Messing With Convention, Or: Why a Female Doctor Who is a Better Idea Than You Think

In a recent interview, Matt Smith, the current Doctor Who, spoke at length about his decision to leave the show, especially at the height of his popular run as the Eleventh incarnation of the Time Lord. He was also asked if the series was ready for the possibility of the next Doctor being a female:

MS:Absolutely, it’s ready for a female Doctor. Why not, if she’s the right actress for the part, if she’s the most inventive, if she can do courage and madness and all the things that you need to be a Doctor? Yeah, why not? I don’t think gender should play an issue. I think we live in an age where why not? Why not?

I should point out that I’m not a Doctor Who fan (but I do know my DW basics, like what the TARDIS is, and what a Time Lord is, and who the Daleks are), for reasons I’m slightly ashamed to admit. I know that Doctor Who is exactly the kind of show that would be right in my wheelhouse, but, there’s fifty years worth of this stuff, and I just don’t know if I can make that kind of emotional and time (no pun intended) commitment. But the idea of a female Doctor Who intrigues me greatly, because there’s nothing I love more than convention being turned on its head.

When Battlestar Galactica was rebooted a decade ago, controversy arose among the original show’s faithful when Starbuck, the cigar-chomping, swashbuckling, lady-killing ace Viper pilot – played by Dirk Benedict – would be played by a woman. A woman! The decision to reimagine Starbuck as a woman – and cast Katee Sackhoff in that role – would turn out to be a stroke of sheer genius; Starbuck was still the swashbuckling ace Viper pilot, but as Kara Thrace, she was also the emotional center of the show, and the one character most representative of what was left of the human race after the Cylons destroyed nearly their entire population. Starbuck/Kara Thrace was cocky and needy, headstrong and frightened, and we grew to love her for who she was, a gigantic mess of contradictions, able to make a complete mess of things one minute, then completely redeem herself in the heat of battle the next. And all the while running the gamut of emotions. Would this BSG reboot have worked if Starbuck were a man? Possibly. But turning convention on its head and reimagining a known and beloved character as someone completely different made for a fresher and even better, more compelling story. After all, it’s Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck we now remember, not Dirk Benedict’s.

In my WIP, I’m having fun toying with the conventions of the superhero myth. We’ve been taught by the hero myth that the (super)hero will always save the day. What happens when a superhero is no longer relevant? What happens when he’s no longer needed? In my case, what happens when someone decides for him that his time is up, and he needs to hang up the cowl and cape, whether he likes it or not? See, I’m a sucker for that kind of reimagining. It’s been said that there’s no story that hasn’t been told already, and that story’s been told a millions times before, but it’s how that story’s told that makes your version memorable. Again, since I’m not a Doctor Who fan, I can only speak from what I know, but I do know that certain incarnations of the Doctor (David Tennant, Tom Baker, for example) tend to be more popular than others. I suppose it’s because you have a new opportunity to try something different, to stray from what’s been done and put a different stamp on things.

That different stamp on things, for example, is what reinvigorated the James Bond series after years of limp efforts. Don’t get me wrong, the Roger Moore versions had their moments of cavalier frivolity, but Pierce Brosnan’s Bond seemed…I don’t know…underused. It was as if they didn’t know what to do with him. The producers weren’t trying anything different. Worse yet, what they were trying came across as pandering.

To their enormous credit, the decision to cast Daniel Craig, a blond-haired (*GASP!*) 007 evoked a massive firestorm among Bond fans, but I was thrilled; I didn’t know much about Craig, other than he killed in Layer Cake, and he seemed to have this seething quality that suited him for the role. Who gave a rat’s ass what his hair color was? Craig’s 007, we can agree, is the best on-screen interpretation of Ian Fleming’s creation since Sean Connery created it more than fifty years ago. Craig’s Bond is daring, in that’s it’s unrecognizable from any of the previous portrayals of James Bond; it was as if  Craig was given a clean slate to create a fresh character from the ground up, and that he did. His Bond broods, sulks, displays moments of irrationality, and, in Skyfall, unyielding grief. The most hard-as-nails portrayal of James Bond is also its most human, its most realistic. It’s the one that goes against the logic of what we think we know about 007, against the very convention of one of the most iconic characters in popular culture history.

So when Daniel Craig decides his time as James Bond is up, the next man to replace him will have some big shoes to fill. Here then comes an opportunity for a new dynamic and something interesting to take place, a fresh interpretation of James Bond. Perhaps even a blasphemous one: there’s been talk of making the next James Bond a black man.

Why the hell not? Idris Elba, anyone?

Messing with conventions is why I like cross-genre writing. Messing with conventions is why I like musicians and writers and filmmakers who stray far from the beaten path.

Messing with conventions is what just might make me start watching Doctor Who if the Twelfth Time Lord is a woman.

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10 thoughts on “Messing With Convention, Or: Why a Female Doctor Who is a Better Idea Than You Think

  1. So many things I like about this post. First off, I have to say that I LOVE Daniel Craig as Bond. Physical features aside, he is by far the most accurate incarnation of the Bond from the books (and being a book nerd, THIS IS IMPORTANT TO ME, ARE YOU LISTENING HOLLYWOOD). Also, I’m pretty sure if they made Idris Elba the next Bond (which I now there’s been discussion of forever), I might actually die of happiness.

    I’m totally with you on the Dr. Who thing. I’ve tried to get into it but it just feels like it would take way more effort than it would be worth.

    I’m curious to hear how you feel about the decision to make Dr. Watson a woman in the American knockoff of Sherlock (what did they call it? Elementary?) I don’t really think of myself as a sexist but I was kind of appalled by this because I felt like it ruined the homosocial/bromance dynamic that’s so vital to Sherlock Holmes stories.

    Excellent post, dude.

      • I’d totally be down with Idris Elba as Bond, but that’s a tricky one to sell. Bond is so beloved, and to not see him played by a white man would simply rankle some people. Okay, a LOT of people.

        I think as long as the producers of the show don’t treat the new Doctor being as woman as a gimmick, then it’s a win-win for everyone, and it could easily work.

        The show’s called “Elementary.” Frankly, I find it poorly written, but I’m okay with the new dynamic of Watson being a woman. There’s some rock-strong chemistry going on between Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, so it makes up for the sometimes shoddy and eye-rolling writing – seriously, some of the plot holes in the script would make your television disappear – and make you almost forget about the original relationship between Holmes and Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle’s books. Almost.

        • I think it’s about time we had a black James Bond (although, in other notes, I would love to know why Richard Armitage has never played this role; he IS Bond).

          As far as Dr. Who, I say yeah, go for the woman doctor idea, but I’ve only seen it once so my opinion’s kind of invalid.

          I have to admit I haven’t actually seen Elementary. My soul just kind of revolts at the idea of American TV ruining a concept I love which has already been done well by BBC.

          • I’m sure my opinion on Dr. Who is also invalid since I’m also not much of a fan, but I’m intrigued by the idea that’s become very popular. Like I say, why the hell not?

            “Elementary” gets a ton of shit from the Holmes-heads, and rightly so, but I think the acting is pretty first rate, which makes up for the shitty writing.

  2. I don’t think it’ll matter if there’s a female doctor. As long as Steven Moffat is still head writer, the show will be kinda sucky.
    Also, the Doctor’s married to a woman. Seems like his wife might have some things to say about the genderswap…

  3. Pingback: Ben Affleck is Your New Batman. Deal With It. | Out Where the Buses Don't Run

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