The new Doctor was announced Sunday morning. It is Jodie Whittaker!
This is an amazing choice. Doctor Who has always been about change and wonder. Change with each regeneration of the Doctor, change with each companion’s story arc, and change to new companions. Wonder about new planets, crazy aliens, and pure exploration.
The change has become less and less pronounced with each regeneration, though. There have always been obvious attitude shifts between the Doctors, but now, after 13 different white British men have played the Doctor, it feels like too much of the same. For a show based on change, that has absolutely frustrated long-time fans like me. For newer fans, imagine that the show you’ve watched since you were young demands that every few years you lose the main character you love, and a completely new one, with some similarities, takes over. Each regeneration (re-casting of the Doctor) is sad, but you see that real change can also bring a real dramatic payoff. The new Doctor can do things the last Doctor couldn’t. Say things the last one couldn’t. Make even crazier plans. You fall in love all over again, and the show surprises you again.
Doctor Who has hit a rough spot in recent seasons. (Search 2017 viewership if you want to know how rough.) The changes between Doctors are less obvious, making the payoff less rewarding. A show that hinges much of its change and wonder on surprising the audience is having trouble making anything seem new anymore. We know these male Doctors too well. They may say and do some things differently, but we know their reactions too well. How they show their ego and hide their feelings. How they order everyone about.
I agree completely with the cheers of representation. It matters that Doctor Who finally has a female Doctor. It may not matter much to people well-represented in their fandoms, but to those who aren’t, it means a lot. It doesn’t just matter to young girls, either, but to people of all ages who have been waiting for this. It matters for two big reasons. One: dreams. Sometimes it doesn’t even occur to you to believe you can be Doctor Who, or a starship captain, or a spaceship mechanic. I mean you don’t KNOW any women who are those things. Then one day you do, and it occurs to you that there is a possibility. The path exists. Not everyone becomes what they dream of, but the dreaming is important to propel you into future success.
The second reason is even bigger, and it gets into not what you think is possible, but what everyone else as a society thinks you could be capable of. It isn’t just dreamers not dreaming big enough that makes it hard for the first person to do the thing no one else of their race, class, gender, sex, etc. has done before. There is always someone who is thinking of trying things. It is hard because everyone else is unconsciously re-asserting that their idea of the world is how the world is. They don’t even know they are doing it. They see how the world is, through their own experience, plus discussions with other people, and from watching media like TV and the internet. They see it, and they reinforce it. That world they are reinforcing usually leaves a lot of people left out. The exact reason that so many people are raging about a woman becoming the center of this show is the very reason we need it.
Now some are claiming it breaks the rules of the show’s universe. Does this change break the rules set up by the show? Nope, another time lord sometimes regenerates to a woman, and the Doctor has previously said that he has never tried to regenerate into a woman. It has also been made clear that the Doctor does not always get what he wants during regeneration, or he’d be ginger by now. Any and all of these details fully support that this follows the rules of the show’s universe. People can act like they are concerned about the integrity of the show, but in fact they are trying to preserve a world where a woman doesn’t become the center of this show. They really needed to see a great actress as the main character long ago, so they’d feel that having a female lead sometimes is just how the show is, and how the world is.
Above and beyond all of that, this is what is right for the show. This show is dependent on change. This regeneration needed to not be another white man. We’ve seen some amazing actors from our male Doctors, and they’ve really covered a lot of different personalities, attitudes and viewpoints. However, a woman, will bring a completely new point of view that will make even the basics of Doctor Who new and different.
More than that, I’m excited for what Jodie Whittaker specifically can bring to the show. Her prior work shows the emotional depth of her range as an actress. As the grieving mother of a murdered child on Broadchurch, she took her character through every emotion in a very honest way. By casting someone with her range, I’m hoping this is a signal from the producers of Doctor Who that the now-typical “the Doctor hides feelings until great crazy sacrifice is needed” isn’t going to be a weekly plot point anymore. We KNOW that deep down you are a big softie, Doctor. You can stop hiding behind your jokes, your rage, and your awkwardness.
Many of the personality changes between Doctors are drastic swings from one type of personality to another as well. We had ten’s exhaustion at the pain of living with regret and self-loathing, followed by eleven’s excited puppy enthusiasm for everything. Now after a Doctor who had issues dealing with and showing his emotions, the new Doctor will be played by an actress who has proven she can portray deep emotions. So I’m hoping that this new Doctor will finally embrace something none of the previous Doctors ever embraced: displaying emotions beyond rage, disappointment, and humor. The Doctors have shown other feelings, but almost always under extreme circumstances. The depth of most of their feelings they’ve hidden behind a facade. I hope this regeneration is to a Doctor that isn’t afraid to show and deal with their emotions. And before anyone starts complaining about how they don’t want an emotional Doctor, shhhh – you already have an emotional Doctor. I’m just asking for a Doctor who is evolved enough to not feel they need to hide everything away. Some things, sure. The Doctor will always be SECRETIVE. However, that’s very different than being emotionally repressed.
Now at this point you may be thinking I’m suggesting I want a Doctor who cries a lot. Or cannot be a calm badass when necessary. I did not say either of those things, but I used the bad words emotions and feelings and your brain probably thinks I mean let’s make the Doctor a weak blubbering mess. If you have the time, possibly you should think through who you know who doesn’t process their feelings well and if they seem heroic to you, and the people that you know who confront their issues and are honest with themselves, and if they don’t seem almost super human. Also, watch Dr. Horrible. He’s a badass anti-hero, and he has plenty of time to examine his flaws, his mistakes, and his desire to rule the world, all while singing.
This is not to suggest that a Time Lord who has witnessed and lived through so much trauma can with one generation be healed and balanced or anything that radical. I still fully expect a slightly damaged and very egotistical Doctor. But the Doctor has been running from his feelings for far too long. It is time she took some time to reflect on herself and truly become all she’s capable of being.
Here’s the thing. I’m sure the Doctor has a million more psychological problems and oddities. Until we get past the most obvious, we won’t get to explore them all, and after all, this show is about wonder and exploration.
Of course, in case being emotionally repressed is a core trait of the Doctor that even the new show runner, Chris Chibnall, is unwilling to give up, I am still excited to see the role played by someone as talented and soulful as Jodie Whittaker. She can handle all of it. But I’m begging you, let’s have a doctor who is allowed to have emotions. Please.