So the new Doctor Who is female.
This has, as you can perhaps imagine, generated a deluge of responses on that great and reasoned platform for discussion, social media. I have seen responses ranging from someone saying quite plainly and simply that they now have little interesting in watching the show if it has a female lead – which while disappointing is, at least, honest – to the response of ‘as a father of daughters, I approve’.
That last comment, for reference, was made by Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor Who.
For my money, I think that that new incumbent, Jodie Whittaker, is an excellent actress and I look forward to seeing if she can bring something new to the show. I hope, most sincerely, that the writing improves to do her talent justice, because the writing has been so horribly hit and miss since the show’s revival.
But of course, people are conveniently avoiding that discussion. Right now, it’s more about the gender issue. I have seen people on both sides of the divide saying some fairly horrendous things about the other side. It was curious to note just how many women were seemingly against the decision. Now, I’m sure that one of those reasons might well be that ‘women like to enjoy looking at pretty boys’, but let’s be honest, with the exception of David Tennant, none of the ‘New Who’ actors have been eye candy, have they? No. All that effort went into pretty, vapid assistants.
The fact that the last companion, Bill, was gay upset a lot of men. It’s the Doctor Who production team’s endless agenda, they cried. I found Bill to be one of the most enjoyable companions of the New Who to date (although still nowhere near the brilliance that was Catherine Tate).
So the eye candy argument is obviously a thing, although not one I particularly care to subscribe to. For me, my biggest concern as a woman is that Jodie Whittaker will be used as a scapegoat if the writing doesn’t improve. “Of course it’s crap,” someone will say, a little further down the road. “There’s a female Doctor.”
I believe the writers may have erred by banging the Missy/Master drum just a little too loud during the last series. All the heavy hinting that #13 would be woman (‘perhaps the future is all female’, ’let’s hope so’ is hardly subtle) meant that when Jodie’s announcement came, it was less of a shock, but every bit as controversial.
The time is right for change, says one section of the internet – men and women alike. A Doctor to represent the changing face of society.
Women can’t fly spaceships, argues another section of the internet. A woman can’t solve the kind of issues the Doctor faces, they continue, even though we all stopped listening after their first declaration. Their comments slither like little poisonous snakes into every discussion on the topic. Doctor Who can’t be a woman. It’s the worst thing ever. The entire economy of the first world is going to collapse as a result of this farcical decision.
Alright, perhaps that last bit is me being facetious, but you get the idea.
And then there was this comment.
She’s not even that hot. They could have cast someone better-looking.
What. The. Actual. Fuck? (That one WAS a male comment, by the way. I suspect that Bill would have disagreed and part of me hopes that #13 gets to meet Bill in some form. I have this lovely thought in my head that the Doctor’s regenerations are somehow influenced by the time they spend with their companions).
People are passionate about fandoms, I get that and I understand it. But when the line is crossed, when it stops being about the fandom and starts becoming personal, then there’s a massive, massive issue.
I have experienced this – on a minute scale – when I was contributing to the Warhammer pantheon of tales. Let me caveat this from the start with the statement that the majority of feedback, reviews and comments I received from the beginning were overwhelmingly positive. Even though I’m not writing for BL now, I still love the setting and the people.
Positive things included the two girls at Games Day who said that thanks to me, they felt like they could have a go at writing sci-fi/fantasy stuff. The shop manager who told me he liked it when I visited the shop, because it made other female customers feel less intimidated about coming in. All the friends I’ve made.
But there were… horrible things. I have long since deleted the toxic forum and Facebook PMs, Tweets and so forth I received over the time I wrote for the Black Library because believe you me, nobody needs that in their life. But you don’t forget them.
Let me give you a sampler of some of the things that were said to me. They seem oddly comical when taken out of context, but I want you to appreciate that they were most definitely not meant to be. They were the choice phrases out of what were bodies of aggressive text.
“I see you are writing for BL. Don’t. It doesn’t need women’s points of view.”
“Unless Space Marines start having periods, there’s no need for you to write stories.”
“So I suppose they’ll all be handsome, now, then.”
“What do you know about being a Space Marine?” I’ve often wondered about this. Who DOES know about being a fictional, genetically-enhanced superhuman?
And those were just the things directly attributed to the writing. There were more personal comments, too, which I’m not going to repeat here, but suffice it to say that they weren’t pleasant ones.
I stood behind two guys in Waterstones back when The Gildar Rift was first released. One was reading the back-cover blurb and I was watching, feeling that strange sense of delight that comes when watching someone look at your baby. Then his friend tapped on the cover.
“Wouldn’t bother,” he said. “Written by a woman, innit?”
The baby was put back on the shelf.
I didn’t say anything, of course I didn’t. In hindsight, I probably still wouldn’t have said anything. But I was…
Whatever that feeling is, I felt it.
In any fandom, there is an element of toxicity. When it bubbles to the surface, it reveals an ugly, unpleasant side to what should be something enjoyable. It’s the same with Doctor Who. I think Jodie Whittaker is going to have a lot worse than I did and I’m embarrassed on behalf of those of us who love the show and its concepts. I’m ashamed on behalf of my own species, both male and female who are so vehemently against her taking the role and who have condemned her before she’s even had a chance.
She won’t be in for an easy ride. She’s smart, however, and isn’t on Twitter. I dread to think what sort of abuse and threats would have been hurled her way already. That is not right in anybody’s books. If you think threatening and insulting someone just because they’ve got the wrong chromosomes for your beloved fandom, then frankly, sling your hook.
I think, given the right scripts and an appropriate companion (alien would be brilliant), she will prove people quite wrong. She will open up the fandom to a new generation of little girls who can have a fantastic role model.
Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all.
Good luck, Jodie. SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT.