Doctor Who Roundtable on Jodie Whittaker

Two weeks ago, the BBC dropped a bomb on the world: The new Doctor has been cast, and he’s…a woman?

That’s right, Jodie Whittaker (of Broadchurch fame) is slated to take on the mantel of the titular character in the long-running series Doctor Who. All twelve previous actors to play the Doctor have all been male, and though it has been set in canon that Time Lords are capable of regenerating into Time Ladies, thousands of fans are in uproar over the decision. Here at Talk Nerdy With Us, a few of us sat down to talk about the groundbreaking decision and what it could mean for Doctor Who.

What was your first reaction to the news that Jodie Whittaker had been cast as the next Doctor?

AJ: I had two primary thoughts: one, that it was about damn time, and two, that it was poorly timed. Sounds contradictory, right? Well, while I think we are way overdue for a female Doctor, I worry that with today’s focus on diversity in casting it loses the significance that it would otherwise have. People are going to think, “Oh, the BBC is just trying to jump on the diversity train,” regardless of whether or not that’s the case.

Arlene: I knew it was coming. The hints dropped during the final two episodes were about as subtle as an anvil.

Jenni: I cried tears of happiness. Not just because they finally cast a female lead, but also because Jodie is an amazing actress.

Have you seen Jodie in other shows, and if so what is your opinion on her acting? Do you think she has the “chops” to make the next Doctor a success?

AJ: I’ve never seen any of her other works, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing the Doctor.

Arlene: No, I haven’t seen Jodie in any other roles. I know she’s been in Broadchurch, with David Tennant, which I may binge this summer. The funny thing is I am very sure she is capable—as long as she can be quirky and snarky, I’ll be fine with it.

Jenni: I’ve watched Jodie in Broadchurch and she’s been fantastic. She plays her character so well: meek yet fierce. Based on that, I believe she’ll be able to hold her own in DW.

Female Time Lords: awesome or gimmick? Is it something that is long overdue, or do you feel that they’re jumping on the equality/diversity bandwagon?

AJ: They’re an awesome gimmick, so I guess both. [Laughs] See my above comment on the diversity angle.

Arlene: I’ll have to be honest here—It’s a gimmick and a bandwagon. But I also feel everything is these days. If anything or anyone has a cause, someone will be all over it. That being said, well, maybe a female Doctor will be a breath of fresh air.

Jenni: AWESOME. It’s been established before that Time Lords can be Time Ladies and that they can sometimes choose their gender upon regeneration, although most of the time it’s by chance. It’s definitely overdue to have a female Doctor. I realize Star Trek did it first with Janeway at the head of Voyager, but it also took 30+ years to get there.

Are you worried that the show may place too much emphasis on a female Doctor? Should they play it up or tone it down?

AJ: Oh, they’re going to over-emphasize it. I can almost guarantee it. Since this is kind of unprecedented, aside from the occasional “body swap” episode of a show or the occasional Quantum Leap where he leapt into a woman’s body, it’s going to be extremely difficult to write this so viewers aren’t sick of the “oh-my-Gallifreyan-God-I’m-a-female” storyline. I mean, I got sick of Capaldi’s guitar playing (we got the point, BBC; one or two episodes was more than enough, thank you very much), and it wasn’t even that big of a focus in the stories.

Arlene: The announcement has been made, the hullabaloo has gone around; at this point, I’d say tone it down. This may not be the most popular opinion in the world, but I think this evolution should proceed at a natural progression rather than lose its relevancy due to hype.

Jenni: I honestly hope they don’t make too much of a deal about it. I want the show to acknowledge that the Doctor is now female, but not center the show around it. None of the previous Doctors ever had episodes dedicated to them being male.

Why do you think there is so much rage and disdain from many fans regarding the concept of a female Doctor?

AJ: I think people—especially males—are threatened by strong women, and the Doctor’s a pretty strong character. That, and no one wants to see change. They want to sit in their comfortable little homes and watch the same stories over and over, and any change in the status quo is scary and intimidating. Some people think “How can a woman be a good authority figure?” Hell, women are the ultimate authority figures! I mean, come on—a mom is the best authority you can get!

Arlene: Because, after reading so many tweets and posts, oh my Time Lord, there are so many men afraid of strong women and women in power. Also, people are feeling robbed of an icon.

Jenni: Change is hard, I get it. There’s that one meme that shows the lifecycle of Doctor Who where people hate the incoming Doctor. Except this time there’s more outrage because of the gender. I believe the disdain isn’t so much that the Doctor is now a woman, but that it’s breaking from tradition.

Which would you rather see: a female or a male as the next companion? Do you feel that the BBC is keeping quiet on the new companion in order to create suspense and anticipation?

AJ: I’d like to finally see a male as the next primary long-term companion. It seems like all of the solo companions have been women (yes, I know that there are males in the bunch, but I am talking about main companions, not cameos, recurring side characters, or one-offs), and I think it’s high time for a long-term male companion, female Doctor or no. Sadly, though, if they cast a male companion it’s going to kind of be ruined by the Doctor being female. Now they’ll likely throw in sexual tension that doesn’t need to be there. Still, I want to see a male companion next. As far as the BBC keeping quiet, I think it’s a matter of one bombshell at a time. If they release too much at once, they risk annoying fans. It’s smart to let us process this first before diving into the next companion.

Arlene: I don’t care. If it isn’t Bill Potts—which would be all kinds of awesome seeing now that the Doctor is female! Oh, what awkwardness! Oh, what tension! If it isn’t Bill, I don’t care. And yes, BBC is being coy. It’s kind of their job.

