Why Peter Davison is Wrong About a Female Doctor


Time Lord #5 has recently given an interview saying the Doctor should never be a woman, which is a bit confusing. Prior to Peter Capaldi being named the 12th Doctor, there was a huge, raging, nasty debate about whether or not 12 should mark a change in the 50-year run of white dudes playing the time- and space-travelling alien, The Doctor. Some suggested a woman, some suggested a person of color (regardless of gender), but what we got was, predictably, yet another white dude. It’s confusing, however, because this debate took place months ago, and is pretty much dead in the water.

Now don’t get me wrong — I adore Peter Capaldi and I know he’ll be amazing in the role. He was the one name that was suggested during that time period that I immediately thought, “Yes. Perfect.”

So to a certain extent, I feel like if it had to be a white dude, they got the best white dude possible. And, as a result, my frustration with Steven Moffat refusing to offer any kind of change was mostly abated.

So why is Davison bringing this up now? And, more importantly, after the dust has cleared, surely there should be some new arguments against a female Doctor. Instead, Davison trots out the usual, “Oh, it would be weird.” and “It would be like having a female James Bond.”

Well, it wouldn’t. There’s a fundamental difference — James Bond is a human man. The Doctor is an alien that literally changes form and who, according to the show’s own lore, can shift into anything when he regenerates.

As the Ninth Doctor once put it:

I might have two heads, or no head. Imagine me with no head! And don’t say that’s an improvement… But it’s a bit dodgy, this process. You never know what you’re going to end up with–

Add to that the fact that, when checking their new bodies, both the 10th and 11th Doctors are pleased to find they have, say, legs — let alone a penis. 11 even thinks for a moment that he has become a woman, due to his long hair, but his lack of breasts quickly puts an end to that.

So we know it’s possible. And we know that this character, up until very recently, wasn’t even particularly gendered anyway. It caused huge fan upset when the eighth Doctor kissed Grace in the television movie, and then again when the ninth Doctor kissed Rose (and Jack) at the end of his run. If anything, it’s been a far bigger adjustment to have the Doctor be a heterosexual male lead, rather than just a foppish Professorial dandy who traveled with, and seemed suspiciously uninterested in, young and attractive men and women.

So if you do have a problem with a female Doctor, and perhaps there are legitimate reasons for having that viewpoint, please do present them. But don’t tell me that a shape-shifting alien can’t become a woman when the show itself has confirmed that he can. And don’t say that it would upset the “dynamic” of the show, given that many fans argue that the recent sexualization of the Doctor has been a problem. And don’t say that a woman just couldn’t be seen as an action hero, because that’s been straight-up bullshit since Sigourney Weaver took over command from Tom Skerritt in Alien. If there’s a legitimate, solid argument against a female Doctor, I’d love to hear it. But don’t repeat the same meaningless lines as though they make any sense — because they just don’t.

And for the love of God, Peter — be a little quicker on the draw next time.

22 thoughts on “Why Peter Davison is Wrong About a Female Doctor

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  3. Admittedly I started off agreeing with the idea that the Doctor shouldn’t be a woman, but I guess you could say my eyes have been opened, though I still feel that a lot of the actress suggestions were “wrong”. Of course it’s just my opinion, but I really couldn’t imagine Miranda Hart, Helen Mirren, and especially Sue Perkins (I’m sorry to her fans, but I think I’d have to reconsider my television-watching priorities), playing the Doctor. However, I had the same problem with people suggesting people like Ben Whishaw and Rupert Grint.

    Personally I think my number one choice to play a female Doctor would be Olivia Colman.

    • I’m not sexist… just starting by that, even though I am late to this topic. I’m okay with a doctor of color, but not female. I have an issue with time lords changing sex. Not sure how time lords have children, but the OG doctor had a niece suggesting family. How would you feel if your husband/wife changed sex? It would make life confusing. Niece could become nephew, aunt could become uncle, mom could become dad #2.

