Why a Female Doctor Matters

Pop culture merch is not something I generally spend my own money on. What little I have has mostly been gifted to me, and much appreciated at that. This probably comes from trying to be a Responsible Adult who financially prioritizes boring things like the electric bill and kid’s dental appointments above cool fun things I like that make me happy (Your mileage may vary on this kind of spending philosophy).

I have also never been in the camp of people who felt that a female Doctor (sorry, I know it’s now canon that it’s OK to refer to the character as Doctor Who, but I WILL NEVER) is long overdue. Don’t get me wrong, I was pleased with Jodie Whittaker’s casting. I knew of her from Broadchurch and had faith in the producers that they had not bowed to fan pressure, but had simply chosen the best actor for the part, male or female. I was glad the Doctor was a woman, but I was more glad that they were a good actor.

These two ideas converged and kind of blew up all over me on the first day of this year’s San Diego Comic Con. I sat in my cubicle at work, thousands of miles from Hall H, maniacally refreshing my Twitter feed for new details as the panel unfolded. First came the intro video, a cute bit about Jodie making her way from Cardiff to San Diego, in which Jodie is deterred from using the TARDIS by a sign hung across its doors prohibiting personal use (hee). The video concludes with a V.O. and chryon announcing “Please welcome The Doctor, Jodie Whittaker,” after which she walked onstage at the panel to wild applause. And that’s when I lost it.

It didn’t hit me until right at that moment how much her casting meant to me. I finally got hit with those feels, that many others have been having for far longer, that The Doctor is a she, which means I could see myself as her and so could my daughter and so could any girl or woman who wants to. During interviews, Jodie has said that she’s proud that, because of her casting, little girls will no longer only have the option of thinking “maybe I could be the Doctor’s assistant.” She’s also said she looks forward to the day when being a woman isn’t a genre and I could not agree more.

As a cis, straight, able-bodied white woman, I’m fairly privileged. I’ve always advocated for representation in media for others, but I never felt under-represented myself (or at least not any more than I was used to being under-represented as compared to cis straight able-bodied white men). But this felt different. Because this is Doctor Who. I’ve been a Whovian for damn near 30 years and the closest I ever came picturing myself as the Doctor was some half-baked ideas I had for a gender-bent cosplay of one of the male Doctors from new Who. Other than that, I could see myself in River or Amy or Rose, but never in the Doctor. And it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with that.

The Doctor is just simply NOT a gendered character. And I don’t mean that in the sense of the most obvious argument for dual-gendered Doctor, that a gender change should be completely believable for a character who’s already a time-traveling alien. But there’s nothing inherently male or female about the Doctor. The Doctor is brilliant, fun-loving, empathetic, and a lot of other things and none of those traits are inherently masculine or feminine (there’s a whole larger argument to be had about whether any traits are particularly gendered or what gender even is, but that’s not what we’re here for). The Doctor is just the Doctor, a Time Lord, a member of a fictional species whose rules and biology don’t and don’t have to conform to the same rules as humans do. So why not a woman?

And more importantly, hell yes a woman. The Doctor Who fandom encompasses people of all types. The show itself has always done a fairly decent job of reflecting the fandom on screen everywhere else except in the lead role, until now. This casting not only opens the door for a great chunk of the fandom to feel more fully recognized, but also paves the way for more different-looking Doctors in the future. The series’ first showrunner, Russell T. Davies, recently penned a novelization of his first episode, Rose, which forecast future incarnations of the Doctor as “a tall, bald black woman wielding a flaming sword; a young girl or boy in a hi-tech wheelchair with what looked like a robot dog at their side…” The show is moving toward accepting anyone in the role of the Doctor and that is always a good thing, especially for this character.

So, with tears in my eyes and a giant grin on my face, fresh off my first official taste of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, I clicked over to teepublic and impulse bought a t-shirt bearing her likeness as the Doctor (done by a female artist I’m a big fan of), because finally being represented in something I love so much felt just as important as any electric bill or dental appointment. It’s about time.

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