doctor who, sexual subtext, and gender fluidity

Yesterday, the actor to play the twelfth regeneration for the Doctor was announced. He’s Scottish, 55 years old, and his name is Peter Capaldi.


Whilst scrolling through Facebook, I made mental note of a status: “Oh look, another white dude got cast as the Doctor.” Gender, race, and Doctor Who? Well if that ain’t just my favorite type of conversation!

For those who don’t know: Doctor Who is a British television program that has run for the past 50 years. It’s about an alien who looks suspiciously like a human, and he can travel through time and space in his spaceship, the TARDIS, which looks suspiciously like a blue police box. The show has been able to last since the 1960s because the Doctor has the ability to regenerate instead of die. (Alien, remember? By now, he’s over 1,000 years old.)

Since Doctor Who‘s beginnings, the Doctor has never regenerated as a woman. However, even the possibility of a woman Doctor opens up the character and the show to a multitude of play in gender fluidity and sexuality. The dialogue is already bubbling over with jokes involving sexual subtext. My personal favorites are the references to Queen Elizabeth, known in history as The Virgin Queen (The Tenth Doctor’s recapping of adventures not shown on screen: “Got married! That was a mistake. Good Queen Bess. And let me tell you, her nickname is no longer… anyway.” Did I mention that this program is supposedly for children?) Moreover, the Doctor’s relationship with a number of his companions has been hinted at as, at the very least, romantic. Keeping in mind the Doctor’s marriage to Professor River Song and his current flirtation with Clara Oswald, the writers of the show would not only be making a significant social statement by stepping in the direction of normalizing non-heterosexual orientations, but they could create entire story arcs based on wordplay. Can you imagine?

That being said, I’m not upset with the choice of Peter Capaldi. I’ve seen a few clips of his acting on Youtube, and watched his somewhat small roles as Sid’s dad on Skins and news director Randall Brown on The Hour. He’s a brilliant actor, and I am dying to see a foul-mouthed Doctor. It won’t happen, of course, thanks to those children (constantly ruining good tv).

So I like him, and I like his language, but I don’t like the way he was chosen. Showrunner Steven Moffat essentially refused to consider a woman Doctor, and said, “Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women. [They were] saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman!’”

I wonder if Moffat knows why it’s completely logical for him to get into trouble for mentioning that (glad his interaction with a few women represent the entire half of our population!), particularly when everyone from Helen Mirren to current Doctor Matt Smith have expressed interest in a female Doctor. I’m tired of the excuse that the viewers simply wouldn’t be ready for a woman and the gender and sexual implications involved in the switch, particularly since societal norms are largely shaped (or perhaps more–or less–optimistically, largely influenced) by television and other forms of popular culture. Despite Moffat’s seeming hopes, it’s impossible not to make a political statement on a program that is so widespread and influential.

I’d love to discuss race as well tonight, but I’m still living without Internet and thus at the mercy of McDonald’s opening hours. Eleven o’clock is quickly approaching, which means that I need to get the eff out (not unlike the way that Steven Moffat needs to get the eff out of the BBC).

Until tomorrow, all. Happy Shark Week.


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