BBC ‘assures’ a ‘concerned fan’ that the next Doctor Who will not be a woman — but why not?

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As diehard fans of Doctor Who are well aware, the hunt for the 13th doctor has been underway for some time. The search began when Peter Capaldi, the most recent actor to fill the iconic shoes, announced he was exiting the British series in January, making the 10th season his last.

Speculation has centred around countless names, with the most notable including Olivia Colman, Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Natalie Dormer and even Tilda Swinton. If you happened to notice a particular pattern among the names being bandied about you wouldn’t be alone.

The rumoured shortlist prompted a “concerned parent� to write and mail (of course) a letter to the BBC to complain that switching the doctor’s gender would confuse his children.

In response, Joanne Coyne, the BBC complaints officer (which is a real thing, and not just a fictitious job title from W1a, that presumably exists solely for these sorts of purposes), responded to the “fan� that there are “currently no plans� for a female Doctor Who.

Phew. The Western world really dodged a bullet there.

Coyne wrote, “We appreciate that you’re a big Doctor Who fan and you have concerns that the programme would change should there be a female doctor. … Be assured there are currently no plans to have a female Doctor Who.�

In fact, according to a BBC spokeswoman, “No casting decisions have yet been made on Series 11.� Before you panic, yes, some male names have also been rumoured to have entered the ring, including Kris Marshall, David Harewood and Tom Rosenthal.

For the record, Doctor Who is a series that has been around since 1963, and if we include its original run of 26 seasons, it has seen nearly 40 years of programming, with 12 doctors – all of whom have been men, of somewhat varying ages.

Sure, this is a series that has become more of a national treasure than a mere hour’s worth of family entertainment, but it has also seen a significant ratings decrease in recent years, and one could argue a facelift would give it the recharge it so sorely needs. We’re not living in the ’60s anymore, banishing the women to companion status feels a little archaic, especially for a show that should have grown with time since it literally travels through it. 

In fact, the reason the doctor is even able to go from actor to actor is because the character is a time-travelling shape-shifter of sorts, though his range seems inexplicably limited by gender and race, as he has gone from one older white man to another, time and time again.

Karen Gillan, who played companion Amy Pond alongside former Doctor Who Matt Smith for two years, talked to Press Association about the BBC’s response to the Doctor Who fan, saying, “Nooooo. It’s okay, maybe next time. I trust the BBC and their choices and they haven’t failed us yet with the Doctor. But it would be cool to see a woman in the role one day because a woman could absolutely play that role.�

Even beyond arguments that the show should at least make an effort to stay current with social progress, a female Doctor Who might have made more sense as a means to more viewers. In addition to the notoriety that would have come from the first Doctor Who to be a woman, the female stars rumoured to be in consideration for the role were significantly bigger names than their male counterparts. And, lest we forget, according to The Hollywood Reporter, 50 to 60 per cent of the TV-watching audience is female.

But back to the bottom line: It would have been nice for the long-running show to recognize that women can serve as something more than sidekicks, villains, facilitators and/or sacrificial lambs that merely help the Doctor reach his goal. But the question isn’t whether a woman can do it, it’s whether fanboys (and fanmen) can accept it.

One imagines that it was the adult parent complaining who had more difficulty grasping a potential gender-switch than their offspring. After all, this supposed father’s children literally couldn’t have been watching the series long enough to have a male Doctor Who conditioned into their brain.

But perhaps most importantly, a female Doctor Who would not only have offered little girls and boys the opportunity to see women as heroes, too, but it also might have broken the vicious cycle of adults snail-mailing letters to television networks demanding their heroes stay masculine – because god forbid we ever see a woman save the day with a man in her shadow.

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