In a week where Transport for London have told London Underground staff to no longer address commuters as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ but say ‘hello everyone’, we’re now discussing the news of the 13th Doctor, in Doctor Who, being female for the first time.
On Sunday evening, Jodie Whittaker, best known recently for her outstanding performance as grieving mother Beth Latimer in ITV series Broadchurch, has been cast as the Doctor, superseding Peter Capaldi.
Coincidentally the new producer of Doctor Who, Chris Chibnall, was also the mastermind behind Broadchurch and said following the announcement of Whittaker: “I always knew I wanted the 13th Doctor to be a woman and we’re thrilled to have secured our number one choice. Her audition for the Doctor simply blew us all away.”
Of Chibnall’s statement, the most significant line concerns her audition: it “simply blew us all away”. It suggests Whittaker hasn’t been chosen to meet some kind of BBC quota; she’s been selected on her acting credentials alone. She was given the opportunity and grasped it, expertly.
She has, nonetheless, summed up the hysteria surrounding her casting with one word: fear.
“I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender,” she said. "Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
Supporters of the show will understandably be alarmed by the direction their treasured programme could now take with a female Doctor. With change comes concern.
And there are inescapable questions to be asked. Not once has it been revealed that a woman has auditioned for the role before. So, why now? Is it simply that Chibnall was so mesmerised by Whittaker’s performance in Broadchurch that he had to cast her for the role? Was he eager to work with someone familiar? Is such a makeover in character key to the narrative he wishes to tell?
It would be foolish to suggest her casting doesn’t matter, then. Since 1963 when William Hartnell portrayed the first Doctor, all his successors have been male. Fans of the show have become accustomed to a man playing the role, assuming, fairly, that it was simply a part designed to be played by just that, a man.
But the character of the Doctor – otherwise known as the Time Lord – is one of evolution, maintaining existence by endlessly travelling through time and space before regenerating upon the burden of injury or old age. Perhaps there is no more appropriate choice of character to mark such a momentous transformation.
As Emily Cook, editorial assistant at Doctor Who magazine, put it: “She will bring a freshness. She is younger than Peter Capaldi and, being a woman, she will have a different approach to the role.”
So Chibnall has made a controversial decision, yes, but just as tube staff must now say ‘hello everyone’ to favour more gender-inclusive language, it seems a daring decision made at just the right time.
Whittaker could turn out to be the exemplary woman to end the character’s 54 years of male domination and inspire a new generation of young girls to dream of one day playing the role themselves.