Why It’s Time To Genderflip Doctor Who

Matt Smith is done being The Doctor.

Which means it is now time to introduce a female Doctor.

This apparently upsets some of you.

Don’t worry — it won’t happen. You’ve already won. You can be sure that right now they have suggested and summarily dismissed an actress for the role. (See also: Idris Elba.)

But I’m going to tell you why that’s fucked up.

So, I said on the Twitters like I just said here: it’s time for a female Doctor. I even mentioned what I felt was a good choice — Imogen Poots (Google her), who I think might carry on the same kind of gleeful anarchy and smoldering emotional intensity The Doctor so requires. Others mentioned Tilda Swinton — which I think also works! She’s maybe a little praying-mantisy, but she’s also really well in line with what Christopher Eccleston brought to the table, so hell yeah.

In response, I got a lot of folks saying that this was “PC tokenism.” That it would just be marketing. Falsely trying to balance — well, who gives a shit. You know the drill.

It’s nonsense.

Crap of the highest order.

You’re going to defend it as being against the story. Like it’s a money or culture decision made ahead of the interests of the narrative. Here’s why that’s wrong: the cultural status quo and the financial weight lies with keeping things the same. The Doctor of Doctor Who has always been a white dude. Cultural inertia and financial interest is stronger when that remains true.

(Plus, making the character female opens up new story avenues.)

You say, it’s “tokenism.” But tokenism isn’t what you think it is. Some people said — “Well, why not make the supporting characters be strong female characters?” That’s tokenism. Putting a black dude in your TV show — oh, ho, ho, not as the lead character, mind you — because you need a black dude for your “demographics,” that’s tokenism. Tokenism is a dismissive, hand-wavey gesture. Tokenism is, “Here, happy now? We’re eating bread, but you enjoy these crusts. HEY IT’S BETTER THAN NOTHING, SHADDAP.” Making your titular character — in this case, making the Doctor a woman — isn’t a token. It’s a nuclear bomb. 

You might say, well, it has nothing to do with the story, so why do it at all? But that’s part of the magic, here. Doctor Who is a show about a character whose very flesh is transitive. This character has carried across multiple iterations so far — this role is tailor-made to see actors and actresses who are not White Dudes. It’d be one thing if the character’s “maleness” was key to the role, right? You could make a case that says, this or that story — Ulysses, Fight Club, whatever — has its roots in a kind of male experience, and changing that might alter the story so much it’s not worth the genderflip. But this is Doctor Who. It is, as its heart, a show for kids and family. It should not be protected by some kind of geeky jurisdiction. The Doctor is practically already without gender. The romances are barely that; the sonic screwdriver is not a metaphor for some dude’s wang. If we can’t give the role of a flesh-changing alien to a woman and instead relegate the actresses only to the “girl groupies,” that’s kinda fucked up, isn’t it? What kind of message is that for the families who are watching the show? Not the adult geeks of Whovian fandom, but kids who dig the character and all its assorted fictions?

And it’s that last point that matters most for me; this is a show where kids are watching. Little boys. Little girls. Do we really want to say to little girls, “You can never be The Doctor? You are forever relegated to The Companion?” And do you really want that same message for boys? “You will always be The Doctor. Girls are forever your Companions.” Fuck that noise. I want my son to grow up in a world where women can be real doctors and imaginary Time Lord Space Doctors.

So, now I ask you –

Who would be a great female Doctor?

Note that I’m not asking to have a conversation about whether the Doctor should or should not be played by a woman. You want to have that conversation, have it somewhere else.

(Sidenote: I’m told the Corsair proves it possible for Time Lords to flip the gender, thus showing how the Doctor could do the same. I’m honestly not a Super-Fan of the show, more just a casual watcher, but YEAH WHATEVER LET’S DO IT LADY WHO WOOOOOOOO)

228 comments

  • If wishes were horses this one would be a gorgeous thoroughbred racing across the finish line of my heart!!

    Love some of the suggestions so far, Claudia Black, Honeysuckle Weeks, Olivia Colman and absolutely Marianne Jean-Baptiste FOR SURE. I would also like to throw Sarah Lancashire’s towel in the ring – though she’s already been in as the Foster Mother of the adipose – seeing her in Last Tango in Halifax just cemented my love for her comedic timing and dramatic badassery.

