Doctor Who – a female Doctor, yes or no?

So. It’s that question. One of the biggest, most contentious questions in fandom. Even posting it up here, on my blog, gives me the Fear a little, particularly given my opinion on it. I should say I’m not a massive fan, I’m more of a casual viewer, but let’s throw this up here and see what people think.

Should we, can we, have a female incarnation of the Doctor?

First of all, I don’t think there’s any real reason we can’t. There will be fans that will give me canon-related reasons that we can’t, no doubt, but I don’t really care about that. This is science-fiction (SF that veers wildly into fantasy quite often – in fact, I suspect these days Doctor Who is actually more comfortable in the Science-Fantasy genre) and there is always wiggle room. If canon says no, there will be ways around it, and everything else is just an excuse.

My problem with a female Doctor is that it’s not enough.

Female characters haven’t had the best of times on Doctor Who lately. The promising ones, the ones who seem like they might be a match for him (River Song, Clara Oswin, Amy Pond, Martha, Rose…) always seem to get sucked into the icky vortex of Squishy-Doctor-Love-Time. They start off as interesting characters with their own agendas and wants, but actually end up going a bit weak-kneed over his wiggling eyebrows or giant forehead. Now, to be fair, I have a bit of a dislike for female characters always being relegated to the role of “love interest”, and no doubt this informs a lot of my irritation over this, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement.

What I would like to see is a female character who fully challenges the Doctor, who is on his level, and does not fancy him. Like Donna, but without the soul-crushing, humiliating ending that was foisted upon her character. What I would really like to see, for example, is a female character (female Timelord perhaps?) who can match him in every sense. She could cause trouble for him, perhaps, or they could clash over how to solve universe-ending problems, and maybe they’d argue… but eventually they would earn each other’s respect, and become friends. Andnotwantohavesexwitheachother. The message that women are equal and are as capable is an important one to be sending – and maybe they don’t always have to be the “assistant”. In the playground, little girls playing Doctor Who would have a female character to play that is equally awesome (I’m not saying that little girls don’t get to play as the Doctor, but I also remember playing Thundercats in the playground with the boys and I was always Cheetarah).

Could we have a female Doctor without it being a gimmick? Without boobs jokes, and jokes about shopping or shoes or babies? I’m not sure we could. Perhaps if we had a few more women writers on the team (Who seems to lack that at the moment) or even a female showrunner… I’m aware this all sounds rather defeatist, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen just because it might be crap.  It just troubles me slightly that the only way we will get a decent female character in Doctor Who is if the Doctor becomes a woman – because the Doctor is the only one that’s allowed to be super clever and full of awesome.

I want good female characters in Doctor Who. They don’t have to be the Doctor, and they don’t have to be in love with him. I want female characters who are more than an accessory or a gimmick for the Doctor.

Anyway, I’d love to know what you all think. :)

(…is Idris Elba available by the way?)

21 thoughts on “Doctor Who – a female Doctor, yes or no?

  1. Absolutely! Let’s have a female Doctor who isn’t a crap stereotype, who doesn’t need to have a love interest. Who is just interesting because she’s the Doctor.

    And yes, let’s have female writers on the team and, maybe, (gasp) a female showrunner.

    Make it so!

  2. Absolutely we could, and should for three reasons:

    -The Moffat run’s critical standing on handling female characters, characters of diverse sexuality and characters of color is in the absolute toilet, regardless of the level you feel that may be deserved. A female Doctor would be an excellent way to redress that balance.

    -There comes a time with any fandom when you either need to listen to it and accept that you will be beholden to it for as long as you do, or when you have to burn some bridges and start anew. The visceral negative reaction to it amongst Who fans of a certain age and up could be argued to be the best possible reason TO do it, especially given the growing chorus of people who regularly attack the show for it not being exactly the same as it was in their childhood. Change is good, change hurts and I’d even contend that the growing fan service of the Moffat years is heading in this direction. We’ve had the Valeyard name-checked now and once you get there, you’re within sight of the edge of established continuity. Don’t be afraid, step over it.

    -New ground. The show is about change by definition and a female Doctor would change the tone and rhythm of the show in a variety of massively healthy, interesting ways. Plus, it’d be REALLY fun:)

  3. Of course! Why not? I’d love to see a female doctor who isn’t a destroyer of worlds or oncoming storm or any of the cliched stuff we’re seeing in the current series. (Which is getting pretty dry now … they need new writers, and gasp, I’d heard there were female writers out there somewhere!)

  4. Why on earth not? I’d love to see a female Doctor, or a woman who’s a match for the Doctor who isn’t in love with him, and isn’t a villain. I think the closest we have at the moment is Vastra, who is great, but more characters like her would be a bonus.

