From Timelord to Timelady? No thanks
Why are feminists obsessed with the idea of Doctor Who regenerating with breasts?
On Sunday night, over six million people tuned in live to see who the BBC had chosen to succeed Matt Smith as the next Doctor Who. The choice, Peter Capaldi, a man best known for his role as sweary spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, widely delighted fans. Within hours, mashup videos of Dr Who and The Thick of It, featuring the Daleks getting a dressing down like never before, were going viral.
Capaldi’s appointment didn’t please everyone, however. The most cheesed-off were an angry coterie of feminists who took to Twitter and the blogosphere to voice their disappointment that the latest Doctor wasn’t going to regenerate with a pair of breasts. As one feminist writer tweeted, ‘Dr Who appointment a victory for the, er, older person. But not, sadly, the older woman. #pigswillflywhenWhosawoman.’ ‘Damn, I do wish it was a woman’, tweeted another. A prominent feminist blogger grumbled that ‘apparently it’s impossible to imagine the Doctor not being a white guy’. And, somewhat predictably, the author of the blog Whovian Feminism spoke of her ‘huge, aching sense of disappointment’.
This had followed vocal lobbying for the twelfth Doctor to be female. Helen Mirren – once herself a favourite for the part – claimed ‘it’s well over-time to have a female Doctor Who’. Former MP Louise Mensch argued that ‘the way to get a strong female character leading in the Doctor Who series’ was to ‘swap the underling female human companion for a Time Lady’. One campaigner for a female Doctor even said that ‘right now, arguing about who the next Doctor should be feels more real than arguing about parliamentary politics’. Anyone challenging the female Doctor campaign was routinely dismissed as sexist or misogynistic.
But why the desire to see the Doctor undergo a sex change? Few offered any reasons as to why the show could actually be improved as a result. Rather, the rationale behind the calls amounted to little more than the idea that a female Doctor would act as a positive role model for young viewers and send out a strong message. As with the recent campaign for Jane Austen to appear on the £10 note, it was a campaign obsessed merely with the symbolism of having a woman involved, rather than anything more substantial. What exactly would change if Olivia Colman – or one of the other female actors touted for the part – picked up the sonic screwdriver?
But unlike the Austen campaign, writer and director Steven Moffat and the BBC – perhaps surprisingly given its obsession with demonstrating its diverse, multicultural credentials – held their ground and opted instead for Capaldi. While acknowledging a female Doctor would be perfectly plausible in narrative terms, Moffat’s response was revealing. He told the Express that he ‘didn’t feel enough people wanted it’. Indeed, he went further: ‘Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women. [They were] saying, “No, no, don’t make him a woman!”’ Moffat’s feelings reflect opinion polls: a majority in a YouGov survey earlier this year said they wanted the Doctor to remain a man; and a recent Mirror survey found that a mere 18 per cent of respondents wanted him to become female.
Far from being a popular idea, the campaign for a female Doctor stems from a small – but vocal – gaggle of feminists, who are increasingly used to having their own way if they stomp their feet a bit on Twitter. Of course, directors and screenwriters shouldn’t be governed by opinion polls any more than screechy feminists. Rather they should be guided by one concern alone: what makes great telly.
Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.
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