Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Whovians Need to Get Over Themselves

"It's traditional."

"It's always been done this way."

If you want me to support your cause, you will never use these phrases with me.  I believe tradition can be more of a hindrance than a help.  Rigid adherence to tradition is a potential impediment to true progress.  If humans always stuck to the belief that things should be done one way because they have always been done that way, we would all still be living in trees.  Everything changes and moves forward and most of the time humanity is the better for it.

This doesn't only apply to the big issues.  It also applies to the small ones.  Pop culture needs to be refreshed and reinvented too sometimes.  If it didn't we would all still be watching vaudeville and the Keystone Cops and wondering why were were bored with them.

The grand tradition of Dr. Who deserves a face lift as much as any institution.  For the uninitiated, I will clarify that Dr. Who is a TV show that began in 1963.  The BBC created it as a way of teaching children about science and history.  It was about a mysterious, humanoid space alien from the planet Gallifrey who travels throughout time and space in a magical spaceship shaped like a phone booth called the TARDIS.  He solves complex issues throughout the universe using only his wits.  The show caught on with a broader audience.  Thanks to PBS, it found an audience in the US.  It was a cult hit.

Unfortunately the actor who played the Doctor became seriously ill and could not continue playing the role.  Rather than end the show, the writers came up with an ingenious plan to keep it going.  The Doctor is an alien with two hearts.  When he is close to death, he has the ability to regenerate into another form.  He would still be the same person with the same memories, but have a different body.  That body could be anything, but from 1966-1989, the Doctor always took the form of an eccentric, middle-aged (EDIT: Okay, not all of them were middle-aged), white, English man.  Audiences saw 8 of these men before the show was cancelled.

In 2005 the BBC decided to reboot the series.  Its old fans were nostalgic, and the emerging popularity of nerd culture among young people made it ripe for a new life on television.  In order to appeal to a younger audience, the producers began casting younger, hipper men in the lead role.

As stated in an earlier post, I had a long and complicated history with the show. The reboot helped shatter my expectations of what the Doctor could and should be.  The Doctor was no longer a middle-aged man in a funny hat.   He was a cool guy in a leather jacket.  When Christopher Eccleston left, the regenerations became even younger and more eccentric.  I enjoyed each of these regenerations.  Every actor brought something new to the role.  I never let myself get too attached to one Doctor.  I don't have a "My Doctor" (although if you forced me to choose, I'd pick Eleven).

When I heard Matt Smith was leaving the show, I started to think long and hard about the choices the producers had made in casting the show so far.  Sure the Doctors each had different personalities and appearances, but they all had one thing in common.  After fifty years, maybe it was time to make some changes.

"The next Doctor should be black," I said to Kevin as Matt Smith's departure became imminent.

"Or a woman," was his response.

I'm a progressive feminist kind of gal, but the idea of a woman threw me for a loop for a moment.  Why a woman?  Why not a woman?  Certainly a woman is capable of doing everything the Doctor does.  If you want to go by stereotypes and say that men have the brawn and women have the intellect and sensitivity, wouldn't a woman be perfect as a hero who defeats enemies with wit and negotiation?  Still my brain was as tied to the idea of a male Doctor as the producers and writers were.  It was difficult to envision.  But back in the 70s could fans of the show envision a young man in a leather jacket and jeans as the Doctor instead of a weird guy in a ridiculous scarf?

Whatever hopes I had of a radical change in the Doctor ended with the new season.  Tradition won out in the end and Peter Capaldi, an eccentric, middle-aged, white man was cast in the titular role.  Doctor Who had come full circle.

I liked Capaldi and what he brought to the role, but the Capaldi years have not been the most successful seasons.  Ratings are slipping.  My husband groans when I suggest we watch an episode of Doctor Who.  "The writing just isn't good anymore," he protests.  The show has lost its momentum.  Do we blame Capaldi?  Do we blame Steven Moffat?  Do we blame the fact that the show has been on the air for over 50 years and there is only so long you can play the same concept to the same audience?

Certainly women have played a stronger role in the show since the reboot and the show has played with the idea of a female time lord.  Throughout the first few seasons we learned the mysterious River Song, while a human born to human parents, has Timelord DNA due to her being conceived in the TARDIS.  We saw her regenerate from Amy's childhood friend, Mels to her final incarnation as River.  She must have regenerated at least one other time because Mels was black and she was a white baby.  In the more recent seasons we saw the Doctor's nemesis, The Master, regenerate into Missy, a woman.  The character became immensely popular and she is far more complex than the Master, who is portrayed almost as pure evil.

With Capaldi's departure imminent, the speculation that a woman would be cast as the next Doctor grew to a fever pitch.  There were speculations on potential actresses to play the role.  There were denials from the producers who said this wouldn't happen.

On July 16th, I received my birthday present of the notification of the next Doctor.  Jodie Whittaker, formerly of Broadchurch will take on the role..  It is an interesting crossover since the Broadchurch cast features two former actors from Doctor Who, David Tennant and Arthur Darvill. Also Season 2 featured  Torchwood alum, Eve Myles.  There was also speculation about Olivia Coleman playing the role, and I think that choice would have been equally legitimate.

Nerdbros have exploded all over the internet.  Apparently a woman isn't fit to play the Doctor.  The angry Twitterverse has provided several interesting reasons why. Much of that is pure sexism. Apparently The Doctor can't fulfill her role as savior of the universe if she's on her period.  (Do Timelords have periods?  Do they have human genitalia?  I suspect if she gets her period, she does what human women do.  She sticks a tampon up her hoo-hah, takes some Advil for her cramps, and carries on.)  She might cover the TARDIS in frilly decorations or cry when the Daleks threaten to exterminate her.  What if she breaks a nail or gets a run in her stocking? No matter how many strong women exist both in pop culture and in real life, there will always be sexist pigs who won't believe they are capable of heroism.

What is sadder than the sexism is the viewers who can't accept change.  We are back to doing things how they have always been done.  Doctor Who has always had men in the starring role, and that's the way it should be.  It doesn't matter that doing this eventually led to a cancellation the first time and slipping ratings the second.  Jodie Whittaker may be terrible in the role, but she may also be brilliant.  The show could go in new directions that will be fresh and unexpected.  She will have different relationships with her companions (and that's why I look forward to seeing the most).  She is breaking a tradition, but breaking tradition is what leads to progress and this is exactly what the show needs.

Embrace change, or lose what you love entirely.  Your choice.

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