Peter Capaldi recently announced that he’s handing in the keys to the TARDIS after the next season. It’s not really a surprise. He’s easily the strongest candidate to have taken ownership since Doctor Who was brought back from the dead, but he’s not been well-served by the material.
This has, of course, been a feast for click-bait websites, as they run around like headless chickens, asking the actor-du-jour if they’d like the role, daring them to say ‘no’. And, as it has many times in recent years, the spotlight has spun onto… Why isn’t the Doctor a woman?
But here’s a thing that’s been bugging me for a while, and I’m just going to let it out of my system: a woman does not need to be the Doctor.
Take careful note of the order of those words. It’s deliberate. They’re deliberate. A woman does not need to be the Doctor. Not ‘the Doctor does not need to be a woman’.
Picking a couple of names from the internet chatter – ignoring for a moment that, a) I doubt the BBC would cough up the salary and, b) relative unknowns are normally the preference for the role – Tilda Swinton and Hayley Atwell are both fantastic performers, and a boon to anything they’re in. Do they really need to stand on the shoulders of men? Of course they don’t.
Sure, if either wants the part, more power to their elbow (though remember that Doctor Who, like James Bond, is just one of those roles you never rule yourself out for, unless you’re crazy). But, if it were me, I’d rather give actors of Atwell’s and Swinton’s calibre the chance to trailblaze their own path.
Honestly, isn’t it a much stronger message – a much stronger role model – to see a woman at the head of a franchise or sister-series created for a woman? A woman who’s equally capable, equally appealing and equally supported by the BBC? Why wouldn’t we want a female Gallifreyan bombing around time and space as her own character? Without the fifty-five year baggage of Doctor Who, but cherry-picking the best bits from it?
So here’s my pitch:
Take the Doctor’s universe. His adventures in Time and Space. His mysteries and monsters. Elements of his worldview, but a touch darker – a little harder-edged, with a constant teeter between means and ends.
Maybe you use the existing candidate, Romana (originally designed to fulfil a similar purpose, but the attitudes of the Seventies and the show format got in the way). Maybe you make a new character. For added laughs, she’s the Doctor’s older sister (or cousin, if we’re still messing around with looms and the like – no, I’m not explaining that reference, life’s too short. Google it.).
Honestly, it doesn’t matter about the name or the details. Make them rivals, but of similar purpose. Make her snippy but fun. Give her a male companion to ask stupid questions for the audience. Borrow the wardrobe from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (they’re not using it any more, seemingly) and go wild. Think of the crossover potential. Think of the daleks’ panicky reactions because now there are two of them and they’ve just stopped bickering…
Think of how a second series in the franchise allows you to stabilise your target audiences – keep Doctor Who family-oriented (that’s family, BBC, not children) and skew Time Ladies Kick Arse Too, You Cowardly Executives (the title may need work-shopping) to an older demographic.
Is it really that difficult? Of course not. But it won’t happen.
Doesn’t stop me dreaming. And I’ll happily write it, if anyone asks…