For the first time in 54 years, the BBC has cast a female actor in one of its most iconic roles: as the regenerating alien Time Lord in Doctor Who.
Broadchurch star Jodie Whittaker will be the 13th Doctor and said, as her role was announced, “It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be.”
Twitter has been sharply divided – into (mostly) die-hard fanboys who are outraged and die-hard fanboys and girls who are delighted – and various shades in between.
Here’s why we think it’s utterly brilliant…
Girls need positive role models
Author Jenny Trout’s daughter’s ecstatic reaction to the big reveal said it all. Female representation in TV is important for children. In 2017, women can be Prime Ministers (whatever you may think of them!), CEOs, champion boxers, engineers, NASA scientists, superheroes, doctors and, indeed, THE Doctor – and young girls needs to understand that from an early age.
There is nothing women can’t do, a statement which overturns centuries of being told they can’t do anything (except the dishes, the laundry and the childcare). The Beeb’s decision is a giant bucketful of water added to the tidal wave of gender equality sweeping our social and cultural conscience – and means our daughters will grow up in a slightly more level playing field.
Boys need female heroes too
As the actor Robert Webb posted on Twitter: ‘A female Doctor is great for boys’. He followed it up with an excerpt from his autobiography (published next month) How Not To Be A Boy, in which he explains how men suffer from gender conditioning – in a nutshell, being told to ‘man up’ and suppress emotions makes men more likely to have mental health problems and commit suicide.
Giving boys only masculine stereotypes (not that the Doctor has been particularly macho, but he has always been a man), reinforces the feeling of needing to behave in a certain way (not crying and using their fists to win arguments, for example).
Jodie Whittaker is the best ‘person’ for the job
Congrats to #JodieWhittaker nominated for Best Actress for @AdultLifeSkills at the #NationalFilmAwardsUK Vote now @ https://t.co/UnwnfymLGd pic.twitter.com/ANvc9SiP0g— National Film Awards (@NATFilmAwards) January 30, 2017
What we especially love about 35-year-old Jodie as an actor (who also happens to be, but is not defined as, a mum), is that she can rock a red carpet look AND she’s got a kickass CV. It includes cult alien flick Attack The Block, an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel The Night Watch and perhaps the best indie film of last year, Adult Life Skills (in which she slums it in her mum’s shed and makes videos featuring faces inked on her thumbs).
The Beeb has gone for someone with universal appeal – and that’s what it should be about, shouldn’t it? Not ‘this woman’ or ‘this man’, but ‘this actor’.
Whether you agree or disagree with the BBC's decision, there is no place for hate speech. Genuinely appalled at some of the comments!— Doctor Who Online (@DrWhoOnline) July 16, 2017
As outgoing Doctor Peter Capaldi said: “Anyone who has seen Jodie Whittaker’s work will know that she is a wonderful actress of great individuality and charm. She has above all the huge heart to play this most special part. She’s going to be a fantastic Doctor.”
It’s where Doctor Who was headed
In recent years, Doctor Who has become a standard-bearer for reflecting the world as it is today, including characters of different sexual orientation, not least of which is the omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), who in 2006 got his own spin-off show, Torchwood, and kissed Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor in 2009.
In August 2014, Ofcom received complaints that the BBC was ‘promoting homosexuality’ by showing a lesbian kiss in Peter Capaldi’s first episode Deep Breath, despite the fact that lizard woman Madame Vastra and her human wife Jenny Flint had been on-screen lovers for three years.
God forbid Ofcom gets complaints that the Beeb are ‘promoting women’.
As Jodie herself says: “I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
It could inspire other traditionally male roles to be played by women
A female Doctor signals the tide is turning in how women are cast in roles, and how roles are written for women.
Maxine Peake won plaudits for her portrayal of Hamlet in 2014 and we’ve seen Hollywood’s powerful and funny take on Wonder Woman this year, so perhaps it will only be a matter time before more traditional male roles are given to girls.
Olympic champion boxer (and trained stuntwoman) Nicola Adams recently revealed she’d like to have a pop at being the first female James Bond – come on Barbara Broccoli, take a leaf out of the Beeb’s book and show us what you’re made of!