Stephen Moffat hits at a harsh truth in explaining why Doctor Who isn’t a woman

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PeterCapaldidoctorwho Stephen Moffat hits at a harsh truth in explaining why Doctor Who isnt a woman
Every time there is a new Doctor Who, people hope it won’t be a white man, but how hard are they really hoping? New Who Peter Capaldi fits the role of father figure Doctor to a T, and despite the cries of endless fansites, show runner Steven Moffat just couldn’t do a gender switch:
“It’s absolutely narratively possible [that the Doctor could be a woman] and when it’s the right decision, maybe we’ll do it. It didn’t feel right to me, right now. I didn’t feel enough people wanted it.”

The Who and Sherlock showrunner even claimed that many female Doctor Who fans were actually opposed to the casting of a woman in the role:

“Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women,” he insisted. “[They were] saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman!'”
Remember a few months ago when I wrote: “Next time: why a female Doctor Who would destroy society as we know it.”

Because I knew it was true. For all the “grrl power” talk out there, Doctor Who fans mostly want to hang out, in the Biblical sense, with the Doctor, not BE him. The Doctor has always been a powerful authority figure and most of those are men, not women. Plus, sadly, women have a hard time accepting female authority figures. The Doctor is all a big Mary Sue story about some spunky Earth kids (male and/or female) who get to jaunt around with this awesome Timelord. A female Who just wouldn’t have the same appeal (sorry, gang) and would actually repel much of the fanbase.

Now, a non-white Who would be an interesting change, and expand the archetype a lot more. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, either.

Am I saying a show with a female lead character can’t work? No. But I’m saying that that show is probably not Doctor Who, because Jodie Foster and Angelina Jolie aside, male and female roles are often not interchangeable.

If you want to see actual gender role reversal, check out the Red Dwarf episode “Parallel Universe” in which Lister and Rimmer discover a world where the females are beer-swilling assholes and men have babies. It’s a true role reversal that, in the fine tradition of SF, makes you question assumptions.
201308060329 Stephen Moffat hits at a harsh truth in explaining why Doctor Who isnt a woman
In the meantime, for all the moaning about there not being a lady Doctor, sorry kids, Stephen Moffat knew what you wanted more than you did yourself.

PS: In response to many requests, this is who *I* would have liked to see as the new Doctor:

Richard Ayoade 007 Stephen Moffat hits at a harsh truth in explaining why Doctor Who isnt a woman

Comments

  1. Torsten Adair says:

    Well, there are (were/willen/havebeen) female time lords.

    And where do Time Tots come from?

  2. Here’s is the simple reality…what is the upside to a woman or a non-white man…from the perspective of the studio? Is either choice likely to result in a huge upswing in ratings? No? Then why take a risk.

    That’s the bottom line. A female Doctor wasn’t going to make the show twice as popular but might kill it, so why go out on a limb like that?

    We can talk social change and blah blah until we are blue in the face, the reality is that the people who make tv made a simple calculation. An (older) white guy might be good or bad but that good or bad is a 85-115% range from the last show’s ratings. A woman might have a higher upside but 50-125% doesn’t seem very appealing if it’s your job on the line and the show tanks and you get fired.

  3. Joe S. Walker says:

    “Endless fansites” = not that many human beings.

  4. I’m not a fan of this show but I find the cultural significance of it kind of fascinating, and have been paying cursory attention to all the hubub around the new actor (they really should announce it with white smoke from a chimney somewhere). You do a fine job of explaining your reasoning behind why the Doctor can’t be female, so I’m wondering why you’ve glossed over why he can’t be non-white.

    I can see no reason for leaving that out other than an aversion to describing the general Doctor Who audience as inveterate racists.

  5. Simon Jones says:

    There is absolutely no reason why the Doctor couldn’t be non-white. That’s one of the wonderful things about the Doctor. Characters like Superman or James Bond or Batman require a certain ‘Tall, dark and handsome quality’. The most recent Doctor was described as “Action hero played by Stan Laurel” He can be old or young or a little fat or small and goofy looking. He can be anyone. There was an audio play a couple of years ago (done by Big Finish) which had an alternative version of the 3rd Doctor played by Arrabella Weir.

    There is really no reason why the Doctor couldn’t be played by someone who is non-white.

  6. Ian Brill says:

    The Doctor has been played by a woman before. Bea Arthur played the Third Doctor.

