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Doctor #13


Sumiki

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Every three to five years, on average, the incumbent Doctor regenerates, and because the BBC doesn't want to keep things a surprise until the actual regeneration episodes—which seem to occur exclusively on Christmases, for some heretofore unacknowledged reason—we, as fans, are left with knowing who's next in line without the benefit of seeing their Doctor's performance in an actual episode.

 

I became a fan of the show during the Tenth Doctor's run, and I remember the absolute uproar that accompanied Matt Smith's casting announcement. The promotional pictures looked like a glib tween acting cool in front of a poster. Leaked audio sounded absolutely miserable (and it was from the equally miserable "Victory of the Daleks," the worst entry of Series 5). People voiced legitimate concerns over Smith's ability to portray a venerated character because he hadn't had any major roles before then; people simply did not know him. On top of all this, he was the youngest Doctor since Peter Davison, whose lapel celery was more memorable than his actual character traits. Smith became a great Doctor, with a phenomenal ability to display great warmth, humor, and wonder, all while being an old man in a young man's body. His performance as the Eleventh Doctor was the only redeeming feature of much of Series 7. His performance survived flanderization in a way that Tennant's never could.

 

When Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor, people actually knew him from somewhere, which mitigated the expected uproar. Here was an avowed Doctor Who fan whose casting was only a shock to those who knew him as a foul-mouthed political operative in one of his more (in)famous roles. An older Doctor after two straight younger actors was certainly a welcome change to the show's dynamic, and indeed it allowed for a more world-weary Doctor to emerge. My concerns with how the show unfolded with Capaldi as the lead has infinitely more to do with the tropes of the Steven Moffat era. Twelve is not my favorite Doctor, but has done a fine job with what he was given.

 

I have fallen pray to the judgement of a Doctor based solely on the criterion of name, and I have learned my lesson from doing so, in part because it's vastly unfair to the actor and the show to assume the quality of a performance based on not having seen so much as a single line of dialogue. The Steven Moffat era has also taught me, in a big way, that the quality of a Doctor has much more to do with the quality of the episodes they are given. Whatever my thoughts on a new Doctor might be, I have learned to withhold all judgement until a few full episodes into their run.

 

All of which brings us to Jodie Whittaker. The backlash has been enormous, and most comment sections are plagued with vile insults towards Whittaker being a female. Some have even wished her death before filming begins, all because she auditioned for the part and was chosen by an incoming showrunner who has a whole lot more riding on this than her. Chris Chibnall wants this whole thing to go well, and I, for one, am extraordinarily pleased with the fact that Moffat is leaving (albeit three and a half seasons too late in my book). Showrunners, in my view, should change with the Doctors they cast for the sake of fresh ideas, if the standard three seasons of service holds up for future incarnations.

 

On the other hand, I steadfastly refuse to believe the notion that all who criticize a casting decision are doing so for reasons of deep and abiding prejudice. The concerns of those who do not want change are amplified by the concern that this is a big change—and it is! Those whose only problem stems from the belief that "the Doctor is a man" are ... well, frankly, I'm not sure they've even been watching the same show, and I don't want to be the ones to tell them that they're watching House M.D. reruns.

 

In this onslaught of misogynistic stupidity, the few of the grammatically coherent grievances seemed to get at a deeper point of commonality: the concern that a show they care about was about to be ruined by casting choices driven by a need for diversity and inclusivity at the expense of talent, evidence of a trend whose only logical end point is in mediocrity and appeasement. Those who speak out against political correctness or the excesses of so-called social justice warriors are not a monolithically evil group. I and others may disagree with much of what they point out, but they and their ideas must not be countered with a backhanded dismissal of their grievances and subsequent jokes at their expense. Such dismissal has only led to larger divisions in discourse. Discussion, and the ability to connect with and understand and even—gasp—get along with those who do not abide by your positions—in anything, cultural or otherwise—is a lost art. There is diversity of opinion amongst those I know, and though I may not count them friends, I am enriched as a human being for imagining them complexly and understanding the background of their positions.

 

In their grievances, evidence of an encroaching ultra-feminist agenda in media is rampant and nigh-unstoppable in an attempt to rack up social-justice brownie points at the expense of quality entertainment. Yet the entertainment industry knows only dollars; "diversity" is dangerously approaching meaningless-buzzword status if we don't seriously examine the ins and outs, the hows and whats, and the ups and downs of what that word means to those who toss it around like meatballs at a food fight. A frank conversation on what diversity is and what diversity may be expected is, I'm afraid, not something that's going to happen; realism is impossible to inject in the polarized state of online discourse.

