Fandoms are passionate. Some more than others. It might seem odd to pen a piece about a fandom's reaction to casting, because, well…it's a TV show! But I am a fan and the cultural response is worth looking at.
The bruhaha over the new choice for Doctor Who has stirred the fandom pot with Traditionalists simply crossing their arms with a firm, simple, "No", Change-Avoiders having panic attacks, hugging themselves and whimpering, "No no no no", Haters (who aren't true members of the fandom, in my opinion) who will hate no matter what, and yes, Sexists who simply state that a woman has no business playing that role.
I'm intrigued by all of these negative reactions. I understand some of them. I agree with none of them.
But what is most bothersome to me, to be honest, is the slew of women coming out swinging with a feminist rant. Accusing opposers of the choice of wanting to keep women in the shadows, oppressed, that by their thinking women should still be barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen.
I'm sorry, WHAT? No. Just no. Please, ladies, everything is not a feminist dig and making it so diminishes the things that are.
Doctor Who has progressed with female characters throughout its run. Rose Tyler was no wallflower or pushover. Donna Noble pushed the Doctor around and saved the world. River Song - excuse me…but if ever there was a character that was most like The Doctor but female…there she is.
That's not what this casting choice is about. It's about more. It's about less.
Casting a woman as Doctor Who is on one hand a choice to move the show overall in a different direction, to stir the pot, keep it new, create challenges that will keep the show interesting and save it from growing staid and stale.
Cries of 'mythology foul' because a child was sired in the past doesn't make sense on many fronts, not the least of which is that if the show stayed true to original mythology then it would be over, as Matt Smith's Doctor had run out of regenerations.
Mythologies can be creatively tinkered with.
Foul that 'he' has "always been a man" rings about as valid to me as "it's always been done this way". Both arguments, used alone as a reason, are almost always certain to lead to doom. What's more The Master had been a man as well, but recently regenerated into Missy but the same uproar wasn't heard. Why? And if anyone needed proof that a canonically male character could be played by woman, she was it.
But back to the feminism thing. Here's why it's not about feminism…
The entire last season dropped hints and laid seeds on something else: gender. The first openly gay character became The Doctor's companion. That openly gay character ended up flying off into the sunset with an alien who had kept its human form -- a female. The end of the series dropped all sort of hints:
DOCTOR: She was my first friend, always so brilliant, from the first day at the Academy. So fast, so funny. She was my man crush.
BILL: I'm sorry?
DOCTOR: Yeah, I think she was a man back then. I'm fairly certain I was, too. It was a long time ago, though.
BILL: So, the Time Lords, bit flexible on the whole man-woman thing, yeah?
DOCTOR: We're the most civilized civilization in the universe. We're billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.
And near the end:
MASTER: Do as she says… Is the future going to be all girls?
DOCTOR: We can only hope.
This is not about feminism. It's about gender. About what gender means. The Doctor can be in a female body (just like Missy), but still must be The Doctor -- with the same memories, the same personality traits, the same struggles and approach to her role in the universe. She will move in a female form but Who she is must remain constant. It speaks to what gender really means and how little an impact it could (perhaps should) have. Gender fluid, non-binaries already get this. It's Who they are. This could very well illustrate it for the rest of us.
It also offers tremendous story opportunities in reconciling a new female body with his/her past. River Song, for instance. Which again, ties back to gender identity/fluidity.
And simple humanity.
I'm not with the show. I have no idea of intention. But if you look at dialogue, off-hand remarks given by Capaldi's Doctor this whole last season, I do think the show has chosen to walk the path of gender being unimportant. It is the character that matters. The spirit, the mind, the intention. What body that travels in is irrelevant.
Art has always been a mirror for the world. Doctor Who has been around for so long that in order to survive and stay fresh, to speak to each new generation and build on the fanbase, it must evolve. This is Who we are now. Who we are becoming. This generation is more tolerant, accepting and has more people identifying as gay or, more importantly, in fluid ways than ever before. They are saying that gender is irrelevant. It's not the focus.
If that's Who we are becoming, why not Doctor Who.
I will bet that for every angry, petulant and disappointed "No", there will be a handful of, "Well…duh."
But beyond all that…it's just damned cool, it's a big yay for female cosplayers, and I, for one, cannot wait to see where this Doctor takes us.
It's a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey adventure! Enjoy the ride!