Peter Capaldi lands as the new Doctor this Fall, and may his reign be long, fun, and full of running. I am as stoked as I could possibly be about seeing Capaldi take on the part. It's a welcome change for the new series, and I think that even the most vocal of fans hoping for a non-white or non-male Doctor are still happy with the choice. Some actors just are The Doctor, and Capaldi is clearly one of them.
That said... it's very likely that in three or four years we will once again be playing the guessing game as we wonder who will step into Capaldi's shoes once he too regenerates into a new form. With a brand new cycle of regenerations we're set for another twelve actors to be given a sonic screwdriver, but between now and then it's time for us to really sit down and be honest with ourselves.
It's not that the next Doctor should be a woman, it's that the next Doctor needs to be a woman.
First of all, let's get this out of the way. There is plenty of precedent for a Time Lord changing his sex upon regeneration. The Eleventh Doctor himself mentioned his friend The Corsair doing so in "The Doctor's Wife". In fact, there is a Big Finish audio story in which we do have a female Doctor played by Arabella Weir. Granted, it's from a set of stories set in alternative universes, but the fact remains that in both the television show proper and a major licensed media franchise the concept exists and is openly acknowledged. There is no in-universe reason why we can't have a female Doctor.
The major complaint you hear from people opposed to the idea is that The Doctor has always been male. That it's an established part of the character. Maybe, but I don't buy it personally. Sex is something that all 13 actors have had in common, true, but does it really define The Doctor in any meaningful way? All of the traditional TV Tropes associated with male characters (Strength, speed, wisdom, and a commanding presence) have all also been embodied in female companions who in many cases did it better any way.
The Second Doctor could never have outfought Zoe, Leela could leave the Fourth in the dust, River Song was always one step ahead of the Eleventh, and no Doctor could ever have told Donna Noble what to do. What tropes are left that require a male Doctor?
No, that's not the promise, is it? The promise is "Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up. Never give in." If that's your measure of a Doctor, then Rose Tyler was more of a Doctor than Nine ever was.
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One of the most amazing things I saw while wandering around Comicpalooza this weekend was the wonderful confidence of girls and women who chose to come as The Doctor. I saw two really wonderfully done female Sixes, a punk-rock version of Seven, two Eights (One TV movie and one "Night of the Doctor"), and the Tens and Elevens were far too numerous to count.
Some of them toned down their female form until it was almost a type of drag (Especially the Tens). Others wildly celebrated their femininity with skirts instead of pants and corset tops. Still others were somewhere in the middle, walking around in fezzes and sneakers simply being comfortable being The Doctor.
There's no doubt in my mind that female fans of Doctor Who are being cheated. When I was hosting screenings of the classic series at Alamo Drafthouse women always outnumbered the men as much as three to one. When they have their Ladies Night at 8th Dimension Comics the Doctor Who merchandise is always the first to sell out. If you look through Etsy for the people out there crafting the endless number of Doctor-themed whatsits, most of them, too, are females. The show would not be what it is today without millions of women.
Yet, they still get shifted aside consistently when they voice a desire to see a female Doctor. Yes, there are some Tennant fan girls out there only interested in the Tenth Doctor's acknowledged dreaminess. And yes, they are annoying, but not any more so than classic show elitists or guys that pine for Rose.
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It's time for a change. I like that female fans are bold enough to not restrict themselves to companion roles when they go out and dress up. I think that shows a much deeper understanding of the character than even some of the people who actually make the show. When The Doctor regenerates his knowledge and experience get poured into a new container. That changes the flavor, but not the meat of him.
Don't worry, by the way. We'll all still refer to The Doctor as him, except when directly addressing a female one. I guarantee it. Remember, we all change throughout all our lives, and that's good so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. It's not like a female Doctor would wipe out the fine legacy of her male predecessors.
What it would do is open the stars a little more to the girls and women for whom The Doctor is their hero. Speaking as the father of a daughter who delighted John Barrowman with her Ninth Doctor costume at the convention, that would be something wonderful. It would show us that male or female, there's a little of all of us in The Doctor. I eagerly await the adventures of Capaldi, but I eagerly await his change into a much-needed female Doctor more and with ever-growing hope.