The thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor has been announced, and it’s Jodie Whittaker.
I’m having a lot of feelings right now that cannot be expressed by just screaming endlessly on Twitter, so I’m putting them down here.
I grew up watching Doctor Who on PBS. It’s been as huge a part of my life as Star Trek. Until new Who showed up, Seven was my doctor. A big part of that was because of Ace, who was cool and amazing and I wanted to be her for a long time. Her relationship with the Doctor was different, somehow. Looking back on it, I think it’s because she had Donna-esque levels of taking absolutely zero shit off the Doctor, while still being young enough that his relationship with her was more avuncular to downright fatherly. And because she was absolutely brilliant, and the Doctor supported her in that. To the extent that he wanted her to go to the academy on Gallifrey and become a Time Lord. I think that last thing is something that’s been heavily retconned in new Who, but the idea that you don’t have to actually be from Gallifrey to be a Time Lord, and that Ace could be a Time Lord? Sign me up.
And then there was Romana. Between her two incarnations she was in seventeen episodes, but she stands out in my mind because… holy shit, a female Time Lord. Traveling around and having adventures. I loved Romana II because she got to be on equal footing with the Doctor, and had her own sonic screwdriver – I mean, how cool is that?
Looking at new Who, my favorite companions have been the ones (particularly Donna) who were able to put themselves on more equal footing with the Doctor. I think I’ve always been searching for women in the series who have that independence, who are as close to being the Doctor as they can get without actually being allowed to be the main show. The companions I liked the least were the ones who were basically doormats that existed to be the Dr. Watson-esque plot receptacle. (And you’ll notice in modern retellings of the Holmes stories, Watson’s become a much more active character in his own right, whose main purpose is no longer being the person who exists to ask dumb questions so the great detective can explain himself.)
Because let’s be honest, when I was a kid and playing pretend, I didn’t want to be the Doctor’s companion. I wanted to be the Doctor. That was why I loved Romana and Ace so much. And yes, you can pretend as many things as you like, but for all children are intensely imaginative, they’re also weirdly pedantic in certain ways. If you don’t ever see a girl being the Doctor, you come to feel that the Doctor is not something you’re allowed to be. Like when the young son of a friend of mine sadly informed one of his female classmates (this happened before we had Ahsoka and Rey, mind) that she couldn’t play Jedi with him and his friends, because girls aren’t Jedi – his parents corrected him on that one, but he made a perfectly logical conclusion from what he’d observed.
And even when you’re an adult and far more capable of saying “fuck your unspoken rules,” that comes coupled with the ability to better read those subtextual signposts about what stories you’re allowed to be the protagonist for. A better ability to fight to get out of that box also means you know how goddamn high the walls are.
Which all comes down to why I’m tearing up over the casting of Jodie Whittaker, and I wish I could tell this one to kid me. Look, one of your heroes you want to be isn’t just a (cis) man. The Doctor really can be any gender the Doctor pleases. Look, you can have adventures in time and space and be the person with the sonic screwdriver and the blue Police Box, and not just the person there to be less clever than him. And I honestly never thought this would happen, after seeing the ever-escalating manbaby shit storm each time a new Doctor was cast and someone said hey, wouldn’t it be great if the Doctor wasn’t white, or wasn’t a man, or (gasp) both? (Still waiting on the first/third of those items, and that should not be forgotten.)
Maybe I’m more surprised than I should be because I haven’t watched the last several seasons of Doctor Who after being so solidly lost by the Matt Smith episodes. I’m definitely going to go back and try the most recent season, now. I want to see the set up. I’m on board for this. I keep trying to come back to Doctor Who (have not been able to care about the show since about a year after Moffat took over) because it was a staple of my childhood, and maybe this time I’ll stick.