9th October 2018

‘New can be scary’ – the new female Doctor

The BBC successfully introduces Jodie Whittaker as the next regeneration of Doctor Who, finding the right balance for success.
‘New can be scary’ – the new female Doctor
Photo: Gage Skidmore @Wikimedia Commons

It’s taken 55 years and 12 doctors, but the day has finally arrived — the Doctor has regenerated as a woman!

Since Peter Capaldi stepped aside at the end of last year, there has been a lot of build-up to the first episode of the new series. As a result, a lot of pressure has been placed on Jodie Whittaker as she undertakes the role of the first female Doctor — as soon as the episode began, I found myself really rooting for her.

Whilst the gender of our Time Lord is completely irrelevant in terms of the show’s premise, this is undeniably a moment for Whittaker that will impact the trajectory of her career. More significantly, this is a moment that has the potential to challenge and impact the representation of gender diversity in British television for the better.

Ultimately, this episode was required to strike an important balance. It needed to self-consciously acknowledge that the Doctor is a woman but simultaneously needed to make sure that this didn’t steal focus to the point of diluting the overall spirit of the iconic series. To do this would result in a patronising portrayal that would make us all, especially women, just want to switch off.

The episode is framed by new series regular, Ryan Sinclair’s YouTube video in which he is talking of “the greatest woman [he] ever met.” At this point, I immediately settled down to be shown a predictable celebration of our new female Doctor. When we return to Ryan’s video at the end of the episode, he reveals he is talking about his grandmother (whose eventual tragic bravery in the episode further exemplifies its positive representation of women). This approach certainly struck the balance that was so essential in successfully introducing the female doctor.

While the doctor’s existential identity crisis is evident in every regeneration, this one functioned as a humorous nod to the public’s overreaction to Whittaker’s casting back in 2017; even the Doctor’s subconscious initially refuses to reconcile itself with womanhood! This makes the later declaration of “I know exactly who I am, I’m the Doctor” an even louder rallying cry that attests to the power of women. Initially, Whittaker’s performance was reminiscent of David Tennant’s portrayal, but this soon settled into a very distinct character that is distinctly funny, charming, and one of a kind.

Overall, this episode was a great introduction to our new Doctor. To make no reference to the Doctor’s new gender would be thoughtless and ultimately counter-productive but to acknowledge this too much would have been irritating and condescending. Thankfully, the BBC came good and gently poked fun of the storm that surrounded this historic television moment in a way that celebrated the appointment of our new Doctor. A Doctor who indirectly attempts to comfort those still struggling with this gender transition by acknowledging herself that “new can be scary.”


score 4/5

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