• Karen

Doctor Who?

Updated: Oct 5, 2018

This week brings a new #DoctorWho and you probably don't need me to tell you why this one has caused such a stir. People have flocked to social media either to celebrate or to explain how they struggle to identify with a female Doctor.


When I first drafted this piece, my opening was perhaps a little blunt, so I'm going to try and soften it, but I would ask you to stay with it as I will get to the point eventually...



For some viewers having a female Doctor Who is an uncomfortable choice, while intellectually it is within the cannon of the character and series, it has not been done before and that is bringing out different emotions in different fans. Some people feel that they can't relate to a role model so fundamentally different from themselves.


It's easy to dismiss these complaints and it's right to say that even the most intellectual argument or most heartfelt reason covers a level of privilege that is not being examined. However there is also a genuine difficulty that those of us with less privilege have never faced.


If you grow up with a plethora of potential role models that you could picture yourself growing up to be, you can pick and choose which of the characters and qualities you would want to embody. The stereotypical geek or nerd growing up has less potential role models to choose from, so the Doctor is a significant figure.


This applies equally to young people of any gender, the difference is that female and non binary children have to adapt early to the idea that the heroes of their choosing may be a different gender. They read the Beano and saw themselves as Dennis, they associated with the Mr Men long before the Little Misses were even an concept, they dreamed of being Spiderman like the cartoons on the TV. I may be showing my age a little here. For them gender was no more of a barrier to their role models than reading a book about a child with different colour hair.


Let me make this clear, I am not saying that representation does not matter, what I am saying is that in the absence of representation people find the best match they can to identify with, even if that is in a different gender... or perhaps race...


This is the unexamined privilege, it is not easier for young girls to identify with male role models than it would be for boys to identify with women, it's just that the boys never have to, when there are a host of male role models to choose from.


The problem is that young, white, males didn't have to make that adaptation when they were young. They found role models that in theory they could become; white males that superficially looked like them as well as having the qualities or attributes that they aspired to have. It turns out that making that change as an adult is hard, your mind is not as flexible as it was when you are a child.


Before anyone objects, I know you don't have to identify with the main character to enjoy a work of fiction, I get that #NotAllMen are objecting to a female Doctor Who... I know.


Arguably it's not the fault of the men who feel disenfranchised with the program for this casting decision, it's a feeling, not necessarily a rational or thought out stand point. Perhaps it is not just hard, perhaps they can't biologically make that change at this stage in their lives.


However, the flaw in the argument that states that producers should invent a new character, rather than taking an established male character and recasting as female, is that it is entirely feasible that there were just as many young girls dreaming about being the Doctor as there were young boys. Now finally, those women and girls get to see a little more of themselves reflected in the character they always idolised and perhaps more importantly young girls today might have the privilege of not having to adapt all of their dreams in quite the same way. Maybe young boys can learn to be flexible so they don't face these struggles in later life.


Maybe that is worth asking all the male geeks to support a female Doctor, that "their Doctor" might be an earlier incarnation, but that by sharing the concept a little means that Dr Who can be relevant to a new generation as well as giving something to the other half of the older ones. Maybe the next Doctor will be male, maybe they won't be white, maybe they will be disabled. It's not necessarily about attracting new audiences, making Doctor Who more popular or commercial, but about understanding that a proportion of Doctor Who fans grew up wanting to be him, even if he didn't resemble us physically.



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