Doctor Who: BBC Cast Jodie Whittaker
This afternoon, the BBC announced that Jodie Whittaker would be the thirteenth incarnation of the Time Lord, Doctor Who; the first woman to be given the role. Quite predictably, the internet went into meltdown, with cheers from some quarters and howls of derision from others. I make no bones about the fact that I got a great deal of Schadenfreude from this. Why exactly? Well we’ll come back to that point a little later. First off let me say that I really don’t mind about this casting decision. From what I’ve seen, Jodie Whittaker is an extremely competent actor and if given robust and engaging material, will excel as the new Doctor. I have no axe to grind here, either from a lore or a socio-political perspective. If the shit fits, wear it, is what I say.
What I do find fascinating are some of the objections raised on Twitter and on the comments section of most major online news outlets. As there’s a lot of ground to cover I’ll try and keep it brief. Everyone, as ever, is entitled to their opinion but let us not forget that opinions are not of equal value. First off, if you object to the casting of Jodie Whittaker out of personal preference, IE there’s another actor you’d have rather seen play the role, then fine. That’s a perfectly okay stance to have. I got a Sainbury’s delivery the other day and they substituted toffee and vanilla ice cream cones with chocolate and nut ones. I prefer the former to the latter. Life is all about preferences of some kind, is it not?
However, there are objections being made which betray a mindset that there are clear gender roles within both fiction and real life and that a woman cannot be “The Doctor”. There are also certain fans who feel that the object of their affections should have some sort of protected status, define specifically by them. If they don’t like something, their fan status should be able to veto the offending decision. It is also not uncommon these days to see push back towards any sort of progressive socio-political decision. Culturally and politically, the west seems to be regressing with regard to social change. And let us not forget that incredulous notion, that a much loved worked of fiction can be “ruined” and that your fond memories can be sullied in some way. I guess this is some variant of the IPCRESS process.
All the above are frankly spurious objections. Some are born of sexism, some of fans intransigence or of outdated cultural conditioning and ideological baggage. Some protest are puerile, others mendacious and sadly a percentage are driven by pure hatred of any sort of social progression. What is important to bear in mind at present, is in the UK specifically, there is no clear majority mindset or consensus on political or social issues. We live in a very divided country and there is no prevailing moral stance. Recent political “surprises” such as Brexit have emboldened certain groups, who previously have kept their specific views hidden. Hence, we see claims that casting a woman is pandering to minority, despite the fact that women are hardly such a demographic. Yet sufficient people feel this way and are happy to express such an opinion.
I have no doubt that be it through personal preference, deep help beliefs or good old-fashioned prejudice, the next season of Doctor Who may well see some old school viewers refrain from watching. However, it is also very likely that this Doctor will also attract a new audience. And before we get into a debate about gender specific role models, can I put forward the rather quaint notion that a role model can potentially appeal to all, irrespective of gender, race, religion and shoe size. Yet despite the ongoing positivity in some quarters and the scope to broaden the viewer base for Doctor Who, it would be foolish to ignore certain practical business criteria. The BBC is a unique organisation but it is not immune from market forces. If for whatever reason they fumble the ball on the next season of Doctor Who and we see a substantial drop in global viewing figures and more importantly, sales, then this casting decision may well be reviewed. We do not yet live in an age where doing the right thing exclusively trumps business.
Finally, I want to return to my early point about Schadenfreude. Fellow blogger Syp (AKA Justin Olivetti) and all round nice guy tweeted this evening “It's like some people are genuinely excited that the new Doctor Who will upset others. Can't just be happy for what it is? I am”. I understand where this sentiment comes from and in principle, it is sound. Sadly, I do not think it is so easy to apply to many situations these days. This entire debacle over the thirteenth Doctor is in many ways a microcosm of the ongoing socio-political culture war. There is no overall prevailing ideology for change at present and politics is extremely sectarian. A percentage of the public have no appetite for further equality and would frankly like to see much of the progress of the recent decades rolled back. I do not wish to see this worldview fill the political vacuum. Sometimes you cannot steer the middle course and have to choose a side. You also have to robustly refute those views you feel are counterproductive. That at times means mocking and using humour, as it an effective political tool.
In the meantime, I shall await with a degree of excitement for the new season of Doctor Who that comes in 2018. I’m sure that the there’s a good chance that the current brouhaha will die down and if a good writing standard are maintained, the thirteenth Doctor will find her audience and keep the franchise popular and on course. Success in this instance would be the best way to counter future arguments along similar lines. Life is essentially about change and we need as a species to get better at dealing with it. Because the rancour that stems from resisting it, is frankly damaging to society.