The new season of Doctor Who debuted recently, and with it brought a proud change to the title role. For the first time, and after 12 incarnations of the legendary Doctor, the space-travelling Time-Lord will be played by Jodie Whittaker, a woman. The announcement of the decision to change the Doctor’s gender was met with both favourable and negative reactions and divided fans. For many it was a non-issue. In a world where travel through both time and space is possible and in which all manner of fantastical aliens and creatures feature, is it really so strange that the main character might take the form of a woman? Conversely, others argued that it would ruin the legacy of a show that has been running since 1963.
I can see why an attachment to the past might be an impediment to change but nobody can deny that the Doctor was in dire need of a shake-up. The show had been declining since Matt Smith left the role and if a gender change for the lead is what was required to reinvigorate it then there should be no complaints that it is ruining some kind of legacy. In the Doctor’s case, the story had been constructed in such a way that it lends itself to the possibility of the character changing gender, and according to Darragh McGrath (see his excellent review of the recent season premiere) this change has been a resounding success. I don’t see why it should be such a problem.
Another popular figure whose traditional depiction has been open for debate recently is that of James Bond. Daniel Craig’s time as 007 seems to be nearing an end and there has been much suggestion that either an actor of a different ethnicity, or of a different gender, might take the role. One of the frontrunners for the part is Idris Elba (of Luther and The Wire fame) who has copious amount of experience acting in this area. The role of Bond is not, I feel, something that need necessarily be bound to the white, heterosexual male which Ian Fleming originally created, in so far as the likes of Elba are able to utterly embody the kind of suave, upper-class English gent which is Bond’s main feature. Changing Bond’s gender, to create a “Jane Bond” as has been suggested, would require a fundamental change in the way Bond has always been depicted, and not one, I feel, through which the character would survive the transition.
Bond differs from The Doctor in that the latter always retained the potential to incorporate change, but to do so with the former would destroy the foundation on which the character is built. Like it or loath it, agree or disagree, Bond is a womanising, upper-class male. It is also worth adding that it is not always misogyny that might drive such opposition to change. It’s worth remembering that when Daniel Craig was cast as Bond, there were concerted complaints about the choice for no other reason than because he was blond.
The differences between the cases for the Doctor and for Bond highlight how important it is to treat the issue on a case by case basis. Sometimes, change is what is required, sometimes change would destroy the essence of original. Such decision should be governed by what is creatively better for the show, not by an external political agenda.
One final point worth considering before I finish is the question of why studios, who are full of talented and able writers both male and female, cannot create new characters and new classics to embody the ideals of a new generation of film stars and a new generation of audiences. I am not a huge fan in general of the constant remakes of old films which seems to be all too common at the moment, but surely it makes more sense, in an industry that is only just starting to free itself from the inherent misogyny that held it back, to create new and diverse roles for actors and actresses that allow us to develop a love as strong as that we have for the likes of Bond and The Doctor? Video-games have managed to bridge this gap (Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn, Ciri from the Witcher, Ellie from The Last of Us) so why not follow suit. I know I for one would watch with excitement.