Monday, December 25, 2017

Sex and the Single Doctor: Thoughts On The Thirteenth Doctor

So much to cover with Jodie Whittaker becoming the Thirteenth Doctor on Doctor Who.  I have an unfortunate habit of going on and on about things, waxing poetic endlessly, using as many words as I can fit into an essay.  I'm going to break with that and force myself to be brief.

I tried.  I failed.  It's going to be long.

I oppose the casting of a woman as The Doctor because I think it is being done to promote an agenda, not to serve the narrative.

I oppose the casting of a woman as The Doctor because I think it serves no purpose apart from pleasing a loud group which has argued for this change for the thinnest of reasons.

I oppose the casting of a woman as The Doctor because I think it alters the very nature of the character.

If you got through that, I figure some of you might already have decided I'm a sexist.  It's easier to call those who disagree with this decision 'sexist' than to listen to any reasons we may present.  It's the Whovian version of 'and when did you stop beating your wife?', to build in the assumption of guilt with only your own views as evidence.

I know that Chris Hardwick at The Nerdist has decreed by fiat that I am 'not a real fan' for holding views contrary to his own on this subject. He's even metaphorically called me (and those who agree with on this) 'an asshole' for not being on board and having issues with this gender-bender.

This I find highly ironic given that Hardwick and The Nerdist in general go beyond ass-kissing to straight-up rimming people like Doctor Who showrunners/writers Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall or any other showrunner/production company they shamelessly shill for.

The main arguments against my views appear to be as follows: that I am against it because I don't want women to advance or cannot accept that Doctor Who has long established cross-gender/bigender Time Lords.  My opposition to the casting of a female therefore is built on animosity towards the feminine gender and run counter to a highly successful transition in the show's history.

Allow me then a chance to offer a different view.

And you are...

Opposing the casting of Whittaker, or any female, as The Doctor is not ipso facto sexism.

I would equally oppose the casting of a male to play the female Time Lords Romana or The Rani.  Granted, most Doctor Who fans whom Hardwick and Company cater to probably don't know who Romana and/or The Rani are.  At the Day of the Doctor screening I went to, all those who were dressed up in fezzes and bow ties had never heard of Romana, and Moffat has stated that bringing back the villainous Rani would be wasted on the fans.

"People always ask me, 'Do you want to bring back The Rani?'  No one knows who The Rani is.  They all know who the Master is, they know Daleks, they probably know who Davros is, but they don't know who the Rani is, so there's no point in bringing her back" (emphasis mine).

Then again, Moffat seems extremely contradictory when it comes to The Rani.  On one hand, he insists 'no one knows who the Rani is', and on the other, he says he tried to fool people into thinking that Missy or The Mistress, who was once known as The Master, was indeed The Rani.

Am I the only one who wonders why he wanted to fool people into thinking Missy was a character no one knew?

When it comes to this crossing genders, I think we need to step back a bit.

NuWho fans and their defenders insist the idea of Time Lords changing genders has been 'long established'.  Between 1963 and 1989, and even up to the 1996 television movie/backdoor pilot, the exact number of Time Lords who had regenerated from one gender to the other was zero.  Despite twenty-six years and various opportunities, no Time Lord ever changed gender.  It wasn't just The Doctor who could have regenerated into a woman in this time.  Other Time Lords could have done so, but none of them did.

As of today, I have yet to find a Classic Doctor Who episode or story that said Time Lords changed genders.  Some point to Romana's first regeneration as proof that they can change into more than just males and females.  However, a look at Destiny of the Daleks showed that even when she was 'trying on different bodies', she was always female.  The Rani herself, if memory serves correct, made a comment that at least she can choose her regeneration, which some fans took to mean that female Time Lords had greater control over their regenerations, something male Time Lords did not have.

As such, if Time Lords were always 'gender-fluid', how was it that female Time Lords like Romana or The Rani never regenerated to males, or other Time Lords like Borusa didn't regenerate into females?  Even faux-Time Lords like River Song never regenerated into opposite genders (all three of her appearances were female).

