Whittaker becomes BBC’s first female Doctor, signaling larger cultural shift

John Folsom, Editor-in-Chief

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For 55 years, the role of “the Doctor” on BBC’s most recognizable program has only been portrayed by males. Thanks to the casting of Jodie Whittaker, a new era of the show has begun.

“Doctor Who” is one of the most popular British television shows in history. It has been airing since 1963, and in that time, the lead role has been held by 12 different actors, all of whom were men. Fans of the show know the character can be any gender, let alone species, due to its ability to regenerate, but the change has still generated both praise and criticism from the show’s dedicated fanbase.

“‘Doctor Who’ has been a huge part of the culture for so long that I think this change represents a
cultural shift,” secondary social studies teacher Chene Olgar said. “It gives people a role model, so I think it’s a very good thing.”

While the character’s regeneration is usually met with some criticism from fans who don’t like the chosen actor, Whittaker has been scrutinized solely because she is a woman. It’s blatantly obvious that these criticisms are either misinformed or a product of unadulterated bigotry and misogyny.

“It’s wrong to demean women in such a way that can not only affect them, but also other women in society,” senior Monique Marini said. “Things like that make women believe that they are less capable just because they’re a woman.”

Of those who object to the change, most argue that either the character “can’t” be a woman or that the BBC, which has produced the show since its inception, made the decision for political reasons. They see it as a kind of publicity stunt or a reaction to society’s recent (and necessary) increased focus on women’s rights. The network has disagreed with both of these claims, citing that the character may change to any species or gender and that Whittaker won the job fair and square. To any who believe having a woman in the role is “unrealistic” or “outlandish,” the network has pointed out that the Doctor is a time traveling alien that has two hearts and is over 2,000 years old. In essence, they want viewers to realize that the character has many unorthodox qualities, and incorporating one more would just continue to add to the character.

“Some people may be angered over this trend because they may like [‘Doctor Who’] the way it was originally made and are not wanting to see it changed,” senior Jesse Stephens said. “I don’t think that this argument is valid because the world is changing, and we need to start to have greater diversity in these leading roles.”

Not all of the previous actors to play the role agree on the casting. The fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, argued that the character provided a role model for young boys, who also need someone to look up to. However, what he fails to understand is a statement best summed up by Colin Baker, another actor that took on the role: “you don’t have to be of a gender to be a role model.” Of the more recent actors to play the part, nearly all wholeheartedly support Whittaker and the BBC.

“Right now in society we’re seeing so many different changes,” Marini said. “Women and girls have been put down for so long that the changes we’re seeing are incredibly important for young girls. They are in much greater need of role models than young boys.”

This instance of a woman portraying a historically male character is but one example of a global cinematic trend. American movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Oceans 8,” which were successful at the box office, brought new perspectives to films that had previously lacked female representation. These films were highly anticipated despite the fact that neither film scored higher than a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not only are these types of films important to continuing the conversation of women’s role in society, but they’re profitable for studios as well. These movies may not have been Oscar winners, but the refreshing aspect of having a largely female cast was felt by many people around the world, raking in millions of dollars for all stakeholders involved.

“Some stories are very universal. When you switch the genders, you can tell the same story and also have another angle to it,” Olgar said.
More representation is never a bad thing. One benefit of having more representation is the effect that it can have on young women and girls. By seeing someone who looks like them on screen, children can be inspired to take on those roles in their lives. Boys have ample opportunities to relate to leading actors on screen; it won’t hurt to spread the wealth a little.

“Girls are affected a lot by seeing strong women take on these big roles in movies because it can inspire young girls to be empowered, and it gives them a strong message that one day, they too can be successful,” Stephens said.

“Doctor Who’s” Oct. 7 season premiere grossed 10.8 million viewers. This is the largest audience for a season opener since the rebirth of the series in 2005. Whether or not people agree with the casting of Whittaker, audiences were clearly interested enough to tune in, and the show is currently experiencing a revival thanks to the revitalization provided by Whittaker. Audiences are sending a clear message: diversity is important.

“I really like that the movie industry is starting to finally see that men and women’s roles in society are changing,” Stephens said. “They see that using powerful women in leading roles will help bring a fresh touch to the narrative and reach another type of audience.”