Throughout its 50-some-odd years since its premier in 1963, “Doctor Who” has boasted strong representation for women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Characters like Sarah Jane Smith, Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Captain Jack Harkness and Bill Potts have paved the way for black, gay, bisexual and female representation in sci-fi television. However, that representation has never extended to the Doctor himself.
Let me backup a little. If you’re new to “Doctor Who,” in the simplest of terms, it is a show about a human-looking alien who travels through space and time to save the lives of humans and aliens alike. He appears in times of crisis emerging from a bright blue telephone box, hair disheveled and a sonic screwdriver in hand. He saves the day and leaves no trace except for his moniker “The Doctor”.
Every few seasons, the Doctor is mortally wounded and must regenerate into a new form in order to save his life. In the history of the show, there have been 13 iterations of the Doctor, all of them white males, although the Doctor has stated in the past that he could be any gender or race (including the alien ones).
The most recent incarnation of the Doctor was revealed to be actress Jodie Whittaker. This is a landmark achievement for a show in which diverse representation has been limited to the sidekicks. That is not to say that these sidekicks aren’t strong characters. In fact, I often find myself more drawn to the Doctor’s companions than I do to the Doctor himself. However, if all of the diversity in your show is relegated to companions and side characters, you’re doing something wrong, especially in a show about an alien who flies around in a blue box saving people’s lives. It enforces the idea of the “White Boy Savior,” in which a white male must swoop in to save the day because women and people of color are not powerful enough to do it themselves. This stigma has been perpetuated throughout the media, most recently in Marvel’s Iron Fist, where a white male must be counted upon to save all of China Town because they simply can’t seem to do it themselves. And believe me, the irony of me, a white male, writing an article on this subject isn’t lost on me, but when you’re passionate about a subject you find a way to discuss it with like-minded individuals, and this is my way of doing that.
As you can imagine, when Jodie was announced as the new Doctor, her casting was polarizing to put it lightly. The Doctor is not even human, but God forbid he be portrayed by a woman. Some people absolutely hated the casting, saying that they would stop watching the show as a result. For the most part, the response to Jodie’s version of the character has been overwhelmingly positive, and her season has not even aired yet. People have already begun cosplaying as her version of the character. In an interview with BBC News about her take on the immortal Time Lord Whittaker said, “I hope my gender isn’t a fearful thing for the fans, because in this world particularly, there aren’t rules, and that’s a great thing. So hopefully everyone is as excited as I am.”
While the casting of a woman to play an iconically male character doesn’t magically solve the issue of the lack of diverse representation in the media, it is a step in the right direction. Perhaps the next Doctor will be a person of color, or transgender, or a transgender person of color. Once you break the glass ceiling, you can only continue to go up from there.