I absolutely refuse to be anything but SUPER PUMPED about Jodie Whittaker being cast as the next regeneration of the Doctor on Doctor Who.
I, like perhaps lots of other Whovians, had an inkling that a female doctor might be in the future because of the mental preparedness the Doctor Who writing team provided its audience through the character of Missy during the past season. (Thanks Michelle Gomez!) But what I wasn’t prepared for was my reaction to it actually happening.
When the announcement came out on July 16th that Peter Capaldi would be passing the sonic screwdriver to stalwart British actor, Jodie Whittaker, not only was I excited, I was consumed with joy and hope and had an actual physical reaction. I started crying and for hours after having read the news literally needed to get out of my chair and dance around. Seeing posts and exclamations from other female friends and fans online intensified this as I realized my reaction was part of something women all over the planet were going through as we received this huge declaration from the world of science fiction and entertainment that we belonged and could participate and imagine alongside everyone else. As much as many men in my network were also enthused about the change, I don’t quite think they were having the same experience.
But beyond the many obvious reasons why the 13th Doctor is so exciting, I wanted to highlight 5 more:
1. Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker is a FANTASTIC actor. She, just like Peter Capaldi or David Tennant, has an illustrious career of great performances to her name. As a compulsive consumer of British film and tv, I have seen her in multiple productions, but all one has to do is watch the first episode of Broadchurch to see what a champion artist she is. I am so excited to see how she interprets and transforms the Doctor, as we all should be. Just as we waited with bated breath to see what Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi were going to do, we should be counting the days until we get to see what new magic Whittaker will bring. She is going to kill it!
2. The Cosplay
‘If she can see it, she can be it’ is the motto of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media. It’s much easier to believe you can do something or be something, when you see others like you doing it and being it.
It’s not as if women couldn’t cosplay before, or waited for permission to cross gender (or species) boundaries, but now there is a Doctor that women can immediately inhabit without having to worry about disguising their gender. Women and girls who are new to cosplay or less open to crossdressing can start with the 13th Doctor (or Missy) if they want and then move onto other characters or monsters. Also, when interacting with other characters, they can do so as women and as the Doctor simultaneously, with all the authority (and bravado) that comes with the character.
Having had to listen to a male friends complain that they don’t understand why it is not always appropriate, when dressed up as a superhero at a convention, to act amorously and authoritatively towards women cosplaying female characters from a superhero’s universe, I can see how this can be a rare opportunity for women to feel more able take ownership of a character that wasn’t written to be secondary or subordinate to anyone.
Oh and we’re going to get a new wardrobe to try on, and it might occasionally include a dress.
3. Whittaker is a feminist.
In the announcement, Whittaker clearly states that she is a feminist. Not only do I trust her as an actor to do justice to the role, but because she is not apologetic or closeted about identifying as a feminist, I can also trust her to protect the role. She’s not going to let a female Doctor become a stereotype or a caricature. She’s going to fight to keep the role from falling into cliches and keep the storylines fresh, exciting, and adventurous. There is always a danger that writers will have (conscious or unconscious) ideas that a female hero just can’t do certain things. Whittaker will be a significant check on any of those notions. (Side note: how exciting is it that the folks over at SyFy’s Wynonna Earp are giving us a pregnant superhero?)
A woman Doctor can run up and down corridors, fly the TARDIS, wear fezes, play electric guitar, or absorb the Time Vortex just as much as the next (or should I say, previous) guy.
4. Men get a shero.
The Doctor being a woman is a great opportunity for men to realize that they can respect, admire, and emulate a person or character because of who they are and not just because of how they look. Sure, many may see this as a challenge, but is moreso a great opportunity for men to expand their minds and learn how to identify with and care about a hero regardless of gender. It is not a task that they are asked to do often, which is why it is great they are getting this giant platform to practice. They should be seeing this a cool chance to see some more great storytelling in a way that will only enrich a show they love. If more people learn to see beyond markers of gender to the human (or humanoid) and (s)hero, the world would be a better place.
5. Rebooting the Norm
Increased representation in media, having people of different genders, ages, races, sexualities in lead roles and roles of leadership, helps reset what the world accepts as normal. It tells an audience that a person’s merit and ability to be admired, respected, loved, or emulated need not be based solely on a physical attribute or just because ‘they are like me’— especially with big name, international franchises like Doctor Who. Rachel Dunne writing for the Mary Sue argues that science fiction is the perfect (and obvious) place to begin envisioning what societies that aren’t based on hierarchies of gender can look like (emphasis mine):
There’s one thing all three of those books have in common: there’s no gender-based societal rule. No patriarchy, no matriarchy. People succeed or fail based on their own achievements. Characters are compelling because of their personalities and the situations they face. The trials they overcome have nothing at all to do with women triumphing where only men have triumphed before.
You need to understand how rare and precious a thing this is. In these books, gender doesn’t matter. Gender exists, but it’s not a quality by which it’s worth judging another person. In a world where we’re fighting for equality, you’d think this would be a common thing—especially in science fiction and fantasy, where we can imagine any world, reinvent the past and create a better future. You’d think that, more often, we’d see books with this one perfect little piece of equality.
The boat may have already sailed for some of us, but there are generations of media consumers and scifi fans that are going to grow up accepting that you can have Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel and Batman and Superman . The Force can be strong with Luke or Rey. The Doctor can be a man or a woman.