By Rachel Stewart
“Are all people like this? So much bigger on the inside?” – The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman
“Is the future all girl?” “We can only hope.” – The Doctor Falls, Steven Moffat
A hooded figure walks through a lush green forest. Suddenly, it stops, black boots squishing in mud. The sound of the TARDIS materializing manifests, and the figure unfurls their hand to discover a TARDIS key. The camera pans up, and the figure drops their hood. The 13th Doctor is a woman, and our world as we knew it is forever changed.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry. I didn’t expect to. I didn’t truly expect this to ever happen. But as soon as I saw that hand, slight and plain but most certainly feminine, open to hold a TARDIS key, my eyes watered and my mouth opened to scream YES. Finally. The Doctor is a woman. We as women are good enough to be the Doctor.
It’s been a point of contention for years as to whether the Doctor could change his gender during regeneration. It’s been lovingly mocked in the Comic Relief Special “The Curse of the Fatal Death” where the Doctor’s former companion sadly reacts to a gender swap with “You’re not the man I fell in love with.” Neil Gaiman dropped a reference to a gender-changing time lord in his love letter of an episode “The Doctor’s Wife.” The potential has always been there but never explored.
While the world’s politics continue to take several steps backward, at least in science fiction, we as the human race, can push ahead. “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica” both revamped their crews to feature female captains and pilots. A lightsaber flew into a woman’s hand in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the same film that upgraded Princess Leia to a General. In the goofy but much fanboy maligned “Ghostbusters” remake, women could be hilarious, smart, and save New York City from ghosts. The “Wonder Woman” film was a movie some women had been waiting their whole lifetimes to see on the silver screen – and it delivered something that women had always wanted but didn’t know they needed.
Certainly, with all these steps forward, “Doctor Who” would finally allow the Doctor to be a woman, right? Steven Moffat pushed the idea in ways he knew could crack the glass ceiling but not break it – or the fanbase – completely. The first was River Song, introduced way back during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. She was the child of Amy Pond and Rory Williams – and the TARDIS. While she was part time lady, she ended up giving all her regenerations to the Doctor – and her sonic screwdriver turned into a plot device instead of usable tool. Any time lady antics were reserved for driving the TARDIS and being the Doctor’s wife. Capaldi’s era gave us Missy, where the Master transformed into the Mistress with amazing, psychotic results. Michelle Gomez’s bonkers and heart-breaking performance as Missy showed everyone that gender didn’t matter as long as the character’s long-term intentions remained intact.
The Doctor is alien, first and foremost. As a time traveler, the Doctor’s main job is to stop in and help where they can. For all their incarnations’ angry starts and stops, the Doctor has always been intelligent, inquisitive, witty, thoughtful, and kind. These are qualities that can apply to anyone, regardless of gender. At the end of the day, characters like the Doctor, are truly so much bigger on the inside.
Chris Chibnall and the BBC made a very bold decision – one that will be questioned and hated every step of the way, and Jodie Whittaker’s performance will be argued and written about for years to come. As always, I’m ready to dwell in hope for what’s just around the corner, for what happens every regeneration cycle – brave new worlds with a new face and personality to explore and help them. To all the little girls who always wanted to be the Doctor instead of the companion, the future arrives at Christmas. Take your TARDIS key and run!