20 July 2017

Jodie Whittaker - the reaction and beyond

Jodie Whitaker is probably grateful for the news that some BBC stars are paid a lot because that story finally took the spotlight from her after four days of intense coverage, comment and scrutiny as well as ensuring she will get the same salary as Peter Capaldi. Result! Now she knows too what the other side of being the Doctor is like, how running around in quarries is the least of her concerns. It has been an eventful week following last Sunday’s announcement and amazingly some 16 million people have watched the one minute clip which must be the most scrutinised minute of Doctor Who related material ever! Amongst other things we’ve learned since is that there were several auditions, it’s not her actual costume she’s wearing in the trail, the Tardis we see is CGI and she’s filming her actual first post regeneration scenes this very week. Also Chris Chibnall was awarded an Honourary Degree this week though as far as we know it’s probably not for the casting! 

The significance of the choice has been widely commented upon both by those seeking to argue about the lack of strong female roles on television and by those who still believe the Doctor should always be male. She’s been welcomed by many especially amongst younger girls who follow Doctor Who; seemingly a larger contingent than you might have thought. Showbiz people have also been welcoming, Colin Baker writing an effusive piece in The Guardian and positive comments from many who’ve worked with her in the past including John Boyega. What with the two of them and also Legends of Tomorrow’s Franz Drameh that film has been a bit of a lucky charm though to date no more roles for very dark green eyed monsters from space!

It would be wrong though to omit the fact that a portion of long term fans feel the appointment is wrong and have said they will not watch some stating their case reasonably, others making more of a fuss than they did around Brexit! Their ire is directed not at the actor but the very idea of a female Doctor in itself. Media commentators have pointed out- and not for the first time- how some fans of the most supposedly flexible genre are also the most conservative when it comes to change. 

It is fair to say that both sides of the divide have been guilty of over reaction. Some who like the idea of a female Doctor seem to see it as a vanguard action that will change everything in tv and film while those who don’t like the idea claim it has wrecked the series. Obviously neither of these is true. The feeling that the Doctor cannot change gender is actually something of a blunt argument within the fiction of the programme now we’ve seen examples notably Missy. It does remind people too that the Doctor is supposed to be an alien, something the modern series has at times overlooked. His/ her reactions should not be the same as ours why would a change of gender be unlikely? However I do think the series is unique in that respect and I would say that this shouldn’t necessarily be start of some wider re-genderfication (is that a word?) which will spread to characters like James Bond with calls for `Jane Bond` already mooted. Surely just swapping the gender of already established and popular human characters is not serving those who advocate diversity? Creating new iconic role models and heroes of different ethnic types is surely the better long term solution? 

The worst thing for the writers to do now would be to make Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor behave exactly like a man. There are differences between men and women however much some theorists might try and convince us they are exactly the same and this should feed into the tone and content of a female Doctor’s stories otherwise what was the point of choosing her?  So I see it is a starting point for a more radical change. In fact even without a gender change it was surely time for a tone change anyway?

Despite four quite different actors, the Doctor has not really altered that much over 12 years as the modern series ones have shared more attributes than their old series counterparts. There is a marked difference between say the Troughton and Baker Doctors yet there are more similarities than differences between the modern ones. You could slot any of them into each other’s episodes and not much would need to be altered except perhaps the catchphrase. They all rush about, talking quickly and enthusiastically and so on; being `eccentric`. Even Peter Capaldi, an older actor, has often been made to run around like he was Matt Smith. It is surely time for a different approach??

There’s no need for half the Doctor’s dialogue to be shouting, there’s no need for every other line to be a gag or something amazingly clever. You can have an important scene without background music- as was in fact proved in `The Doctor Falls`. Taking some of that noise away focusses more on the story. I really like the tone of the thirteenth Doctor’s intro clips and hope it’s a hint of things to come in more ways than simply the character herself.

As for Jodie Whittaker she’ll be great and anyone doubting her acting chops because she’s not done this sort of role on TV  or film then check out this clip from the 2012 National Theatre version of the play Antigone which also starred Christopher Eccleston and I was lucky enough to see…..

And finally.....
Self appointed superfan Ian Levine's considered reaction to the casting.   

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