    If the producers don’t have the ovaries to actually make the genderflip I’d also love to see an actor with a less pale palour, but lets remember that the pool of non white actors is very large – how about Art Malik or the absolute dream casing of Ben Kingsley? A bit younger but well known in the scifi world Naveen Andrews would be brilliant, and then of course there is Sendhil Ramamurthy, a good pick if only for the absolute dreamboat factor.

    Sooo many good freaking choices!!!

  • Caroline Catz (Louisa in Doc Marten) or Natalie Dormer (Anne Boleyn on The Tudors). I think Emily Blunt could be really great as well, but she’s probably (maybe?) too high-rent for Dr. Who at this point in time.

    I also really want to see Reshma Shetty (Divya on Royal Pains) and Martine McCutcheon as companions.

  • While all of this true, I believe that most script writers for Television or Movies don’t know how to write for strong women characters. Remember Donna? And how the River Song character is being drawn down? Both had the capacity to go places but just dwindled…. While we’re at it why not a LGBT Doctor? Or atleast an actor with that personal preference?

  • I say the female version of the Doctor should be played by Eddie Izzard in drag. Make it happen. My question is this: as a male, I find it hard to write a female as the lead role. Obviously, though, I want females in the main story line. How do I add a female without it seeming like tokenism?

  • Oh yus plz, make it so, and for three or more Doctors in a row, until the day comes when my daughters, in their 30s, say, “But you can’t make the Doctor a MAN! That would be preposterious!”

    Made up word, but you know.

  • Sorry [edit]. I don’t think a well known actor should do it, because anyone with a name wouldn’t want the gig for long. Also, no Americans, Canadians, or Australians. Because Doctor Who is as British as Morecambe and Wise.

  • I think a female Doctor could be amazing…with good writing…which Doctor Who doesn’t have currently. Currently, we have Moffat who is so sexist that I would not trust him with a female Doctor AT ALL. He’d just imbue it with the horrible misogyny he seems to imbue everything with these days, and it would not be progressive in the least. BUT, we don’t need to worry about this too much because Moffat won’t do a female Doctor for 12, and hopefully he’ll leave either before or when 12 does. So, I look to the future for a kickass female Doctor, done well, with fantastic writing that handles the topic with the grace it deserves–because I think it could be really interesting story/character wise, if done correctly. And I’d love to more female writers on Doctor Who, because their are currently zero and that probably contributes to the sexism.

  • Great article, thank you very much. I’m looking forward to the day they cast a woman in the role, even if I’d prefer not to have the current show-runner do so. Thirteen is a lovely number.

  • One name that’s being tossed around a lot as speculation for the role is Idris Elba. Not a woman, I know, but at least a departure from the white dude tradition, and a really awesome actor. I’d just be bummed because then there’d be no Luther season 3.

  • I don’t get why, to be honest. I’m not a fan of the show or anything, but I think that making it a woman just because is a bit of a waste. Why not make it a white guy when that’s what people are accustomed to. I think people are right in saying that it would appear to be tokenism, even if it isn’t. People hate change, and it would be bad for the show if they changed it too much. Men and women are different, that’s a fact, and the role and personality of Dr. Who would undoubtedly change. It’s effectively like changing the gender of your non-transsexual main character in your novel. It wouldn’t work.

    • Part of the thing about Doctor Who is that the character changes. When they bring in a new actor, the Doctor essentially becomes a new person. If the character can become younger/older/shorter/taller, have their hair change, their teeth change, their eyes change… and their entire personality change, there’s no reason why gender should stay constant.

      • In reality there would be no reason why. At this point it would be an obvious deus ex machina from the writers, and would end up being the sole focus of this regeneration. If it was to happen naturally, approximately half of his lives thus far should have been female. If he becomes female now, the question remains — why now? Well, that would be obvious enough.

        • I heard someone somewhere say that when a Time Lord changes gender, it’s because the previous incarnation committed suicide. That switches up the next regeneration. No idea whether that’s canon or not though, and I can’t remember where I read it.

          • Not true; The Corsair never committed suicide, and he/she flipped gender multiple times before House killed him. I’m not sure where they got that idea.

      • They gave several reasons what would make it different at this point, and gave more of a reason than “just because.” 1. It’s what people have gotten accustomed to from the show; 2. It would appear as tokenism, 3. People hate change, 4. The role of the Doctor would be altered so drastically that it could change the show altogether.

        • “The role of the Doctor would be altered so drastically that it could change the show altogether.”

