Could A Female Doctor Repair Moffat’s Mistakes?

7 mins read

After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, female fans can finally rejoice: Jodie Whittaker will be the thirteenth Doctor in the new season of Doctor Who. She takes over one of the most prolific titles on TV, and becomes the star of the longest-running science fiction show ever.

The topic of the next Doctor has always come with its own miniature five-step cycle of acceptance. There’s jittery gossip, outrage and distrust, and understanding and ultimately love for the character, even if we thought the casting choice was ill-advised at first. Some are even excited right from the beginning, if it’s an actor they know and care about.

Me? I never had the excitement others had. For one, I wasn’t as well versed in British actors when I was watching (*correction: British actors who weren’t in Harry Potter or Skins), so I hardly ever knew who was being cast. But I deeply, deeply, deeply loved the show. I remember getting into playfully competitive conversations with my friends–all of us about fifteen or sixteen at the time–about who was “our” Doctor and which companions were the best. I remember watching and re-watching episodes during the off seasons and being moved by the depth of the universe, the characters’ backstories and futures, and how the Doctor himself navigated his unique position. Emotional complexity mixed with exciting adventuring in space–what more could you want out of a TV show?

Well, I mean, besides representation?

When Matt Smith took over as the Doctor, I remember the deflated sighs and head-shaking of plenty of my friends in fandom. Like most girls that age today, we loved TV and we cared a lot about gender politics. It was disappointing to see this show, which we loved, refuse evolution. We repeated the same exasperated process again with Capaldi. The general tone of my community–largely online, because I could count the number of nerd girls at my massive public high school on one hand–was, “Well, what could we have expected?” Disappointment gave way to disillusionment, and disillusionment has stayed with us well into adulthood.

By Capaldi’s reign, I had actually already stopped watching Doctor Who. I’ve since heard Capaldi captured the Doctor excellently, but as the seventh season came to a close, I was bored and irritated with the way the characters had been treated after Donna (my favorite companion) and Ten (who I still refer to as “my” doctor) gave way to Eleven, Amy, Rory, and River. I don’t even think I watched the finale.

To explain my exact qualms with the direction the show went after Ten’s regeneration would be a whole new article–and would require some serious reflection that I just don’t have the spoons for–but to keep it simple for you, British TV titan Steven Moffat took over as showrunner for season six and, in my opinion, decimated the character of the Doctor despite Smith’s best efforts to keep it alive, wove flashy sci-fi plots into season-long conflicts that unraveled with a second glance, and regulated his female characters’ plots to mostly those concerning romance or pregnancy. He committed many of the same offenses with Sherlock.

In case you think I’m just one crazy woman on the internet, you may now rest assured knowing Moffat’s misogyny was well documented. He said Karen Gillain was “wee and dumpy” and wouldn’t work for the show–that is, until he saw that she was “5’10” and gorgeous” which prompted him to cast her. He has written three–three!–female companions who fell in love with the Doctor as children. He believes women are inherently husband-hunting and needy. I mean, yikes.

So what does a female Doctor mean in light of this?

Well, first, it means that Moffat is gone for good. He has repeatedly dodged the question in all manner of ways when asked why there hasn’t yet been a female Doctor, but it’s clear that the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, wants to separate himself from this attitude immediately. (He brings over Whittaker after having worked with her on a previous project.) A new showrunner means a new tone will be set for the series, and a new tone is, frankly, just what Doctor Who needs right now–or so I’ve heard, having not watched the show for some time. But I do know that the ratings have been struggling, and that all of those girls who I used to wax poetic about Doctor Who with have since stopped watching entirely, just like me. These things might not be altogether unrelated, and a female Doctor could be the key to mending that relationship with fans and freshening up a show that has to struggle to beat itself with new, meaningful sci-fi content season after season.

Certainly all of the problems with Doctor Who won’t be solved with a female Doctor. There’s still a real racial barrier to overcome, for example. And I don’t think the show will develop air-tight plots any time soon; the Doctor will still jump through impossible loopholes in time and space that seem more magic than science. Companions could still be boring, or annoying, or uninteresting. Graphics could still be bad.

But this is an outstretched hand nonetheless. And the sixteen year old inside me, who, like my favorite companions, fell in love with the majesty of space and the promise of adventure–well, she just might take it.

Rachelle Martin is a writer, media analyst and graduate student at the University of Southern California. You can find her rewatching her favorite kid's shows, writing furiously about gender, and weeping over the ‘folklore’ album. She is always wearing a sweater.

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