  7. LobsterAfternoon says:

    Once again, the main character on the show is “The Doctor”, not “Doctor Who”, I’m not sure why a professional site has so much trouble with this.

  8. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Because I’m not actually a Doctor Who fan?

  9. I would agree that Moffat and the BBC had plenty of reasons not to make the Doctor a woman, but I think they have more to do with playing it safe and sticking to their proven formula rather than a woman or POC not working for the character. It definitely feels like a missed opportunity considering when David Tenant was cast the question of whether or not their could or should be a more diverse casting choice was not a frequent topic of discussion amongst fans. Regardless of their reasons, it is rather telling that a character that can literally take on any form has yet to be anything besides a white male in 50 plus years.

  10. David M says:

    Thanks, Heidi. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of Richard Ayoade before, but now that you’ve posted that photo, I’m deeply regretting that I’m not going to be able to see his long run as The Doctor.

  11. “I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of Richard Ayoade before”

    If you have Netflix Instant, watch THE IT CROWD. Fun sitcom where he plays a nerdy tech guy.

  12. LobsterAfternoon says:

    So you only get things right if you’re a fan of them?

  13. LobsterAfternoon says:

    Guess the New York Times should start spelling terrorism wrong.

  14. Jeff Trexler says:

    In defense of Heidi’s use of Doctor Who, it’s been common for decades in the UK press to refer to the character by that name. In fact, if I recall directly, at some point Peter Capaldi has described himself as “the new Doctor Who.” I know for sure that Tom Baker–a man of some account in Doctor Who history–wrote a screenplay for a movie called Doctor Who Meets Scratchman.

    Not that the adventure that got me hooked as tyke was called “Doctor Who and the Silurians” or anything, says the guy whose Chuck Taylors at Comic Con were called out as a subconscious nod to Ten.

  15. Gail Simone says:

    Jesus, what a wet sack of horseshit THAT is.

  16. Has Heidi has been kidnapped by a Dalek?

  17. Davinder says:

    People who harp on the, “It’s ‘the Doctor’ not ‘Doctor Who,'” thing are the worst kind of pedantic.

  18. Nathania says:

    This is why I’m glad Nolan and not Moffat did the Batman trilogy. B/c sometimes you give people the hero they need, not the one they (think they) want.

    Imagine if we never gave black people freedom b/c “not enough people wanted it.”

    Seriously, the Doctor can be a woman and there are a ton of talented women who could play her.

    Though I would have been THRILLED beyond belief to see Richard Ayoade.

  19. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Granted, I am not enough of a Doctor Who fan to get into the character analysis needed here, but what I’m saying is that the character as currently presented has a MALE persona, and much of the fanbase likes that male persona. A female doctor could of couse be done, but I think it would have alienated a lot of people. Is societal sexism partly to blame? Sure, but I also think there is a deeper archetype a play.

  20. Davinder says:

    Neil Gaiman posted a couple of good explanations for why he didn’t think this regeneration was the right one for a female Doctor either. Particularly interesting is the idea of each new Doctor being a reaction to the previous one, and that in story terms he’d follow Smith’s Doctor with one who is older, harder, and more dangerous. “I’d rather see a female Doctor as a reaction to whatever Peter Capaldi is, than as a reaction to Matt’s creation.”
    http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/57377998882/peter-capaldi-thoughts-rebloggable-as-requested
    http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/57385470073/im-wondering-why-a-woman-cant-be-harder-and-older-and

  21. Heidi, I usually agree with you on these sorts of topics, but I completely disagree this time.

  22. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Okay just to be clear here, I am not saying that The Doctor couldn’t be a Woman or Asian or Maori. I’m saying that a significant portion of the fanbase does not want a Woman Doctor.

    Neil Gaiman said it better than me.

  23. I’m sure a lot of people weren’t comfortable with actual female doctors. Some still might not be. Change is always a little uncomfortable, you can’t let it stop things from moving forward.

  24. Synsidar says:

    From Wikipedia’s entry on Doctor Who:

    In other media, the Doctor has been played by various other actors which are not considered to be canonical incarnations of the Doctor. In October 2010, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that the series’ co-creator, Sydney Newman, had urged the BBC to recast the role of the Doctor as a female “Time Lady” during the ratings crisis of the late 1980s.[68]

    The transition from one actor to another is written into the plot of the show as regeneration, a life process of Time Lords through which the character of the Doctor takes on a new body and, to some extent, new personality, which occurs when sustaining injury which would be fatal to most other species. Although each portrayal is different, and on occasions the various incarnations have even met one another, they are all meant to be aspects of the same character. [. . .]

