In which I have thoughts about Doctor Who and writing

I decided at the weekend that this week I would blow the dust off my blog and get back into it. I was going to post my traditional ‘What I learnt at the RNA Conference’ post, where I would have talked about Jill Mansell writing long-hand and the importance of not stalking reviewers or literary agents. I would have illustrated the whole thing with this picture of me with my colleague, Janet Gover, and my agent, Julia Silk.

And it would have been very lovely. But since then I have become distracted by the news the next Doctor is going to be played by a woman.

This has been met by delight, indifference and horror in difference circles, so I thought I’d take a minute to explain why I’m delighted. The first thing to say is that I didn’t expect to be delighted. I’d sort of guessed from the last episode of the most recent series that they were going to take the plunge, and I thought that would be fine. I’ve never been a particular fan of the idea of pushing for specific roles to be played by non white male actors. I tend towards the view that diversity needs to be more diverse than that. It principally matters, I would have said, that Bond is always a white bloke, because there are so few comparable roles that aren’t. If there were more other films with Asian female super-spies, for example, Bond’s whiteness would matter less. So I figured the Doctor could be any ethnicity or gender and I would be equally fine – for me, I thought, it was more about the individual they cast.

But when I watched the announcement roll past on twitter and clicked and refreshed like a crazy person on my phone to find the video clip introducing Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor I did well up a tiny bit. I’m old enough to have liked Doctor Who the first time around – by which I mean pre-1989, not the actual first time around with Doctor number 1. I’m the lone crazy person who really liked Sylvester McCoy, and I really really liked his companion. She was Ace, and indeed ace. She was chippy and reckless and liked to blow stuff up. I very much wanted to be Ace. It only strikes me now that I didn’t want to be the Doctor. I wanted to run away with the Doctor, but I didn’t think I wanted to be the Doctor. Now the eleven year old me out there somewhere feels like she’s allowed to want to be the Doctor too. And that feels good. Really good.

I’ve also seen a lot of comments that the casting is gimmicky, or tokenistic. That makes me want to be shouty. I shall try not to be. Firstly, I don’t think we can know if something is gimmicky until we’ve seen the episodes. Secondly, there has been some casting in Doctor Who that has looked seriously gimmicky and has worked out fabulously. Two of the most successful companions of the post-2005 era are Rose and Donna. Billie Piper was best known as a teen popstar and former spouse of Chris Evans when she was cast. Catherine Tate was best known as a sketch show comedian. Either of those could have been described as gimmicky – both were brilliant. And Jodie Whittaker has serious acting class – nothing gimmicky at all about that.

Ultimately though the part of me that wants to defend this change so passionately is the writer. The assumption seems to be that this is a casting that has been made for box-ticking or PR reasons. Until we’ve seen the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall’s, episodes with his version of the Doctor, I think it’s right to keep the faith that this is a creative, writerly decision. Recently the Doctor has seen his oldest friend regenerate as a woman. He’s seen his newest friend transformed into a Cyberman and choose to die rather than live as something other than herself. He’s lost his wife. He’s beyond his original regeneration cycle. He’s lived through more selves than he was ever supposed to have. And, for the Christmas special, it appears he finds himself face to face with the very first incarnation of himself – the old man who used to be a young boy who stole a blue box and ran away. We’ve also seen a Doctor who appears to have more control over the regeneration process than we’re used to. Capaldi’s Doctor was able to choose to resist and slow the regeneration process in the closing episode of the last series. David Tennant’s Doctor was able to choose to regenerate the same body.

Is it fanciful to think that a man that old, a man whose seen that much, might choose to start afresh in a wholly different new body? As a writer, that feels like a perfectly well thought out character arc to me.

Of course I could be wrong. The Christmas Special could play out quite differently to that. But I’m excited to find out what happens and what happens next.

One last thing – some of you will be thinking it’s silly to care about Doctor Who because it’s for children. Well, yes – it is silly. But caring about the Handmaid’s Tale is also silly. And caring about Lizzie and Mr Darcy is silly too. They’re all just made up people at the end of the day. Silliness is brilliant. Do try not to grow out of it if you possibly can.

Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

7 thoughts on “In which I have thoughts about Doctor Who and writing”

  1. Entirely agree. I actually AM old enough to have seen Dr Who the very first time around. I also liked Sylvester McCoy and I adored Ace. And the first shot of Jodie Whittaker we’ve been shown couldn’t BE more The Doctor.

    Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m too young to have seen any of the classics – or when Doctor Who came back, in the way that I was not interested at the age of ten or so – and only got into the show around 3 – 4 years ago. I’m pleased with the new direction, and it is somewhat progress (along with when they introduced Bill, a black gay character, which was again a fantastic decision) and one that I hope will continue to influence the show in years to come. I’ve seen several people complain about The Doctor now being a woman, as far as to say they think that they will now have to be like a woman because The Doctor has always been their role model, which is an odd way of thinking.

    I’ve also seen people regard this as a step back, when in my view, it is the complete opposite. Including more diversity – not only in sci-fi, but all genres of film and TV – have proven to be successful. Look at Hidden Figures, or Moonlight, the upcoming Black Panther film or Wonder Woman, the series Cucumber and Banana written by Doctor Who writer, Russel T Davis. I will say that while this is a step in the right direction, much more diversity needs to be included, including characters who are LGBT, people of colour, who have a disability.

    I have confidence though, that with the new show runner, and somewhat ‘clean slate’, that they will continue to make these kinds of changes. Of course, we’ve yet to see what Whitaker will be like, but again, she’s a good actor, so I’ve good feelings about that too.

    Whew. Rambled on a bit there!


    1. I’m all in favour of more diversity on screen (and stage and in books, comics etc) too. I loved Bill – and I loved the fact that she was a lesbian character, but ‘lesbian’ wasn’t her whole character description. It was a part of who she was, an important part, but not the sole defining thing. More diversity all the way so far as I’m concerned.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely, it was great that they were still able to bring that in, but not make it so that’s all there is to her character. Totally agree. Hopefully she, and the new Doctor, will be an example of why diversity is so welcomed.


  3. Sylvester McCoy was brilliant. You didn’t mention that the acest thing about Ace was that she replaced Bonnie Langford who was not Ace.

    I think they’re ticking a box, but that’s not to say it’s not a box that should be ticked, or that she’ll be any less good for having done that. I was bored with the whole thing and have not watched the last season. This renews my interest…


    1. I enjoyed the last season. I thought Bill worked better as a companion to Peter C’s Doctor than Clara did. The whole series felt much fresher and sparkier to me. And yes Bonnie Langford was most definitely not Ace.


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