Jenni: This is hard because I want both! A female companion would be great because there can never be enough empowered women on tv. But on the other hand, it’s about time we have a male delegated to the role of “assistant.” I worry that the lack of Companion announcement comes from not having one cast yet. I still want more Bill Potts; she didn’t get the time she deserved.

How do you feel the dynamic between the Doctor and prior recurring companions will change in this new regeneration? Would you like to see Madam Vastra and Jenny make a reappearance, for instance, and see their reaction to her?

AJ: I would love to see Vastra and Jenny again, along with our ol’ buddy Strax. I can see the coy glances between Vastra and Jenny, and naturally Strax would be great comedic relief. “What do you mean he’s a she? He looks the same. Of course, all you non-Sontarans look alike…” or some such hilarity. It’s kind of ironic: Strax is written as this character who thinks his race is superior, yet in a way he’s the penultimate non-prejudiced character. Race, sex, religion…. What does Strax care? He just wants to conquer. [Laughs]

Arlene: There are so many people I would love to see return, just to see the reaction to her. There are some really hilarious moments that can be played out. The caution would be not to overdo or overuse the trope or plot device.

Jenni: I would love to see 13 interact with Madame Vastra. In my head, they would spend the afternoon drinking tea and commenting on Strax’s cooking.

River Song’s story has been tied up and wrapped. Do you think the showrunners should consider writing a new River story, or do you think her story should stay “done”?

AJ: As much as I love River, I think her story should be done. I think the dynamic between her and a female Doctor would be incredible, but since they’ve tied up her story they should keep it tied up. I hate when a showrunner drags a story on past its lifespan.

Arlene: Honestly, I think River Song should be done, except in reference—as in the Doctor perusing her diary. I don’t want to see much of that relationship change.

Jenni: Both? Honestly, I can never have enough River, but I also feel her story has been wrapped up. Unless they can find a way to go back to her earlier timeline, I think they should leave it alone.

One of the many comments over the years about a potential female Doctor has been the lack of adequate pockets in women’s clothing. Do you think it would be fun to see little humorous tidbits like this written in, or is it too trite and predictable?

AJ: A few bits like this would be funny, but they run the danger of overdoing it. Moderation, always.

Arlene: I’m actually dying to see what they are going to do with her outfit. I just don’t want it to become a running joke that she pulls stuff out of her bosom. I’d love to see her in a trench coat, something like in Highlander. If you can store a sword in there, who knows what else you can fit!

Jenni: POCKETS. Sorry, had to get that out. Yes, they need to make a side comment about lack of pockets in women’s clothing. It’s funny but it would also bring to light the many problems that women have while clothes shopping.

What are the tropes you are most afraid of seeing in the new series?

AJ: I’m most afraid of forced romances. That’s one of my biggest pet peeve with any work of fiction, and it’s especially so with Doctor Who. I didn’t think it was necessary for Clara to be portrayed as even a possibility of a romantic interest for the Doctor, and Bill’s “romance” (for all the two seconds it lasted before she decided to hop on a spaceship with the girl) just didn’t play out as realistic to me. I really would like to see a series with a Doctor that isn’t smushed into a tense quasi-romantic relationship with someone, one where fans don’t ship every single companion. Sometimes that shipping gets super old for me. Why invent chemistry when there isn’t any?

Arlene: Bosom pulls, bosom jokes. A constant stream of “Oh my God, the Doctor is a woman.” A constant onslaught of feminism—too much of a good thing is a bad thing. This is going to be so tricky to handle. People are already angry; I don’t want this to be the thing that killed Doctor Who.

Jenni: Where to begin! I don’t want to see the Damsel in Distress (either 13 or the new companion), unless it’s a Dude in Distress (dis dress? lol I kid). Normally I would say don’t play on the parental feelings, but the show has done that with all of the previous Doctors, so it might be okay.

What potential storylines would you most like to see?

AJ: I’d like to see the Doctor getting treated as somewhat inferior due to her new gender. I want to see Unit say, “Wait a tic, maybe President of Earth is too big of a responsibility for you. Maybe you should go eat some chocolate or something.” But no more than an episode or two of that. Any more and it’s going to get real old real fast. I’d also like to see the Doctor’s tortured soul portrayed through a woman’s eyes. We know how a “young” man (Matt Smith’s Doctor) reacts to the things he’s had to do in the past, and we know how an “old” man (Capaldi) reacts; let’s see how a “young” woman reacts and deals with the tough choices the Doctor has had to make.

Arlene: As for new storylines, as long as it’s kept fresh and funny I am game for anything. I’d love to see Missy return. Things were so complicated with her and Capaldi’s Doctor! In that case a little catfighting would be cute, if it’s not overdone.

Jenni: I know it probably wasn’t my happen, but I would love to see 13 and Missy together. And as always I would love to see the new Doctor check in on her former companions, especially Donna.

Finally, if you had a message for Jodie, what would it be?

AJ: Don’t let the jerks get you down. One great thing about this role is that you get to play an icon but in your own way. Learn from the Doctors that have come before you, but also strike your own path. The true fans will stick with you. The naysayers aren’t worth your time.

Arlene: For Jodie, I’d tell her not to take any of the backlash or hate personally. Be sure of herself. She’s got five decades of some very big shoes to fill, and that has to be tough whether you are female or male. But she’s got this! Take it and run with it!

Jenni: Jodie, if you see this, you’re gonna ROCK. I know you’ll be fantastic and amazing and a role model for the new generation of Whovians.


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