This past Sunday, it was announced that actor Peter Capaldi will follow Matt Smith as the Twelfth Doctor in the long-running and much beloved series Doctor Who. The news has received mixed reception — Capaldi is a compelling actor with excellent comedic timing (to see for yourself, check out British series The Thick of It) and he'll likely do the Doctor justice, but there's also a little bit of disappointment involved. You see, some of us were hoping the newest Doctor would be a woman. (Bonus points if she's a woman of color.)
The beauty of a character like the Doctor is that he (or she) can look however the series wants him (or her) to look. . Time lords — the Doctor's species — are immortals who change appearances every time they're killed and there's no clearly stated reason in the show's 50-year history as to why they couldn't switch genders during the process. Even current showrunner Steven Moffat, when initially approached with the idea of a lady Doctor, expressed an openness to the idea and hinted that Twelve could be our lucky number. However, when time came to make the casting decision, Moffat stuck to the status quo and selected someone both white and male.
Explaining his choice, Moffat said:
"I didn’t feel enough people wanted [a woman Doctor]...Oddly enough, most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women, saying, 'No, no, don’t make him a woman.'”
He then added, "When it’s the right decision, maybe we’ll do it." (That's a big, glaring maybe.)
I have an enormous respect for Moffat as both a showrunner and a writer. I've been a regular viewer of Doctor Who since Russell T Davies rebooted the series with Christopher Eccleston in 2005 (which — yes, hardcore Whovians — I'm aware is not all that long) and have found the Moffat written episodes to be among the show's best. So I say this with the best intentions and a heavy heart: With this excuse and this casting choice, Steven Moffat is being creatively lazy.
There are reasons why you shouldn't allow your fans to dictate your creative choices, chief among them being that most of us are neither talented nor imaginative enough to decide what should or shouldn't happen in a plot. It's the job of people like Moffat to be smarter and more adventurous than us, to take risks and surprise viewers as opposed to just giving us what we think we want. Of course, you can serve up easily digestible plot lines that fail to challenge anyone's perceptions and still be successful (people like Michael Bay have made fortunes doing it), but that's bad art. And I refuse to accept bad art from the person who wrote "Blink."
Even if Moffat's excuse that fans don't want a female Doctor was legitimate (and I don't think it is), there's more to take into account here — like the way he has been accused of sexism throughout his screenwriting career. While the vast majority of his female characters outwardly appear feisty, sarcastic and clever, they tend towards being shallow, unambitious and dependent at their cores. Yes: Like the TARDIS, Steven Moffat's sexism is bigger on the inside. (For a detailed layout of this pattern, please read Michael Ray Johnson's "Sexism in Steven Moffat's Doctor Who?")
Since I started watching Doctor Who, the dynamic has always been the same — if the Doctor and his companion made up a singular entity, the Doctor would be the brain and the companion would be the heart. It's the companion's job to remind the Doctor of compassion and caring when he gets carried away by his cold, calculating and occasionally cruel logic. For the past 8 years (with the exception of Rory Williams, apple of my eye), the companion — the heart — has been female and the Doctor — the intellect — has been male. But it doesn't have to be this way. As we all know, men can be sentimental and women can be logical, men can be dependent and women can be independent and any notion otherwise seems so out of touch that it almost seems unnecessary to spell it out so plainly. But unfortunately, it does need spelling out, especially if you consider this quote from The Scotsman by Steven Moffat himself:
There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married—we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.
To be fair, this quote is from 2004, before Moffat's first episode of Doctor Who even aired, and a lot can change in nine years as far as personal philosophies go. (He has also since claimed that the paper quoted him out of context.) Those excuses aside, Moffat's remarks do speak to his reluctance to have a female Doctor. Cast a woman as a hero who travels space and time, constantly saving the universe, and she becomes the one who's needed, not the one who's doing all the needing. What a horrifying concept.
Once again, this demonstrates an alarming lack of imagination and innovation, which is strange because, as fans know, Steven Moffat lacks neither. As I mentioned before, Peter Capaldi will probably be awesome as the Doctor, thanks in no small part to Moffat's enormous contribution to the show. And maybe that's what's so annoying about it. Steven Moffat can probably make a great Doctor out of almost anyone so why not do it with a woman?
Image via the official Doctor Who Facebook page.