As a fan, and as someone whose own books have strong science themes, and often strong female characters leading them, I think we need more of this kind of role model. Casting a woman in the role is a brave, unexpected idea, no doubt, but if Doctor Who is about anything, it’s about making brave, unexpected ideas.
So what’s with all the criticism from Doctor Who fans? Well, I’m a fan from the old guard, and I suspect I know…
Long, long ago, science fiction fans were all lumped in together. They all liked weird fiction, and that was enough. They met once a month in a pub called the One Tun in London to talk about spaceships and re-runs.
Then one night, sometime in the mid 80’s, a barman caught two male Doctor Who fans snogging in a corner. The proprietors at the time could handle the wooly scarves, and the people dressed in Star Trek uniforms, but in those less enlightened times, two men kissing just wasn’t on, and they were turfed out on the street.
The rest of the sci-fi fans carried on drinking, but Doctor Who fans are a principled lot, and they walked out en-masse in solidarity and never returned. To this day, Doctor Who fans meet in another pub, the Fitzroy Tavern, and, like Britain and Europe they’ve never really seen themselves as part of the same crowd since.
Why mention this? Because it just doesn’t strike me that this is a bunch of people who would be suddenly outraged at the casting of a female Doctor. It’s an idea that’ been rumoured, after all for decades.
The truth, I suspect is a bit more complicated. You see, Doctor Who fans are a contrary bunch. They like an argument, and are perfectly happy to spend an evening fighting bitterly about whether the buddhist subtext in the 1982 story, Kinda was handled more subtly than that in the 1974 story “planet of the spiders.” They’re also, or they were, in the 80’s, a bit scared of girls.
But they were never afraid of things changing. If you ever meet someone who argues that black is white as though it’s a fight they’ve been having all their lives, then it’s likely they’re a Who fan. If they manage to convince you, then they definitely are (and you’re not).
So what’s really going on here? I suspect it’s two things:
Firstly, it’s that Who fans are arguing – nothing new in that – but now other people – media people, and BBC PR people with an interest in getting headlines and filling pages, are listening to the arguments, seeing a way to drum up coverage, and god forbid, taking them seriously.
Secondly, Doctor Who now has a much wider audience, generated by the popular surge of the show’s reboot. And a lot of the twitter storm around the new regeneration is generated by them – fans some of whom may have come to the show because of its unconventional hero, and his/her contrary ways… but also because they rather fancy David Tennant. And it’s probably this group for whom Jodie Whittaker just doesn’t cut the mustard.
The bottom line is Who fans are going to argue over this long after everyone else has forgotten about it. In the meantime, it’s just great that a show that celebrates the mad, strange beautiful absurdity of the universe – a show that created the daleks to teach children about eugenics just two decades after the 2nd world war – a show that featured a female Prime Minister in the mid 70s – that satirised plastic surgery (with a perfectly flat Zoe Wannamaker), and foreshadowed virtual reality (in 1976) – that introduced gay lead characters to a family audience while other shows were still too scared to do it – that you can sit down to watch every week and not know whether you’re going to be introduced to a western, a horror movie, a technothriller, a space opera, a comedy, or a treatise on the nature of reality, is going to flip the rules yet again on Christmas Day.
It will upset some people. But all great art does.