Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Why the Doctor Can't Be a Woman

I've been re-watching episodes of Doctor Who from season 4 onwards while I wait out the plague.  There are things about each Doctor that puts a pleasant little squeeze on my heart: the way Nine says "fantastic" in his Manchester accent, Ten's openmouthed exclamations, and Eleven's arm-flapping and slurring, soulful speeches--Smith is arguably the best NuWho Doctor, his range is amazing and original--and that's one of the things that makes this show immortal.

There's always going to be feet-dragging from the audience in response to change of any kind, but its the flexibility inherent in the character and his casting that allow Doctor Who to go on and on.  When one storyline becomes stale, one version of the Doctor grows unsympathetic, or the themes sway in significance, all that can change.  Doctor Who demonstrates survival of the fittest for television series!

There is one thing, however, I firmly believe will never come to pass in the Whoniverse.  The Doctor cannot be a woman.

David Tennant's sideburn's tumblr, haha.

This is where I'd popularly bemoan the inherent misogynism of All Things and rant about the fact that our civilization could never accept a woman as the Cleverest Person in the Universe.  But I won't, and not because I recoil from the idea of a powerful, intelligent, and commanding female.  I was as put out as the next self-respecting woman when the writers put in that bit about "an enigma squeezed into a mystery squeezed into a skirt that's just a little bit too tight" comment.  (Incidentally, I was really unnerved at Amy Pond's kissing assault on him, so that I never really forgave her or liked her after that.)

The reasons why the Doctor will never be a woman, as long as it is necessary to pique the interest of human nature, is because women are different from men and men are different from women; and men and women are more different from each other than different races, different heights, ethnic groups, or hair colors, etc.  To change the gender of the doctor would be to distort the character of the Doctor beyond recognition.  It would be like making the Doctor an Ood or Sontaran or a dog.  Not gonna happen.

Think about the current controversy surrounding transgenderism.  It's no light thing, no matter from what point-of-view.  Trans-folks will attest to the fact that gender is far from irrelevant but a deeply psychological, soul-defining fact.  Not a trait.  A state of being.  I don't think I speak out of turn here when I say that for trans-people, gender reassignment isn't a mere makeover.  It's a becoming of themselves.

It's not possible to flippantly change the Doctor's gender, even if the possibility of it is, for all intents and purposes, canon in the Doctor Who universe.

A change like that would be monumental and irrevocable in its reimagining of the beloved character: either the Doctor was a woman in a man's body the whole time or he is a man in a woman's body now.  Problems abound.  And even though that could be used as a very enticing and thought-provoking story premise, there is no room for such a fundamental paradigm shift in the focus of the series without completely unmaking it.  It's not in the nature of Doctor Who to go down that path.  If it did, it would unravel into something much more mature and sinister (which is one of the reasons for the Torchwood spinoff).

The nature of identity in DW has been experimented with before with secondary characters: interspecies relationships between cats-and-humans and lizards-and-humans, for example.  Jack Harkness was immortal and pansexual.  The latest plot with Master/Missy is one step away from a gender-swapping Doctor.  And while it is necessary for the survival of a series for the main character to evolve, to change, to grow, to fall back, to pick himself up again, to fail, and to renew his commitment to Being a Force for Good, it is completely impossible for the main character to cease being himself.

I believe that is what a change of gender for the Doctor will do.  Either the Doctor before the change or the Doctor after the change will be made false.  They can't both be true.  And when the Doctor is false, he is not real to the audience, and there is no Doctor for us to care about.


This is how I've thought it through so far, but I'm always likely to miss something.  Change my mind!  What do you think?  Can the Doctor ever be a woman without setting up the show for failure?

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