  5. There was a villainous Time Lord in the older series called The Rani. I thought they were hinting at her return when a female hand picked up The Master’s ring at the end of the three parter with John Simm. Sadly, nothing came of it.

    Really, I’d be happy to have a female Doctor, or a black Doctor… Anything but the young white Doctor we’ve been inundated with since the series came back (and indeed before it was initially cancelled).

    But it runs against audience expectations. This is not a defence of the practice, just a kind of sad reality. The majority of the audience expects a white male, so that’s what the BBC delivers. I really want to see them try something new, but I don’t think it will happen as long as the BBC and other media publishers and writers are so narrow minded and risk averse.

  6. There was a female time lord in the older series called the Rani who was an excellent villain and outwitted both the Doctor and the Master.

    Companions in Doctor Who have a long history of starting out with lots of promise and then just becoming a shadow of themselves… Eventually just becoming people for the Doctor to save regardless of their sex. The only companion that ever had a lot of work done on her in the old series was Ace and the Doctor was rather cruel to her on more than one occasion.

    The funny thing about this is that often these days the story is more about the journey the companion is going on than the Doctor.

    Also the recent on off female companions Jenny and the Silurian Vastra were both strong throughout 😀

  7. No. The Doctor’s a fella. Gallifreyans, like us, appear to have two genders. Having the Doctor regenerate into a female form just wouldn’t ring true. Unless it was something to do with the Master being a complete shit! 😀 I do think that Who needs stronger female characters, though. Someone like Ace, but more commanding. Or Romana how she should have been. Jean Marsh’s Sara Kingdom was a brave step at the time, a shame she didn’t continue as a companion. But that wasn’t her story. Could Idris Elba be female? 😉

  8. Personally, I’d let them carry on as they are up until the 13th incarnation, and then have whatever reboots his regeneration cycle introduce a bit more variation. Still not sure if a female Doctor is the way to go, though. As an alternative, reintroduce Romana (she was safe and sound from the Time War because she was in e-space throughout) and give her a spin-off. She’s a Time Lord, she handles a TARDIS better than the Doctor, and she’s academically smarter than him. What rubbed off on her in her travels with the Doctor was the impulse to do good, so she’d have cause to do Doctor-ish things. Plus — huge selling point for me, anyway — she didn’t lug around a sonic screwdriver.

  9. The rate at which women go gooey-eyed around the Doctor makes me think he’s made of pheromones and kittens. I would *love* to see a female doctor with a female assistant. My second choice would be male doctor with male assistant written by a female author (this scenario would be even better if male assistant has a ten year old daughter).

    There is so much potential but it’s almost always the same mix :(

  10. Lara Pulver. Imagine her as Doctor Who! This came from someone else, so I’m not going to claim the credit, but I think it’s a great match.

    A female Timelord who is he equal would be great, course there’s the whole problem of him being The Only One!!! Apart from the Master….and that other Doctor Who who is sort of human….and didn’t he have a daughter? So, I think with the whole timey-wimey thing, they could somehow bring back another Timelord, somewhere, somehow. And not make her Evil!

  11. @MrE_Os

    No. The Doctor’s a fella. Gallifreyans, like us, appear to have two genders. Having the Doctor regenerate into a female form just wouldn’t ring true.

    Actually it was only last season that we learned Time Lords can swap genders. So, you know, it’s established! It’s canon!

    I share the fear that the show couldn’t pull off a female Doctor whilst it remains mired in the kissy-eyes marsh that’s caused so much problems since Eccleston left. In fact, a female Doctor being chased around by lovesick male companions might actually be of interest, but the possibility of cheap jokes mentioned above gets worse when you think about the show trying to portray what would functionally be a romance between a younger man and an older woman. It’s far from clear that the current crop of writers could handle that sensibly.

  12. Great post!

    Bit of a weird argument above re: Gallifrey and gender in the comments – it’s a SF universe. The Culture *appears* to have two genders, and yet characters in that universe treat them as being entirely fluid. Should the Doctor be able to be a woman? Absolutely yes.

    Great SF is in all things mutable and if there *is* something in canon that says the Doctor is stuck forever as Space Jesus* then it should be fired out of…well…a cannon.

    Now, here’s where I bake the noodle of every ultracon Who fan out there and give you two suggestions for fun potential Doctors: Sally Hawkins, or Naomie Harris.

    *like normal Jesus, sans beard.

    • Aye, that sort of thing always amuses me – he’s an alien with two hearts who travels in a magical box who changes his entire body every time he “dies”… but he couldn’t possibly be a woman.

      Although, I still don’t think he should be. 😉

      It reminds me of an argument I read recently that it’s entirely fine to have a world with dragons in it, but if the society of that same world is also tolerant of gay people, it’s somehow unbelievable – but that’s possibly a massive tangent.

