By Paula Hendrickson
With Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary rapidly approaching, people around the world have been discussing the show, its history and its cultural impact.
Last week, one of my Twitter friends, Mekeisha Madden Toby — who writes about television for MSN TV at tv.msn.com — reported on a new book, Doctor Who and Race, that claims the show is “thunderously racist.” We wound up in fascinating Twitter discussion about the topic with a couple more friends.
It’s easy to find examples of racism and sexism on almost any show from 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Back then, it was common to cast white actors in ethnic roles and write female and minority characters in demeaning ways. For the most part, things have changed.
One argument against Doctor Who was that The Doctor has never been played by an actor of color.
That’s an indisputable fact. Yet, my initial reaction was, “Does that also mean Doctor Who is sexist because a woman has never played The Doctor?” I don’t think so.
Viewed strictly by the fact that only white (British) males playing The Doctor for 50 years sounds bad. But there have only 11 Doctors to date, and about half of those were more than 25 years ago, so it’s important to consider context, since society is a little more enlightened about racial and gender equality today than it was back then.
The day after our Twitter discussion, news broke that the 11th Doctor Matt Smith, who’s played the part since 2010, will conclude his run in the show’s annual Christmas episode. As sad as it is when a beloved Doctor departs, it always gets fans excited as they debate possible replacements. Will the next Doctor be a man of color? A woman? Or maybe even a woman of color?
Anything is possible. There have been prior references in the show indicating Time Lords can regenerate as someone of another gender — in Matt Smith’s first scene as The Doctor comes to after regenerating, he feels his longish hair and says, “I’m a girl!” before realizing he’s not.
Fans will no doubt debate who should be the next Doctor right up until the 12th Doctor is announced. And probably for months to follow. Will it be a man? A woman? What race will he or she be? Young? Old? Famous? Unknown? Will the new Doctor even be British?
As Doctor Who’s executive producer, head writer and showrunner Steven Moffat said in a statement announcing Smith’s departure: “Of course. This isn’t the end of the story, because now the search begins. Somewhere out there right now — all unknowing, just going about their business — is someone who’s about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again! After 50 years, that’s still so exciting!”
Who’s at the top of your list to become the 12th Doctor?
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the June 5-11, 2013, issue