In this article Maren Thom argues the case against casting a women or a minority actor as The Doctor, following Peter Capaldi’s departure from the role.
Her argument has two main prongs of attack.
- The casting inherently reflects who the character is, and
- Doctor Who, along with many other shows, has already become too focused on the character and has lost its story-telling element.
Point 1 is illustrated with references to James Bond and his background as a failed aristocrat, which apparently mandates a white male actor.
She stops short of applying this logic to The Doctor, which is wise, as it falls down completely when you do so. Even if we accept that ‘failed aristocrat’ = ‘white male’ (despite the evidence of, say, Baroness Chakrabarti proving that it’s possible to be black, female, aristocratic and an abject failure all at once) it doesn’t shed any light on the equation ‘ancient alien time-traveller’ = ???
The only things inherently male about The Doctor are his desire to make it clear that he’s the cleverest person in the room and a reluctance to stop and ask for directions.
The second point is tacked on, perhaps to try to shore up the already weak first point, but even a cursory glance shows that it’s nonsense. Yes, the shrinking universe phenomenon, where literally everything seems to revolve around the central character, is a serious problem, but the examples given – Star Wars, Sherlock and James Bond are all centred entirely, or almost entirely, around male characters.
A hidden assumption is being slipped in that if The Doctor isn’t a white male then the programme must be about them not being a white male. That is clearly an issue for the show’s writers, not the casting department, as is the challenge of making The Doctor a character in a larger universe, not a character who embodies the universe.
Even if the writers do want to play with the new characterisation then that raises possibilities. For huge swathes of human history the overlap between ‘authority figure’ and ‘white male’ has been almost complete. A female or ethnic time-traveller could find their life much more difficult. This is touched on in Family of Blood, where Martha struggles to persuade people in the England of a century ago that she’s a doctor. I don’t think anybody would suggest that Family of Blood is a turgid public-service lecture on racial or sexual equality, so why assume that’s the direction the whole programme will take if there’s the slightest deviation from the 54 year old formula?
Where, then, does that leave us? I’m personally fairly neutral about whether The Doctor is male, female, black, white, green or has two heads and an extra arm for ski-boxing. What the show needs is a kick up the arse in the writing department. Casting the titular role should be a search for whoever the show runners deem can best deliver what the writers are going to provide and, given where the show’s at, who are we to straight-jacket their choice?