The Ladies of Sci-Fi: 5 Reasons Why We Need a Female Doctor in Doctor Who
How do you make a series last over 50 years? Give your main character the ability to regenerate, like in Doctor Who. The Doctor would usually be limited to 12 regenerations in accordance with the laws of Gallifrey, home of the time lords; however, as thanks for saving the planet from the Last Great Time War, the High Council gifted the Doctor with a new regeneration cycle. Over the years, we’ve seen 13 regenerations, including the War Doctor and the 10th Doctor regenerating into the same body in “Journey’s End,” with 13 different men in the title role.
Now with the news that Peter Capaldi could be entering his final season as the Doctor, Doctor Who fans have already started speculating on who the next Doctor might be. I say it’s time for a woman. Despite a wealth of female characters in the series, the treatment of the ladies is problematic at best. Let’s look at the top 5 reasons why we need a woman Doctor.
1. Women are not just villains.
Women have depicted a fair share of the villains in Doctor Who history. You’d think it would be easier to get equal treatment for one-off female villains and henchwomen, yet many of these ladies are pathetic and barely seem up to the task. Often, they’re not evil for the sake of being evil but have been manipulated and are really being used by some higher power. Even when they’re not being used, sometimes you feel bad for them anyway, like with Blon Fel-Fotch Passamer-Day, the Slitheen. She lost her entire family, andshe’s a walking fart joke who’s practically cute outside of her skin suit. Though you know these women are dangerous, they hardly instill the same kind of fear as the Daleks or the Cybermen.
However, we do have some truly badass female villains. The Rani, a renegade female Time Lord who first made her appearance in the classic series, was regarded as the second most wanted criminal in the galaxy after the Master. She didn’t care about the suffering of any creature and instead enslaved and tortured people in the name of research. Of course, the number one enemy of the Doctor is the Master, a Time Lord driven insane by a drumming beat implanted by the High Council to pull them out of the time lock of the Last Great Time War. In series 8 of the New Who, we saw the return of the Master, who has now regenerated as a woman and taken on the name Missy—short for the Mistress.
I love a good villain as much as the next person, and Missy and the Rani are great villains, but come on, give me someone to root for! The are many viewers out there who would love to see the star of the show be a woman. For all that I love Captain Jack Harkness, I’ll admit that Gwen Cooper is the driving force behind the Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood. It’s her story, and fans loved it, so we know that Whovians will accept a woman taking the lead. Stop painting women as witches and bitches, and give us a heroic female time lord.
2. The broken promise of female Time Lords.
Not only have we seen evil female Time Lords, but we’ve also seen the promise of heroic female Time Lords. More often than not, these women aren’t referred to as Time lords, despite their regenerative capabilities. While there are rules about regenerations, apparently it is not merely a genetic ability, and Time Lords have the option of granting more, taking them away, and even choosing not to regenerate. Unfortunately, these women have gotten our hopes up only to cruelly crush our dreams.
Everyone was excited about the creation of Jenny in “The Doctor’s Daughter.” Jenny, a being grown out of the Doctor’s DNA, is genetically the only Time Lord born since the end of the Last Great Time War. But where is she? Who knows! According to rumor, when Jenny left Messaline at the end of the episode, she flew directly into a moon and died. However, it’s not genetics that draw us to the Doctor. Jenny is not the only woman to have regenerative capabilities, so if we widen the definition of what it means to be a Time Lord, there are other women who qualify.
River Song is a human with Time Lord abilities. As a child of the TARDIS, she was had the ability to regenerate and, during her time in the series, we saw her use that ability twice. Starting as the little girl in the spacesuit, she regenerated into Amy and Rory’s best friend, Melody. Then, in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” we saw a second regeneration where she took on the face that we know as River Song. Her future seemed so promising as a clever and mysterious time traveler; however, River grew up training as an assassin in order to kill the Doctor and turned out to be excellent at the task. In order to save him, she gave up her remaining regenerations, ending the possibility that we could eventually follow her on her own adventures. Of course, just being a Time Lord or having the ability to regenerate isn’t the same as being the Doctor.
If you want to be strict about the definition of the Doctor, “The End of Time” gave us the Doctor Donna. Donna Noble wasn’t simply a companion who followed the Doctor blindly. She was his best friend. She challenged his thought processes, and when Donna touched the Doctor’s handy spare hand, it caused a two-way biological meta-crisis, melding the best of the Doctor with the best of Donna. Unfortunately, this was too much for her mind to handle, and the Doctor had to wipe Donna’s memory clean, ending her time as the Doctor Donna and as a companion. Women could be so much more than merely traveling companions, though.
4. Women are more than sexual objects
A significant problem in New Who is the treatment of the companions, and women in general, as sexual objects and romantic interests. It’s disappointing that a show that seems to be so progressive in many ways continues to hold women back. Sure, it’s great to see the interspecies lesbian love affair between Madame Vastra and Jenny, but instead of presenting their story, it’s only mentioned for the titillation factor—and don’t even get me started on Kiss-o-gram Amy Pond. One minute she’s a child, and the next the camera is panning up her long, thin legs, making sure we get a good look. We hear many times how she’s the most important person in the Universe, but her characterization focused more on her complicated relationships with Rory and the Doctor than on her own personality.