    The Doctor has fully gone through this process and its resulting after-effects on ten occasions, with each of his incarnations having their own quirks and abilities but otherwise sharing the consciousness, memories, experience and basic personality of the previous incarnations.

    The logic underlying the reincarnations would, it appears, be damaged by recasting the Doctor as a woman. Change for the sake of change, rather than change to make a point via storytelling, doesn’t work well. Marvel’s Thor could go through Ragnarok (again?!) and be reincarnated as a woman, Baron Zemo could have his persona transferred to a sex-altered clone, the Vision’s brain could be transferred to a female synthozoidal body, but what would be the point of any of those changes beyond changing the sex just because it can be changed? A full-fledged story needs a theme.

    SRS

  25. I’m not sure that’s what Gaiman actually said. He said, not as a follow-up to Matt Smith, but possibly as a follow-up to Peter Capaldi. That seems different than what you’re saying here.

  26. Jonathan L. Miller says:

    There’s a part of me that wonders if we’d be discussing this issue had Tom Baker not made an off-hand joke about regenerating into a woman in 1980 (before the Davison announcement). Before then, I don’t think anyone had even thought of it; since then, it’s been mooted as a possibility every time we get a new Doctor (with the exception of McGann and Eccleston, I suppose).

    As for Moffat’s point, anecdotally, my wife encountered fans complaining Capaldi wasn’t “young” or “hot” enough within 15 minutes of the announcement, so maybe he has a point about certain fan expectations.

    Oh, and for the pedants, until 1980, the closing credits listed the role as “Doctor Who,” not “The Doctor,” so I think Heidi’s covered on that one. :-)

  27. A post by Gaiman on the subject about a year ago:
    http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/29333792325/doctorwho-rocketssurgery-time-ladies-aaw
    “First, look at these. Observe how right they are. Then tell me why you couldn’t have a female Doctor again…?”

  28. Lorrie says:

    I didn’t think they’d actually go with a female Doctor because the entertainment industry is pretty cowardly. But even knowing how cowardly they are, I thought there was a good chance this regeneration would be non-white. But truthfully, as Moffat’s Who has disappointed me, I was already planning to bow out as a viewer unless the casting was really interesting, and another white guy isn’t particularly interesting, regardless of the abilities of the actor.

  29. The only reason why a female Doctor would killed the show would be if,

    1) The actress was terrible, or
    2) Enough of the fanbase to make that kind of difference was comprised of massive jerks, and I’d like to think that isn’t so.

    Personally, I’m rooting for Tilda Swinton as a Doctor.

  30. Kill* -_-

  31. Dave Hartley says:

    I don’t doubt that someone creative enough could write the Doctor as a woman or that a good actress could embody the role, and once it had been done it would of course seem blindingly obvious. But I don’t think the scale of the challenge involved should be minimised.

    Lucy Liu plays an interesting take on Watson that avoids the obvious problems of writing female sidekicks by playing it as a “bromance where one of the bros is female” as the Guardian put it. The real challenge would be a female Sherlock.

    Looking at his writing of women’s roles in the past I’m not sure Steven Moffat is up to overseeing that level of challenge. And to the extent that Dr Who is defined by the creative culture around it’s production I note that the glass ceiling to employing women writers on the show doesn’t seem to be under threat.

    If the Doctor was just an interchangeable cipher which periodically regenerated then the question of what form it took would be irrelevant. But that’s not the case. The Doctor has some well established character traits. And in large part these have derived precisely from the fact that in most incarnations the Doctor isn’t a standard male authority figure and the way he solves problems goes against the grain of standard male heroics. Some of those character traits would have rather different resonances played by a woman. Most often the Doctor is complicated, tricky and eccentric in ways most male heroes are not. But I can see how those characteristics could all too easily play into some tiresome female stereotypes in ways which reinforced rather than challenged them.

    This is all made no simpler by the fact that a big change in nu-Who has been the nature of the emotional dynamic between Doctor and successive female lead companions. In my opinion this has been off-puttingly conventional in terms of gender roles. Personally, I’d much rather see some out-of-the box thinking concerning those emotional dynamics than about the Doctors gender or race. However that is the way that nu-Who has been developed and it would pose some interesting challenges if the Doctor became female. It would be different if this wasn’t a ‘family friendly’ show of course.