      Doesn’t work for me. Neither does the fan fiction books, nor the new doctors saying they could become anything. A dalek doctor? I would NOT watch that.

      If people demand a female time lord, then make a new one… in fact, the episode “The Doctors daughter” did just that. create a series behind that.

      • I’m not even sure how to start with this one. How about: There *are* plenty of families with two mums, or two dads (some of whom are transgendered, some of whom aren’t) and they get by just fine. It’s only confusing to people who assume that everybody has to be heteronormative. This doesn’t actually have anything to do with the topic at hand anyway, by the way, but really needed to be pointed out.

        The reason it has nothing to do with the topic anyway is that The Doctor isn’t a suburban husband – or even human for that matter. Furthermore, he periodically changes into a completely different person. This is completely normal for his species. And canon makes it completely clear that at least one Time Lord (The Corsair) has had both male and female incarnations. And, having just been artificially injected But your comment that “the new doctors saying they could become anything […] doesn’t work for you” indicates that your opposition has nothing to do with violating canon anyway.

        So, when it boils down to it, you’re saying “I’m not sexist but I don’t think there should be a female Doctor even if canon says it’s possible because… ?”. Feel free to fill in the blank there.

  4. Peter Capaldi is, by the twelve regenerations limit, the *last* Doctor. Obviously he’s going to find a way round that, but when he does, breaking out of the the white guy mould would be a good way to mark it,

    • Actually, by the 12 regeneration rule, Matt Smith is the last Doctor. (Tennant used up an extra regeneration in ‘The Stolen Earth’ and one was used changing from the 8th Doctor to ‘the War Doctor’ seen in ‘Day of the Doctor’).

      Fortunately the Time Lords gave him a whole extra set of regenerations in ‘The name of the Doctor’. (It hasn’t been confirmed on screen, but that’s probably an additional 12 regenerations)…

      • Yes, or another 50 regens. Who knows. I do have an issue with Matt Smith being the last actual doctor before the reprieve. In the impossible astronaut, Matt’s doctor is shot, then shot again as he is starting to regenerate.Know one, including his wife, who should know him best, doesn’t realize this isn’t possible. And if in fact, he was actually inside a robot, why would we even see the regen start.

        I think this episode wasn’t well thought out.

      • @Rickey Yup, they seem to be deliberately keeping the remaining number of regenerations vague for now. Which is fine by me. When they first named twelve as the maximum I suspect they were just picking an arbitrary large number anyway and never expected to actually *reach* that number…

        The robot ship (the Teselecta) spoofed an (interrupted) regeneration to make the Doctor’s death appear genuine.

        I’m not sure what you’re saying about his wife and not knowing that isn’t possible? If you’re referring to the number of regenerations, as you pointed out, that was actually a fakeout not a genuine death so it doesn’t count towards the total.

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    • I would not like to see another *Doctor* by Moffatt, regardless of gender.

      Moffatt has a lot going for him – he has innovative ideas, he grasps ‘timey-wimey’ like no other writer and he does a good job of covertly planting story land mines that explode at the finale. He stood has a number of flaws and has fallen into a bit of a rut.

      It’s time to give someone else a go, and it would’ve been good opportunity to start fresh with a new Doctor and a new show runner.

  6. I basically have this head canon that female time lords can only become female regenerations, and male ones can only be male. After all, that’s as far as I’ve ever seen in the show.

    I like to think time lords only become regenerations that represent them personally, and that’s why regenerations are so gendered.

    That’s also why I think the Doctor won’t be ginger; it’s just not in him to be.

    • In The Doctor’s Wife, the Doctor talks about an old Time Lord friend, the Corsair:

      “See that snake? The mark of the Corsair. Fantastic bloke. He had that snake as a tattoo in every regeneration. Didn’t feel like himself without the tattoo. Or herself, a couple of times. Ooh, she was a bad girl!”

