Cast aside politics when casting the new Doctor Who

The creators should have creative freedom

Image: BBC/Adrian Rogers

No, the next Doctor should not be portrayed by a woman. Or rather, Chris Chibnall, the incoming showrunner of Doctor Who shouldn’t feel an obligation for the next Doctor to be a woman. The idea could work and it’s internally consistent for Peter Capaldi’s successor in the role to be female, but there’s a clear worry that in doing so the series risks being spoiled by the BBC kowtowing to external demands rather than doing so in a considered, balanced way.

The show definitely needs to adapt and change over time to maintain relevance and avoid a repeat of the temporary cancellation it suffered in 1989. A soft reboot in 2018 when Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat hand over the reins could be good for that, but that needn’t necessitate a change in sex for the Doctor.

In its 54-year history, it’s only in the last three years that Doctor Who has committed to the idea that Time Lords, the Doctor’s people, are able to change their sex. In the 2014 series’ penultimate episode ‘Dark Water’, the mysterious antagonist played by Michelle Gomez revealed their identity as a cliff-hanger. She explains “I’m Missy…short for ‘Mistress’. Well, couldn’t very well keep calling myself ‘the Master’ now could I?” Until that point the Master had been a recurring Time Lord villain since 1971 and had only ever been portrayed by male actors. If the development had been leaked beforehand, there could have been a great deal of resistance. Yet for a revelation that no one was asking for, Gomez excels in the role. Her portrayal blends the menace, psychopathy and ridiculousness common to the Master’s previous incarnations and she very much lays the groundwork for a possible female Doctor in the future.

It’s now been established that Time Lords have a degree of control over their regeneration, though the ninth Doctor once mentioned the process is “a bit dodgy.” Derek Jacobi’s Master becomes John Simm’s incarnation because he wants to be in a younger body akin to the tenth Doctor. Similarly, Matt Smith’s Doctor takes Peter Capaldi’s form because of concerns over the nature of his relationship with his companion, as well as having been reminded of a human he once saved (who was conveniently portrayed by Capaldi in 2008…). Therefore, if the Doctor felt an urge to take a woman’s body, it’s perfectly plausible that he could do so.

But it’s precisely because Gomez’ portrayal was the surprise no one was asking for that it’s been a success. It was a choice, and definitely one of the better choices, taken by Moffatt. Much in the same way that it’s for the showrunner to shape the Doctor as old or young, the same person should decide if the Doctor is black or white or male or female. And they shouldn’t feel any pressure whatsoever about the casting in that sense, but instead do what they feel is the right direction for the character.

Equal representation is an issue. It’s one that Doctor Who spin-offs have been tackling very well. But better than campaigning for a female Doctor, or indeed female Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Batman, or whatever, and artificially morphing existing characters to do this, channels should do more to improve representation with their original programmes and characters: this, instead of inviting basic comparisons to a hypothetical future female incarnation and their multiple male predecessors.