The idea that crossing genders has been 'long established' is valid only if by 'long established', you put your marker in 2011, when the subject was first mentioned.  In The Doctor's Wife, the Doctor mentions another Time Lord, the Corsair, who was a he, but on occasion, a she.  Seven years hardly makes for 'long established'.  At the time, I dismissed it as a throwaway line, but there was more to come.

There's the character of The Master, who returned in a female form, calling itself Missy, short for 'The Mistress'. That was in 2014, a mere three years ago.  Again, 'long established'.  The Master in the past had 'stolen' a body to keep on living through an unauthorized 'regeneration' in The Keeper of Trakken; as such, I took that 'Missy' was another 'stolen body' and nothing more.

The final 'long-established' point is when The General regenerated from an old white man to a not-so-old black woman in Hell Bent.  Apart from making misandristic statements ("My God, how do you cope with all that ego?" and how she was 'back to normal', suggesting being a man is 'abnormal'), The General's on-screen regeneration played no real part in his-Her personality.

In long, it has been only in revived Doctor Who were the idea of bigender Time Lords has come into being.  In each case: the Corsair, The Master/Mistress, and The General, I believe that all were done for one reason only: to clear the way for a female Doctor.

I believe this change, this kowtowing to a small group of loud fans/pseudo-fans who see sexism and injustice everywhere, is a terrible mistake.

Is there anything wrong with a female Doctor?  Perhaps not.  Is there something wrong with a female Doctor if the reason it is done is 'because it's TIME we had a female Doctor'?  Most certainly yes.  This is going to take the show down a road from which it may not come back. 

Already this casting choice has split fans.  In 2014, a small majority of polled fans said they were opposed.  When Whitaker was cast, a slim majority said it was a good idea.  DoctorWhoTV, as pro-Moffat a group as you can find outside The Nerdist, at least was honest when it said that as late as 2013 a vast majority of those polled (87.1%) believed the 12th Doctor should be male.

I  don't believe there ever was such a mass push for a female Doctor.  It was only a small but loud group that demanded it for no other reason than to push a particular agenda.

Contrary to what Moffat, Hardwick, or anyone at the Doctor Who production office insists, this decision to make such a radical change has not been met with universal acclaim or with nary a hint of backlash.

It was met with much backlash and anger, with many Doctor Who fans flat-out saying they will no longer watch.  Hardwick calls them 'assholes' for not going along with it.  Others call them sexist, misogynists, and chauvinists.  The pro-Female Doctor group insists all the anti-Female Doctor group has is bigotry.  Yes, there were those who were out-and-out bigots (all those 'Nurse Who' cracks were dumb), but a vast majority of those opposed did so because we firmly hold that the change is being done not to move the story forward, but to make a sociopolitical statement.

NuWho, along with the sycophantic press & the fans who see injustice in a male playing a particular role, has convinced itself that casting a female in the role is a brilliant idea. They think it will equal great ratings, with all those fans who left more than made up by those who will hold Whitaker as the heroine their little girls need (since little girls have never heard of Sally Ride or Jane Goodall). They'll get the praise & the press that, in theory, will build to a long-running series.

However, as much as they may think that men & women are interchangable and that you'll get the exact same results with a woman as you would with a man, they are, in my view, tying themselves to a difficult position. By casting someone to demonstrate 'progressiveness', they now will be held to a standard where all future castings will be likewise judged. If Whitaker does not pan out, if she & Chibnall's showrunning fail to bring up ratings, the BBC cannot just dump Whitaker. Cries of 'sexism', 'toxic masculinity', and the like will be thrown at them. As such, they may have to ride out falling ratings for maybe one-three years to save face. 

Either that, or flat-out cancel the show to stop the financial bleeding. 

They will be bound to a showrunner and lead who instead of stemming the falling tide or bring the ratings up instead seemed to have accelerated the show's decline.  Firing Whitaker the way the BBC fired Colin Baker when he was blamed for falling ratings during his tenure as The Doctor is impossible.  If they tried to do push Whitaker out, those who pushed for a female in the role would scream, only this time there would be no other fans the show could rely on for help.  Those who left in disgust at what they saw as a stunt won't be talked back after being called 'bigots, sexists, idiots and fools' (and those were some of the nicer things said about them).