      It’s possible for Time Lords to change in regeneration, the Doctor knew one who did. Now, it’s likely that a Time Lord’s gender identity can influence the process, and the Corsair was more gender-fluid than the Doctor, who’s had only male regeneration. But it is possible.

  7. Honestly – it’s all neat in theory to have a female doctor, but at the end of the day as much as I’d love to see say, Sue Perkins play the doctor, after 50+ years of history it’s kind of too late to make that jump. If humans and Gallifreyans are similar enough that Rory and Amy can *basically* make the jump to Gallifreyans (Professor Song) by having their honeymoon on the Tardis, that implies enormous genetic similarities (I believe at some point the theory was forwarded that there are so many ‘Humanoids’ because, well they’re not Humanoids, they (and we) are ‘Gallifreyanoids’. The previous Gallifreyan time wars having shaped much of the universe in their image.)

    And that in turn implies that Gallifreyan sexual dimorphism is not too terribly different from human sexual dimorphism – an actual genetic difference not (as I would judge it) a recombination of the genes already there during regeneration, but the actual replacement of a Y-Chromosome with an X-Chromosome.

    Not that Doctor Who has ever let science interfere with a good story – it’s certainly at best the Science Fantasy of a ‘Sufficiently Advanced’ Alien, but let’s not ignore any more science and logic than we actually need to.

    Even if, yes, Sue Perkins would truly make a great Doctor.

    • I just disagree. And I want to make it clear that I do so with the utmost respect to your opinion, but the fact of the matter is that it seemed inconceivable to reboot the series in 2005 with a shaved-headed, leather-jacketed Doctor with PTSD who openly crushed on his female companion. And we got over it pretty quickly. And the people who didn’t chose not to watch.

      The show made a sharp turn when it was brought back, the tone is completely different, the rules were slightly re-written, and the Doctor’s entire planet was wiped out. After all that change, one woman doesn’t seem crazy.

      I do appreciate and understand the humanoid argument, and even keeping the hand-wavy silliness of River Song’s conception in the mix, the truth is that the Doctor is still fundamentally non-humanoid in his ability to change every cell in his body to avoid death.

      • The problem (to me) is that it’s not a matter of ‘tone’ per se. The Doctor Who universe certainly evolves (and my own initial reaction to Christopher Eccleston was “Oh great – it’s Vin Diesel as ‘The Doctor. I (coff coff) … got better) and the tone is reflective of of those changes.

        It’s that Doctor Who lives (or rather, dances happily in a Snoopy like fashion) on the edge of going from “Science Fantasy” to straight out “Fantasy” anyway. There are innumerable women that could play female time lords quite equal to the Doctor, and quite a few that could play a female Doctor

        But once that happens you’ve thrown away one of the few hard limits keeping it from straight fantasy and those limits are something Doctor Who is in short supply of.

        I can certainly see why you would disagree – it’s always very well for me as a male to decide that it’s a problem for storywriting purposes and hey, coincidentally the Doctor happens to already match my gender. That said, I don’t *think* my objections are rooted in any implicit biases I have. There’s just not a lot of wiggle room to dispose of one of the few limits they have and still give any indication that there are *any* limits the writers will respect.

        Superman quite literally destroyed the Universe that way – given that the Doctor has already done that once, once they’ve crossed that line I’m not sure there are a lot of options for every getting it back.

      • As a poster above notes, it’s canon (from “The Doctor’s Wife”) that a Time Lord called The Corsair sometimes had male bodies and sometimes female. So Time Lords in general can regenerate into different sees – the only question is whether the Doctor in particular can. And I’d say that’s up to the Showrunner – there’s nothing in canon to contradict it either way.

        Certainly the Doctor has always been male so far. That could mean that he’s only capable of being male OR it could mean he’s due for a run of female. 🙂 His recent top-up of regeneration energy potentially changes the game too – his future regenerations may be influenced by that.

        The idea of having a female Doctor seems weird to me.

        But then, a leather jacket-wearing, shaved-headed Doctor with grief issues was weird to me too – but it was exactly the shot in the arm the series needed. (I would’ve loved to have seen Eccleston given a longer run).

