After months of speculation, the identity of the 13th Doctor Who has been revealed in an atmospheric teaser. Jodie Whittaker will be the first woman in the show’s 54-year history to take on the eponymous role. Although the news was largely welcomed, not everyone was happy. Which begs the question: why are audiences still fighting change on their screens?
You can call us biased, but a talented woman taking on an iconic role is good news. Whittaker is a respected actress who is fully qualified for the job having worked across stage and screen. Most TV-lovers will recognise Whittaker from her work in Black Mirror and The Smoke, and of course most recently her fragile and understated performance in Broadchurch. Only last year she was nominated for Best Actress at the British Independent Film Awards for her performance in comedy, Adult Life Skills.
But sadly, as expected there was a small but vocal group of critics who didn’t take the news so well. Some threatened to boycott the show, others opted for some good old-fashioned misogyny. Even one of Whittaker’s predecessors, Peter Davison, who played the Doctor from 1981 to 1984, lamented what he saw as the loss of a role model for young boys. His point completely neglected to factor in that women are perfectly capable of being role models for young men and vice versa. Fundamentally, what every fan of the show wants is an interesting and engaging Doctor who does justice to the legacy of the role. What does that require? A talented actor. This we know is not gender-specific. Davison’s successor, Colin Baker came out in Whittaker’s defence, and he is not the only familiar face who has something positive to say. The 10th Doctor, David Tennant said that the show had ‘lucked out’ by landing Whittaker, and previous companion Karen Gillian also supported the decision.
For those questioning whether a woman as the Doctor is really necessary, or really a big deal, you only have to look as far as the reporting of the news. The Sun and Mail Online are facing backlash for publishing nude photos of the actress. News outlets choosing to draw attention to Whittaker’s previous work in which she has chosen to film nude scenes is a blatant example of the undermining and reductive way that women in entertainment are still treated. Furthermore, the BBC has announced that it will be paying Whittaker the same as her male predecessor. A major step forward since the broadcaster recently revealed its major pay gap by publishing its presenters’ salaries. But, it also serves as a reminder that we live in a time where we still cannot assume that a woman will be paid the same as a man for the same role. And let us not forget what people are essentially upset about. That an extra-terrestrial being from the planet Gallifrey with the ability to time travel is being played by a woman. A woman is playing a fictional alien with no specific gender.
There’s still a long way to go for women on television, but Whittaker’s casting is an important step in the right direction…
Words: Gurnesha Bola