The Thirteenth Doctor

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you know I’m a big fan of Doctor Who. I proclaimed it my second favorite TV show in a previous Top 10 list, and I counted down my favorite companions on the show and my favorite incarnations of The Doctor himself.

But now, should I say herself?

Today, the BBC announced that following the departure of 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi in the upcoming Christmas special, the show’s 13th Doctor will be played by Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to play the role in the over fifty-year history of the show.

I’m absolutely ecstatic about this reversal of the polarity of the neutron flow, and I look forward to next season. The longevity of Doctor Who is partially due to its ability to reinvent itself with each new show runner, each new companion, and each new incarnation of the titular Time Lord.

This periodic reinvention was first because of a dire situation. Back in 1966, William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor, was unable to keep up with the grueling filming schedule due to his arteriosclerosis. The show was only in its 4th season, and it was successful in the ratings, so the producers wanted it to keep going. They devised the concept of regeneration, a Time Lord’s ability to change form upon taking too much damage to their body. Patrick Troughton took over as the 2nd Doctor, and without his amazing portrayal of the character to sell this concept, the show wouldn’t have been able to survive for as long as it has.

So change is evitable in the history of the program. Due to budget constraints, the first few seasons of 3rd Doctor Jon Pertwee’s tenure saw him exiled and stranded on Earth. With new producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script-editor Robert Holmes at the start of 4th Doctor Tom Baker’s tenure, the style of the show shifted more toward Gothic horror-tinged sci-fi. The contrast between Peter Davison’s final 5th Doctor story The Caves of Androzani and Colin Baker’s first 6th Doctor story The Twin Dilemma was so noticeable that it’s widely considered one of the first signs of the downfall of Classic Who. A correction was made with 7th Doctor Sylvester McCoy’s stories so they had longer character arcs, which would become a staple of the 2005 revival of the show.

Even the new series has seen significant change. Christopher Eccleston’s sole season as the 9th Doctor and all three of 10th Doctor David Tennant’s seasons are very different due to diverse season-long arcs and relationships with a variety of companions. When Steven Moffat took over as show-runner, the style changed, especially in the introduction of 11th Doctor Matt Smith’s imaginary-friend kind of relationship with a young Amelia Pond. And then the style changed again with Capaldi’s more crotchety but awesome Doctor.

So I get it. There are some people out there not very happy about the decision because the Doctor is changing. I recently saw this image floating around the Net about the stages of Doctor Who regeneration.

There’s truth in this cycle. I didn’t want to see Matt Smith leave, but I’ve grown very attached to Peter Capaldi. A part of me doesn’t want to see him leave, but this time, I’m excited about the regeneration because of the guarantee that next season will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen on Doctor Who.

There are critics out there who claim that the casting of a woman in the role is a gimmick or publicity stunt. I’ll concede that the way they announce new Doctors has become a publicity stunt—there was an entire hour-long special dedicated to Peter Capaldi’s announcement. That’s overkill, if you ask me.

But if the naysayers are complaining about casting a woman in the role, they need to listen to some things Steven Moffat said about his casting of Smith and Capaldi. There have been cries to cast a female Doctor for several years, and Moffat replied that Smith and Capaldi were cast not because they were men, but because they were the best people for the role based on the auditions at the time and the directions they could take the show. So I refuse to look at Jodie Whittaker’s casting as a publicity stunt or even as kind of long-overdue gender equality statement. I’m going to trust that incoming show runner Chris Chibnall cast her among all the candidates—male and female—because she was the best person for the proposed new direction of the show.

Because, you see, it’s not a stunt. The show has already clearly shown Time Lords can regenerate across gender lines. It was mentioned in the Matt Smith story The Doctor’s Wife when The Doctor talked about a friend known as The Corsair. In the Peter Capaldi episode Hell Bent, The Doctor escapes capture by uncharacteristically shooting a Gallifreyan General (after confirming he had several regenerations remaining), who then regenerates on-screen into a woman. And most notably, The Doctor’s nemesis The Master has been gleefully played as “Missy” by Michelle Gomez for the past three seasons, and I hope she continues in the role, though given what happened at the end of The Doctor Falls, it seems unlikely.

It’s not like the show hasn’t already given us a bevy of strong female characters. Look at Rose Tyler’s growth in her two seasons, or what Martha Jones did for The Doctor, or how initially annoying Donna Noble developed into the most important person in the universe—who didn’t deserve such a tragic send-off. Amy Pond always went for what she wanted. Clara Oswald started acting Doctor-like. And River Song took no crap from anyone. Even single-episode or recurring characters showed their strength: Lindsay Duncan in The Waters of Mars, Kate Stewart and Osgood running UNIT, and a few other female almost-companions along the way.

So as I said, I’m going to trust Chibnall’s choice—not because Jodie Whittaker is female, but because it was his choice to make and he chose who was best. He saw the full audition pool and must have weighed all his options. He knows Whittaker’s work ethic from her time on his show Broadchurch. She’s already played a diverse array of characters (seriously, check out her IMDb page) in a diverse set of TV shows and films, including sci-fi (Black Mirror) and time travel (A Thousand Kisses Deep). I haven’t seen Broadchurch, but I’ve been told she’s wonderful. Honestly, the acting on Doctor Who has been wonderful through most of the revived series, especially the four Doctors so far, and I expect that trend to continue.

To the naysayers, I say SHUT UP, SHUTITY SHUT UP! This is the show reinventing itself once again, and it could use a good regeneration from time to time. And to Jodie Whittaker, I say GERONIMO and ALLONS-Y, because I’m sure you’ll be FANTASTIC!

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