          Why? How? How has the MALE aspect of the Doctor affected anything over the course of the show?

          • There are, actually, many problems with making the Doctor a woman. First of all, he identifies as a man. There’s been no signs that he thinks of himself as any other gender. He uses male-specific pronouns and he seems happy to keep it that way.
            The second reason is a bit more complicated. He’d have a lot of trouble adjusting. Men and women have completely different body types. For a man to become a woman it would be incredibly hard to adjust to that. They have different shoulders, legs, and many other body parts.
            And the main reason, Steven Moffat is the head writer. Moffat has shown over a long period of time that he’s not exactly the most non-sexist of people. He’d end up turning the Doctor into a stereotype woman, setting back equality even further.

        • So, what you’re saying is:

          1. “Science fiction should not present alternative viewpoints, or challenge our beliefs, or explore different possible modes of existence, but reinforce what we are comfortable with.”
          2. “I have no idea what “tokenism” means.”
          3. “See #1 – artists serve to reinforce the status quo, not make people uncomfortable by framing our perceptions differently, because that could stimulate thought.”
          4. “Women can’t be heroes.”

          • I’m not saying anything, but I definitely know what tokenism is. It’s what this article is about in the first place…making a perfunctory gesture of inclusion for a certain group, which it would obviously be after 50 years of the show. Nobody has said any of the things you are claiming. I personally would have loved to have seen more than just The Corsair with female regenerations, but having 1 out of 12 lives as a woman doesn’t seem obvious to you? It wouldn’t be challenging anybody’s viewpoints and beliefs, it would just be blatantly obvious what they were trying to achieve.

        • No, you don’t actually understand what “tokenism” means.

          “Classically, token characters have some reduced capacity compared to the other characters and may have bland or inoffensive personalities so as to not be accused of stereotyping negative traits”

          “A token character can also be used by writers to pay lip service to rules or standards, when they otherwise have no intention of doing so, such as by obeying anti-racism policies by including a token ethnic minority character who—despite being present often—has no function in the overall plot, does little or nothing, and is often a stereotyped character.”

          Making the main protagonist a woman, as long as the plot acknowledges issues that would be particular to that character being a woman, is NOT tokenism.

          Your second claim is absurd – science fiction has a long tradition of blatantly reordering the universe to illustrate some social issue. For example, Gene Rodenberry deliberately made the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek multinational and multiracial to promote his belief that humanity should overcome these boundaries in order to advance to the stars. John Sayles’ “Brother from Another Planet” “blatantly” makes the main character black, in order to explore the nature of race.

          That’s fine if it just makes you uncomfortable, it’s your right to feel that way, but you don’t have to make excuses for your feelings.

          I’d be very interested in seeing what your answer to Jenna Elf’s question would be.

  • I want to see more female writers on Doctor Who before I trust them to write a female Doctor.

    They did it in a spoof once. It was a Comic Relief sketch before the series got its reboot. They had a male Doctor who, in the final part, went through a whole series of regenerations in about two minutes, bringing in famous actors to cameo as the role before dying again. They final ended up with a female Doctor (who immediately got out the sonic screwdriver and noticed it had another setting). It’s been done in comedy but it would be nice to see it done seriously – as long as it’s written well.

  • My only argument against the Doctor being a woman is that there is no precedent (other than the non-Canon Joanna Lumley role) but the Corsair nicely removes that argument. Bring on Imogen Poots, I say!

    • There’s additional precedent, actually, if you look at the non-televised media that makes up a huge amount of Doctor Who. In the Big Finish audio ‘Doctor Who Unbound: Exile’, the Doctor regenerates into a woman, played by Arabella Weir, and then proceeds to be stuck on Earth and occasionally hounded by the High Council. It was not, admittedly, the best story they’ve ever produced, but even so. And that was back in 2003; no reason it can’t be done on the telly a decade later.

  • I’d love to see a female Doctor, but I agree with all the folks saying they wouldn’t trust Moffat to write the part well. He’d just fill it with his usual misogynistic bullshit and make things worse.

    However, once Moffat’s gone, I could see Emma Watson in the role. Easily.

  • “Note that I’m not asking to have a conversation about whether the Doctor should or should not be played by a woman. You want to have that conversation, have it somewhere else.”

    Awesome way to say “Only my opinion is worth discussing.”

