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Oct 6, 2018 57 tweets 14 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
So, let the screaming begin - I'm going to argue why #DoctorWho shouldn't be a woman. But not for the reasons you might think. (Thread.)
Before you start baying for my blood, however, I need to make clear that the issue isn't one about gender. In fact, I think Jodie Whittaker is an excellent actor, and wish her best of luck.

For the issue is not, in fact, about gender.
It is, in a roundabout way, about Kevin Costner and Henry Cavill, or rather, Jonathan and Clark Kent/Superman as they portrayed them in 'Man of Steel'. In summary, what a waste.
It's not their fault, of course, because both were great choices for their roles, but the script deviated from what both Superman and his (Earth) Dad were meant to represent.
The unflappable moral compass that was Jonathan Kent was turned into a relativistic, perverse, Ayn Rand mouthpiece. Superman was reduced to a moping mess who kills and broods in a way that travesties the character. Marvel couldn't have done a better hatchet job.
What's this to do with Doctor Who, I hear you ask. Well, the point is not whether a character or their portrayal changes in some ways (sadly, Christopher Reeve isn't with us, for instance), but whether fundamental aspects of a character endure during those changes.
Superman, in comic form, has been rebooted, retconned and fiddled about with (oo-err!) on many occasions. But the essentials of the character held firm - until Zack Snyder was allowed to trash them.
Hopefully, Warner Bros will have learned its lesson, and will force the next director they hire to make a Supes film to read All Star Superman and Byrne's Man of Steel at gunpoint.

But I digress.
That's an example of how an existing character can remain superficially 'true' to its source material but still betray its spirit. Captain America and his Hydra phase also leaps to mind.
Meanwhile, there are many, many examples of characters that have been radically reinterpreted, but remain true to their essence.

