Actress Lara Pulver has deflated rumours she could play the next incarnation of The Doctor, the time-and-space travelling hero of BBC’s Doctor Who.
The rumours started swirling when Pulver had a meeting with Who showrunner Steven Moffat. Pulver starred in the second season of Moffat’s other BBC venture, Sherlock.
“Steven and I have both said we thoroughly enjoyed working together, and then there was me being in Wales so the media put two and two together,” she told Digital Spy of the rumours.
But she quickly took the wind out of the sails of those of us who are tired of women being relegated to the role of sidekick in the Whoniverse. When asked if she’d be excited to play The Doctor, she said: “Yes and no. Not if it meant the end of the Doctor Who franchise, because the fans aren’t keen on it.”
The Doctor is the last of an ancient race known as the Time Lords, who regenerate new bodies and new-ish personalities when they die. In the episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” guest writer Neil Gaiman snuck into Doctor Who cannon the idea that Time Lords can change genders when they regenerate. This tid-bid has sparked non-stop speculation that someday, the British icon, who’s spawned 11 incarnations since the ’60s, could be a woman.
It’s an idea that has some viewers — especially us so-called “fangirls” — pretty excited about the idea of a kick-ass space-trekking role model with a time machine and a sidekick to call her very own. The sheer number of women who crossplay as The Doctor rather than stick to companion costumes is evidence enough there’s an appetite for this change.
But it’s also sparked a lot of fan outrage from folks who say the Doctor can’t be a woman because, you know, he just can’t.
As much as I side with the pro-Time Lady contingent, I understand the show’s hesitancy to go ahead with the gender-bender. From a writing perspective, swapping the Doctor’s sex would be more complicated that it seems. There’s a lot to consider.
Foremost is continuity. Moffat himself touched on this when asked if he’d considered casting a woman as the 11th Doctor before hiring Matt Smith.
A woman can play the part. You have to remember the single most important thing about regeneration is you must convince the audience and the children that’s it’s not a new man, it’s not a different man, it’s the same one. It’s a bigger ask if you turn him into a woman.
Each incarnation of The Doctor a bit different than the last. But deep down, he’s always the same man. His previous experiences still inform his worldview. Certainly, a millennium of maleness has an effect on one’s identity.
Then there’s the complex smorgasbord that is gender identity. After 900 or so years of manhood, would a newly-female Doctor identify as a woman? If so, would the change affect her sexual orientation? Would she retain her attraction to women? Would she take on a young man as her companion? As Doctor Her writer Ritch Ludlow notes, we could end up with a transgender or genderqueer hero.
Can I count the ways in which my Doctor will be queer?
1) A male who transitioned (very quickly and inexpensively) to female (transgender?)
2) A woman who would be happy to call herself male again someday (genderqueer?)
3) A woman who was once in love with other women but perhaps willing to fall in love with men (bisexual/lesbian/pansexual/fluid?)”
Then there’s the matter of how a woman Doctor would be perceived by others. Depending on when and where she’s adventuring, would people still rally behind her without question? Would she be able to exert authority as effortlessly as she did when she had that convenient male privilege? Would she find herself subject to sexism or harassment? The show would have to deal with these issues, especially in stories that take place on Earth, in the present day or in the past.
That’s not to say a queer or trans Doctor wouldn’t be fantastic, or a character navigating the waters of new womanhood wouldn’t be interesting. It would just be a delicate and complicated story to tell, even by Moffat’s timey-wimey standards.
What do you think?
[This post has been edited. It previously misnamed the author of the quoted Doctor Her post as Tansy Raynor Roberts. In fact it was Ritch Ludlow.]