Bigger fish to fry

I don’t always indulge my obsessions (oops sounds too clinical), hobbies (nope sounds like a toy horse for kids), passions (that’ll do) on this blog. But with the big hype around the casting of the first female Doctor Who (wow I can’t believe it’s not a joke anymore) I couldn’t not offer some perspective.


Image snapped from my computer screen. Copyright BBC.

So there I was tuned into Wimbledon final knowing that at some point in the gap between the men’s singles and the mixed doubles the announcement would be made. I even went on Wikipedia and taught myself how the tennis scoring system worked. Gone are the days when it was just launched at you out of the blue on the evening news though I have fond memories of my mother saying “Oh it’s the one who was in Hammond and Son” (she meant The Brothers) and four years later my going “Oh wow it’s that guy out of Jigsaw”.

Eventually Roger Federer finished hugging people and disappeared into the changing room and Sue Barker said “But now the question is Who…. is Number 13?”

A woodland scene with whistling in the background. Another of the modern BBC idents (I say bring back the spinning globe)? Nope there’s a figure strolling through the woods. A figure. Heavily clad in black gender-neutral clothing (though the suede ankle boots were a teeny giveaway).

The camera pans up. The cloaked figure throws back the hood. A cascade of blonde hair falls down framing a made-up face which looks neutrally at camera for a moment then smiles as the woman steps slowly towards the familiar blue box.

As the birdsong and music fade, the black and gold letters announce “INTRODUCING JODIE WHITTAKER THE 13TH DOCTOR”.

Well I had to admit they seemed to be running out of ways to do the male version. We’ve had grumpy and/or volatile (William Hartnell, Colin Baker, Christopher Eccleston, Peter Capaldi) over and over and it hasn’t always helped the ratings. Patrick Troughton’s portrayal has been aped time and again whether in the comedy of Sylvester McCoy, the gasping energy of Paul McGann or the bow-tie of Matt Smith. I was hoping Capaldi’s Doctor would be more like the warm avuncular Jon Pertwee version but I was disappointed. Tom Baker of course is a colossus of a Doctor and David Tennant showed his influence while still making the character very much his own. Peter Davison was just a nice relaxed guy and Matt Smith was similar although I still describe his portrayal as Tennant-lite. Almost invariably from Davison onwards (1982) the actors have cited Hartnell or Troughton as an influence on how they played the role.

The Doctor works best when the new incarnation is a stark contrast to the overriding characteristic of the previous one while still bringing something uniquely theirs to the role. I didn’t see that in Matt Smith and while the change from his smug pretty boy portrayal to Peter Capaldi’s sinister take on the role was stark, I didn’t feel safe or at home watching the Twelfth Doctor.

And after all these years of it being suggested with varying levels of seriousness and naysayers (myself included) crying out against the possibility of changing the Doctor’s gender, maybe it was time to just flipping well give it a try.

We’ve had a female Master now and seen another Time Lord regenerate into a woman so it’s a no-brainer now that one day a showrunner will cast a female in the role. Even my constant refrain of “If the Doctor had always been female, no-one would be saying it was time for a man” carried so much less clout than it might have done before. Steven Moffat has been edging us towards the idea even though it is his successor who has taken up the challenge.

And with the old guard including Colin and Sylvester hailing Jodie Whittaker’s casting and highly respected figures from behind the scenes like writer Mark Gatiss (long a favourite of mine) doing the same, and a recast version of Bill Hartnell’s first Doctor coming back for the regeneration episode almost like there was no other way to usher in this brave new era (and brave it is you have to agree whether it works or not), I have to realise it’s time to drop my pet peeve and realise I have bigger fish to fry.

I have male friends who think it’s about time.

I have female friends who think it’s a dreadful idea.

But ever since Tom Baker joked in 1980 that he could be replaced by a woman, the idea has grown in strength and with the show hot property again since its 2005 revival (though it’s not as white hot as it was then) the pressure was growing. So it’s really a bit of a relief that we don’t have the usual dialogue where some cry out for a woman, some actresses even do well at the bookies and then the naysayers breathe a sigh of relief when another man is cast. So maybe it’s time for another sigh of relief – this time that this boring dialogue is over.

It’s happened. If it works, great. If not it’ll be a lesson learned.

But with North Korean citizens being tortured and killed for even so much as wanting to leave, welfare recipients dying in the UK because of our broken benefits system and the unlikelihood of many of the Grenfell Tower bereaved being able to find and bury their loved ones is this really worth getting upset over?

Somehow I think the Doctor would say no.