    As another thought – just give River Song her own series. Much sooner watch that myself.

  32. george says:

    Heidi MacDonald said: “Plus, sadly, women have a hard time accepting female authority figures. ”

    True. Some of the harshest criticism directed at Hillary Clinton has come from women. I read that young women were turned off by her presidential campaign because Hillary reminded them of their mothers.

  33. Pia Guerra says:

    And just like the last season of Doctor Who, Moffat is totally WRONG. You don’t let a fanbase tell you how to write a character, you decide that this is going to be awesome and then just friggin’ do it. Jesus.

    You want a great idea for a female Doctor? Katherine Parkinson.

  34. On the race issue, Neil Gaiman points out that he knows a black actor who was offered the role of Doctor Who (he doesn’t mention if it’s this round or something previously) but ended up turning it down.

    Personally, I do agree with Neil Gaiman that the time is right for a female Doctor Who, but that it has to work storywise.

    While there might be some backlash from some, there’s always backlash from fans who are upset. Matt Smith was too young, Peter Capaldi is too old, there’s always groups of fans upset no matter what. Bleedingcool.com just wrote a great article celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who jumping the shark, bringing out some of fans biggest complaints over the years on how the show has gone wrong. It’s been around so long, it has so many fans in so many age groups all with certain visions of how the show should be done and it’s impossible to satisfy them all.

    There’s been strong female characters who have been the Doctor’s equal like River Song who have even flown the Tardis better than the Doctor has, that fans have loved. While that particular character is too tied up in the backstory of the show, I could see a character like that being the Doctor and her being accepted by a good chunk of fans.

    Also despite the BBC’s reluctance I do think it will happen sooner than later. It’s become such a talking point that I don’t think they can avoid it forever.

  35. Thomas Chu says:

    While I somewhat agree that every subsequent Doctor has been a reaction to the previous one (Although how was Matt Smith any different than David Tennant other than a bit more humanist?), the BBC could’ve had a non-white, non-male actor anytime they wanted. Other than the obvious fan backlash and dip in ratings, the modern Doctor Who has never been one for social commentary or taking chances.

    Fans disappointed with yet another white male Doctor want their favorite show to at least acknowledge the diversity they live with on a daily basis, but really shouldn’t expect anything more from the show. The only way the BBC and Moffat will cast a non-white, non-male Doctor is when it’s financially viable. Just like most other mainstream TV shows and films.

    Kinda weird, isn’t it? Doctor Who is mainstream. Just like Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, that usually leads to a product that’s marginally smart, a bit watered down, and generally watchable, and that’s mainstream at its best (CBS occupying the opposite end). So to expect a non-male, non-white Doctor in 20-freaking-13 is fruitless and utterly sad.

  36. Heidi, I don’t buy the “deeper archetype” argument. Try this:

    1. Think of four essential characteristics of the Doctor;
    2. Explain how these characteristics can never be portrayed by a female actor. Or how they have never been exhibited by any woman in history or fiction.

    I certainly can’t do it.

  37. Charles says:

    I think the main reason that we don’t have a female Doctor Who, a black James Bond or whatever long standing pop culture icon we’re trying to change this week is that both the people in charge and the majority of the audiences for these things are super scared of change.

    The world is still a pretty sexist and racist place outside of blogs, fansites and the comment sections therein. We’ve still not come far enough, I don’t think. I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim for change, but I’ve never gotten my hopes up…Even if we did get a woman Doctor, she’d still be white and middle class.

  38. Simon Jones says:

    it’s kind of weird that with Doctor Who, it was seen as sort of weird and progressive that Christopher Eccleston spoke with his own Salford accent (most planets have a North after all) and not in RP.
    And Russell T Davies, for all of his faults as a writer, was very open in his pro-gay agenda in writing Doctor Who. By making being gay seem normal, almost mundane, by giving people gay/bi heroes like Captain Jack. he wanted to make sexual orientation not such a big deal to people watching. Whether he was successful or not is up to debate, but at least
    he tried.
    Why should skin-colour or gender be a big issue? I was a playwrite and director in a previous life, and I always insisted on colour-blind casting. It simply allows you with a wider palette to choose from and reflects the world that we all live in.
    I would have been thrilled if Richard Ayode or Idris Elba were announced last Saturday night (although part of me would still love to see Idris Elba play James Bond). Olivia Colman is an actress with amazing range, and she would have been wonderful too. But Peter Capaldi got the gig and I am absolutely thrilled with that choice too. He is a fantastic actor (watch the inquiry scene from last episode on The Thick of It…sweary but sublime and true) and, according to Craig Ferguson’s autobiography at least, a genuinely nice guy.