If the show managed to hold on to the hypothetical end of Whitaker's era assuming the show isn't flat-out cancelled during Her tenure, Her successor, however, cannot be anyone. The Social Justice Warriors, having tasted blood, will demand nothing more than 'correct' casting. More than likely the calls to have a minority actor/actress will grow, w/the same reason given ("it's TIME we had a black Doctor, an Indian Doctor, an openly Gay Doctor, an Arab Doctor, a Sikh Doctor..."). That is, if they allow for a male to get the role at all. Jumping about between genders seems to be a one-act trick: you can't keep doing it every time you need publicity.

Casting a male after a female may lead to calls of 'sexism', 'toxic masculinity', what have you.
If they opt to then go all in and cast a minority female (say a Thandie Newton or Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to have 'representation' (and a chance for the BBC to shield itself from accusations of 'sexism' and 'racism'), those who had originally rejected the idea of Whitaker's casting as being done for PC reasons may come to the conclusions the majority of us reached when Whitaker was announced: the casting was done for ulterior motives.

I have the utmost respect for Newton, Mbatha-Raw, or an Idris Elba or Alexander Siddig. They are all highly talented. However, they would be, in this theoretical casting, be given the role not for their talent, but to check off boxes. In a way, it undermines the very principle the BBC insists it has: to cast for the best actor regardless of sex or color.

By getting their way with Whitaker, they have put a litmus test on any future Doctor: do you fulfill a particular function in terms of 'representation'? I think few people would have had an issue with a minority male as The Doctor. It would not have changed Canon (Time Lords keeping w/in their gender). By selecting a woman to HAVE a woman, they have decided 'representation' was more important than anything else.

I don't know how it will go, but if it goes the way I think it will (the show petering out to an ignoble end), it will be Whitaker and those who said it was a bad decision who will get blamed. Those who came up with the idea, misguided as it was, were never in the wrong.  Those who pushed this idea likewise will never admit to being wrong.

Rather, the story will be that the problem wasn't that there was A woman cast as The Doctor, but that it was a PARTICULAR woman that was cast.  The line will be said that Whitaker was all wrong: that she got the job because she worked with Chibnall on Broadchurch, that she wasn't talented enough, etc. It will be a disservice to her if she is blamed for doing her job the best she could, even if perhaps the decision to cast a female to begin with was a mistake.

Hardwick will no doubt blame all those awful sexist/mysogynist/chauvinist men who left when they should have stayed.  He and many other 'woke' figures hold that the fans are almost obligated to stay with Doctor Who no matter how much they may grow to hate it.  I as a fan am not bound to stay and watch something I no longer care to watch.  I have quit Doctor Who before: after the horror of Love & Monsters, I refused to watch any more Doctor Who until the end of David Tennant's tenure.  Was I obligated to keep watching even after I felt the show went overboard?

By Hardwick's logic, Roseanne fans should have kept watching after the Conners became fabulously wealthy.  By Hardwick's logic, Happy Days fans should not have complained after Fonzie jumped the shark. 

Ultimately, for me the question isn't 'why can't they do it' because they could and did.  The question should be 'why should they do it', and the reasons the other side has presented have been very weak and not enough to convince me it was the right thing to do. 

"Because it's TIME" isn't an answer. 
"Because little girls need representation" isn't an answer.

The casting of Jodie Whitaker, irrespective of her talent as an actress, was done for what I believe were wrong reasons.  I think a lot of fans, who have stuck through a lot of bad episodes (Sleep No More) and a lot of really awful ideas (the Flying Cyber-Brigadier) finally had enough.  Whether the First Female Doctor is enough to bring new fans and hold whichever ones left I cannot say.

However, I don't fancy their chances, especially since it will be until 'late 2018' by the time Her tenure really begins.  That's well over six months between Her first few seconds and Her debut story.  Will all those women cheering this one hold on that long?  Former Doctor Who fans have held on for longer.  Now, it's not so sure.

At least she is bound to stay, so no matter what, Doctor Who will always have one viewer...

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