… or romantic interests.
Clara Oswald had a similar experience. The audience was thrilled at the idea that she was a reincarnation of the Time Lord Romana, who may have escaped the the Last Great Time War. But no, it turns out that Clara was another human. Though they never formally had a romantic relationship, the Doctor became intrigued at how many times he encountered the many variations of Clara thoughout time and space. Eventually, he scolded himself for thinking of himself as her boyfriend.
The Doctor viewing women as romantic interests in New Who isn’t rare. Though many women are only there for a single episode and the interest is left largely unexplored, we know the interest is there. A few minutes of time together and a single kiss had the Doctor inviting Madame de Pompadour to travel with him in “The Girl in the Fireplace.” You felt the romantic tension with Astrid Peth, who, after knowing him only a few hours, saved not only the Doctor but also the citizens of Earth in “Voyage of the Damned.”
I don’t blame the Doctor for his attraction to strong and selfless women—those willing to sacrifice themselves to save others—but there’s no reason it should stop there. Those are the same qualities we love and admire in the Doctor. There was an incredible opportunity to explore a woman who could control time and space when Rose Tyler looked into the TARDIS and became Bad Wolf. Instead, by the end of her run, the focus was more on her relationship with the Doctor than the fact that she saved the Universe from destruction by the Daleks. We deserve better than to have women boxed into traditional gender roles.
Many fans love Doctor Who for its progressive nature, which goes back to the early days of the show. Viewers of the classic series loved the arrival of feisty Sarah Jane Smith but found themselves disappointed when she returned in “School Reunion” during series two of New Who. Sure, she was the strong, independent woman we always knew, but the writers marred her history with the implication that she had not lived a full life after the Doctor left her behind on Earth. The sad assumption throughout the series is that a woman is not complete without a partner. Having a female Doctor would and should change that. It’s great to know that Nurse Joan Redfern moved on after the Doctor ended his life as John Smith and left her behind, but her happiness is a mere afterthought, just like Martha Jones, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
5. In honor of Martha Jones.
Martha Jones was a companion of the 10th Doctor. While she was strong and persevered in trying times, most of what audiences saw was a heartsick young woman. Martha repeatedly got stuck in the past with the Doctor and spent all of her time ensuring his survival. In “Blink,” Martha’s sacrifice—getting a job in a shop to support him monetarily in the 1960s—was understandably only mentioned in passing, as it’s a Doctor-lite episode. However, in “The Family of Blood,” Martha spends months working as a servant in 1913. Most of the episode paints her as a jealous woman, when in reality she does everything she can to keep the Doctor safe. In the end, her efforts are barely recognized by the Doctor, earning a perfunctory thank you at the end of the episode.
As far as I’m concerned, Martha Jones in and of herself is a reason we need a woman Doctor. If any woman on the series ever deserved better treatment than her character got, it’s Martha. She’s a woman who had her life together prior to meeting the Doctor and had a lot to offer as the Doctor’s companion. Coming into the series, she was preparing to take her final exams to become a doctor, but what does her story end up being about? Her pining away for the Doctor and him not noticing because he’s in love with Rose. And that’s not even the worst of it.
Sadly, Martha quickly became my least favorite companion. Not because of who she was, because I can’t blame a girl for falling in love, but because of the way they framed her story. She was virtually never in the picture without a love story, sometimes even while she was still dealing with her feelings for the Doctor. There was a bud of a romance with Riley in “42.” She tracked down Tom Milligan after meeting him in “Last of the Time Lords” and eventually became engaged to him. Fiinally, she married Mickey Smith before her brief appearance in “The End of Time.” Martha needing a romance also carried over on to her time on Torchwood, where Owen was constantly flirting with her during “Reset.” Instead of being the embodiment of a modern, independent young woman, watching Martha practically felt like stepping back in time.
The world is changing quicker than we realize—apparently too fast for the world of Doctor Who to keep up. A friend of mine recently told the story of taking his daughter, CC, to the doctor on call. CC’s regular physician is a woman, and her aunt is also a doctor. At her visit, CC was shocked to see a man as the doctor, and her father had to explain to her that boys can be doctors, too. Well, BBC, it’s 2016; the Doctor can be a woman, too. His problematic thought process aside, Steven Moffat has already said what it will take in order to make the Doctor a woman, and there are certainly many women who would love to take on the role. After over 50 years, we’ve waited long enough for a female Doctor. Little girls already live in a world where they believe women can do anything they want, and a show with a progressive legacy like Doctor Who should reflect that. The writers are capable of writing the type of woman the Doctor would be, so there’s no reason to keep women limited to the roles they’ve traditionally occupied in the Doctor Who universe.
(images via BBC)
Holly Christine is a geek girl with a sick love of Harry Potter and all things sci-fi. She helps head up @NerdVice and @CirclePlus_ where you can listen to her on the podcast, “Late Night with Bisexuals.” Listen to her gush about her nerdy pursuits like adventure games and everything cute on Twitter @gookygox.
- Chris Daly