So the mad men did it. Doctor Who has its first female Doctor, in the form of Jodie Whittaker. If Chris Chibnall was feeling the pressure before today, he’ll be certainly feeling it now. His tenure as showrunner marks the most controversial moment in the long-running show’s history, and he hasn’t shot a single episode yet.
It’s not as if the show hasn’t been building to this. The Doctor’s greatest nemesis, The Master, flipped genders back in Season 8. We also saw it happen in the Season 9 finale, when another Timelord made the switch. It’s this foreshadowing which made Whittaker’s appointment somewhat predictable – even if the reaction to it indicates otherwise.
It’s that reaction that’s created the biggest flash point. It’s easy to mock those who don’t want a female Doctor. Social media already is full of mocking and belittling in that direction – but there is some minor logic at play. Doctor Who has a very bad history when it comes to writing for its female cast, relegating women to the role of onlooker. While some characters have broken this mold (See Missy) there are plenty of other examples that only point to how tragically woeful these attempts have been (See Clara, River). These characters grated on audiences, distracting from the adventures at hand. The problem with Moffat’s writing style is it lacks subtly.
Instead of gracefully turning the female cast into key components, he’s awkwardly landed female characters with insanely overpowered presence – to the point where they’re more of a hindrance than a benefit. Clara’s ability to jump into The Doctor’s timeline felt overly blunt and poorly implemented, while River Song felt like a living cheat code. She had all the answers, always knew what to do and ultimately robbed huge story arcs of their tension. I’d even throw Maisie Williams character from Season 9 into the mix, given that she outlived the whole goddamn universe. These characters undermined The Doctor’s character – thus causing resentment that is present now.
There’s no denying that Jodie Whittaker is a talented actress, and Doctor Who is lucky to have her gracing its doorstep. But the shows writing needs to improve – quickly. The standard of writing needs to remove that awkward layer of “look at the powerful female” whenever it creates a new female character. It’s time for Doctor Who to fully grow up – giving us characters that aren’t there just to balance the gender scales.
I don’t care if The Doctor is a man, woman, alien or whatever – but I will care if the show makes it an active presence. At the end of the day, Doctor Who is about fun, tense adventures in space. It’s not about powerful men or women – that defeats the very point of the show. The Doctor has never been defined by his gender, and that shouldn’t change now. If the show elects to make a huge deal out of him becoming a woman, it only serves to underline just how out of step the writing is.
Because audiences tune in to be entertained. They tune in to see what adventures the mad person in the Tardis gets up to next. During Moffat’s reign, I feel this has been lost. Instead of giving audiences adventure, we’ve been stuck with heavy-handed plot threads that went nowhere. We’ve been given some of the worst episodes from the shows revived run – ones that genuinely bored us to tears. For all the great moments Moffat has delivered to fans, he’s certainly dropped the ball just as many times elsewhere.
Instead of sexy space adventures in a blue box, audiences have had to endure long story arcs and padding to the extreme. It’s not Capaldi’s fault – but I suspect history won’t be so kind to the overall landscape his Doctor leaves behind (At least compared to his precursors).
Overall though, it’s time for Doctor Who to rediscover its sense of fun. Its sense of wonder. If Jodie Whittaker is given the standard of writing she deserves, she could easily be one of the best Doctor’s of all time. But if the show retreats into an awkward attempt to pander to this new landscape, I don’t think many fans will be overly happy with the outcome. Nobody wants that kind of show.
It’s this uncertainty that has me worried heading into Season 11. Chris Chibnall has done a great job over on Broadchurch – I look forward to seeing him stick the landing with his new Doctor. Who knows, maybe in time those haters can grow to love her too. But he has to get those story’s right. He must deliver quality where its faltered in recent times. Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor had some incredible highs, but some laughable lows. If she’s saddled with this during her first season, it may be hard to win over the doubters.
In conclusion – the changes can’t just be cosmetic. It’s time for Doctor Who to grow up as a show and give Jodie Whittaker the fair chance she deserves to turn the iconic role into her own. Let’s just hope Season 11 is up to the task.