Playing Doctor (Who)

When I was ten years old, all I wanted to be was a scientific adviser. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I knew that was the Doctor’s position at UNIT, and the Doctor was always helping UNIT out and saving them from evil aliens, and I loved the Doctor, therefore being a scientific adviser seemed like a perfect job. Who wouldn’t want to be more like their childhood hero?

I grew up watching Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen on BBC America, and I wanted to be the one wearing the scarf, wielding the sonic screwdriver, being smart, always helpful and kind.

And then I grew older and saw that I would never be the scientific adviser, only the assistant, the one passing along the Doctor’s test tubes, as Liz Shaw and the Brigadier would say, and tell him how brilliant he is. And I forgot that being the Doctor would ever be possible.

So I became, ironically, a Sarah Jane Smith instead, going into college journalism once I got old enough (the irony being that my parents originally named me after said character and didn’t tell me until I actually saw the show for the first time). I struck out on my own path, like Sarah Jane did in the original series, not exactly in Croydon but sure footed nonetheless.

And somewhere along the way, I wondered what it would be like to be the Doctor. And not long after is when the Thirteenth Doctor was revealed.

In 2017, seeing Jodie Whittaker’s name as the next Doctor is a revelation. It is a dream come true. It is the ultimate message to young girls like myself who grew up watching the Doctor and dreamt of piloting the TARDIS but felt like they couldn’t: oh, but you can!

One of the greatest, inspiring things about the Doctor Who franchise is that the Doctor constantly inspires us to be better people, to be kinder, wiser, helpful people. They teach us that we can all be the heroes in our own lives, in our own ways, on our own slow paths, even without a sonic screwdriver (Although wow, wouldn’t that be useful? Modern science, quick sidebar, when is this going to be a real thing?). And yet, until now, the Doctor has only physically reflected one aspect of the human race consistently: male*. The women have constantly seen themselves only in the role of the companion.

It is 2017, and the BBC has finally said, “no, everyone can be the Doctor.” And I wish I could tell my ten-year-old self how amazing a feeling that is.

*And white, and cisgender, and able-bodied. I know a lot of fans are disappointed it’s still a white Doctor. I was personally pulling for Richard Ayoade or Ruth Negga (or, the biggest long shot of my dream castings, Alexander Siddig – come on!). Whittaker, our first female (canonical!) Doctor, is progress, but after 50 plus years of all white male Doctors, you’d think we’d be farther along by now in actually having a line-up of Doctors that better represents the viewership?

Here are some Good Dang Tweets articulating better what I’ve said above (the last two are the beginning of longer threads):


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