Sherlock star says ‘fans aren’t keen’ on a woman Doctor

This guest post was written by Sheena Goodyear, a reporter, blogger and copy editor for Sun Media. She loves cats, coffee and comic books. She used to pretend to slay vampires with a wooden stake, which her father carved out of a chair leg. You can read her thoughts about TV at Rabbit Ears, her video game ramblings at Button Mashers and her Canadian news stories at the Toronto Sun

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British actress Lara Pulver from season two of Sherlock.

Actress Lara Pulver has deflated rumours she could play the next incarnation of The Doctor, the time-and-space travelling hero of BBC’s Doctor Who.

The rumours started swirling when Pulver had a meeting with Who showrunner Steven Moffat. Pulver starred in the second season of Moffat’s other BBC venture, Sherlock.

“Steven and I have both said we thoroughly enjoyed working together, and then there was me being in Wales so the media put two and two together,” she told Digital Spy of the rumours.

But she quickly took the wind out of the sails of those of us who are tired of women being relegated to the role of sidekick in the Whoniverse. When asked if she’d be excited to play The Doctor, she said: “Yes and no. Not if it meant the end of the Doctor Who franchise, because the fans aren’t keen on it.”

The Doctor is the last of an ancient race known as the Time Lords, who regenerate new bodies and new-ish personalities when they die. In the episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” guest writer Neil Gaiman snuck into Doctor Who cannon the idea that Time Lords can change genders when they regenerate. This tid-bid has sparked non-stop speculation that someday, the British icon, who’s spawned 11 incarnations since the ’60s, could be a woman.

It’s an idea that has some viewers — especially us so-called “fangirls” — pretty excited about the idea of a kick-ass space-trekking role model with a time machine and a sidekick to call her very own. The sheer number of women who crossplay as The Doctor rather than stick to companion costumes is evidence enough there’s an appetite for this change.

But it’s also sparked a lot of fan outrage from folks who say the Doctor can’t be a woman because, you know, he just can’t.

As much as I side with the pro-Time Lady contingent, I understand the show’s hesitancy to go ahead with the gender-bender. From a writing perspective, swapping the Doctor’s sex would be more complicated that it seems. There’s a lot to consider.

Foremost is continuity. Moffat himself touched on this when asked if he’d considered casting a woman as the 11th Doctor before hiring Matt Smith.

A woman can play the part. You have to remember the single most important thing about regeneration is you must convince the audience and the children that’s it’s not a new man, it’s not a different man, it’s the same one. It’s a bigger ask if you turn him into a woman.

Each incarnation of The Doctor a bit different than the last. But deep down, he’s always the same man. His previous experiences still inform his worldview. Certainly, a millennium of maleness has an effect on one’s identity.

Then there’s the complex smorgasbord that is gender identity. After 900 or so years of manhood, would a newly-female Doctor identify as a woman? If so, would the change affect her sexual orientation? Would she retain her attraction to women? Would she take on a young man as her companion? As Doctor Her writer Ritch Ludlow notes, we could end up with a transgender or genderqueer hero.

Can I count the ways in which my Doctor will be queer?
1)   A male who transitioned (very quickly and inexpensively) to female (transgender?)
2)  A woman who would be happy to call herself male again someday (genderqueer?)
3)  A woman who was once in love with other women but perhaps willing to fall in love with men (bisexual/lesbian/pansexual/fluid?)”

Then there’s the matter of how a woman Doctor would be perceived by others. Depending on when and where she’s adventuring, would people still rally behind her without question? Would she be able to exert authority as effortlessly as she did when she had that convenient male privilege? Would she find herself subject to sexism or harassment? The show would have to deal with these issues, especially in stories that take place on Earth, in the present day or in the past.

That’s not to say a queer or trans Doctor wouldn’t be fantastic, or a character navigating the waters of new womanhood wouldn’t be interesting. It would just be a delicate and complicated story to tell, even by Moffat’s timey-wimey standards.

What do you think?

This blog was cross-posted at Rabbit Ears

15 comments

  1. I’d watch a woman doctor. Couldn’t be worse than Sylvester McCoy.

    • DrNavi says:

      I love Sylvester McCoy myself, his first series sucks but his second is decent and his third and final one is possibly my favourite in all Doctor Who history.

      anyway on to the topic of this article. I think it would be interesting to one day see a female doctor. I’ve been hoping beyond hope that the next one will be an old man again but so long as the actor/actress is good i’ll be happy, no doctor has disappointed me yet

  2. Jennie says:

    I think you’re assuming a lot with your implication that the Doctor is het. Sure, he’s attracted to lady creatures (I don’t want to say women, because Jabe), but look at the way Two and Jamie behave, and to a lesser extent nine and ten with Captain Jack. He’s clearly bi at a minimum.

