Change, My Dear. And it’s About Time – Jodie Whittaker the 13th Doctor
Now we have had some time to settle down and digest the news, let’s talk a bit about change and Doctor Who. With the 13th Doctor being the first woman to take the roll, this is going to be seen as one of the biggest changes since 2005. Possibly the biggest since 1966.
Regeneration isn’t just about the Doctor extending their life. It’s a chance to experience everything afresh, with new eyes, and a new perspective. The Doctor has spent 12 (or 13, depending on how you count John Hurt) lifetimes in the body of a man.
Now the Doctor will be a woman, giving them a new perspective, a fresh pair of eyes with which to consider the universe.
Not with these eyes
Gallifrey is something of a stuffy place where their vast power and technology is used only to watch. They observe, they never interfere. (Not officially, anyway). The show has kept a lot of aspects of Gallifreyan society somewhat unclear and open to interpretation. The Big Finish audio dramas have sought to delve into it at times, as have the novels. One question that keeps coming to me is why regeneration? Why not some other form of life-extension?
There’s a quote from David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor that really gives us an insight into the benefits of regeneration for Time Lords. Not simply life extension – they can already live well over a thousand years in a single body – but a way of making that time more interesting.
The Doctor: Trouble’s just the bits in-between. It’s all waiting out there, Jackie, and it’s brand new to me. All those planets, and creatures and horizons. I haven’t seem them yet! Not with these eyes.
The concept of regeneration offers a Time Lord the chance to see the universe again. Seeing with the same eyes for a thousands of years could get boring. Getting a new set can make it all seem fresh again.
A new body at last
Capaldi’s Doctor has alluded to the fact that he’s grown tired. Matt Smith did, too, towards the end. The Doctor has lived for so long, he’s seen stars fall to dust. The Doctor has experienced the universe from the male perspective for two thousand years. To have the opportunity to now see it all again, experience it all again, but with a completely new standpoint must be exciting.
The positives, and the negatives of how women have been treated throughout history, and the future, will give the Doctor a new appreciation of the world. Constantly a campaigner against injustice, a champion of the marginalised and oppressed, the Doctor almost always sides with the underdog.
This isn’t just about the character. It’s about the show itself, as well.
Doctor Who always changes. That’s how it stays around, and stays interesting. It changes its main character, changes its supporting characters, and changes its production team. Every new set of people brings a new approach, a new perspective, and a new focus. It has its peaks and troughs, good times and bad.
At its base, it’s a fun, sci-fi/fantasy adventure for family audiences. But there are lots of ways it can and has been interpreted. For example, in the early days it was envisioned as an educational show to teach children about history and science. Then, it became more about speculative fiction, high concept sci-fi. Later, more of a swashbuckling adventure. Then gothic horror inspired. And in 2005 it became more drama oriented. And so on.
Doctor Who changes its format. That’s how it survives.
The Doctor, and who plays them, is a catalyst for much of this change, and is a window for the audience. Each new Doctor comes at it from different angle, spreading light in new and interesting angles, even on a familiar scene.
“But why did they make such a political decision?” or “they’re too politically correct!” have been the anguished cries of a vocal minority since the announcement. Other, better writers than me have addressed these complaints much more succinctly than I ever could.
But what I will say is that, whatever Chris Chibnall’s decision was going to be would always have been political. Maleness (and whiteness) are not apolitical. Keeping the status-quo is a political stance. Never challenging the zeitgeist is a political stance.
The very people claiming that casting a woman is a ‘political decision’ are showing that they, on some level, realise this. If casting a woman is political, then casting a man would be, too. You can’t have one without the other.
There are those who say this may cause a spike in viewership that will soon drop off. As if this isn’t what happens with almost every series of Doctor Who. With every series on television, full stop.
Over the course of Christopher Eccleston’s series, viewership dropped from 10.81 Million to 6.91 Million. Matt Smith suffered a similar drop off, as did Capaldi. It’s an argument all but guaranteed to be used. How many people will sit down and look at the viewing figures of the past? Not that many. It’ll be used to scoff, and the smugly claim triumph.
Like every political campaign, those opposed to the very idea of women seem to be setting up their strategy early.
Wonderful Times Ahead
So, what can we expect from Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor? Having watched the teaser clip a few times now, there is one thing I’ve zeroed in on as a sign of hope. As the TARDIS materialises and we see her face for the first time, the Thirteenth Doctor gets a look of wonder on her face.
It is a brief smile that says a lot. She looks hopeful, she looks almost in mild awed anticipation of what’s to come. And so are we!
And I will finish with a quote from one of my favourite Doctors, the Sixth, aka, Colin Baker.
Change my dears and not a moment too soon – she IS the Doctor whether you like it or not!
— Colin Baker (@SawbonesHex) July 16, 2017