Is the World Ready for a Female Doctor?

“I think it’s absolutely time for a female Doctor Who. I’m so sick of that man with his girl sidekick. I could name at least 10 wonderful British actresses who would absolutely kill in that role.” - Dame Helen Mirren on who should play the next Doctor on the BBC’s Doctor Who.

“I would like to play the new female Doctor Who. I don’t want to just be his sidekick.” - Mirren two years previously, admitting she would like to do something with the role.

Not a surprising sentiment from an actress who, in 2010, played the role of Prospero (actually Prospera) in Julie Taymor's film production of The Tempest. I think she knows a little something about playing what is traditionally a man's role, and she was awesome in that film. She could totally pull of the Doctor, no doubt about it.

Every time there's talk of an upcoming regeneration, I'm always among those supporting the idea of a female Doctor. We even have a good excuse this time - Clara's DNA going all up and down his timeline like that, bound to be a little crossover in the chromosomes. But obviously, it's hard to go against 50 years and 11 actors' worth of tradition/precedents. Would a major star like Mirren be exactly the kind of choice to make this change acceptable to viewers? Could someone like her sell the idea better than a comedienne like Arabellla Weir (named solely because she played the Doctor in an Unbound audio)?

I'm not holding out much hope, but the idea has intrigued me at least since I saw Joanna Lumley play the Doctor as a joke in Moffat's The Curse of Fatal Death Who spoof. I'd love to see it happen some day. I'm not expecting a lot of comments agreeing with me.

Additional reading: Casting the Time Lady


Jeff R. said...

I'm not particularly against it, but the combination of the Doctor's general lack of control over his regenerations and the fact that the coin's come up male 12 times in a row (counting Hurt and the Valeyard. Plus one more for Romana's regeneration being cis, and a few more for any of Gallifreyan politicians that had multiple incarnations under a single name.) makes the conclusion that time lords are, occasional quips notwithstanding, strongly gendered difficult to escape.

Give me a story that explains this and takes the possibility of moving Looms into on-air continuity permanently off the table and I'll be all for it.

Siskoid said...

Maybe what we really need is for the Time Lords to return and for a cool Time Lady to get her own show.

Craig Oxbrow said...

The world? Totally.

Doctor Who fans? Unfortunately less so.

jdh417 said...

Why would I not want a pushy, overbearing, know-it-all female Doctor? Two words: River Song.

More practically, I read somewhere that the BBC budget keeps getting continually cut. I don't think they could afford Helen Mirren, certainly not for more than a season.

A female Doctor would also be more of a curiosity than a character, at least, that's how she'll be written. I'm picturing stories with a bunch of unnecessary, silly awkward moments.

Then what do you for the next Doctor? A Black one? An Indian one? (God help us) an American one?

There have been plenty of strong female characters on the new Doctor Who, who sometimes save the day, just like he does. Let's just keep with the tradition. Do a Doctor's Daughter show with Georgia Moffett instead.

Siskoid said...

It's extremely unlikely that the show could afford Helen Mirren I agree.

I can't agree however that a female Doctor would necessarily be "pushy", "over-bearing" or at all like River Song. That's a strange statement for you to make. Why wouldn't a female Doctor be more like Sarah Jane, for example? There's more than one way to show strength of character and intelligence. And while certain writers might well turn it into a shtick, in the absolute sense, there's no reason to think such a character couldn't be written well.

A black Doctor has indeed been discussed, and things could apparently have gone that way before Matt Smith was announced. Let's be careful not to frame the argument in a sort of Anglo purity. After all, the Doctor HAS been a Scotsman.

Peder said...

I'm kind of afraid that moving to a woman Doctor would be too much of a stunt. Of course, if anyone could overcome that, it would be Helen Mirren. Given a choice, I'd rather go with her as a Time Lady of a related show. God, she'd be great!

Anonymous said...

A female Doctor? They're called nurses, siskoid.

Siskoid said...


jdh417 said...

Perhaps I badly phrased this. let me try again. The Doctor is generally a pushy, overbearing, know-it-all character. So, River Song already virtually the Doctor.

A Sarah Jane-like Doctor never occurred to me (good idea btw) and it won't occur to the producers either, guaranteed. (Cf. River Song) Any female Doctor who isn't all bada** will be made fun of by the mass media.

And once they've broken with tradition, they'll feel the need and pressure to be different with each succeeding Doctor.

And the Doctor has been a Scotsman twice (Mcgann and Ecc), plus Tennant is an actual Scotsman.

Excellent blog, sir. And you have the last word on this if you wish.

Siskoid said...

I agree the pitfalls are there, and the current production team would probably fall prey to them.

In an ideal world, I do think the idea would work, and would be followed by one or two more female Doctors before reverting to a male one, and from there, whoever's best gets the role, male OR female.

In an ideal world.

Which this isn't.

(I think you meant McCoy, not McGann... his accent was quite posh. And Eccleston was a Northerner from Manchester, same basic idea though.)

LiamKav said...

On the one hand, I do kinda think that the "character" of the Doctor is male. I'm not actually sure what that means though, and there's a good chance I'm being unconciously sexist.

On the other hand, this sounds worringly close to the arguments used by all those racists who are up in arms about Johnny Storm possibly being black in the next Fantastic Four film. "You can't change his race/gender! That is tampering with tradition and is therefore wrong and everyone should be white and male and straight forever!"

I might be reading jdh417 wrong here, but his comments look to me like he's saying "the Doctor is usually pushy, and if he were a woman that would be totally annoying so he should remain a dude". Either that, or he's saying that the idea of a female Doctor is bad because he doesn't like the one example we've had of what that might be like (River), and all other women would obviously be the same for some reason.

And the argument "And once they've broken with tradition, they'll feel the need and pressure to be different with each succeeding Doctor" is pretty rubbish, because THAT'S WHAT THEY ALREADY DO! The Doctor is an old, cantankerous but somewhat elegent geezer? Replace him with a younger, more spry but much messier version? The Doctor never uses physical violence? Let's throw in a version that uses karate moves. The Doctor is usually an older guy? Replace him with someone in his late 30s! Then replace HIM with someone in his late 20s! Replace the low-key guy with a big blowhard! Make him Scottish! Give him ordinary, contemporary clothes rather than a costume! Make him a sex-symbol!

New Doctors are always different from the last one. If anything, the argument that "make him a her" counts is slightly insulting, as if all that defines a woman is being a woman.

I do have one other worry, though, and that's the tightrope the producers would have to walk to avoid being distasteful towards transgendered people. And considering the current team aren't brilliant at avoiding being sexist in general ("wrapped in a skirt that's just a little...too...tight" makes me slightly queasy), I don't have confidence that we wouldn't get some bad taste he/she jokes.

Siskoid said...

Yes, it's a issue that definitely asks us to question our attitudes towards gender.

I grew up in a matriarchy, so maybe my willingness comes from there. The fact that I can PICTURE IT is proof enough that it can be done, though naturally, I'm not the one who'd have to deal with the nuts and bolts of it. That wasn't meant to be a double entendre, but you can see how slippery the slope is.


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