“Beth from Broadchurch is the new Doctor Who!” I told my husband after I’d seen it pop up on social media yesterday. We loved Broadchurch, and we loved Jodie Whittaker too.
“Yes, I saw that. That’s good, isn’t it?”
Neither of us are Doctor Who fans, so this was the extent of our conversation. I digested the news with a satisfied nod of approval towards the sci-fi world. A female Dr Who. How refreshing!
This morning I saw a video on the BBC website showing the reactions of die-hard fans, as they watched the news of Jodie Whittaker being announced as the new Doctor Who. I was curious to see how this ‘progressive’ switch from male to female was being sold to the masses.
“That looks like a woman’s feet, small feet,” one fan comments skeptically as Jodie’s black boots traipse through a forest before her identify is revealed. Small feet? He’s obviously never met a woman with feet like mine. I got my sexist bullshit claxon at the ready, as the rest of the clip rolled on. But then–
“THE NEW DOCTOR IS A GIRL!” a young female fan screams in wild rapture.
“Oh my gosh, cool!” another declares.
“This is something I never thought was possible,” one woman says with tears in her eyes.
And it’s not just the girls showing their appreciation.
“I cannot believe it. They did it!” a young chap says to his friend as though he’s been waiting an age for this to happen.
“What a good choice!” another boy declares.
I put the claxon down, to save for another day. Hurrah! Perhaps this signifies a change on the horizon. The Doctor Who fans actually love it. This is an affirmative shift for boys and girls all over our nation’s playgrounds. What a time to be alive!
But then of course, I had to go and undo all of those fuzzy feelings. I got sucked into that formidable black hole of despair, also known as The Comments Section, where I lost a good half an hour of my life, and a little bit of my faith in humanity too. It seemed that not all fans were as pleased about this change as I’d originally thought.
“Well I won’t be watching it. Doctor Who is a time LORD. Women are not lords.” Cue a series of angry face emojis.
“Well that’s the history of Doctor Who ruined,” states another fatalistic naysayer.
“The doctor has to be a man! Now the women have taken over our storic [stoic?] rule! This is feminism. We men must protect ourselves. We are the weakest part now.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. Hand me the claxon.
I don’t think I’ve ever watched an entire episode of Doctor Who in any one sitting, so forgive me if I confuse a few minor details here, but I think I know enough about the show to understand that there is not a single part of the Tardis that needs operating with one’s genitals (thank heavens too, it’s pre-watershed). Neither is it a prerequisite for the Doctor to impregnate a woman with a penis in order for the show to have any kind of coherent storyline. From what I understand (and this comes with credit to some of the fans in defense of Jodie Whittaker), the doctor is a shapeshifting, time-travelling immortal fictional character over 1000 years old. The character is known as a timelord, a gender-fluid alien species which has the ability to regenerate as a new being every time its life cycle comes to an end. The doctor is even quoted as saying that timelords are, “…billions of years beyond [our] petty human obsessions with gender and its associated stereotypes.” ….and that comes straight from the doctor’s mouth.
If I can get my head around the fact that this completely fictional character, with no determinate sex or gender, is now being played by a woman, then I think the people who actually watch the show should be able to as well. It’s only because it hasn’t happened sooner that it seems so strange.
Maybe some people would just ‘prefer’ a male doctor, without being able to put their finger on why. Maybe they don’t like change. That’s fair enough, they’re very entitled to their opinions. But the comments on the video went way beyond the fact that some people can’t accept a female doctor because of “continuity” issues. Some came straight out of the 1950s Book of Misogyny, and made me roll my eyes in woeful despair. (NB: I've edited out the typos. There were many.)
“At least she’s going to keep the Tardis polished.”
“How is she going to find the time to fight the daleks with all that cleaning and cooking to do?”
“Bloody cushions in the tardis now. But at least it will be clean.”
Ho ho ho. The funniest thing about these comments is that I bet they all thought they were being dead original. You can come to my house if you want to see those gender norms smashed right out of the park. But there’s more! Because what’s more obvious than a joke about women cooking and cleaning…? Women and driving. Brace yourselves, folks. These are excellent:
“Apparently sacked already. Couldn’t parallel park the Tardis.”
“Hope the Tardis has SatNav and parking assistance.”
“She’s gonna smash the Tardis. Women drivers!! Tee hee!”
Tee hee indeed. A quick google of “Tardis” and “crash” reveals image after image of that iconic police phone box hurtling through space, surrounded by lightning bolts, laid on its side with smoke coming out of it, or actually on fire. It turns out that it’s happened quite a lot already, so this is in fact a moot point. Next.
“It’s due to the NHS cuts. They couldn’t afford a doctor, so got a nurse.”
“No no no, it’s Doctor Who, not Nurse Who…..”
“No no no. It’s not Doctor Who any more. It’s a new show called Dr Her.”
When you put them side by side, the tedium really shines through, doesn’t it? This last one, quite frankly, doesn’t even make any sense. The programme was never called Dr Him. I think he’s lambasting the wrong show. And besides - spoiler alert- the character isn’t actually a qualified medical practitioner.
Some people got a bit more political, calling this new change, “Political feminist rubbish” and seeing it as “pandering to the whim of the PC brigade.” As much as I love the mental image of a PC brigade angrily knocking at the door of the BBC studios, I think it’s far more likely that one of the producers offered up the radical idea in the middle of a mind-mapping session. Sorry to disappoint, but there were probably no feminazis involved. In a similar vein, others questioned why the new doctor wasn’t a “black, disabled lesbian” or a “Syrian in a rainbow scarf” which, in addition to being incredibly bad taste, also manages to mock several minority groups in one fell swoop. It’s easy to ridicule from way up in your high castle when your race, physical ability, gender or sexuality is never the subject of ironic bigotry, or candid bigotry for that matter. I bet it feels nice and safe.
“Will there be feather-boa wearing cyber PEOPLE?”
“Never watched it, but I will now. She’s gorgeous.” Winky-face emoji.
“Don’t upset the doctor once a month then.”
“Feminism = Cancer.” Well, that escalated quickly.
Are you bored of the jokes yet? Because I know I am. They’re older than the ‘Doctor Doctor’ jokes themselves. In the year when we have a female prime minister, and films like Wonder Woman smash the box office above all other action movies, I don’t know why a subject as trivial as a sexless, fictional character on a fictional TV programme conjures up such a barrage of outdated chauvinism from the Bullshit Brigade. They might not like the idea of Jodie Whittaker’s new role, but do they really have to drag us all back fifty years in order to communicate their point? If you think there’s no need for feminism in 2017, these comments prove there’s obviously a lot more work to be done.