Conversations with the Doctor

Have I talked about my relationship with Doctor Who on this site before? Twice before apparently following Capaldi’s departure. I’ve talked about why I think shifting demographics of heroes is important and talked about the Doctor there. However, I think there is a deeper conversation to be had about the Doctor as a character specifically. Anyway, a brief recap of my history with Doctor Who. I started watching in the Davies era around the end of series 3. From there, I watched all of Davies’ era. My favourite episodes of the show in that era were the ones penned by Steven Moffat. However, as I grew along the series, I grew frustrated with Moffat’s era seeming to tell the same five stories and features only three kinds of women (which I feel could be dubbed ‘the Doctor’s girlfriend’, ‘the Doctor’s mother’, and ‘the Doctor’s wife’). Anyway, within me, there was the idea that I would return to the series once Moffat stepped away. So, here I am, on the other side of the tunnel. Let’s talk about the first female Doctor.

I watched the first episode of the new era of Doctor Who recently. I’m not going to lie. It was rough returning to the series. Doctor Who has this idiosyncratic quality to its dialogue that reminds that it is a family show. Perhaps the character who worked the most in this episode was the Doctor. However, there was a moment that I wanted the show to focus on more. The Doctor, admittedly experiencing some memory loss, is informed that she is a woman. I really wanted the show to delve into this. I wanted the show to stop for a second and look at this shift in gender. The Doctor could at this moment be described as a transwoman. Some might resist this idea with the argument that the Time Lord’s ideas about gender are different from ours, precisely because they can change gender. Maybe, however, media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The Doctor has been canonically a white guy, of varying ages, with a penchant for suits.

There may be the temptation by the writing staff to just treat a female Doctor as business as usual. I think that would be a mistake. Since the Doctor has always canonically identified as a man, they are a figure who has viewed themselves as male. The first conversation I would like the Doctor to have in this new form is to confront how their conception of self is changed. This might be the perfect chance to hire a trans writer to examine feelings of thinking about gender.

The Doctor can identify characteristics that remain stable throughout their incarnations and wonder how those characteristics correlate to their gender. While the Doctor may be more fluid, the cultures they travel to have a certain hegemony that connects to our contemporary world. For example, all the incarnations of the Doctor that I am familiar with all carry what might best be described as a bitter anger. Our world, and by extension the worlds of Doctor Who, associate anger as a predominantly male trait. Notably, the Doctor possesses a righteous anger. Imagine a scene in which this current Doctor has to face 1950s sexism like Tennant’s Doctor confronted in The Idiot’s Lantern. The Doctor has lost social power in a very real way and I’m interested to see how they will react when confronted by someone who will not listen because of their gender.

Currently, on Twitter, there seems to be a continuing crusade by a group known as TERFs. This acronym stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, though what they’re doing could hardly be described as radical or feminist. They carry a certain gender determinism regarding trans people. They try to discriminate against transwoman by excluding them from women’s spaces based on their assigned gender at birth. Why have I gone on this tangent specifically about trans women? Imagine a trans person who slowly discovered that they identified with elements of gender that fell outside their assigned gender. That person suffers just as much at the hands of patriarchy as any other woman. Think about how society demeans a man in a dress? Someone who identifies as a man and dresses in women’s clothing is ridiculed by society or is doing so as a joke. I’ve been guilty of this hackneyed joke when I was, well, just the worst. Now imagine that every time you try to live as the gender you feel and all people see is that joke. The Doctor has a unique opportunity to be the hero for those people. An international face for people to see themselves in. Representation matters because a character like the Doctor can break those barriers for a kid who sees a truth in that character.

Now, the last thing I wanted to look at is how this change in gender could change the way the Doctor interacts with his companions. I’ve always been struck by a moment that occurred in The Shakespeare Code. Martha, a black woman travelling with Doctor, expresses worry that her appearance might put her in jeopardy. The Doctor waves it away by saying ‘Just walk around like you own the place. It works for me’. Now, I love a good Bavarian Fire Drill as much the next person. However, of course walking around like you own the place works for the Doctor. It’s because he does. They have landed in Elizabethan England and while history is less a straight line of conservatism to progressivism (and more a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, socio-political stuff), Martha is right to be concerned. The Doctor can walk around like he owns the place because people who look like him have and continue to own the place. My hope is that the Doctor will confront their privilege more in this era. That is not to say that people of different gender and racial identities can’t travel with the Doctor. This is to say that if you look like those in power, you are given more rope and pretending that isn’t the case could hurt those with less power travelling with the Doctor.

My hope is that this is the way that Doctor Who is going. This Doctor’s companions seem to a diverse lot with some interesting intersectional identities. I mentioned earlier that I think a trans writer might have a unique perspective on the Doctor’s transition. A quick Google revealed that indeed there is some thought on existing trans characters in Doctor Who. (https://www.them.us/story/doctor-who-trans-character) I wanted to include this because I think it’s important for me as a privileged individual in every facet of my identity (straight-ish, white male) to listen and hold up those who don’t have as prominent a voice in society. As Homer Simpson once said ‘I’m a white male aged 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me.’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVJpe1qbfb0)

 

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