Doctor… Who is she?
By James Wynne.
In light of Peter Capaldi’s recent casting as the twelfth incarnation of our beloved Time Lord (Hoorah!), things seem to have simmered down on the whole female Doctor front. It’s a subject that’ll never go away entirely, unfortunately, and will continue be a source of visceral debate amongst fans of Doctor Who until the show’s dying day.
Without doubt, the issue of gender equality – or more accurately, gender representation – is the most prominent theme whenever this volatile subject rears its head. In order to prevent the inevitable hostility that will follow, should I attempt to tackle this from my perspective (and also because I believe it to be of total irrelevance to a debate this trivial), I will be looking at the arguments for and against that stem purely from the fictional world of Doctor Who itself.
It was Tom Baker’s adieu to the show that was the catalyst for the notion of a female Doctor, and the idea has gained momentum year upon year ever since. Neil Gaiman’s much lauded first outing for Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife”, then threw further fuel onto the fire with the Doctor recalling the Corsair – a Time Lord that he had known as both a he and a she – establishing once and for all that Gallifreyans can move between genders during the regeneration process.
Of course, Steven Moffat claims to have established this already, during the Eleventh Doctor’s first scene, in which he tugs at his new, lengthy locks of hair, and voices an aghast refutation that he is now a girl (‘…No, I’m not a girl!’). So, one thing’s clear: the Doctor, in his eleventh form at least, has no desire to step into the shoes of femininity. Assuming that he has some level of input as to what form his next incarnation will take – and there’s certainly evidence to support this (more on that further down), far more than there is in support of the notion that the regenerative process is completely randomised, at any rate – it seems he’s content to remain of the male variety for the time being, and has been for the last 1000+ years. In that case, would it not be extensively out of character for him to suddenly opt for the opposite sex after all this time?
If we take a moment to compare a Time Lord regenerating from one sex to the other, to that of a human choosing to undergo a transgender operation (something that, I’d like to highlight, only a minority of us possess the compulsion to do – could the same not be true of Gallifreyans, then?), it’s worth noting that the people who require this change realise so at a very early point in their lives, just the same as most people do their sexual orientation.
Therefore, if a Time Lord is predisposed to frequent both male and female forms between regenerations (a.k.a. the Corsair) – a mindset contextually comparable to a human being forgoing the gender they were physically born as – it is then logical to assume that they’d do so at some point in their first few regenerations, not leave it until their twelfth or thirteenth. I reiterate that the Doctor has demonstrated no indications of this predisposition – on the contrary, his aforesaid dismay at thinking himself to have become a “girl” signifies the exact opposite.
What the scene also disproves is the popular claim among supporters of a female in the role that the Doctor, a being of much higher intelligence than our own, does not possess the same limited perceptions of gender that we humans do (specifically, I suppose, the humans – or Whovians – outright opposed to a female incarnation), and so he would likely view it as a fairly inconsequential change were it to occur. His humorously dismayed reaction to thinking he had undergone his first transgender regeneration, and adherence to a male form over his entire lifespan thus far, when all evidence points to the possibility for him to dictate the gender of his choosing, pretty firmly suggests otherwise.
Furthermore, on the subject of whether or not the end result of the Doctor’s regenerations are of his choosing – or if he at least influences them to a small degree – all of the above could be dismissed if you subscribe to the notion that the process is totally out of his control (even if this were so, the fact that all eleven of his incarnations have conformed to the same basic template raises questions). One need only look at Romana’s famous regeneration in “Destiny of the Daleks”, though, in which she cycles through forms like we humans go through clothes, as proof that Time Lords and Ladies can exert control over the outcome of it.
I read somewhere that the reason Romana appears more able to dictate her subsequent form is due to her advanced learning in the art of regeneration (apparently, the Doctor was a bit of a slouch during his days at the academy), which reaffirms the view for some that the Doctor is unable to do as she does. However, Steven Moffat is responsible for providing another counter argument to this: River Song.
River Song was revealed to be made up of both human and Time Lord DNA in “A Good Man Goes to War”, due to her conception aboard the TARDIS during its flight through the time vortex. She can regenerate, just as Time Lords do, but not being a true Gallifreyan (and also because Gallifrey is no longer accessible), she’s never undergone any Time Lord teachings to hone the ability. Plus, not being a full-blooded Time Lord surely means that she is not possessed of the same degree of natural ability that, say, the Doctor is. And yet, similar to Romana’s clothes-shop attitude during her regeneration, when shot and forced to regenerate as Mels in “Let’s Kill Hitler”, River remarks that she is ‘focussing on a dress size’ for her next form (additionally, she also later comments that she will de-age her new body, just to mess with people – yet another indication that a Time Lord’s appearance is well and truly within their control).
Let us also not forget that, whilst a lot of the Doctor’s predominant character traits aren’t exclusively male, he generally tours Earth looking for female travelling companions, not males, and has demonstrated romantic inclinations towards women since his very first incarnation, in “The Aztecs”, and has continued to do so rather prolifically in the modern era. Whereas, the males that jump aboard his TARDIS have generally only been additions to the female companion(s) of the time, and the Doctor has never shown the same interest towards them as he has done with the likes of Rose and Clara, for example.
So, should the change occur, does the Doctor continue to travel predominantly with female humans (surely removing the balance of gender in Doctor Who that’s sustained it over all this time), or does he start looking for male companions to join him in his [mis]adventures instead? Both scenarios constitute the potentially damaging, collateral changes that are often overlooked when this topic is discussed.
In conclusion, then, I am against the prospect of a female Doctor, for all the reasons and rambling above. Those in support of it are always quick to point out that ‘Doctor Who has always been about change, and its fans should embrace that wholeheartedly, whatever form it may take’. They’re not wrong, but the ethos of change that has enabled the show to survive whilst so many others have fallen by the wayside is popularly exaggerated and/or misunderstood.
Doctor Who has always achieved change, while remaining fundamentally the same. Long-running television shows often follow one of two patterns to their demise: either, they refuse to change in the slightest, settling into a contemptibly predictable rhythm, or they change too much, losing their identity in the process – both of which cause fans to lose interest. Doctor Who frequently changes its lead actor, but after eleven times of doing so, it’s still managed to retain the essence of the very first. If a woman were to step into the role after the twelve men before her, I am of the opinion that that sense of continuity would be sacrificed. It’s comparable, in a sense, to the exterior of the TARDIS; a design that has been subject to an array of alterations over the years, but is still intrinsically the same as its first iteration. Were it to be radically overhauled, I’m sure every single one of us would be ordering the extermination of the persons responsible.
Now, I’ve gone this whole article avoiding the gender issues that frequently plague any discussion/debate/argument/all-out-war pertaining to this already controversial topic, so I’d ask that those of you who choose to comment do the same. Let’s keep the hostility to a minimum, folks!