Take Domino.
Some racist nerds flipped when Zazie Beetz was cast as Domino but even Rob Liefeld approved, and went so far to commemorate it with a sketch. That's because her performance was in fact true to the spirit of the character, while being nonetheless her own unique take to it.
Only idiots complained when Noma Dumezweni got cast as Hermione. JK Rowling told said idiots to STFU because, y'know, Hermione was still Hermione.
Then there's Idris Elba playing Heimdal in the MCU movies. It worked remarkably well because Elba captured the essence of the character and did it justice. Interestingly, the film was directed by Kenneth Branagh...
...Who, as a theatre man at heart, comes from a milieu where people are cast on their ability to play a role rather than whether they're white or black or even the same gender. This fluidity is, in fact, theatre's great advantage over cinema and TV.
Then there's stumpy rage-Canadian Wolverine, most memorably played by a tall Australian. He could just as easily be played by a Japanese or Native American actor too. (Perhaps he should?)
Godzilla, meanwhile, has changed roles constantly, from villain to anti-hero to kiddie-friendly hero to force of nature, and so on.
But the reason why these all worked and the 1998 travesty didn't was because they all 'felt' like Godzilla, and '98 most certainly did not.
Finally, there's Batman, a strong concept nonetheless versatile and at peace with itself. How else to explain why Adam West and Kevin Conroy's versions of Ol' Bat B*llocks are equally revered?
Batgirl meanwhile now comes in both ginger and African American varieties. (As does April O'Neil.) The world didn't end. Can a Hispanic Batman work? Why not?
But the point here (and I'll get back to Doctor Who soon, because it all ties in) is that, as said, the essence of the characters stayed the same throughout. Anyone really could be Batman - but the point is that the essence of Batman still had to be a constant.
Complicating matters further, think of the characters that rely on key aspects of their background to work. Ms. Marvel is defined as much by her being a Pakistani-American Girl from New Jersey as by her 'embiggening' powers.
Ben Grimm/The Thing wouldn't have his pathos or personality if you ditched his New York origins and implicit (later explicit) Jewish identity.
Daredevil needs to be blind and leaping around rooftops unarmoured. Strontium Dog needs to be a mutant outcast. Asterix needs to be a Gaul. Ironside needs to be in a wheelchair, and Leatherface needs to be disenfranchised, and have a chainsaw. Disney Princesses? Let it go...
For a great many reasons, you can't divorce the Black Panther and Luke Cage from discussions of race or politics or identity either. Look at how harmful whitewashing is.
And then there's Harry Partridge reminding us of how sh*t an Americanised version of Akira would be.
This leaves us in an apparent contradiction. Are there points where the race and gender, or at least context, of a character are fixed or not? Who gets to decide? All sorts of issues bubble to the surface here.
Should a straight white bloke like me be even having this conversation? I'm sure the comments will be, ahem, interesting.
But let's bring it back to #DoctorWho. Now, here's a character that brings all these discussions together. If you've kept up with me so far, well done and thank you for your patience. Let's proceed...
...The thing to remember about #DoctorWho is that it is the living embodiment (despite being dead for a bit in the 90s) of what I've discussed so far. A concept that has endured despite many changes in cast, production, writers and even themes.…
In fact, Doctor Who is the classic example of how versatile a concept can be. Patrick Troughton, Matt Smith, Sylvester McCoy? They are all recognisable as being very different from one another in terms of looks (well, durr) and performance. Yet all are, arguably, all the Doctor.
(As an aside, everyone's horrible to Colin Baker. Why? The Doctor's always been a prima donna amongst other things. If anything, he was the most faithful actor to that aspect of the Doctor...
...Much as Jon Pertwee captured his flawed yet genuine nobility, and Peter Davidson his vulnerability. Tom Baker managed to embody the lot, of course.)
#DoctorWho storylines have, meanwhile, ranged from philosophical discussions about morality and existence, to straight sci-fi, historical drama, comedy, tragedy, gothic horror, space opera, political satire, pulp adventure…
So what's the problem? Well, throughout the Doctor's many incarnations, there have been constants. The Tardis, which looks like a police box. A rotating rota of companions who serve as middle men between audience and Doctor. The constant change in setting, world and time.
Not even the Daleks are as essential as these elements. (Especially when a Japanese artist gets their hands on the killer pepper pots.)
But most important, insofar that the other parts are still essential, is the Doctor ‘himself’. I say that because, the Doctor has always what looks like a male British eccentric having adventures in space and time. But ‘he’s’ not.
The Doctor is something that, to quote Linx the Sontaran, only appears like that to human eyes.
In other words, the one constant is the Doctor being an alien who performs as an eccentric white British male, but, of course, we all know he’s not. Much like Batman pretends to be Bruce Wayne, or Clark Kent adopts the guise of Superman. The disguise, ironically, is the identity.
We don’t know if the Doctor’s behaviour is because he is a volatile eccentric, or we’re just interpreting alien behaviour by human standards. We don’t even know if ‘he’ is a ‘he’. Do Time Lords/Gallifreyans have gender as we know it? That essential mystery is part of the essence.
(This raises interesting questions. The Doctor is passing. How would he have dealt with Jim Crow? What toilet does he use? Maybe that’s the point – there are some questions we should never know the answers to. The Doctor must, by definition, be alien.)
So when I say Doctor Who shouldn’t be a woman, I also mean ‘he’ shouldn’t be a man. The moment you fully humanise the Doctor, you no longer have the Doctor.
It’s fitting, of course, that Steven Moffatt who has helped humanise the Doctor with such rigour has also turned Sherlock Holmes into an autistic monster. But I digress.
You see, the issue has never been about Jodie Whittaker. The real problem began in 2005, when Doctor Who was ‘relaunched’. Which is to say, when he was humanised.
Much like Man of Steel, we were left with a superficially similar concept, but with the essence left out. The Doctor fell in love. His alienness simply became erratic, dipsh*t behaviour.
He stopped being a weird protagonist and instead spent his time being told off or overshadowed by a revolving door of Mary Sues.
In short, the Doctor stopped being a heroic alien and became a horribly flawed human being instead. Who fell in love. And moped, a lot. And was attributed Christ-like attributes. And killed all the other Time Lords. Remind you of anyone?
In desperation (perhaps cultural cringe), RTD saved the body of Doctor Who at the cost of its essence. The fans lapped it up because it pandered to their passions and vanity.
Nu Who is a chauvinistic show in that it projects modern human desires, beliefs and attitudes onto the universe, in a kind of self-indulgent Manifest Destiny. Apparently you can save the universe with love alone?
Compare and contrast to the original show, which always had, as its subtext, that humans didn’t always have all the answers. Sometimes, in fact, they could be as monstrous as any Dalek. But they could learn to be better, as long as they checked their egos at the door.
Old Who tried to educate its audiences. Nu Who flatters them in their ignorance. A change in gender is the least of the show’s woes.
So what’s really done for Doctor Who is the David Tennant era, which not only embraced the new paradigm, but wallowed in it. Nu Who has been trying to be as successful ever since, with the same formula, year in and out.
And at the heart of it was Who X, moping like an Ice Warrior had just shat (Shart?) in his cornflakes.
The TL;DR of this essay is that the essence of a story is more important than its details. Naturally, who gets to decide what is and isn’t that essence is a big issue. But when you get rid of the essence, you travesty the story.
If Who XII somehow recaptured the essence of #DoctorWho at the cost of the Doc wearing a bra, so be it. But it won’t - the spirit has already been lost. And if the show goes to the dogs (K9s?), it will be gender rather than inept, soulless hackery, which will be blamed.
That’s unfair, not least on Jodie Whittaker. Maybe she’ll pull a blinder. She’ll need to. She needs every last bit of luck she can get.

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