Friday, July 14, 2017

A Female Doctor: One Woman's View

With Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi on the outs come this Christmas, the time has finally come to start discussing the identity of the Thirteenth Doctor.

Except for the fact that, you know, people have been doing that since Capaldi got the role.

I'll admit, I've been damned disappointed with the way discussion of the next Doctor has been handled of late. There's been a lot of talk about the fact that the show needs to move away from the casting of straight white men in the lead -- and all things considered, time marches on. Especially in a show like Doctor Who, which is all about change. Series 10 gave us Bill Potts, a black lesbian with a happy ending. So, you know, lots of things are possible.

What has bothered me isn't the existence of the debate -- rather, it's been that the debate seems to have overshadowed an actor's performance. An actor who did not choose to be straight, white, or male. Yes, he was deliberately picked by other people. But it's been distressing to see that Fandom seems unable to have this conversation without throwing the current actor under the bus. Even if the attacks aren't deliberate, it's been depressing to see a very talented actor (who, in my opinion, has turned in an amazing role) be largely ignored because it's time to think about the next thing.

Does this mean I don't believe the discussion should be had? No. It only means I wish Capaldi had spent more of his tenure being considered "the incumbent" rather than "the future former." Especially considering he himself has spoken up in favor of what many people want to see. It would have been nice to see him treated as a little less of a roadblock.

That said. With the full knowledge that he is stepping down and filming his last televised story (until a potential anniversary cameo) and the hunt for the new Doctor is on, I feel ready to join the discussion: should there be a female Doctor?

Note that I titled this "one woman's view" rather than "a woman's view." And this is largely because I get tired of being called on to be representative of a group I'm in, be it women or people battling mental illness or people battling chronic illness. I am one person. We are not a hive mind. If you ask me, "as a woman, do you believe there should be a female Doctor?" I feel uncomfortable answering. Because I know that the question should mean "how does your experience as a woman influence this opinion," but nine times out of ten it will be taken as "what do women at large think, as encapsulated in your answer because all women agree on everything."

Well, you're not going to like my answer.

Because my answer is: I don't know and I don't want to be called on to make that decision.

The day I'm a BBC casting director and handed a set of resumes and told "pick our next Doctor from here," I'll consider myself able to say who should and shouldn't be the Doctor. And I get it, I get that the question is more complex and more socially important than that. No one's asking the question properly. So let me ask the question properly:

1. Is the Doctor allowed to be a woman?
2. If yes, is the next Doctor required to be a woman for the sake of Fixing Things?

Now, I can answer the first question. Canonically, yes, the Doctor is allowed to be a woman. A great deal of time has been spent over Capaldi's run establishing that gender is a dice roll for Time Lords, and that they are largely unconcerned with it. The Twelfth Doctor's reaction at discovering Missy is the Master, for example, was not shock at his old friend being a woman, it was just shock that his old friend was yet again not dead. It was an excellent piece of silent acting that could have gone very wrong, but did not.

So yeah, there's your first answer, and it's not up to me. The show said it. The Doctor can be a woman someday. End of story. It's canon. Don't look at me.

So, the second question. Which I think is the question people are really asking. Is the next, or at least a soon-to-come, incarnation of the Doctor required to be a woman because it's been too long and it's time?

Answer: I would be a little upset if I were cast as the Doctor because "it's time for a woman." But that's just me. And my word is not law.

A while back, I got an amazing opportunity to have a story in an amazing book. I was so proud. I was so excited. And then a friend of the editor came to me and basically said flat-out that I'd only been hired because the editor was desperately scrambling around to find more women to put in the book.

I was shattered. Honestly. I've absolutely no problem with creatives making a point of looking up women in order to have more visibility and offer them more jobs, but I was crushed by the idea that I'd been a desperate diversity hire. I've since had someone else tell me the truth of it, but that time still killed me.

Maybe I'm a minority there. Maybe there are women who would be happy to be hired like that because it's for the greater good. Hey. Maybe I should feel that way. But I don't. And I know that even if I were to get a dream role like the Doctor, if I found out my being chosen was directly influenced by my gender as opposed to my talent, I would feel weird.

How can I put my feeling best: I believe the casting pool for the Doctor should be wide open. I believe any race, any gender, should be able to walk in and be able to be seriously considered for the role. But I don't want a woman shoehorned in to "fix" things. I don't want some wonderful actress to become the show's proof that they're not sexist. If a woman gets cast as the Doctor, I want her to Be The Doctor, not potentially held up as a standard-bearer or scrutinized as a test run.

In short: if there are female Doctors someday, I will not stop watching. I think I've shown there's not a hell of a lot in this world that could make me stop watching. But if and when we get a female Doctor, I want her to be there because of who she is. I don't want to see one side of the fandom ripping her apart while the other low-key expects them to be her absolute saviour from sexism in sci-fi.

It won't work that way.

Do I want a female Doctor? Yes. But I don't want her to be The Female Doctor. I want her to be the Doctor. And until the day that can be done honestly and genuinely, I don't want to see an actress put in that position.

Your mileage will almost certainly vary.