 

Thus, detractors of Whittaker will say that her role must be the result of a desire to placate an agenda, but said agenda has much less power over the industry than is warranted by evidence. Without any performance of the 13th Doctor in action until Christmas, hot takes must therefore rely on the comparison of Doctor Who to other media—which, as we shall see, is an endeavor fraught with falsehood.

 

The Ghostbusters reboot is pointed to. It was a well-intentioned film starring some of the funniest women in America, but its middling performance at the box office has to do with more than a cadre of die-hard nerds who hated the leads for their gender. It didn't do great at the box office, but it wasn't a flop either; any reboot of an iconic franchise was going to have a hard time getting off the ground. Its problem was that it wasn't the original, and remakes and reboots will always have such a specter—a point of departure that continues as a point of comparison. Were there sexists who hated Ghostbusters for their own smarmy and thoroughly illegitimate reasons? Absolutely. To say otherwise is to deny the filth of comment sections the Web over, but to say that this is the only reason that there's no new Ghostbusters II is to deny the inherent complexity of the situation.

 

Ghostbusters does not equate to Doctor Who, and it goes beyond their vastly different media. Doctor Who is the kind of cultural institution that Ghostbusters could only dream of being, with a history far longer and a canon mythology far vaster. Doctor Who prides itself on its built-in ability to stay relevant, while Dan Akyroyd exploding in a flash of light to reveal Kate McKinnon isn't something that fits or works in any stretch, although would be hilariously funny if they'd pulled it on SNL. Ghostbusters as a film felt as forced to me as, say, the Beauty and the Beast remake; in both instances, I bemoaned the lack of Hollywood originality before continuing to go about my day.

 

James Bond is often mentioned. Those concerned over the infiltration of women into male roles are very concerned that the ultimate masculine hero in Bond has a coterie of devotees who wish to see a woman take over when Daniel Craig decides to hang up the iconic tuxedo. Such a choice would fundamentally change the nature of the Bond franchise, a phrase upon which supporters and detractors of the idea would agree, though rooted as they are in opposing motivations. To them, then, a Charlize Theron Bond is as blasphemous as a Jodie Whittaker Doctor.

 

Again, this is an overly simplistic argument. A female Bond won't solve the history of misogyny in Bond's actions over the years; that is something that must be confronted head-on with a male lead and is something I want to have happen in the next film (likely to be Craig's last). In addition, the continuous narrative as pursued in the Craig era means that the continuity of the series—something glossed over from Connery to Brosnan—is something that's probably going to be dealt with by making "James Bond" a code word ... but then Skyfall makes no sense.

 

But I digress. That issue is worthy of exploration if and when it comes to pass. (Until then, I'm squarely in the Idris Elba corner.)

 

Bond is an institution in British culture of a different nature than ​Doctor Who, though they both feature a face-changing main character. But therein lies the difference; Doctor Who has the built-in mechanism to handle massive whopping changes and emerge stronger for it. No other show has that narrative longevity; not even The Simpsons deals with it because of their floating timeline. Timothy Dalton's Bond never met Roger Moore's Bond, highlighting the issues inherent with a long-running series built on the real world and the plausible situations therein (Moonraker notwithstanding). The fantastical aspects of Doctor Who afford it the ability to do anything, and the best episodes are built on that wonderment and not quite knowing what's going to happen week to week. Bond runs on formula, whereas Who dies if formulaic.

 

The Doctor's claim to fame is the ability to solve problems with brains and not brawn, and in many cases shunning physical violence except where necessary. Masculine physicality—an aspect in Bond—plays absolutely no role for the Doctor. "Doctor" is an agender title; "James" is a male name. The franchises are insufficiently similar for comparisons to make sense.

 

As far as the casting being against the nature of Doctor Who itself, this also is absurd. Women equal in intelligence and savvy to the Doctor have long been a staple of the show, from his granddaughter Susan to Time Ladies Romana and the Rani to his artificial daughter Jenny from "The Doctor's Daughter" to the DoctorDonna of "Journey's End" to the entire River Song arc ... well, point made.

