So, Broadchurch actress Jodie Whittaker is officially the first female Doctor in Doctor Who history and the internet doesn’t know how to feel about that.
The above comes from the comments section of a Metro.co.uk interview with Whittaker discussing the who, what and when of her casting and future on Doctor Who. When asked what she’d want to tell the fans, she responded, “[Don’t be] scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
Yeah, but not everyone likes change. The transition period between Doctor’s is always a hectic one filled with anxiety and doom-and-gloom proclamations that always look silly in retrospect. That new person coming in to play the role almost always turns out to be better at it than we initially anticipated, but it can take us Whovians a full season with the new person to recognize as much. That’s just how these things go regardless of the actors involved.
Add on top of all the history-making element of the Doctor being gender-swapped and you get a frustrated fanbase, many of whom are now flocking to comments sections and message boards to declare that Whittaker’s casting means the end of their time as a Whovian.
Not that we should be surprised. Back before Peter Capaldi was cast as 12, there was much talk about perhaps casting a female to play the part, and the various websites which conducted polls revealed the majority of fans would reject such a rmove (60% of Digital Spy respondents indicated “The Doctor should never be a woman”). It wasn’t just angry dudes screaming on the internet. Nearly the majority of women seemed to feel the same way (49% of the female respondents to NewGov.co.uk’s survey wanted the Doctor to remain male). There was also an anecdotal story about Steven Moffat conducting a non-scientific “show of hands” poll at a Doctor Who convention in Cardiff where nearly a quarter of fans raised their hands when asked if they would stop watching the show entirely if the Doctor was made female.
That was long ago enough that Moffat has had plenty of time to better prepare audiences for a female Doctor, using Michelle Gomez’s gender-swapped Master character Missy as a test-run over the past 3 seasons. Then by the end of the most recent season Capaldi’s Doctor was talking about his own gender fluidity in such an open way that it would have actually been more surprising if the next Doctor had been male instead of female. After all, why would Moffat so blatantly lay so much groundwork for the Doctor to switch genders if his replacement, Chibnall, wasn’t going to follow through on it?
Yet that wasn’t enough, at least not for everyone because for some this is non-negotiable: The Doctor has always been male, and that’s the way it should stay:
Of course, if half of the fans don’t like this news that means the other half do, such as these AVClubers:
And pop culture has offered plenty of change lately, particularly in comic books. In recent years we’ve seen a black Captain America, female Thor, female, Muslim-American Ms. Marvel, black, female Iron Man, Asian Hulk. While those moves earned Marvel plenty of press and positive reviews it also coincided with an epic plunge in sales, leading one of the higher-ups to declare that perhaps the actual comic book-buying audience didn’t want so much change so fast. The real explanation is a little more complicated, but that might have played a part.
Such change has not been quite as plentiful for our live action entertainment. For example, we have yet another white guy playing Peter Parker (albeit doing a fantastic job with the role). However, now that Doctor Who has made the brave choice to change things up with the gender of its title character the fear is that it will lead to a steep ratings decline, and it’s not like the ratings have been that great during the Capaldi era.
So, here we are. This is a polarizing decision, and it was always going to be. Personally, whatever resistance I might have once had to this move was eliminated by Michelle Gomez’s brilliant performance as Missy. She remade the character in such a flawless way that I am completely open to the idea of Jodie Whittaker doing the same with The Doctor. My own reaction to her casting is less concerned with her gender and more with my own personal preference for Fleabag‘s amazing Phoebe Waller-Bridge to have gotten the part. I, frankly, need a Whittaker refresher because while I’ve seen her in Broadchurch‘s first season and Attack the Block I don’t recall much about her. Moreover, I have no clue what Chris Chibnall’s version of Doctor Who is going to look like, but I at least know I am more than willing to give Jodie Whittaker a chance. What about you?