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Can the Doctor be a Woman?

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about whether or not the Doctor can regenerate into a woman in his next incarnation on the show. Doubtless, many fans have strong opinions about this. I have decided to post this here first where I have some avid Who fans before deciding whether to put in on Fruitless Pursuits for the masses.

Yesterday Paul Verhoeven submitted a video blog on why he feels the Doctor shouldn’t be played by a woman.

Good on him for trying to respectfully state a case for the character he loves and the show moving forward and trying to give reasons for his opinion. Reasons are what are lacking from a lot of the discussion.

Personally, I don’t really care who the next actor playing the Doctor is as long as they are the right person. I don’t think that selection of the right person needs to be gendered or racially profiled. All I believe is that Doctor Who is about possibilities and opportunities and to start putting barriers up for who the Doctor can be takes a little of that magic away.

Under the cut I discuss some of the reasons why I believe the Doctor can regenerate as a woman, although I reiterate; I don’t believe the next incarnation has to be or should be a woman.

1. Are Time Lords gendered? As far as I can tell the jury is still out on this question. The old series was made with a lot of male characters playing Time Lords but also included female Time Lords; sometimes referred to as Time Ladies. Was this a product of the time in which early incarnations of the Doctor were written or is it part of Time Lord culture? Regardless, the Doctor does make mention in “The Doctor’s Wife” that there was a Time Lord who switched genders in their reincarnations. The Doctor implied that this was a little adventurous and cheeky on the part of that Time Lord but not impossible. It’s unclear how much, if at all, the Doctor himself can control his regenerations but the possibility of him being a woman remains intact. Does he identifying as a male? I don’t know. Matt Smith himself felt that his Doctor was more asexual. If he does identify as male I certainly wouldn’t agree with him being a female just for shock value. I think doing anything in a story purely for shock value is a dangerous thing.

2. Paul indicated that he felt that the Doctor was a paternal figure; the dad of the universe. I have to say I disagree with this sentiment. I have always read the Doctor as plain nurturing; a benevolent being who is old and lonely and wants to help. I think this role could be undertaken by either a male or female and wouldn’t make a lot of difference. We know that the Doctor once had a grand daughter but we don’t know much about the circumstances. Was she only a grand daughter in name? How do Time Lords reproduce? Is she a Time Lord? Has she survived the Time War? There isn’t enough information to know whether this is a paternal moment that locks all other regenerations to this event. Each incarnation of the Doctor is different and no one regeneration is more important than the others. I like to think that the Doctor is made up of a series of experiences that he has trouble organising himself, let alone outright identifying one way or another.

3. The Doctor himself has always been incredible equal when it has come to race, species, gender, orientation etc. and so I wonder what any suggestion that he cannot be any of those things might mean to him. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that a Time Lord with two hearts can regenerate to be a different race or gender as his personality is different every time and therefore his identity is different every time. Again, he’s a sum of his experiences. Maybe he’ll want to add an experience as a woman to add to his long list, maybe he won’t; there’s nothing to say he can’t.

4. The reason for making the switch cannot be purely based on shock factor. There has to be a reason for doing it and something that it is adding to the overall mythos of the show and of everything it represents. This isn’t about being politically correct either, the show has cast British actors historically out of a feeling that only British people can play the Doctor. A lot of British people are of Indian decent; why wouldn’t it be possible to select a coloured Doctor? These questions are important regardless of who the next Doctor is because while everyone can and should be considered, the right person for the role should be selected.

5. Paul makes a very good point about people being starved for strong female characters on the show through it’s new run; citing that we should demand better writing and better characters instead of a woman slipping into the Doctor’s skin and effectively only becoming strong by virtue of inhabiting a strong pre-established male character. I think these are two separate issues. I completely agree that we need better writing for companions in general, but especially some of the female characters. Many have become simpering girls in need of rescuing and this doesn’t work on a number of levels, including any noting that it’s the Doctor’s job to take care of them. The Doctor being a woman on the other hand isn’t about writing a strong female character or slipping into the skin of an established male one. Time Lords are different to humans and have superior knowledge and abilities in many aspects. They are not the same as human beings and therefore, they are not constrained by many human constraints (time, space, death etc). Anyone playing the Doctor needs to do so with characteristics like vulnerability, loneliness, compassion, anger, dark undertones, inquisitiveness, intensity etc. and none of these are gendered. Taking away a possibility completely without trying to see if someone is the perfect person for the role merely based on gender when the Doctor is not necessarily gendered feels wrong to me.


( 1 sharp words — watching the clock )
Jun. 16th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
I think it would be interesting if the next Doctor was a woman, but it'd have to be done right. Like you said, it can't be for te shock factor.


( 1 sharp words — watching the clock )


My fandom can't be saved.
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