When Peter Capaldi announced his departure from Doctor Who, any attempt to celebrate the 12th actor to inhabit the role were promptly dashed by fans and bookies’ offering their best guesses about who would replace him. Considering the show’s nearly 55-year history, and that Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall is set to take over as showrunner, the resulting hot takes, discussion forums and social media posts weren’t all that surprising. Maybe the new creative blood would help Doctor Who finally address one of the fans’ most vocal (and frequent) complaints. “Maybe the 13th Doctor won’t be played by another white male,” they said. “Maybe — just maybe — it’s next hero / role model will be a woman, a person of color, or both.”
As Capaldi’s debilitated Doctor put it in “The Doctor Falls,” when the Master (John Simm) asked him whether the future will be all female: “We can only hope.” Sure enough, news of Broadchurch alum Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the 13th Doctor sent most fans of the long-running science fiction television series into a tailspin of delight. There were plenty of YouTube comments to suggest some weren’t too happy with Chibnall’s decision, of course, but their misdirected ire ignores the fact that the titular Time Lord’s next regeneration is a huge step in the right direction, not just for contemporary viewers clamoring for change, but for the next crop of Whovians to come.
The Sixth Doctor himself, Colin Baker presented this point clearly with a succinct reaction on Twitter. “Well I never,” he began, “the BBC really did do the right thing and let the Doctor be in touch with her feminine side. As a father of daughters – result!” At the core of the 74-year-old English actor’s tweet isn’t high praise for Whittaker’s acting abilities, or Chibnall’s promise as the incoming showrunner, but acknowledgement of what recasting an historically male character female could mean to his daughters. More than his being a literal part of the Doctor Who canon, Baker believes the best part of Whittaker becoming the next Doctor is what it could — and will — mean to current and future female fans.
These include my two-year-old niece, who — if her Uncle Drew has anything to say about it — will be exposed to more Doctor Who than her non-fan parents will know what to do with. They’ll shower her with all the gifts a little girl living in Texas can expect to receive at Christmastime, but thanks to me she’ll have her own sonic screwdriver. (With which, in all likelihood, she will use to try and “fix” the family dogs.) After all, this is the same girl whose first gift from me was a Wonder Woman onesie. And while her equally nerdy father does plenty to inundate her with Star Wars, Whittaker’s entrance onto the stage now means there is a version of the Doctor she can finally see herself in.
“But wait a minute,” skeptics will undoubtedly say. “Doctor Who has given fans great runs with fantastic female characters throughout its tenure.” Which is a fair point, as many of the Gallifreyan’s traveling companions have been female — like Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). And considering past statements regarding the companions’ gender, female fans don’t have anything to worry about per the gender of their apparent lot. As strong as these characters can be, however, they never amount to anything more than a supporting role. Besides, the program isn’t titled Companions.
So consider your favorite incarnation of the Time Lord. Your preference likely depends on the actor — be it his looks, language or demeanor. Even the slightest tic — from Tom Baker’s wide-eyed look of surprise, to the way David Tennant exclaims the word “well” — can settle this for some. These characteristics generally have nothing to do with gender, but at least we had the freedom to choose and celebrate them. As for gender or biological sex, no choice was given. Your favorite Doctor — and the favorite Doctors of Doctor Who fans of all kinds — must be a man, as only men have played him since 1963. Not anymore.
This doesn’t mean my niece will ultimately choose the 13th Doctor as her favorite when she’s old enough to do so. Nor, for that matter, does this suggest Whittaker’s Doctor will be the only regeneration female fans will like. The Attack the Block star won’t show up on television until Christmas Day 2017, so no one — longtime fans and little Whovians in training alike — will be able to make a decision for some time. But at least everyone will have a greater diversity to choose from, as the 13th Doctor will finally encompass the other half of Doctor Who fandom — from my sonic screwdriver-wielding niece to explorers of space and time around the world.
Jodie Whittaker will debut the 13th Doctor in the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special.