        So I would absolutely love to see them give a female Doctor a go. In the right hands it would be *amazing*. Finding the right hands is the tricky bit, of course – but isn’t it always?

        BTW, if you take Romana’s regeneration as canon (and you pretty much have to) then human is only one of the shapes they can take on. It seems like human appearance is just the default/preferred setting…

  8. I don’t want the Doctor to be played by a female because… Well how would you like it if a female lead character you identify with , and have enjoyed since your childhood is suddenly portrayed by someone you have a hard time indentifying with. Women have lots of strong , smart, funny, cool, Non stereotype characters ( especially in Science fiction / fantasy Buffy, Xena, etc…. ) to identify with.

    What do men have… ? We have very few non stereotype heroes that aren’t jock types… who solve problems with intelligence- instead of killing, follow a code of ethics – instead of being ” rule breakers ” , are humane and really show an honest sense of love and care for fellow mankind.

    As a nerdy kid in elementary school and junior high, being picked on for being strange, different and not a jock, the character of the Doctor was one of the few I could point to and identify with and inspired me to be different and stand up for myself. if the character had been played by a woman… I wouldn’t have found that….

    • While I understand what you’re saying, the trouble is that plenty of women watch this show and have no problem identifying with a male lead. In fact, women are often asked to identify with male leads far more than they’re given relateable women. If your biggest roadblock is that you feel it’s unfair to be asked to identify with a member of the opposite sex, perhaps that’s a further indication of how hard it is for women to watch a lot of media that’s currently being produced. And yet we adapt because most of us want to see a good story and will put up with one-dimensional female characters (even though we shouldn’t have to).

      Moreover, there are just more male leads — period. While I agree that a lot of male leads are portrayed as “jock types,” for the past 10-15 years, it’s been a big trend to offer a nerdy leading man or a weak leading man who “rises to the occasion.”

      You don’t see that with women, unless it’s a romantic comedy, and rising to the occasion and fulfilling your destiny usually means marriage. Which is… not great.

    • In most cases I would agree with you – it’s annoying when key aspects of a character are discarded. It irritated the heck out of me when they made Batgirl blonde instead of a redhead in Batman and Robin, for example.

      But the Doctor is an exception because a key aspect of his character *is* to periodically transform into a different person with a different personality and appearance. Core aspects of the Doctor boil down to: (1) fights evil, (2) is incredibly smart, (3) is quirky and doesn’t really fit within any particular cultural norm.

      Other than that *everything* is up for grabs when he regenerates.

      I suspect you’re right that ‘nerdy hero’ may be just about the only hero type for which there are more female role models than male – probably because it fits better with the traditional ‘meek and soft’ stereotype of a woman than the traditional male stereotype. And I can understand you wanting more specifically male nerdy heroes to counterbalance that archetype. Really though, that just says to me ‘more people need to produce stories with male nerdy heroes’ and not ‘Doctor Who needs to remain trapped within this arbitrary limitation forever’.
      In the interim, here is a list of Nerdy male heroes. (I’ve deliberately excluded those who are also physical action types, like Iron Man and Daniel Jackson from Stargate).
      * Giles (from Buffy)
      * Fitz (from Agents of SHIELD)
      * Dr Spencer Reid (from Criminal Minds)
      * Simon Tam (from Firefly – though it was axed before he could really show it off. xO)
      * Half the cast of CSI.

      Interestingly, all those shows *also* have a female example of the archetype, which suggests that once the general ‘willingness to have nerdy heroes’ is crossed, gender is a non-issue.

      I’m aware that none of the characters listed above are *the* hero of their show in the way The Doctor is, which comes back to: we need more shows that star this type of character!

      As an aside, I really like the character dynamic they’ve set up in ‘Intelligence’. Gabriel is definitely physically capable, but his role as an asset that needs to be protected, balanced by the extreme competence of his female bodyguard makes for an unusual role.

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