17 July 2017

Rants | Unlucky for Some

Well that’s that, then. This has been in the post for a long time – I’m just glad that the Doctor got to play out what originally would have been all of his lives in guises that I could identify with. Splendid chaps, all of ’em. Steven Moffat even unwittingly did me the favour of showing “all” thirteen incarnations of the Doctor together in “The Day of the Doctor”, allowing those like me who won’t be following the TV series from here to infer that the Time Lord’s story ends with the so-called “Twelfth Doctor”, otherwise his as-yet unseen future incarnations would have been on hand to save Gallifrey too.

To a certain extent I was prepared for this news. I was planning to grieve for the show that I’d once loved and move on; keep quiet and let those who want to watch it and enjoy it, watch it and enjoy it. After all, nobody can make me. What has aggravated me though has been the militant chorus that has taken to social media to crow about their “victory”. These are predominantly people who’ve never had any real interest in the show or its lead character until it occurred to them that they could use it to score a few equality points in the media spotlight. Someone even remarked some nonsense about finally having a woman escape from the role of “assistant”. That’s a term that hasn’t been used in a long time, and even back when it was it was largely inappropriate. The Doctor’s companions are exactly that, companions, and today more than ever they drive the show – there is a reason that Russell T Davies entitled his first episode of the series “Rose”. Season-long, sometimes seasons-long, arcs are built around these characters – the Doctor dances round assisting them, not vice-versa. It’s hardly an insult to womankind to play a character the likes of Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Clara or River Song. Try calling her an “assistant” or suggesting that she’s second fiddle to her husband.

These same people claim to have “taken” superheroes (by which they mean DC/Warner Bros have made a long-overdue Wonder Woman film); “taken” the Ghostbusters (by which they mean Sony made a reimagined Ghostbusters film with four female leads); and even “taken” Star Wars though the introduction of strong female protagonists in The Force Awakens and Rogue One (which means that they haven’t seen the other Star Wars movies. Carrie Fisher’s turning in her grave).

Needless to say, I’ve welcomed all of these things, the awesome Rogue One in particular, but what’s markedly different, and I dare say unprecedented, here is that the female Doctor will become part of a fifty-odd-year-old canon. Rogue One doesn’t stick a pair of tits on Luke and Han, or a cock on Leia for that matter. Rather, it introduces a new principal character who happens to be female. Ghostbusters doesn’t see Egon Spengler and company castrated and given HRT - it creates four new female ’Busters. Wonder Woman, as you might have guessed, is based on a character that is - and has always been - female and has always “belonged” as much to women as she has men. Here though, Chris Chibnall and his incoming production team aren’t merely mounting a remake or introducing a new female character. They are making a permanent, irreversible change to the largest tapestry in television; a tapestry treated by some with great – albeit probably undue - reverence. They’d probably have faced less of a backlash presenting Christianity with a female Jesus to venerate from hereon in.

And woe betides any long-standing fan who’s openly taken umbrage with the casting, particularly if they are male – they are immediately and aggressively shot down in flames as sexists and misogynists. But objecting to suddenly having one’s hero become transgender is not sexism. It’s not chauvinism. It’s not misogyny. I can see how it might look that way, but that’s because of the widespread public misapprehension that a “Doctor Who” is somehow a class of thing, like a superhero or a Jedi. It isn’t. If it were, then to say “you can’t have a female Doctor Who” would be sexist/misogynistic/chauvinistic/insert-insult-here. But the Doctor is one person, one being, one man. However much he’s changed, he’s always been the same at hearts. I’m one of the few who’ve always refused to even capitalise the number put before a particular incarnation of a Doctor, because that’s just an adjective, not part of the proper noun – The Doctor is the Doctor; a one-off, unique. Not a class of thing, not even a collection of things, just one man who happens to be able to change his body. His different bodies are all just aspects of the same being. And as such, a convincing argument cannot be made to say that to have him retain his gender is the same as saying you can’t have a female Jedi or superhero.

This being known to those who make the show, if not necessarily the decision-makers within the BBC, it was eminently foreseeable that those who’ve identified with an iconic character for years, some of whom helped to keep Doctor Who alive in the sixteen years that it was off air through purchasing countless books and audio dramas, would feel betrayed and be saddened by their hero’s gender swap. It doesn’t mean that they don’t respect and admire strong female characters both in and out of the Whoniverse – hell, Supergirl is one of my favourite TV series at the moment – it just means that they don’t like the idea of their favourite hero becoming one.

As I went through in my post yesterday, however much we might protest about how Gallifreyan gender and regeneration were portrayed prior to Steven Moffat’s time at the series’ helm, Doctor Who is science fiction and so, with a little technical jiggery-pokery, a gender swap – like anything - can be made to work on a plot level. Of course, that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. I can’t categorically say that it is the wrong thing to do – all I know for sure is that, rightly or wrongly, I have absolutely no interest in watching a female Doctor, or indeed any of the fluid-gender Doctors that may succeed her (assuming that the series survives the next few years). For someone who used to love the show as much as I did, that’s very sad.

I’d hoped that at least my feminist sister and eldest daughter, both of whom love the programme (my eldest daughter even spent the better part of June making a talking Dalek scarecrow alongside the Mr Men’s fourth Doctor), would be pleased, but my deflated sister just texted me a single word -“Gutted” - and when I told my little girl the news, she cried. Actually cried. I wished I’d have filmed it. “But he’s a boy. That’s silly!” she shouted, stomping her right foot theatrically, as young children are prone to when irate. “That’s really, really, really silly!” Cue tears. And just like that, there goes my silver living.

Out of all of this though, one thing does make me smile – the outspoken young man who in the mid-1980s took to television to lambaste what he felt was the declining quality of the series has now inherited it in its worst state since that date, give or take a year, and then made a creative decision that could kill it beyond its capacity to regenerate. If nothing else, that’s ironic.

As such, I’ve taken The History of the Doctor down – it only serves as a painful reminder of the rich history that’s now been lost. Fortunately the Whoniverse is a big place and Big Finish Productions will continue to produce adventures for the Doctor’s first thirteen incarnations long into the future, so there’s plenty of new stories out there to enjoy should I ever feel the pull of the Whoniverse again. Right now though, I just feel like sitting with my head in my hands – as if terrorism, Trump, Brexit and potentially five more years of austerity weren’t enough for one calendar year, now I can’t even escape from escapism gone mad.