HERE we go again. Should the new Doctor Who be a woman? Let me explain: no, he shouldn’t. Make the Doctor a woman and you take away the reason the programme works. You also risk, in the name of diversity and equality, destroying a show that has done more than most for both of those causes. Doctor Who isn’t just about time travel and alien invasion; it’s about a very particular type of male experience; it is for, and about, boys who have nowhere else to go.
But first, let me explain what is actually going on with the latest suggestion that the role of the Doctor should go to a woman - made by the current Doctor Peter Capaldi. Capaldi has announced that he is leaving the show and said: “The time felt right to bow out, to let somebody else play this wonderful role and I would like Frances de la Tour to be first female doctor.”
But Peter Capaldi is not serious – he is a life-long Doctor Who fan and is knowingly repeating a joke first started 35 years ago by the fourth Doctor Tom Baker. Heading to the press conference to announce his departure, Tom came up with the idea of hinting that the new Doctor could be female and told the journalists: "I wish my successor, whoever he - or she - might be the best of luck."
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At the times, the newspapers took the idea seriously, but it was a joke, that’s all, repeated several years later by Russell T Davies when he was running the show and now by Peter Capaldi. But the problem with a joke – as with fake news – is that the more you repeat it, the more people start to take it seriously, and the greater the risk that it might actually come true, which is where we are now. Television is obsessed with diverse casting. “Do we have the right mix of gender, sexuality and race in this show?” ask producers instead of asking a better question: “do we have a show that’s good?” And Doctor Who, sadly, looks like an obvious next target for the diversity mania: The Doctor is privileged man – he’s a lord for goodness sake – so he must be changed into a woman to teach him a lesson.
But if – or when – this female casting happens, it will miss the point that Doctor Who has already done its bit for minorities – in fact, a very particular type of minority. Doctor Who was, and still is, for boys like me: nerdy boys who prefer indoors to outdoors and books to balls, boys who don’t understand the male stereotypes they are supposed to aim for. Most heroes, Superman, Captain Kirk, kiss the girl and shoot to kill, but the Doctor doesn’t. He shows that there’s another way of being a man, which is why only men can properly understand Doctor Who.
Cast a woman in the role and you take that away from the programme at a stroke and leave nerdy boys without a hero, and they do deserve a hero. And Doctor Who is the wrong target anyway. The programme was created in the 1960s when the corporation was almost entirely white, male and straight, and yet it was run by a woman in her 20s and directed by a gay Asian man. In other words, Doctor Who has already done its bit for diversity. Don’t make the Doctor a woman.