Sharp Uptick in Misogyny After Doctor Who Announcement

The new Doctor on Doctor Who will be Jodie Whittaker

After the BBC announced yesterday that Jodie Whittaker would take over this Christmas as the new Doctor as Peter Capaldi steps down, the internet saw a sharp uptick in misogyny as critics and trolls exclaimed a woman could never fill the role. Whittaker – who many already know from the hit series Broadchurch (which also starred former Doctor David Tennant) – is set to appear in this year’s Christmas special after Peter Capaldi regenerates – a mechanism the show has used over the years to keep the show going even when actors leave the role.

Though discussion has existed about casting the Doctor as a woman for at least thirty years, several “fans” of the show that features a protagonist fighting for fairness and equality argue a female time traveler is just too much.

Ken Bones and T’Nia Miller

These are the same people that don’t see a problem with believing a story about a two-hearted character from another planet that has the ability to travel through time and space who can literally change appearance and personality during a healing process called ‘regeneration.’ They can’t believe this despite the show itself repeatedly establishing gender-change as canon with at least two other characters on screen when they regenerated (one was a General on the Doctor’s home planet Gallifrey that regenerated from white male Ken Bones into African-American woman T’Nia Miller during the season 9 finale, and the other is the Master regenerating into Missy). Moreover, the Doctor has repeatedly made this point too in discussing gender constructs to companions.

Just this season Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, in a conversation with his companion Bill (played by Pearl Mackie) discussed the gender fluidity of his race. “She was my first friend, always so brilliant, from the first day at the Academy. So fast, so funny. She was my man crush.” The comment (during the season’s penultimate episode World Enough and Time) referenced his history with the Master – whose current iteration is Missy, a woman – during their time at the Time Lord Academy.

Confused, Bill asked, “I’m sorry?”

“Yeah, I think she was a man back then. I’m fairly sure that I was, too. It was a long time ago, though,” the Doctor said.

“So, the Time Lords, bit flexible on the whole man-woman thing, then, yeah?” Bill asked.

“We’re the most civilized civilization in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes,” the Doctor responded.

That, of course, set up this famous line between John Simm’s version of the Master (who returned in the finale) and Capaldi’s Doctor during the final episode The Doctor Falls:

“Do as she says. Is the future going to be all girl?” Simms’ Master asked.

“We can only hope,” Capaldi responded.

This is all recent clue-dropping though in a universe that’s consistently held that male Time Lords can regenerate into women. When David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, for instance, Matt Smith’s Doctor reached up, tugged at his hair, and momentarily thought he’d regenerated into a woman.

Season 9 in particular sought to tackle a lot of the issues facing the world today from LGBTQ discrimination and racial bias to gender constructs and women’s rights.

The show’s premises and canon don’t seem to matter to a small yet vocal contingent of online detractors who believe the Doctor should always be a man – and according to several people – a white man.

Some of this can be attributed to the cycle that occurs each time a new Doctor is announced. Matt Smith faced it for being too young, and Peter Capaldi faced it for being too old. Whittaker now faces her own version of that outrage for lacking a penis (which, apparently, is a requirement to be an alien superhero who travels the universe fighting for equality and justice).

But the vitriol this time around is courser. It’s more vulgar. It has supposed “lifetime fans” of the show – a show about fighting for justness without violence – proclaiming they will never watch the show again and that by casting a woman they are “giving in” to “political correctness” and feminism. These are not the words of someone who understands what Doctor Who is about at a fundamental level.

Writing for Radio Times, Sarah Doran explained:

Just ask Noma Dumezweni, the actress who some screamed couldn’t possibly play Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child because she didn’t have the right colour skin. The negative response to her casting – in the role which later won her an Olivier Award – was disgusting and rightfully called out as such.

The negative response to Whittaker’s casting – from both male and female fans of the series – is just as disgusting in its own way. It’s not sexist to think an actor or actress is wrong for a role based on their performance, but to think they’re wrong simply because you believe the role should or could NEVER be played by someone of their gender is.

Sure, you might have room to argue that plenty of iconic characters could be gender bound by their history or narrative, but The Doctor is not one of them. The idea that the character could or would regenerate into a woman – and perhaps already had as “a little girl” – is one that’s been knocking around for quite a long time now.

And if a time-travelling face-swapping personality-changing alien from a planet on the far side of the universe can’t have two hearts and two ovaries without destroying the Whoniverse then we really are in trouble.

The naming of the first woman to play the Doctor has exposed male fragility to such a degree that Whittaker herself made a pubic statement.

“I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender,” she said. “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.”

Writing for New Statesmen, Laurie Penny said it succinctly:

I suspect that some of the protests are being played up with an ulterior motive in mind. I’ve an inkling that the fans who are yelling the loudest about the casting of Whittaker as political correctness gone mad, as an insult to of the spirit of the show and proof that feminism is poisoning this and every other inhabited planet, are just hoping that the Doctor will notice that they’ve become trapped in a 1950s time warp and show up in the Tardis to save them. They needn’t try so hard. The Doctor will always come and save you, including from your own worst impulses, and if you’re ready to follow her through time and space, there’s no telling where the story will go next.

Thankfully, former Doctors and companions from the show’s long-running history have all been supportive of Whittaker’s announcement. Moreover, multiple polls show the overwhelming majority of fans support BBC’s decision.

Outcry and criticism over having a woman take over as Doctor – a concept consistent with the show’s ethos and canon – clearly demonstrate the need for a woman in the role and necessity for more diversity in future Doctors.

Perhaps the only valid complaint in Whittaker becoming the next Doctor is a joke passed down from Doctor to Doctor in the new-Who series: still not ginger.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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  • Here’s a confession: I wasn’t crazy about the idea of an actress being cast as the Doctor. But when the 13th Doctor was announced, I was thrilled without even thinking twice about it. Science fiction has always asked the question, “What if…?” But on 21st century Earth, “What if the Doctor were a woman?” should even have to be a question worth asking—it should just happen.

    Grow the hell up, nerd boys.

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