Matt Smith has quit Doctor Who, and amidst the sobbing and national mourning, a new question – one almost as old as “Doctor who?” itself – is being asked again: Who is going to play the next Doctor? And with that comes the same conversation that accompanied David Tennant’s departure: Isn’t it time for the Doctor to be played by someone who isn’t another white male? We’ve had twelve of those already.
The discussion is met by the usual objections from certain quarters, although the chief resistance seems to be towards the Doctor swapping gender. It has now been explicitly stated in the show that Time Lord’s can switch gender when they regenerate (in The Doctor’s Wife), but there is still a large portion of the audience who believe that being male is one of the Doctor’s crucial characteristics. Perhaps because he embodies a number of traditionally ‘male’ personality traits: authoritative, adventurous, brave, egocentric, problem-solving… Of course, the concept that all these elements belong exclusively to the male of the species is a load of rubbish. All of his female companions since the relaunch have possessed those traits too.
The fact that River Song was roundly criticised by a portion of the audience for being too bossy, too know-it-all and not deferential enough towards the Doctor indicates that certain people just aren’t ready for a woman to be in charge of the TARDIS. Of course, those people make me even more eager to have a female Doctor, just to rile ‘em up. Prodding the sexists with a stick is always entertaining.
But that said, I can see their concern. A female Doctor would fundamentally shift the dynamics of the show. Not in a bad way, just a different way. And different is scary. It’s something that, sadly, I don’t think the BBC will have the guts to do this time around. No matter how good the likes of Zawe Ashton or Helen Mirren of Olivia Coleman might be in the role.
There is absolutely no argument, though, as to why the next Doctor shouldn’t be non-white. We’ve seen River regenerate from a mixed-race woman into a white one. Even the most bigoted corner of the audience know that they can’t argue against a non-white Doctor, forcing them to fall back on statements like “so long as it wasn’t just a token gesture…” But that’s the statement that worries me. Because if, as I hope, Moffat does cast a non-white Doctor (with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Paterson Joseph being at the top of most people’s wish-lists), the first thing we’re going to get is cries of tokenism. Which is even bigger bollocks than claiming that women simply don’t possess the qualities of the Doctor.