 

The last-ditch claim underlying this is that it is coming out of the blue; they're only caving to fans who want to see a female Doctor for the sake of there being a female Doctor, without regard or concern for series quality. This is steadfastly refuted by the casting of a great and established actress who can make the role hers; whether or not she will remains to be seen in 2018. But this particular change has been hinted at since the very beginning of Smith's run, expressly confirmed as normal Time Lord biology in "The Doctor's Wife" (probably my favorite episode of 11's run), confirmed on-screen when Missy faced off against 12, then actually literally shown as an on-screen regeneration when it wasn't actually necessary for the plot in the Series 9 finale, which was also coupled with a change of race. They'd built it up that I would have been surprised if they didn't pick a woman.

 

It's not out of the blue because it is something that the show has hinted at and introduced in stages, precisely to alleviate the blowback and mitigate the claim that such casting is made under false pretense. Any amount of concern about the "sudden" nature of this news, or any concern whatsoever about a purported "caving to feminist ideology," is absurd on every conceivable level and then probably a few inconceivable ones there beyond. Coming through loud and clear from the writer's desks is that the Time Lords are still a bunch of wild and wacky aliens, and even then, changing genders 50/50 throughout a single lifetime is considered unusual, albeit not abnormal.

 

Through wary as always of passing premature judgement, I am fully expecting to be very excited for 2018 after the Christmas special. It's just a shame that there will be others who won't.

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I honestly support this casting decision because it still makes sense. I'm pretty sure the Doctor has hinted about this in previous episodes, and it's far from outrageous. Besides, it's not like the case of Ghostbusters, wherein the writers are being progressive for progressiveness' sake. The writers for Doctor Who have the benefit of being intelligent.

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Most people are actually fine with it or don't particularly care either way. The backlash is not enormous, it's just loud (and generally from people that never cared about the show to begin with, since it has been a possibility ever since Tom Baker suggested it shortly before he left).

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I have a friend who's been going on and on about this on facebook, going as far as to say that he won't be bothered by missing the *last few* seasons of DW. which is a pretty bold (arrogant even) statement. And honestly, lets be realistic here, if the series has is still going, this probably isn't going to kill it. This is far from the worst thing that has happened to the series, if we assume it *is* a bad decision, which I don't agree with. I'll be completely honest, I don't know enough about the new actress to make an informed decision, but I've heard there are new writers, which i might actually tune in for, as the recent writing has turned me off.

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My whole thing about this is, that unlike most other franchises or characters, Doctor Who is unique in that the show has, for five decades, established a clear precedent for any actor to be able to play the character. There's nothing about the character that gets in the way of them being a woman. The whole shtick is that they become a whole new person every now and again. I feel like any problem someone would have with the casting is personal - and has no merit towards commenting on any quantifiable problem with the show itself.

It's new, although some argue overdue, and it's important to keep in mind, as individual viewers and fans, that we're not the only ones watching and enjoying the show. Think outside of yourself and look towards the positive.

The fact of the matter is: there have been no bad Doctors, they're all spectacular. Nothing shows that Thirteen will be any different.

As far as social politics, or whatever: the only real issue at hand, is that being a woman is in itself being a political statement, apparently. That's the shameful, unavoidable reality of our current world. However, to think that choosing a woman to play the role is solely an act of "pandering", or whatever nonsense it'll be called, is indicative of a very shallow, very misguided worldview. As it turns out, woman can be just as good as men in doing the same job, and deserve to represent fictional heroes. I can't understand finding fault with such a sentiment. I also cannot understand the fundamental problem with wanting to give the audience what they want. Isn't casting a male Doctor just as much "pandering" to the male audience who want that? It's so silly.

Here's hoping Jodie does well in the role and the show flourishes under its new direction.

 

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As far as social politics, or whatever: the only real issue at hand, is that being a woman is in itself being a political statement, apparently. That's the shameful, unavoidable reality of our current world. However, to think that choosing a woman to play the role is solely an act of "pandering", or whatever nonsense it'll be called, is indicative of a very shallow, very misguided worldview. As it turns out, woman can be just as good as men in doing the same job, and deserve to represent fictional heroes. I can't understand finding fault with such a sentiment. I also cannot understand the fundamental problem with wanting to give the audience what they want. Isn't casting a male Doctor just as much "pandering" to the male audience who want that? It's so silly.

 

Absolutely—and this is why Peter Davison's comments got so many people riled up. It shouldn't have to matter, but factors extraneous to the show mean that people will be looking at Series 11 with different lenses. If Chibnall doesn't knock it out of the park on his first season, I can only imagine that those who decried Whittaker's casting will be the first in line to blame her for its shortcomings.

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