Race and Gender in Doctor Who: Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

By Keidra Chaney


So, OK. Did anyone really think that we’d have a non-white male Doctor this time? Really? Because if you did, I salute you because you definitely have more hope for the present day pop-culture powers that be than I do.

Let me preface this by saying, I have no qualms with the choice of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, I actually don’t know very much about him as an actor, and I’ll never know about his performance in World War Z because I have an aversion to zombies. I’m not touching that film. Honestly, I am impressed that the Doctor is over 50, I was never expecting to see that again, considering the trend towards younger and younger actors as the Doctor helped to make the show more palatable to teens and to those who may have been turned off by the old school “grandpa or weird old uncle” vibe of Doctor Who. I honestly, sadly think a 55-year old Doctor is a bold move in the post-RTD/Moffat era. (And yes, I know we’ve had young-ish Doctors in the past.)

But despite the speculation, petitions and general outcry, I never really expected a female doctor to happen, and I honestly don’t expect it to happen for a long time. We may see a non-white Doctor, and it’s rumored we might have gotten it this time around, if Neil Gaiman is to be believed. I suspect the guy in question was Idris Elba, and if that was the case he made a good choice. He’s like Britain’s Will Smith. He has his sights for something bigger (and if those sights include a Pacific Rim prequel along the way I WILL TAKE IT.)

But the fact is, a woman Doctor with Moffat as showrunner is not gonna happen, and even if it did happen, it would probably suck. We’ve written about Moffat’s lady issue on TLF before.But even if he did decide to cast a woman as the Doctor, I am sure he’d have her knocked up by mid-season or following her male companion around all WHY WON’T YOU MARRY ME. He can’t write women without throwing marriage and babies because it’s all we live for, you know. Or, even worse, he’ll have a woman doctor and a woman companion and it will just be Bechdel Test FAIL in every episode as they fight and sigh over random guys they meet and fret over their biological clocks.

When it comes to race and Doctor Who it’s equally complicated. And this complication isn’t limited to Doctor Who, or sci-fi, or television. The fact is when it comes to television in general, white males are the assumed default, which is a DUH considering that white guys are 98% of the showrunners, producers, and writers of these shows. Until the pop-culture collective lens acknowledges that universality of life experience is not the sole domain of white guys, we’ll always get white guys in these iconic roles defining said experiences. And the only way that is going to happen is through more non-white guys getting their stories told in television and film.

And let’s face it Doctor Who (like most science fiction shows of its ilk) a long history of stories that reflect a very Eurocentric and colonialist cultural perspective of going around to different worlds, times and cultures and telling them What’s Best For Them. Not just Doctor Who mind you, so don’t get your panties in a twist, you can see it in show’s like (early) Star Trek as well. Feel free to nitpick the finer points of Who or Trek all you want, to me, this is about the collective, historical failure of the television industry as a whole.

But in contemporary Who, we have Martha! Yay Martha! She got to go back in time and be a maid! (Wait…)


Oh yes, and Mickey, issue’s of race were not really a part of Mickey’s story in any way, though you could argue that shoehorning a relationship with Martha at the last minute in that awkward way that some white people like to play matchmaker with their only two black-opposite sex friends YOU KNOW IT HAPPENS was all about race. But – and I am going to presume at this point that there aren’t any writers of color on staff with Doctor Who – imagine if there were, and how characters of color and their lived experiences and their histories and their perspectives may be integrated in a way that doesn’t seem peripheral. I had hope during the Russell T. Davies years, because there were scenes in his underrated Queer As Folk that made me think he got it, on a surface level with the black female character of Donna (he LOVES to reuse names, that RTD) but it never happened, when the time came. His stories put women and people of color in the same box of character periphery.

So while I am so on board for a woman Doctor or a Black doctor or OMG an Asian doctor HOLY CRAP CAN YOU IMAGINE, I am even more on board for a shift in Doctor Who’s storytelling overall, a perspective that isn’t rooted in the perspective and history of presumed whiteness, presumed maleness. That is when we will really see some progress.

Comments (2)

I’m admittedly excited about this new Doctor fella, because honestly–Smith just didn’t work for me past his first season.

But, on another note…if one wants to talk about the racial implications of this show, it only takes going back to the early DW years to see some fairly serious racism in action on the screen. Just because it’s no longer as blatant doesn’t mean it’s good or right in its current incarnation. They still have a long way to go.

WORD to everything you wrote (and I couldn’t care less about Doctor Who). Also, check out Peter Capaldi in the film “In the Loop.” He plays foul-mouthed political strategist Malcolm Tucker, which made him a semi-star in the UK (the film is actually a spinoff of the UK TV show “The Thick of It,” in which Capaldi originated the character. Both TV show and film were created by Armando Iannucci, the guy behind the HBO series “Veep”).

Okay. I’m done now.

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