    Having said that, I think the issues you pull out with a female Doctor are probably right, and I think the big one is effortless authority. Women NEVER have that, we always have to make effort, whether that’s recognised or not. And while it would be good to show on screen that effort, it would get old VERY quickly having every episode being some person telling the Doctor she can’t do something because she’s a girl and then her proving them wrong. NEARLY as tiresome as Sherlock and John’s constant denial of gayness.

    • Guest Post says:

      You’re right. I didn’t consider that, given that he clearly skews towards the ladies most of the time. I’m mostly only familiar with New Who, but now that I think to the introduction of Capt. Jack, I see what you mean.

      And yeah, that’s essentially the problem. They show would be remiss not to deal with the struggles of getting men to take her seriously. But if it was a constant thing, it would be a real bummer to watch.

      • The Doctor in the original series could easily be seen as asexual, were it not for him having a granddaughter. The only companion where the relationship seems at all sexual is Romana, where it’s blatantly obvious (because the actors were in a relationship and that showed in their performances). She’s also, though, the only time he’s had a companion of the same species, so what that says about his sexuality is very open.

        • Jennie says:

          “The only companion where the relationship seems at all sexual is Romana”

          REALLY?

          Two/Jamie
          Five/Tegan
          Six/Peri

          All those are relationships which seem very sexual to me, with varying degrees of healthiness.

          • I should probably have said that it’s the only one where there seems to be a sexual intent in the writing/performance, rather than where one can easily be read in.

      • Jennie says:

        I’d still love to see a female Doctor, but I think it’d need to be handled by someone with less of a history of clueless benevolent sexism than Moffat. I have a lot of issues with Rusty’s time as showrunner, but at least he understood how marginalised people are marginalised.

  3. Trialia says:

    Well, we know River Song is canonically bisexual (as per Moffat’s word and her onscreen dialogue), so at least she wouldn’t mind if the next Doctor happened to be female. And honestly, neither would a huge section of the fanbase.

    I’ve met more LGBT Whovians than in most other SF&F fandoms, and am one myself.

    I for one would love to see a female Doctor, and would be very interested to see what the writers did with the gender identity and sexuality angles, because I have been convinced for a long time that sexuality is another thing that can and may change between regenerations – the biological component being cited. Number ten was (in my opinion and onscreen, though not specified) very nearly asexual – and yes, yes, his relationship with Rose, bla bla, but anyone who wants to cite that should look up the concept of hetero- and homo-romanticism alongside asexuality. Eleven is clearly attracted to women canonically, and may also be attracted to men and people outside the gender binary, but we haven’t seen that and aren’t so likely to after the developments of the series six finale. So I think it’s entirely possible that ze could still be attracted to women, or to more than one gender, as a woman herself.

    As I say, I would love to see a female Doctor. And the idea of Lara Pulver and Alex Kingston kissing sort of kills me. *grin*

  4. I’d love to see a female doctor, though I don’t see it happening any time soon. That being said, I think it would be really interesting to see how The Doctor would deal with not being accepted as an authority figure. We’ve already seen Ten deal with it in two different ways in Midnight and Planet of the Dead but I’d love to know how The Doctor would deal with having hir’s authority undermined constantly, rather than just once or twice.

    I get that many would find that boring week after week after week, but surely that’s the brilliance of having a show that can go to the future and different planets. You can visit different societies and civilizations where attitudes towards gender have progressed somewhat.

    • Guest Post says:

      That’s true! It’s all those, “We’re in England! In the past! Again!” episodes I’m thinking of. Always been a bigger fan of the far-away alien civilization eps anyway.

      • Same with me, I far prefer future and alien societies.

        The past episodes could be sorted by having The Doctor visit some famous historical figures with whom ze has already established a relationship who could then back hir up.

        That would leave only a few episodes a series featuring a conflict over people not automatically respecting/listening to The Doctor. The issue could be explored but not so much that it becomes boring and predictable.

  5. Nightsky says:

    As I think I’ve said before (bear with me), I’m all for a woman Doctor iff the showrunner is willing to honestly look at how the Doctor and her relationships and interactions with others would/would not change. The Doctor’s behavior has always been unconventional, and the fact that he presents as white/male/straight/cis is, I think, the difference between people putting up with him or not. I suspect, for instance, that a female Doctor would get thrown out of a lot more military installations on her ass.

    If the showrunner isn’t willing to go there, then I think casting a woman would be a simple gimmick, and I say to hell with that.

  6. Ariana says:

    I personally could never get used to a female Doctor. I understand regeneration and it always excites me to explore a new incarnation of the Doctor, but changing him to a woman would be too much. I think the show would be forced to change too much around it, and I think the writers would screw it up and ruin it. Making the Doctor female would challenge the show in a bad way. I also dislike how those who would prefer the Doctor to remain male are oftentimes labelled sexist. I’m not being sexist, I promise. Why would I discriminate my own gender? It would just be too big of a change.

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