We’re all filled with contradictory thoughts and there’s a small part of me that feels that the Doctor on Doctor Who should perpetually be played by a man. Men have defined the character for me: Matt Smith and David Tennant’s versions have a kind of boyish charm and Peter Capaldi and Christopher Eccleston have a kind of benignly cranky old uncle vibe — these characteristics appeal to me, mostly because I see slivers of them in my own personality. I do recognize, however, that these things aren’t exclusively male and as the mantle is being passed on again with Peter Capaldi setting an end date on his run, it seems like the right moment to make the idea of the Doctor bigger than it’s been before. And so, I find myself wanting to completely suppress those feelings about the need for the Doctor to be male.
Part of that probably has to do with my rising inability to get upset about issues I’ve come to view as trivial. I’ve been zipping around the geek internet for what feels like a long lifetime (probably closer to six years) getting into skirmishes over casting rumors and disappointing adaptations. But now I’m just tired.
I really just want the next Doctor to be fun. It’s amazing how specificity fades when it comes to what you want in your entertainment as you get a little older. “Fun” has replaced a 500-word diatribe on how the Doctor should dress, the kind of dynamic Doctors should have with their companions, and aliens/creatures from the show lore that mustn’t return. Being negative and snarky and picky is a heavy lift for me now.
Besides general shrugginess when it comes to nerdrage items, I think my lack of desire to fight for the cause of white male continuity in a sci-fi TV show primarily stems from the repulsion that I feel for the way others have behaved in service to their own far-more-strongly-held views regarding the ethnicity, sexuality, and gender of fictional characters. While I had a preference, it was never so strong as to justify the suspension of my sanity or humanity.
I’ve seen people respond to the casting of Michael B. Jordan (a black man) as Fantastic Four‘s Johnny Storm (a white man in the comics and in past adaptations) that a white man should play Martin Luther King in a biopic. I’ve seen people launch dispiriting and disgusting attacks online because women dared strap on a proton pack and bust some ghosts. With some fans there can be no discussion or compromise — things have to be how they’ve always been even though these characters were born a long time ago in a space where diversity wasn’t prioritized or even, in some cases, allowed.
And then there is the connective tissue between these sentiments and Men’s Rights Advocates (MRAs) and others who crudely dismiss calls for diversity (in real life) as political correctness run amok. Because of that, I’m in a full speed sprint away from the gut impulse that the Doctor should have a dick, and you should be too. These times demand as much inclusiveness as possible.
Doctor Who has been aggressive in its courtship of a worldwide audience. The 50th-anniversary special broke records when it was broadcast in 94 countries and six continents. The character is no longer the exclusive property of Brits and Americans. The Doctor belongs to the world and audiences that will be amazed (and maybe inspired) by the Doctor and the Doctor’s companions in Russia, Mexico, and elsewhere as they fight for and represent that which is unmistakably good about humankind.
Making TV shows and movies for a broad and/or international audience is good business — which is why we’ve seen it happen over and over again with comic book characters that have moved to the big screen. It also has a higher value and purpose. Because, through fiction, we can all be a part of something bigger than one country, one gender, and one ethnicity. And that message is clearer when these kinds of stories are made to be accessible by playing with the identity of these characters and allowing under-represented groups a chance to see themselves in their on-screen heroes. This matters, even if many of us take it for granted.
I keep thinking about the positive effect that kickass companions like Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Clara (Jenna Coleman), and River Song (Alex Kingston) have had on female fans and on Doctor Who‘s popularity. Taking things to the next level would be a fantastic win in the effort to keep advancing the legacy of Leia, Ripley, and Buffy, but then I look at the news and I think about the value of tapping someone of Middle Eastern descent to be the Doctor. Wouldn’t that be a great counter-point to the rancor and Islamaphobia that plagues society? Wouldn’t that be a fit for a show that is, at its core, about a refugee from a war?
As has been pointed out to me by people who would judge a grown man for wanting to spend $100 on a sonic screwdriver remote control, Doctor Who is, at its heart, a children’s show. At some point, we need to concern ourselves with the cultural representations that kids see so that they can resist stereotypes and break past tired ideas that dictate that white males are an inevitability when telling a hero story. At some point, we need to show them Muslims and Middle Eastern characters that aren’t terrorists or tech support so they aren’t plagued by a narrow view.
The evolution of the Doctor doesn’t have to mean that the character will automatically lose its animating principle in the process, by the way. The spirit of the Doctor isn’t tied to gender, race, ethnicity, or religion, but to the character’s appetite for adventure, charity, compassion, and an affection for human beings.
If you’re holding onto the idea that the Doctor has to be a white man despite the abundance of white male characters in fiction and white men in government, let it go for the above reasons, let it go because no character truly belongs to any of us, and most importantly, let it go because there are more important things to get excited about and hold on to.