The extreme reaction to a female Doctor Who: a sign of entrenched societal sexism OR simply a mark of the disapproval of ‘traditionalist’ fans (or both)?

Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker. Photo by BBC.

When the new Doctor Who was revealed last Sunday evening as actress Jodie Whittaker (whose previous television credits include Broadchurch and Attack the Block) I’ll admit, perhaps embarrassingly so, I was initially sceptical.

Why embarrassingly so? Because I felt that any concern about Whittaker taking on this iconic role, would simply be disregarded as sexist slander and be used as reasoning as to why we still need feminism today. This is exceptionally sad, and prohibits any form of intellectual debate.

However, my first thoughts fell not to a generation of young girls who could be inspired by this fundamental change (perhaps wrongly) but to a generation of young boys – who are perhaps a little quirky, unconventional, and don’t yet conform to typical (and suffocating) masculine norms of constant physical and emotional strength.

Doctor Who provided this inspiration. A man who cried (on many occasions), a man who wasn’t always ‘conventionally’ physically attractive, and a man whose intelligence and ‘geekiness’ (the word is meant with no offence) is regarded with such respect and admiration, across the entire galaxy. That in itself, is something that is already achieving feminist goals of social equality, in helping to build a society in which men and women are both able to show emotion, and demonstrate their intelligence without fear of derision or judgement.

That being said, I do, therefore, have an extreme amount of respect for Whittaker for taking on a role with such a lot of history, and being a part of a television show that is so dearly loved by the British public. According to Chris Chibnall, Doctor Who’s new executive producer, Whittaker’s initial audition simply ‘blew us all away’ (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/jul/16/doctor-who-jodie-whittaker-announced-13th-doctor) which detracts the discussion away from her gender, and towards the fact that she is quite simply, a stunning actress. Her portrayal of the mother of murdered Danny Latimer in Broadchurch was a sublime piece of acting, and many scenes were completely agonising to watch, as you felt every inch of that mother’s pain.

Despite my initial sadness at the loss of such a positive male role model, I believe that the casting of Whittaker is ultimately a constructive step. The series needs a fresh new twist, and something to attract new viewers, and regain old viewers it may have lost. I just hope it doesn’t lose the atypical male representation, as that’s something that isn’t present in many other modern television programmes (but then, that’s not necessarily an issue with Dr Who as a programme, but with television as a whole). Women in the sci-fi and superhero genre are massively under-represented – only in the last two years, for example, have female characters become pivotal to blockbuster series like The Avengers, and Star Wars. It’s definitely part of a larger step in the right direction to diversify this genre.

It is highly amusing I guess, that although people will accept a Doctor who has come back to life thirteen times, and defeats imaginary creatures – they will absolutely not accept that the latest doctor is a woman. Simply hilarious.

David Tennant will always be my Doctor Who, he’s the Doctor Who I grew up with, and the Doctor that coaxed my brother and I out from behind the sofa, as he successively defeated yet another Dalek or Cyberman invasion. I sincerely hope that for many other young boys and girls, that Jodie Whittaker will be the Doctor Who that David Tennant was for me.

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