The series' creator called for a woman thirty years ago. So why are some viewers still opposed to the idea?by James Cooray Smith / July 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
The idea of a female Doctor Who started off as a joke. Literally. In 1980, Tom Baker’s departure from the series was due to be announced and the actor—by his own account, after a few drinks in the BBC club—suggested to the series’ producer John Nathan-Turner that they could drop a hint to the press that the Fifth Doctor would be a woman. Nathan-Turner, who had a nose for publicity, agreed. “I certainly wish my successor luck whoever he—OR SHE—might be,” boomed Baker to assembled hacks, seemingly off the cuff. Cue headlines.
At the time, Doctor Who had only been cast four times, three of them during the nineteen sixties. The idea, even as a gag, was revolutionary. It wasn’t that there weren’t television series with female leads at the end of the seventies—in fact, there were probably more than there are now. It was the dazzling idea that an established character could change sex, onscreen, as part of the story, during an already-seen biological process. That idea, free to roam, would rear its head, briefly, whenever the part was recast in the twentieth century—each time prompting worried letters in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine and even in daily newspapers.
Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s Executive Producer from 2010 to 2017, used to make a habit, when asked if there was ever going to be a female Doctor, of throwing the question back to the audience. He’d ask for a show of hands as to who did and didn’t like the idea. Even half a decade ago, those audiences would be roughly balanced into pros and antis—although, as he noted, the proportion of “likes” was exponentially increasing every time he passed the question back.
In the last few years, the idea has gone from almost universally disliked to “Why hasn’t this happened already?”
Laying the canonical foundations
Moffat has played no small part in that himself. The first lines of dialogue given to Matt Smith’s Doctor, the first lines of Moffat’s era, see the newly regenerated Doctor, who cannot see his own face, wondering if he’s now female. A year later in “The Doctor’s Wife,” produced by Moffat and written by Neil Gaiman, the Doctor comments of a dead Time Lord friend The Corsair, “He didn’t feel himself unless he had a…