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Identity Politics: In Defense of a Female Doctor

It's that time of the year again. Peter Capaldi has decided to leave Doctor Who and thus the Beeb is trying to find a new actor to play the Thirteenth Doctor.

As the acting world is wont to do, several female picks have cropped up as possibilities for the role, and let me tell you, the internet has lost its collective minds.

"BUT BUT BUT FEMALE GHOSTBUSTERS," says someone who wants to make a strawman argument and has failed to realise that the 2016 Ghostbusters actually doubled its budget, is in line for a sequel and made a whole lot of people happy along the way.

"BUT BUT BUT THERE'S ENOUGH SCI-FI HEROINES," says someone who quotes Ripley from Alien and fails to realise that aside from her and Leia, there's really not many heroines who have the lead role (or thereabouts) in sci-fi.

"BUT BUT BUT A MALE DOCTOR IS A CUTE GUY TO LOOK AT," says someone who obviously doesn't realise that the internet is a pretty good place to search for 'cute guys to look at' and that a male companion will likely fulfill that role.

"BUT BUT BUT THE DOCTOR'S NEVER BEEN FEMALE BEFORE," says someone who fails to realise that there's a lot of things that the Doctor's never done before, and at worst, a female Doctor would probably get a little bit flustered before blundering off into a new adventure.


And that, my friends, is the rub.

It's not. The change of a male character to a female character (in this case) is not politicising. It's not pandering to have a character who is the same gender as roughly 50% of the world. Politicism within theatrical text does not stem from changing the gender of a character, but rather what you do with said character.

Here's an example. I'm one of those terrible actor types and recently worked on a show that was set in 16th century Spain. The play featured a male/female romantic relationship, but because we were short on male actors, we changed said relationship to a female/female one.

Although we did not intend for this to become a political move, it inevitably did. The play's content was directly tied in with a heterosexual relationship, and when we changed it to a homosexual one it affected the greater world of the play. Considering it was set in 16th century Spain, the inclusion of an f/f relationship that wasn't demonised led our audience to question what they believed about society at the time and our portrayal forthwith. That was a political move.

Changing the male Doctor to a female one would not be political as the Doctor's identity is not directly tied up with gender politics or masculinity. There is nothing about the male Doctor that wouldn't stay if he regenerated into a woman. The Doctor is a collection of tropes that remains as the role passes from actor to actor, and there's no reason that said tropes could not be passed onto a female actor.

It's not politicism. It's not pandering. It's not 'political correctness'. It's just a change.


I'm a Doctor Who fan. I've been a Doctor Who fan ever since the show restarted in 2005. (I was born in '96, cut me some slack.)

I've watched about 70% of the original content, as well as read a large amount of the novels and listened to most of the audiobooks. I love this show and I will continue to love it (despite its flaws) if the male Doctor regenerates into a female Doctor.

What are y'all afraid of? That if the male Doctor becomes female, she'll start talking about her period and bras(1) and never be able to fight back against evildoers?

I'm not saying that the extreme amount of opposition to a female Doctor stems from sexism because a large portion of it doesn't. People are set in their ways.

There's been a male Doctor for 54 years, why should there be a female one?
And so forth.


Let's have a chat about adaptation. In the creative world, adaptation is a cornerstone. Many popular works would not exist without it.

BBC Sherlock? An adaptation of the Conan-Doyle canon.
Anything with vampires? Adaptations, or at least based-off Dracula.

Hell, if you really want to go back, technically the comedy character tropes prevalent in most comedies are descended from Commedia dell'Arte.

I could go on, but I think you've got the point.

Janis Balodis states in her article, The Practice of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Theatre,(2) that, "The test of an adaptation is not its strict adherence to the "letter" of the source, but more to its "spirit"."

While changing one character is not exactly 'adaptation' in the way that Balodis' article suggests, this move would still fit in with the 'spirit' of the show. Doctor Who is entirely about adventuring, about the exploration of "infinite possibilities"(3), and about having a fun time.

There is nothing that says that the gender of one character is going to change that dynamic.

It's been proven in canon time and time again that Gallifreyans do not have a specific gender binary. They can regenerate between them if they so desire. (4) (There's a better discussion in the bibliography, check it out). So why shouldn't they choose to become female-identified occasionally?

If anything, it means you might stop watching the show for a couple of years. Big deal.


The fact of the matter is that fans are always going to be up in arms about the change of the Doctor. People were mad about Troughton because he wasn't Hartnell. They called Tennant too much of a 'sex symbol'. They called Smith 'too young' and Capaldi 'too old'. And yet, the show continues. People keep coming back.

Personally, provided they make a good choice with the actor, I don't mind who they get to play the Doctor, male or female, young or old. The Doctor just needs to be someone with imagination, who can create and maintain the illusion of his (or her, as the case may be) fantastical world, and who has good chemistry with their companion/s.

Anything else is arbitrary.

1 - While there are some female-identified people who do not menstruate or wear bras, I used this comparison in a generalised way, and not at all in a way to cause offence.

2 - Balodis, Janis. "The Practice Of Adaptation: Turning Fact And Fiction Into Theatre". (2012): n. pg 19. Web.

3 - Roth, Dan. "Why You’re Wrong About A Female Doctor | Doctor Who TV". N.p., 2013. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.

4 - nonelvis (2015, August 1) Okay so I’m assuming people have heard of how a Gallifreyan can change gender by now... [Tumblr post]. Retrieved from

Tell me what you think in the comments below!

Emma Maguire