      • Actually, I think the “it’s ridiculous to think he could become a woman” argument is stronger than you’re making out here (which is not to say it’s actually strong, or that I agree with it). There seems to be three very different things being conflated. There’s i) fantastical/SF elements introduced as a premise of a story, ii) fantastical/SF elements that are introduced halfway through a story but which do nothing to contradict what has already been established, and iii) fantastical/SF elements that are introduced halfway through a story and which are contradictory.

        Clearly the TARDIS and time travel are examples of the first, and the two hearts idea more or less comes under the second (though I seem to remember there being a reference to the Doctor’s heart singluar during the Hartnell days, so if any reeeeeeally long term fans want to take issue with that, I say let them get on with it – ditto if they never got over how Time Lords get shorter and younger after they get too cold). It seems to me the question here is whether the Doctor ditching the Y chromosone constitutes an example of group ii) or of group iii), and if it’s the latter, whether it matters.

        I’m sympathetic to the idea that having a female Doctor is implicitly contradictory because the character has chosen to be male at least eleven times in a row. If the Doctor becomes female the question becomes why she’s waited so long to do it. Now, I don’t think that’s much of a challenge for any halfway decent writer, and my girlfriend’s suggestion that all Time Lords swap sex as they reach the end of their lifespan (like some fish do) immediately removes the problem entirely. But major changes to a long-running story – even implicit changes – self-evidently require more effort to be effective than do the rules set up in a pilot episode.

  13. I’m intrigued by the not-the-Doctor female TimeLord idea!

    Elementary has created a fantastic female Watson without lovey-wovey-bollocks and I enjoy watching Lucy Liu in the role as much as I enjoy Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock. She is such a strongly written character, definitely written to be female and displaying feminine characteristics, but in such a natural and balanced way. It feelsl ike the show understands the differences between genders but celebrates those differences, rather than trying to make one better than the other.

  14. To be honest, I don’t mind what gender the Doctor is. I can see E_Os’s point in that Timelords appear to have a humanoid physiology and aren’t like tropical frogs that just change from male to female and back again. So I can see the difficulty there. I think the job should go to whoever does the best audition, and if that’s a woman, then fine. Write a reason/backstory for it. Thinking about it, The Corsair (the one trapped in House in the Doctor’s Wife) regenerated as female, so I guess it isn’t impossible.

    I agree on the strong female companion front. Donna was the best for me on that score. I think most of the reason I don’t like Martha is that right from the beginning it’s clear that she could quite fancy the Doctor, and she’s jealous of Rose. Is there not a bit in The Shakespeare Code where they’re sharing a room and she’s giving him the doe eyes and he says he thinks there’s something changed, or that he’s missing and she gets all misty-eyed, and then he says “Rose would know!” and she goes all sulky? I would have preferred a male companion this time (an actual companion in their own right who gets chosen, not a companion’s boyfriend) just to see a different, non-sexual dynamic.

    I’m against arbitrary quota-filling/positive racism. I don’t want a Black/non-White or female Doctor for the sake of it. Again, I think that the job should go to whoever auditions the best. I don’t know who I’d want to see as the Doctor, though. Tamzin Merchant? Gemma Chan? Merchant has a sort of waif-like inquisitiveness to be the quirky, “gets away with anything because she pretends the rules don’t apply” Doctor, and Chan has proved she can act cold and tough from her time in Secret Diary of a Call Girl, her drive and vulnerability from Sherlock, and she’s also been in Who before in Waters of Mars.

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  16. We have already had a male Doctor with a female time lord companion who could be considered his equal in technical skills. This has already happened. It could be updated with more modern sensibilities, but it would not be new ground. A female Doctor would actually be genuinely new ground, so I’d vote for that. But it should really wait for Moffat to leave the show because frankly, he’s shite as a showrunner and he’s driving the series into the ground. Replace him AND make the Doctor a female. That’d shake things up and bring some excitement back to the series, because the whole male Doctor / female Companion thing has been from sexist to emporing and back again, and it’s utterly played out. The only other way to go that’d be fresh is for the Doctor to have only male companion(s).

  17. I got the impression that both Idris/TARDIS and River Song were tentative attempts at feeling out what a female Doctor could be. Either of them could be a pretty good template, because of course, rather than being madly in love with the Doctor, they would be the Doctor madly in love with herself.

  18. If they had a great female character in Who I’d start watching again with interest, instead of half-asleep during the post-dinner slump.

    I agree with Jonathan about Romana… loved her character. It’d be good to see her back. And a big yay to no, or at least minimal, sonic screwdriver.

    But I’d like to see a female Doc too. A really fresh angle. Won’t ever happen with Moffat though.

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