Doctor Who

Doctor Who: Suggestions on Gender-Swapped Time Lord Grammar

This has got to be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written. Nerdier than the time I explored the currency exchange rates between the Mushroom Kingdom and Hyrule? Yeah, it’s probably nerdier than that. Here we go, then.

Last season of Doctor Who brought us a real game-changer in the series, the first time a major Time Lord character was shown having switched genders upon regeneration. Michelle Gomez absolutely killed it as the latest incarnation of The Master, and is due back for this upcoming season. I for one couldn’t be happier. She was easily the best villain of the whole season and a perfect foil for Peter Capaldi.

Even if she did kill Osgood and make the Brigadier into a Cyberman. That’s low, ma’am.

Many people, including yours truly, see Gomez’s assumption of the role as a test balloon for the concept of a female Doctor following Capaldi’s run. The concept has been teased as far back as the “The Doctor’s Wife,” and voluntary gender swapping was explicitly mentioned in “Night of The Doctor.” It should come as no surprise, really. Steven Moffat is actually the first person to have The Doctor regenerate into a woman on-screen, when he wrote the non-canon comedy special “The Curse of Fatal Death” for Red Nose Day and Joanna Lumley assumed the role.

The problem for people like me who write about Doctor Who professionally is how will we refer to a gender-swapped character in prose. Time travel alone plays merry Hell on the tenses and now we have to play the pronoun game as well?

Well, gauntlet thrown down, gauntlet picked up. I decided to take a stab at setting some suggestions as far as the grammar goes. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.

10. When referring to a Time Lord as the sum of his or her incarnations and the total of his or her lives, he or she should be addressed as the preferred gender of the most current incarnation. For example, “The Master has always found ways in the past of escaping her death and just punishment.”

9. Past actions of the Time Lord in question should be discussed in the preferred gender of the current incarnation to avoid confusion with current incarnation contemporaries. For example: “When The Master first came to Earth, she regularly fought The Doctor and UNIT.”

8. However, for the sake of clarity, it may be less complicated to refer to previous incarnations by the incarnations’ expressed gender. For example, “Martha did all she could against The Master when he was Prime Minister of Great Britain.” This is helpful for characters unfamiliar with the concept of regeneration.

7. It is not uncommon for Time Lords to assume new names upon regeneration. The Master now prefers Missy, The Doctor disavowed his name between his Eighth and Ninth incarnations, and Romana’s presumably third incarnation went by the name Trey. It is generally polite to address the Time Lords by their chosen name, though they do not seem to take great offense when addressed by other titles.

6. Obviously, should more than one incarnation of the same Time Lord be in the room together, each should be addressed by his or her preferred gender…which the Time Lord in question almost certainly won’t do because annoying other versions of him or herself with petty nomenclature is a regular Time Lord pastime.

5. On the use of the term “Time Lady”...Opinion seems to be divided. The Doctor refers to The Corsair as a Time Lord even though The Corsair had at least one female incarnation. Romana, on the other hand, only refers to Time Lords as a group, and is addressed even by the Daleks as Time Lady. Add to that the fact that with Gallifrey’s disappearance The Doctor now sometimes claims to be the Time Lord or the Lord of Time, and it’s difficult to say by what standard of etiquette Time Ladies should be addressed should The Doctor swap genders on his next regeneration.

4. As seen by The Doctor’s conversation with the horse Susan in “A Town Called Mercy,” the Time Lords have a concept of gender identity opposite that of biological gender. As far as addressing transgender Time Lords, we should follow the Eleventh Doctor’s advice to Susan’s owner and respect their life choices.

3. From the opposite end, Time Lords sometimes have trouble distinguishing gender in other species, particularly post-regeneration. Feel free to politely correct them, and try not to take it personally.

2. Though it is rare to refer to future incarnations that have not been seen on television thus far, they have always been assumed to be the gender of the current incarnation. For example, the Great Intelligence describing The Doctor’s future, “And he will have other names before the end; The Storm, The Beast, The Valeyard.”

1. On The Doctor as possibly female in the future…be advised that “It’s Doctor Who, not Nurse Who” is grossly sexist and deeply insulting to all the fine doctors and nurses of any gender in the world. Don’t be that guy or girl. This is a show about great possibilities. We should try to live up to that.

Jef has a new story about robot sharks, "A Senseless Eating Machine" out now in Lurking in the Deep. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner