The first female Doctor Who… was all the hoo-ha worth it? (apologies for that absolutely terrible pun…)

*WARNING: This blog contains spoilers, if you haven’t yet seen the first episode of Doctor Who, and intend to – please do not read this. Thank you kindly.*

‘Hold on their please madam, I need you to do as I say – this could be a potential crisis!’

‘Why are you calling me madam?’

‘Because… you’re a woman?’

‘Am I?! Does it suit me?’

And thus… in the inaugural episode of the latest series of Doctor Who, writers at the BBC swiftly addressed the Doctor’s change of sex. And then they moved on.

It seemed only right, and important, that as I return to this blog after over a year of absence, that I reconsider the subject of the first piece I published on this website. Back to where it all began!

I discussed the mixture of emotions I felt when the new Doctor was announced as Jodie Whittaker, back in July 2017. Initially, sadness, at the loss of such a positive male role model. Followed by excitement for the potential to diversify, and increase female representation in the sci-fi genre. Concluded with, simple bemusement – that the whole thing had sparked such an extreme debate. As I said before, and as I’ll say again – many people were happy to accept a Doctor that has come back to life thirteen times, and defeated a range of imaginary creatures and aliens – but not one that is… female. Amusing, to say the very least.

So. The first episode? I was impressed. The BBC knows by now what makes a good episode of Doctor Who. A terrifying alien? Check – this guy collected a tooth from each victim and stuck it on its face – it was intense. Loveable sidekicks? Check – Bradley Walsh from ‘The Chase’ like you’ve never seen him before! Highs? Check – the Doctor casually building her own sonic screwdriver. Lows? Check – RIP Gloria… and ultimately – a defeated villain? Check! Tim Shaw fell dramatically from a crane and was zapped back to his home planet by an ever-benevolent Doctor.

Doctor who 2
The thirteenth Doctor (Whittaker), surrounded by new companions (L-R), Ryan, Graham, and Yasmin. Photo BBC.

And from a dramatic perspective – a quick, intelligently written script, phenomenal CGI, basic, yet effective costuming (Whittaker’s outfit – BRAVO, simple, practical, and bold – loved it!) and superb, smooth editing. A job well done.

But back to Whittaker. Was the media storm worth it? It’s funny, because whilst I was watching it – I wasn’t really registering Whittaker as a woman. That sounds odd. I’ll try and explain what I mean. Whittaker was just the Doctor – quirky, funny, brilliant, and a little awkward. She spoke with speed, as most Doctors have done – as if their mouths can’t quite keep up with their brains. She was fiercely protective of those who surrounded her – as all Doctors are to their beloved companions, and ultimately – she saved the day.

The series hasn’t lost the positive male role model I was worried about – it’s gained a new one – in Ryan. Young Ryan has dyspraxia (a condition affecting coordination, which can also affect organisational skills, memory, processing speed, perception, and in some cases speech), but refuses to let it hold him back in a tense final battle against alien Tim Shaw. I’m excited to see how the series develops his character.

It’s funny – a few weeks ago I was discussing representation in film and TV, and one of my friends said she’d just seen the blockbuster film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ – and never felt so happy leaving a cinema. She’s a young Asian woman, and told me how desperately she wished this film had been made when she was growing up. Because it showed Asian women as powerful, beautiful, strong… and pretty damn cool. She’d grown up watching white women dominate a great deal of iconic films, and felt different and isolated from this sphere of power and beauty. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was a total game changer, and she was so excited that her younger sisters will get to grow up watching these kinds of films.

crazy rich asians
Crazy Rich Asians promotional poster. Photo Warner Bros. Pictures.

This conversation truly demonstrated to me how important representation in film and TV is. It can really change how someone perceives themselves: their race, gender, appearance, intelligence, sexuality… the list goes on. TV and film can be incredibly powerful, and we need to start recognising it as such. I truly hope the new series of Doctor Who changes ideas about gender, and perhaps even disability too – it’s off to a flying start for sure.

The first episode of the eleventh series of Doctor Who has changed the game. Jodie Whittaker will be remembered as the first female Doctor, it’s only natural. But I hope she’ll also be remembered as the first Doctor to achieve many other things… which I’m hoping the rest of series eleven will prove. No spoilers please, I have episodes 2 & 3 to catch up on!

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