best solution to making that writing stronger is to bring in fellow writers with those identities. It’s not (just) about diversity and using your power in subversive ways; it’s about telling a better story.
The question of representation in media is a complicated one, but one part of it that I don’t think is complicated at all is how desperately we need more diverse representation both in front of and behind the camera. Sure, Doctor Who is for Brexit voters, but they’ve had fifty years of mostly white men in front of the camera and almost exclusively white men behind it. As a wise audience member at this year’s Long Island Who convention pointed out during a panel on the subject of the first female Doctor, the people who have a problem with a female Doctor are probably the ones who need to see it the most.
A dangerous assumption that is often made in discussions like this one is that diverse characters are only for the people who share their identities. As anyone who is not a straight, white, rich man can tell you, it’s totally possible to empathize with and enjoy a character who has little in common with you, at least when it comes to things like race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc. It’s what stories are for: seeing the world through someone else’s shoes.
Doctor Who is for the British, for nerds, for children, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for international viewers, for normies, for 72-year-olds, too. It’s time for the underrepresented identities within the Doctor Who fan community to see more of themselves in this show, and it’s time for the overrepresented identities to begin the adventure of learning to empathize with and enjoy a character who isn’t exactly like them.
In this age of late-capitalism desperation, it can be hard to remember: Just because something belongs to someone else, doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong to you. However, if you can’t learn to share the sandbox, it’s time for you to go home and play by yourself.