I still remember when it was announced that Jodie Whittaker was going to be taking over for Peter Capaldi as the new face of Doctor Who. A day of celebration for many, haters were naturally drawn to the sounds of joy and started flooding the Internet with comments about how a female doctor would ruin the show. White, male nerds do not take well to change. Thankfully, the overwhelming support for a female doctor made those comments seem like nothing more than a small, obstinate few. When the show premiered and Whittaker’s performance met with overwhelming approval, those comments were nearly forgotten. Nearly.
The strength of the writing shines through this season as they give us a Doctor we can slowly fall in love with. While Whittaker is slowly getting into her groove as the thirteenth Doctor, she gradually wins our affections as she cares for her friends and demonstrates more empathy for humans than previous doctors, proving in the act that the conversation shouldn’t just be about her being a woman. Yet every time Whittaker does an interview, the first question she gets asked is: “How does it feel to be the first female doctor?” It is a question that seems to overshadow everything else.
I agree the first female doctor is important; Hell! There’s no way I would disagree with that statement. But while everyone focused on the Doctor being a woman, they forgot the other qualities that make this season special. The three new companions, an older man, a Pakistani police officer, and a young, disabled black man are the best representation we’ve had of modern society on Doctor Who so why not invests some of the conversations in them?
This a return to form with Doctor Who as, much like in the original run, we don’t have one companion, we have three. Yaz brings a spirit of youth and fierceness to the show that bounces off the Doctor in new and interesting ways. Ryan’s warmth and hopefulness colour the world he is sent to, while Graham’s skepticism and wisdom ground the show. These three characters are all so different and yet work so well as the writers link their histories, creating a narrative gold mine.
Instead of asking Jodie Whittaker how she feels about being the first female Doctor, we should ask her how having three companions presents itself as an acting challenge? What it adds to her role as the thirteenth Doctor? And instead of asking about being the first, maybe we can ask her what it would mean to be the first of many. She is opening a door. A door that is too important to not have been opened already. Over fifty years of Doctor Who and we are just getting the first female doctor? That is a problem. But shouldn’t we be asking ourselves: Why did it take so long? Why did people get so mad when it was announced? Why is it a big deal?
My hope is that in time the conversation will change. It won’t be about the fact that she is a woman. This season of Doctor Who has already illustrated this idea. They address that she is a woman, but they make it clear that while she is the first for us, it isn’t the first time that the Doctor has been a woman. In the pilot episode, she says that she hasn’t been shopping for women’s clothes in a while.
Doctor Who has always been about educating people. That is why it was created really. Look at the past of Doctor Who; it’s like getting a history crash course. Yes, it’s told through science fiction with weird monsters, but it’s still our history that we learn about. After the Second World War, Doctor Who was created to educate the youth, whether it was the Doctor meeting Elizabeth I or Vincent Van Gogh (the latter being the best episode of the show’s reboot, and a work of art in its own right). This season’s episode – Rosa taught us about American History as we got to watch Ryan meeting Dr. King and Rosa Parks for the first time, giddiness unmaskable. And tucked within an episode of Doctor Who is a sober conversation about racism and how, even if it has changed, racism hasn’t been erased. With so much to talk about, maybe one day we’ll cease narrowing in on her being the first female Doctor, and instead, come to regard her simply as the Doctor.