I have often wished for a TARDIS to rescue me when stuck in traffic. Last Sunday that wish came true, though not in the way I'd always imagined.
In a bumper-to-bumper summer vacation back-up, the TARDIS appeared on the Maine Turnpike. OK, sure, it was only on my cell phone, as my partner and I watched the 13th Doctor announcement on the BBC America website. And, true, I wasn’t instantly transported to another place in time and space. But, in a way, I did feel that a new world of possibility opened up, because, this time, the Doctor is a woman.
And what a woman! Jodie Whittaker has already proven she has the depth and breadth of dramatic skills to take on the iconic role. As a grieving-mother-turned-crisis-counselor on Broadchurch, she has turned in the standout performance of the series. She's showcased the subtlety of her science fiction skills on one of the creepier installments of Black Mirror, while just as adeptly jugging horror and comedy in the Attack the Block. And, having tackled period pieces in both Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Return to Cranford, any upcoming Doctor Who historicals will be in good hands, as well. The future of Doctor Who really is female and the promise of diverse storytelling has never seemed greater.
Of course, I thought the same thing when Bill, a queer character of color, was announced as the new companion to Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor. Played by Pearl Mackie, Bill had a strong storyline and audience adoration, but neither were enough to save her from being written off the show after just one season. Michelle Gomez's delightfully evil Missy ended too soon, as well. And Freema Agyeman's portrayal of the smart and independent companion Martha was over practically before it began. So, for me, the real question isn't if Whittaker is the right choice for the job, but how will new showrunner Chris Chibnall make sure this new Doctor lives up to her potential.
As a gay Whovian, it's a question I don't take lightly. It's not just female characters and characters of color that have historically received short shrift on the show. LGBTQ characters have also appeared occasionally, often with great fanfare, only to be written poorly or sidelined too soon. Would a woman as the title character receive the same treatment? To find out (and to pass the time while stuck in the traffic jam), I took to the interwebs to ask an array of Whovians (mostly queer, but some allies as well) if they would share what it would take to make them proudly say, "13 is my Doctor." There were lots of feels:
The show needs to keep pushing for diversity in the TARDIS. A female Doctor is great, but not if that's the endpoint. The show is still too white, straight, and cis-gender male. Jodie has to be the start of something bigger, not just a token.
With a woman lead, they need to really address a lot of microaggressions and everyday misogyny. It shouldn't be the main point show, though.
She would need to regenerate again, this time into a woman of color.
It would be amazing if the Doctor was canonically bisexual, since there have been romances with women in the past.
I want the Doctor's female qualities to be there, but just not in the forefront. Make her an exciting, clever, person who goes on great adventures… who just happens to be female.
I would love if [the writers] continued the discussion that Gallifreyans are beyond gender, which was started this season. I would love her to be queer/trans/gender nonconforming, but I’ll be happy as long as she’s woke.
No romantic entanglements for now. Don't want the show to portray females as need sexual tension to be interesting.
I want to see how she experiences sexism throughout time and space, after being male for a few thousand years. I want to see what happens when some male character tries to mansplain things to the smartest being in the universe. If this facet of womanhood is ignored, I will be severely disappointed.
I hope they deal with diverse issues better than they did with Bill. She was mostly just a token "I like girls" character, instead of a multifaceted person. I need the new Doctor to be more than her gender or sexuality.
I want her to have a straight female companion, not just to underscore the fact that there doesn't have to be a love connection between the Doctor and the companion, but to but to allow for discussions of minority issues that are more profound than simple attraction.
Of course, one person—even a well-written Time Lord played by a talented actor—can't represent all things to all people. And there is still plenty of new ground that needs to be covered for the show to be seen as consistently inclusive. But what surprised me, were the amount of queer Whovians who admitted that they had never been more excited, and that the announcement made them cry. Even if the actor they wanted wasn't picked for the part. Even if they felt Whittaker wasn’t bold enough of a choice. Even if they hadn’t been thrilled with the direction of the show in recent years.
But maybe I shouldn't have been so shocked. Especially in the current political climate, when many viewers wish they could run away from reality in the TARDIS. After all, on the show, the Doctor tends to bring out the best in those around him, and maybe fans feel that Whittaker's selection could help make that happen in real life, too. As the Doctor stated right before the current regeneration began, "Where there's tears, there's hope." So bring on, the new Doctor. Allons-y!