Monday, July 24, 2017

"The Doctor is a--"

In 1974, Mel Brooks released Blazing Saddles, which is at once a brilliant and intelligent satire of racism and a typical, infantile Brooks film. In the movie, the Attorney General of some unknown state tries to force the residents of a town to sell their land cheap in order to build a railroad through it. After intimidation fails to work, the Attorney General convinces the governor to appoint a black man as town sheriff, reasoning that that will be the final straw. In the scene below, the residents prepare a welcome ceremony for the arriving sheriff (NOTE: one obscured very bad word):

I thought of this scene a lot last week after the announcement came out from the BBC that the role of the Thirteenth* Doctor on the iconic British television show, Doctor Who would be played by...gasp!...Jodie Whittaker, a...gasp...a w-BONG!

I don't travel in the squicky corners of the internet where Breitbarters like Milo Yiannopoulos live, so I don't exactly know what the reaction has been from that end of things--no doubt, it's not all that different from the initial reactions of the residents of Rock Ridge to the black sheriff in Blazing Saddles. The fact is, there are always going to be misogynists out there who oppose it on principle, and there are going to be misogynists out there who cover up their misogyny with, "Yeah, but canon!" Here's the thing: we're not dealing with Batman, or Superman, or Tolkien. Canon is mutable, especially for a show like Doctor Who, which has been making it all up as it goes along. The fact that the Doctor can regenerate at all was due to the necessity of replacing the First Doctor, when the actor's health wouldn't allow him to continue in the role! And speaking of mutable canon, I seem to recall that it was established that Time Lords only had twelve regenerations, and here we are on the Thirteenth* Doctor. The showrunners invent and bend and dodge to serve both dramatic purpose and to keep the money flowing.

The identity of the Doctor in terms of race, religion or gender doesn't much matter to me. What's important--to me--is that the show tell good stories with quality actors portraying all the roles. But I also recognize that as a white man, I've had the luxury of never really having to worry about it, and that I've never been under-represented. And when I see reactions like the one from the little girl in the embedded tweet in this this article, I realize how important it is to other people. (sorry, I'm not on Twitter, so I don't know how to embed that stuff; Youtube is my limit). To the  good folks at Doctor Who, I say "Huzzah! The Doctor is a woman!" Maybe I'll even start watching again.

What about you? Do you watch Doctor Who? What do you think of the new casting choice?

*As far as I can tell, John Hurt's "War Doctor" from the 50th Anniversary special should count as one, and then I'm pretty sure either David Tennant's 10th Doctor or Matt Smith's 11th Doctor kinda, sorta regenerated as himself (maybe they both did it), so we might actually be on more like Doctor 14 or 15 now.


  1. I don't watch Doctor Who, but my daughter does, and she's thrilled! She also said it's been foreshadowed quite a bit that the doctor could end up being a female (or someone with two heads, even), so it SHOULDN'T come as THAT quite of a shock. One of these days she'll get me to watch the series (I believe she has them on DVD), but she has to finish showing me Supernatural first, and we're still on Season 10.

  2. Well, they made Hermione Granger black for the play.

  3. -Stacy: I'm not sure if it was ever stated anywhere in the 50+ years that the Doctor had to be a man, or if it was just assumed, but I believe they have dropped hints (or stated outright) on the show that he could be whatever. I haven't watched in quite some time (less to do with Peter Capaldi and more to do with certain annoying tendencies in the show as a whole), but I may well check it out!
    -Donna: yes, and the world continues to turn!

  4. This was great news, even though I don't watch Dr Who with any regularity. I've actually groaned each time he's regenerated as another British white male lately! He's an alien lifeform, isn't he? So he/it can regenerate as anything it wants. I always think people who react strongly to news like this can't have enough to really worry about in life.

  5. -Nick: what a lot of them seem to be worrying about (unfortunately) is the primacy of the white man, and the threats to said primacy.


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