  39. Jamal Igle says:

    “Imagine if we never gave black people freedom b/c “not enough people wanted it.”
    I can’t believe someone typed this, as if it were even close enough to being analogous of the situation.

  40. Irwin Schwab says:

    “You don’t let a fanbase tell you how to write a character”

    You are, however, apparently supposed to let a fanbase tell you how to cast that character.

  41. I know it’s because there are only a handful of well known, widely liked black male leads, but it’s really, really boring hearing people fancast Idris Elba as .

  42. Rhianin says:

    Very little has been brought up here about continuity of story line. There is no precedent anywhere in the series I am aware of for a gender switch during regeneration. The Doctor and the Master have stayed male during every regeneration. Romana I regenerated into Romana II. River Song has regenerated twice: little girl astronaut into Amy’s friend, Mel (who grew up), then into the iconic River Song (staying female each time). A female doctor might be cast at some point, and could prove interesting, BUT there will need to be some very clever writing to explain why or how Galifrean DNA can do that.
    What there is precedent for in the series are racial switches during regeneration. Amy’s childhood friend, Mel was black, then regenerated into Alex Kingston’s River Song. Doctor Who, especially NU Who has been very inclusive showing inter racial couples, gay characters, etc. Would love to see a non- white Doctor.

  43. @Rhianin: You’re forgetting the Corsair. And you’re forgetting Eleven initially wondering if he was a girl after his regeneration. From what I understand, the latter inspired the former.

    Plus the “no precedent” thing doesn’t really work with Who. They suddenly revealed the Time Lords’ existence after 6 seasons. Prior to that, the character was not a Time Lord. A year later, they suddenly revealed he had two hearts. They can do whatever they want with the character, pretty much.

    “BUT there will need to be some very clever writing to explain why or how Galifrean DNA can do that.”

    Would it really be that much more far-fetched than anything else Galifrean DNA has already been shown to do in a regeneration? We’ve already seen complete physical change, we’ve seen hair – which is made up of dead cells – change into completely different hair. Height, weight. All that stuff. Why would a gender change on top of that be that big a deal, from a “Doctor Who science” perspective?

  44. Gail Simone says:

    I was commenting on MOFFAT’S justifications, by the way, not Heidi or anyone else in this thread.

    Just clarifyin’.

  45. Simon Jones says:

    Gail Simone, you are a class act and I won’t hear anyone say otherwise.

  46. Irwin Schwab says:

    Yes, quite classy to call “It didn’t feel right to me, right now” — what was it, again? ah, yes — “a wet sack of horseshit.”

  47. Robin says:

    The male actors they cast as the doctor all seem so effeminate to me, I certainly wouldn’t describe them or their performances as “male authority figures” – I reckon it’s bullshit, you could easily slip a woman into the role and it wouldn’t make a difference, probably wouldn’t even notice.

  48. Simon Jones says:

    Irwin…I was referring to Gail’s willingness to clarify a potentially inflamatory comment on the thread. Her opinions on Steven Moffat are entirely her own business…but hey, whatever dude!

  49. Irwin Schwab says:

    Point taken, Simon.

  50. I am thoroughly sick of the whole debate, and I am ESPECIALLY sick of people saying that not wanting a female Doctor means you aren’t comfortable with female authority figures. I don’t want the DOCTOR to be female, but I have no problem with a strong female lead (Buffy fan over here). Bring back Romana, giver her a TARDIS, and give her a spin-off. I’ll watch. So will millions of other fans. Problem solved.

Trackbacks

  1. […] MacDonald, H 2013, ‘Stephen Moffat hits at a harsh truth in explaining why Doctor Who isn’t a woman’, The Beat, weblog, 8 June, accessed 26 September 2014, <http://comicsbeat.com/stephen-moffat-hits-at-a-harsh-truth-in-explaining-why-doctor-who-isnt-a-woman…&gt;. […]

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