  • If the Doctor was my friend, and not a fictional character who can’t defend himself, I would point out that if he prefers to be male, it doesn’t make him sexist. I enjoy my feminine side, but I would prefer to remain male, too. I would also point out all the support he has given the women’s rights/gay rights movements over the years. All the times the Doctor has expressed slightly bi-curious tendencies. The marriage of Jenny and Madame Vastra. I would also point out that every time they change the actor, someone is unhappy with the change, and they would really like to avoid backlash from fans. Yes, I would love to see a female incarnation of the Doctor. But the best time for that would have been long ago. At this point, I care more about the story, the characters, the show, than about my own personal political agenda. I respect the choices of the show in the same way I respect the choices of my friends.

  • Lia Williams. She played Doc Martin’s previous love interest AND is a ginger! I think she’d have the range of emotions that made the 10th doctor so good. Of course, the writing was much better and I concur with previous commenters, Moffatt at the helm won’t make for well written character nor story arc, just sexist short-hands. I remember seeing Matt Smith becoming the doctor and little Amelia Pond waiting for him. He told her previously that she was ‘fearless’. Boy, I was that little girl all over again [grew up on the ‘Classic’ series] and thought, wow, what if she’d been taken out on a few spins of adventures. Dr. Who really does give you so many opportunities of story angles, why waste it on a one-track approach? The reinventions are endless and will help keep the show fresh. There’s only so much you can do to reinvent that one.

  • I have to admit, I am terribly confused by everybody wanting Idris Elba – don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE someone who isn’t white. But Idris is so hot and strong and masculine and I always feel there should be quirky weirdness in the doctor – even Ecclestone has that with his silly face :). Why not Chiwetel Ejiofor?

    But yes, women. Because I am totally with you there. One day, and not this round cause she’s still a bit young, but one day I’d love to see Maisie Williams go for it. I think that would be absolutely wicked. As for right now, I think Antonia Thomas, Kathryn Prescott or Natalie Dormer would do amazingly.

  • If it were me casting, I’d go for Angel Coulby – she’s British and classically trained, and she’s got the range to carry the role through it’s serious and comic sides. And she’s played (and been amazing as) Guinevere, which is about as cannon as it gets for beloved British characters. I loved how many sides she brought to Guinevere – the slightly awkward geeky side who was kindred spirit to Merlin, the shy, unsure side, the courageous in defending what she believed in side, the badass sword-fighting (and not waiting to be rescued side), and the powerful and compassionate Queen (and more I’ve missed, of course). But all of those are things I’d like to see in my Doctor.

  • The British comedy actress Miranda Hart was touted as a favourite for a while; I could see that, as she’s quirky and ‘different’ enough to carry it off. Sue Perkins might be good too, for similar reasons.

    I’m not sure why some people have said that the Doctor having to get used to having a female body would be a ‘problem’ that prevents the idea being a good one. Aren’t ‘problems’ what make a story? It would take the whole thing in a fascinating new direction – story-wise, the possibilities are wide open.

    But I do agree with what others are saying about needing different writers to make that work. I’m not sure it’s fair to single out Stephen Moffat though – writers for Doctor Who have pretty much ALWAYS been sexist, and some WAAY more so than Moffat. Remember the days when the female companion’s job was little more than screaming at the scary monsters and getting kidnapped?

    But a black actor would be great too, if they’re too scared of controversy to have a woman. Here’s a leftfield suggestion – how about Richard Ayoade (Moss in The IT Crowd?) Another sublime comedy actor with quirky quality AND a perfect deadpan delivery.

  • I’m all for a female timelord, but the doctor can’t just turn female. Timelords aren’t hermaphrodites. How could they procreate if they were constantly changing sexes? I agree a different race would be refreshing, but something tells me it won’t be happening soon. Maybe they’ll do a spinoff with his daughter and then we can see a female lead or maybe at the 13 change it’ll switch genders..

    But you know if it was a female doctor the first one might be stereotypical depending on the execs and the writter.

    • The Corsair was a time lord that changed sexes at will during regenerations. It was mentioned by the tenth doctor on The Doctor’s Daughter. So yes, it’s completely possible.

  • I would love to see Gina Torres play the Doctor. I think she would be reminiscent of Christoper Eccleston in her badassery.

    Of course, if she’s not available, I volunteer for the role. They wouldn’t even have to pay me; I’d do it for free in a heartbeat.

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