Can We Talk About The Reaction To The New Doctor Who?

Full disclosure, I’m not nor ever have been a Doctor Who fan. In fact, I wrote a column a few years ago politely asking the more . . . dedicated . . . members of the good Doctor’s fan base to kindly leave me alone when I told them I wasn’t a fan (and yes, I did catch some fan flak for my trouble). So when the BBC announced that Jodie Whittaker was cast as the 13th Doctor last week, causing more than a little misogynist uproar in some online circles, well you might think I wouldn’t have any skin in this particular fight.

Except I do. And if you’re reading this little diatribe on this little website, so do you.

Announcements of new actors are treated like Christmas by the Doctor’s extensive fandom. It is my general understanding that the selections are greeted by a combination of excitement, approval and the customary complaining. The whole process reminds me a little of the annual lineup announcements for Bluefest here in Ottawa; lots of applause mixed with a lot of temper tantrums thrown on the Internet (remember when Kanye West played the Nation’s Capital a few years ago? You can still hear the online indignation).

But last week’s announcement was different, because last week the powers that be announced that, for the first time in his 54 year history, Doctor Who would be incarnated and portrayed as a woman. As you can imagine, the caterwauling was epic. And make no mistake, its still causing ripples in the entertainment world’s waters.

Departing show runner Steven Moffat angrily blamed the media for the backlash last weekend, claiming they were blowing it out of proportion and tarnishing the show’s fandom. And I really, really wish that were true, but I have to disagree with Mr. Moffat. The irony that his statement came just hours after Peter Davison (who played the fifth Doctor) claimed the casting deprived boys of a role model. The resulting social media explosion convinced Davison to scrap his Twitter account.

(Davison was called out particularly loudly another former Doctor, Colin Baker. Baker called Davison’s remarks “utter rubbish”).

Both the announcement and the resulting backlash were that they attracted plenty of media attention, but contrary to Moffat’s opinion it was not something anyone could dismiss as “fake news.” Venom, vitriol and thinly veiled misogyny were smeared across the websites of mainstream outlets like The Guardian, The Independent and even our own Ottawa Citizen, as well as industry trades like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and genre sources like io9 and IGN (to name but a few). Right wing British publications like The Sun and the Daily Mail online went one step further, publishing nude pictures from movies Whittaker had done years previous alongside editorials critical of the decision (because journalism?).

While most commentary was of the “I’m never going to watch this PC garbage again!” there was also plenty of “this is blatant pandering!” to go around too. And I have to wonder, if making a female Doctor is pandering to women, wouldn’t making him a white male (again) be pandering to white males? You know, the crowd that’s been in charge for the last couple thousand years or so and has given us slavery, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, the Donald Trump Presidency and Justin Bieber?

And you’ll also have to excuse me if I find the idea that you can suspend your disbelief enough to buy a guy wearing a hubcap as an interstellar conqueror but a trans dimensional, regenerative, near immortal being that casually travels through time and space who has transcended the idea of biological gender entirely is too much for you . . . amusing.

I mean if that’s the case, you should probably check your fan card at the door. I’d tell you to tip your waitress on the way out but I suspect that you either hold women in poor regard or you’re deathly afraid of them.

It is times like this I’m reminded that the Nerd community isn’t always as inclusive as we like or hope it to be. Last year it was the female centric Ghostbusters reboot, a movie that was a victim of unprecedented and organized campaigns of online hate. And let’s not forget that #GamerGate was only a few years ago. It’s also a reminder that while we need to fearlessly push forward, we have to remain vigilant as well. Progress has a price, and incidents like this (and it will be far from the last) are the cost of refusing to look back or accept the status quo.

I both suspect and hope that many of the haters aren’t true Doctor Who fans, but rather are trolls lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on anything that offends their fragile male egos. But you know what, while I may not be a Doctor Who fan, this whole brouhaha has convinced me to check out the new Doctor’s first episode or two when she hits the small screen.

Who knows, maybe a fresh, female face is just what the doctor ordered to bring a new generation of fans to the franchise. I wonder, what are the odds that was what the BBC was thinking the whole time?