Monday, July 17, 2017

It's The 13th Doctor and We're Still Waiting

Image result for new doctor who
But times change and so must I. We all change, when you think about it.
We are all different people all through our lives and that's okay, that's good you've got to keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.
I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me...
                                                                       ---The Doctor

Like many Whovians, I sat through a tennis match I wasn’t interested in yesterday in order to watch the live announcement on who the 13th Doctor would be.  The speculation began the moment that Peter Capaldi announced that he was leaving this iconic role. Naturally, everyone had opinions as several names were bandied about.  Some of the names in rotation were: Kris Marshall, Natalie Dormer, Alexander Siddig, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sacha Dhawan, Cyril Nri etc.  When it came to the casting, the central question always seemed to be would the Doctor remain a man, as he has been for over fifty years, or would he follow Missy’s lead and become a woman?  

When it came to conversations about a male Doctor, the challenge seemed to be about whether or not the Doctor would be of colour or be yet another incarnation of straight, cisgender white masculinity.  Naturally, the traditionalists spit their damn dummy out at the very idea that the Doctor might no longer be white, even if they were relieved that he could potentially stay male. This of course is the problem with toxic fandom, of which Whovians are only a part of.  Think about the character of the Doctor. He sweeps in when things are at their most desperate and he saves the day.  The Doctor is always the smartest one in the room, the first to solve the puzzle and if necessary, the one to cast judgement and lay down the law.  No wonder people continue to see the Doctor as male - he is the perfect example of our patriarchal power structure.  

The majority of heads of state are male, the majority of judges are male, the majority of police officer are also male.  These are positions of authority which are responsible for laying down the law, figuring out what went wrong and assigning punishment. For as much as I love the Doctor, he is a cop, politician (president of the world) and finally judge. How could any being embodying these roles and not be considered male, when women are still very much outliers in these careers despite the gains of feminism?  Because this bullshit has gone on so long, it reads as traditional; the problem is that no one wants to think about what these damn traditions are based in because to do would be to admit the toxicity not just of a fandom we gleefully participate in but a deep rooted rot in our system.

Even though the series has spent some considerable effort explaining gender through the perspective of Time Lords and actually portrayed two Time Lords changing gender from male to female, traditionalists simply could not, nay would not consider a woman in the role of Doctor.  Even as I write this, there are people across the globe pouting, shaking their fists and spitting their dummies out en masse. Some even having the nerve to question why their disapproval of a female Doctor makes them sexist. There is always controversy when a new Doctor is cast. Many were not happy when a relatively unknown Matt Smith was cast as the 11th Doctor; however, by the time he left, many (though I am not part of that group) came to consider Matt Smith as their favourite Doctor (these people are wrong, of course). It’s hardly surprising now that Peter Capaldi is leaving that those who found him to be old, grumpy and just plain too mean to be the Doctor are now all up in their feelings, blowing through boxes of Kleenex, expressing their sorrow at losing him. This is the cycle of how Whovians mourn the loss of one Doctor and prepare for the arrival of a new one. Certainly, no one expected near universal praise for the casting of Jodie Whittaker, but to base that disapproval solely on her gender, rather than, say, her previous work, is SEXIST.  In fact it’s undeniable SEXISM.

I’m quite happy to see a woman in this role and I cannot help but to wish her luck; however, at the end of the day, I don’t necessarily want Jodie to succeed because she’s a woman but because I want the BBC to continue to make and produce Doctor Who. I don’t want to see another 19 years without any representation of my favourite alien on television.  At the end of the day, the Doctor is always the Doctor, even if aspects of hir (love that I can now use a gender neutral pronoun here) will change, depending on the writing and who is cast.  

The problem of Jodie’s casting for me, is about much more than having a woman taking on an iconic role and being forced to spend time arguing with online misogynists.  For me, the biggest problem is the elephant no one wants to talk about.  Yes, the Doctor is now female but the Doctor is still white. It seems that the BBC is only willing to go so far in making changes. You see, when names were being bandied about what really struck me is that all of the actors of colour who were considered for this role were men and all of the women were white.  This means that WOC were specifically not in the running, though no official announcement to that effect was made. The fact that the two shortest companions in the history of Doctor Who are the only two Black female companions and that a WOC was clearly not considered for the role of Doctor, speaks largely about how the BBC, as well as Whovians feel about WOC.  

I refuse to believe that it wouldn’t have been possible to find a WOC to fill this role.  I refuse to believe that it wouldn’t have led to some very unique stories.  I refuse to believe that we aren’t worthy of taking socially iconic roles, making them our own and adding something unique nay even transcendent.  In situations like this where the first male person of colour or the first white woman achieves something, WOC are expected to rise in support because after all, someone other than a White man has been given/earned an important position.  The problem with this position is that it forever leaves WOC on the sidelines looking in.  It leaves WOC counting on the generosity of MOC or White women to throw us a bone from time to time. We (read:WOC) are not your eternal fan section.  We don’t exist to adore you while you stand on our weary shoulders and scale to new heights.  

In many Doctor Who groups, woman after woman has talked about the positive effect that Whittaker’s casting will have on their daughters. There’s so much excitement about getting the opportunity to cosplay as the Doctor rather than a companion.  Yes, this is a wonderful day for White women but it isn’t a wonderful day for WOC because their successes aren’t our successes.  White women now have a Doctor they can identify with completely. A glass ceiling with white borders has been smashed but WOC are still waiting for the elevator to arrive. It would be a mistake to suggest (and I’ve seen it done) that Whittaker’s casting is a victory for women because it isn’t; Whittaker’s casting is a victory for White women and white women alone.

I’m always going to love Doctor Who, hell I stayed during the Pond years and that took some serious dedication.  Is it too much to ask for one moment that the BBC acknowledge that it has fans that look like me, fans that deserve more than throw away seasons?  Is it too much to ask White women to hold their applause and recognise once again that their sisters of colour have been disregarded in favour of their ascendency? Is it too much to ask that the misogynists realise that the world won’t end if they aren’t the center of it every damn moment?  And finally, is it too much to ask for a moment to mourn what could have been before gearing up for another season on the Tardis?