Rumours are starting to swirl that the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, may be regenerating by the end of the 2021 season of the BBC’s popular sci-fi series. The timing would not be out of the ordinary as many past Doctors have only stayed for three years (there was no 2019 season); David Tennant, Matt Smith and even Second and Fifth Doctors Patrick Throughton and Peter Davidson left the TARDIS after their third seasons. So if Jodie was to leave at the end of 2021 it would have precedent.
Also, I kind of wouldn’t blame her. Her tenure as the Doctor has probably been the most controversial in the show’s history. Not only did it incense the trolls who loudly cried about how making the Doctor female would kill off the series, new show runner Chris Chibnall decided to make series 11 (or 37 if you’re counting from the Classic series) “newbie friendly.” This meant that no classic villains would feature and the series would have no over arcing plot as previous ones had. The idea was that someone who had never watched an episode of Doctor Who before could randomly tune in to any episode of series 11 and be able to watch it and know what was going on.
Unfortunately, Chibnall’s plan didn’t really work. Having no classic monsters, or even really any references to the Classic series, alienated long time fans. The lack of a plot that threaded through the whole season for a big pay off in the last episode made the whole season feel anticlimactic and unimportant. Add to this that three new companions as well as a new Doctor padded out the episodes, meaning none of the characters really received the time on screen that they should have, and as a result we didn’t really get to know any of them.
After a strong start with series opener The Woman Who Fell to Earth, the writing took a bit of a hit as well. Rightly or wrongly some fans felt that the showrunners were more concerned with hitting some arbitrary PC target that delivering a good show. While I’m not sure I agree with that, some episodes written by writers better know for things other than science fiction did feel a little off. Two such examples would be the third episode, Rosa, co-written by Malorie Blackman, and episode six, Demons of the Punjab, written by Vinay Patel. Both are historical episodes which tell the stories of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus, and the Partition of India. Both are extremally powerful and important stories and would have worked perfectly well as purely historical stories, with as 1964’s The Aztecs. However, in both Rosa and Demons it’s like the writers suddenly realised they were writing for Doctor Who so threw in some aliens because they thought that is what the audience expected. The result is a secondary threat that comes out of nowhere and it so jarring it ruins the impact of the overall episodes.
Unfortunately, those who were already on the anti-female Doctor train used these missteps to further their cause, despite Jodie Whittaker’s likeable performance. While the next series corrected some of the mistakes of the second — in particular bringing back the series-long story arc which resolved (as much as anything resolves in Doctor Who) in the brilliant The Timeless Children, and introducing Sacha Dhawan as a blazing new incarnation of The Master — Jodie’s critics continued to bang their “the Doctor should only be a man” drum.
The BBC have staunchly supported Jodie in her tenure as the Doctor (and there is history of them getting rid of actors they aren’t happy with in the role). She has also been a hit with (most of) the fans. Still, displeasure with the writing is building, as can be seen in the below Twitter posts.
While I think the “rule of three” will be the most likely reason Jodie leaves Doctor Who rather than either group of angry fans, the real question is what will the BBC do if she does?
If they cast another woman as the Doctor, then what many thought of as an “experiment” will be solidified. The people who are already anti-female Doctor will stay angry, but I don’t know how many more it would upset. After all, many others who stopped watching the show have said they have done so due to the writing, not the sex of the main character. Others have left because they don’t like Jodie’s particular rendition of the Doctor, but then some fans on Twitter said they didn’t want to watch Capaldi after the younger Tennant and Smith either. So if the Doctor regenerates once more into a woman I can’t see it being that much of an upset except for the people who are already upset about it.
The other option, though, is a bit more worrying. If the BBC decided to cast a man as the 14th Doctor, they will basically be confirming what the nay-says have been shouting all along; that the Doctor has always been, and should remain, male. If a man was to be cast as the 14th Doctor, it would be admitting that a female Doctor doesn’t work, that the “experiment” failed. It would make it almost impossible for another female actor to step into the role for the 15th, 16th or 20th regenerations. It would also put Jodie Whittaker up on the unenvious pedestal of the actor who, at best, was the “worst” Doctor, or, at worst, the actor who almost destroyed the show. It would be a confirmation that a woman can not be the Doctor.
However, even worse than all that, it would totally undermine the inspiration, joy and happiness that Jodie has brought to so many. In showing a woman as the Doctor, countless young women have been inspired and lifted up. Many who were not fans of the show previously have embraced it since Jodie took over the TARDIS controls. Just check out the #JodieOurDoctor hashtag to see the outpouring of support for her.
Personally, I really hope Jodie stays on for at least one more season. While I do agree that season 11 was one of the weakest since the show’s revival, I don’t put that down to Jodie at all. Rather, I blame the script reasons mentioned above which she, as “just” an actor, has no control over. Taking away the series-long arc was, in my opinion, the biggest mistake, but the lacklustre writing of that series didn’t help either. Series 12 I felt was a huge improvement, although some episodes, such as Praxeus, still felt a little preachy. Even so, it gave Jodie a lot more to do, and many varied situations in which to explore her incarnation of the Doctor’s character. We finally were able to see that smouldering, righteous anger that all Doctors posses, something that fans had wondered how Jodie would manage. She did it wonderfully. Series 12 really let Jodie expand her Doctor’s character.
Honestly, I think that if Jodie stayed on for series 13 and 14 she could easily become one of the most loved Doctors. It does feel like she’s taken a little longer to become comfortable in the role than her predecessors, but that I put down to the material she’s been given more than anything. I really think that she could be an amazing Doctor, somewhere between the kind hearted nature of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, and Matt Smith’s excitable 11th. Neither of those Doctors had the anger that some showed, but they still had the presence, the stature that the character deserves. I feel Jodie Whittaker has all the makings of such a Doctor, she just needs better opportunities to show us.
Honestly, I hope that the 14th Doctor is not a man. Not because I never want to see a man play the Doctor again, but because I feel that for all the problems of season 11 and the missteps of season 12, Jodie Whittaker has shown us that a female Doctor does work. That a woman can play a 500+ year old alien with two hearts as well as any of her male contemporaries. It excites me for what story opportunities it could open up.
When I have children I’ll be showing them Doctor Who because it’s a show I love dearly. If I have a daughter I want to be able to put her in front of the telly, put in one of my Who BluRays and show her that, yes, she too can be a Time Lord.