Number Thirteen has arrived, and what a storm she’s left in her wake.
For the first time in its fifty four-year history, the TARDIS key has been handed to a woman. Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor – or will be at Christmas – but it wasn’t long after she lowered her hood that the inevitable controversy began to stir. People of all genders alike are signalling the second demise of Doctor Who; some feel genuine fear; others feel genuine anger. However, what needs to be considered is the enormous impact that this new Time Lord will have on her most important viewers – the kids. For no matter how many others claim ownership, the fact remains that the Doctor belongs to the youngest fans, and it is they who will benefit most from having Whittaker as their idol.
Quite simply, there is no other hero like the Doctor – both in the BBC’s arsenal and in the public consciousness. A hero who shows people the sheer beauty of existence, from the supernovas to the street corners. A hero who resorts to violence, but only when every other option has been exhausted. A hero who, even when death is certain, rallies against cruelty and selfishness. Take it from someone who loves the Doctor as my favourite character in all of fiction; he has the power to shape a person’s friendships, passions and outlook on the world. Growing up, I wanted to be the Doctor – and I still do – so I understand the level of ownership people feel towards him. But I also understand that in a world dominated by superheroes but lacking in female ones, perhaps young girls deserve that level of ownership now.
It’s just not enough to create a new character like the Doctor – any attempt at doing so will result in a pale imitation. Furthermore, Tom Baker mooted the idea of a woman in the role as far back as 1981, and the show has laid the groundwork for it in the past few years. But most importantly, the Doctor is perhaps the only hero who can undergo this change and remain the same character. Unlike the recent incarnation of Ghostbusters, there’s no need to pretend the previous male incarnations didn’t happen; the show centres on celebrating its past whilst undergoing massive changes. In fact, the only reason we’re having this discussion – the only reason Doctor Who still exists – is because of constant reinvention. The casting of Jodie Whittaker does not take this wonderful role model away from young boys, but rather encourages them to share her with young girls.
A twenty-something friend told me that she only now shares the feeling I’ve had since I was seven – that she could be the Doctor. Now, both girls and boys will have Whittaker to make them feel safe, to convince them that embodying her will ensure survival in a world as troubled as ours. Some may scoff at what I’m saying, but the characters we grow up with become real in our minds, and remain so in adulthood. When I watched the Series 10 finale, The Doctor Falls, I didn’t see Peter Capaldi reciting a big speech from a script; I saw him, my childhood hero, alive and resolute:
“I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live… it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it – and I will stand here doing it until it kills me.” (The Doctor)
In other words, courtesy of wonderful actors, the Doctor has embedded himself into my subconscious so much so that he can exist in my world. Jodie Whittaker is another wonderful actor – something that is being ignored because of her gender and its significance. Therefore, despite her having the most difficult job since Patrick Troughton, I have no doubt that the Doctor will continue to exist for subsequent generations, regardless of gender.
Good luck, Number Thirteen. I look forward to travelling with you.