This past week Hayley Atwell, star of Marvel’s Agent Carter was asked by fans whether she would consider a role on Doctor Who. Atwell, responded that she did not just want “a” role but “the” role of the Doctor herself. Of course, this was just a one-off-non-binding comment made on Twitter, but because this is the Internet it went viral and people weighed in on both sides of the old argument, “Should Doctor Who ever be a woman?” It is an argument almost as old as, “Can you call the character Doctor Who, considering his name is actually just The Doctor?”
There are a fair share of naysayers, so called purists, but hidden among all this debate is a larger issue. In a world where everyday we are becoming more and more accepting of a fluid definition of gender identity, is it really too much to ask that our favorite Time Lord become a Time Lady?
Breaking the Silence in the Library
In order to fully talk about the subject of transgender and gender identity, there are certain aspects that we need to discuss. Think of this like the birds and the bees, except for the fact that that is a terrible example, because birds and bees are creatures driven by biological instinct and human beings have so much more going on than biology. In fact, even picking just two animals skews the example. According to findings published by the University of Vienna, gender identity is not a duology. It exists on a spectrum of choices and feelings. So maybe we should start talking about the Bird, the Bees, the Grasshoppers, the Squirrels, and the Daleks, because at least that would be an analogy heading in the right direction. So as the Doctor’s greatest enemies might say, “EDUCATE!”
Biological gender is the gender we are all born with, male, female, or Zygon, but it is only one factor of our identity. Like those Zygons we have the choice of who we become. Gender roles are the roles that society expects of people based upon their biological gender. For instance, you might be expected to be a Time Lord if you possess a… sonic screwdriver… if you know what we are saying. However, gender identity, is the gender that individuals associate with themselves outside their biological and societally assigned gender roles. Those are the three big terms but there is a lot more at play, for example gender expression and sexual orientation also play a factor in determining someone’s identity, but there are no hard a fast rules about correlations between them. You could be a biological man, who identifies as a woman, but expresses himself as a man, and has sexual urges toward both males and female. We call that type of person a Captain Jack.
Gender identity is not a black and white issue. It’s about reds, and blues, and purples, and more all mixing together in a wibbley wobbly mess of stuff to make an identity that is as unique as the person themselves. Even better this is a concept that is becoming more understood and more accepted than ever before. Now, we are not saying that everything is Roses and Amy Ponds… but with high profile transgender celebrities, such as a certain ex-Olympian/the ex-worst father on reality TV, the general public and the mainstream media are coming to see the real fluidity of gender identity. So how can geeks and Whovians, in particular, be any less accepting?
The Doctor’s Life
Yes, the Doctor has always been a white male throughout the entirety of his twelve-ish regenerations, -fourteen if you count John Hurt and David Tennant twice,- but does that mean he has to stay male for all of them? After all, there have been made mentions of Time Lords who have swapped gender roles, most notably the Corsair, mentioned in Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece The Doctor’s Wife. The Doctor refers to his many incarnations as both him and her, even adding “Oh, she was a bad girl.” It is a statement which might also imply that there was something more going on between the Doctor and the Corsair during those periods when he was a she, which also implies a general sort of casual acceptance of this gender fluidity by the Doctor. Most recently, the classic Doctor Who villain, the Master even returned as a woman. All of this seems to suggest that the swapping of Time Lord genders seems to be neither impossible or even socially taboo.
Many fans have done a study on the subject and what they have found seems to indicate that most Time Lords have a biological gender. For instance, the Doctor is biologically male. After all, if regeneration was truly random, than the Doctor would have a 50/50 shot of being a man or a woman on his/her next go around, but that has yet to pan out. However, with these instance of gender swaps among Time Lords, it seems possible that, much like humans, biological gender may not influence one’s gender identity. Some fans believe that in order to accomplish a gender swap a Time Lord would need to have a controlled regeneration under a specific set of circumstance, but what if the answer is simpler than that? What if sometimes a Time Lord just feels like being another gender when it comes time to regenerate? It is more likely that on Gallifrey gender roles are not so rigid as they are on Earth, and if someone wants to spend a few hundred years as the opposite gender of their original biologically assigned sex, than there is nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately, as far as skin color goes, we still have no answer for that mystery.
Every time it is announced that there will be a new Doctor, the Internet becomes a buzz with rumors that it will be a woman, even before there was an Internet. The buzz has been going on since the departure of Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor, and yet every time the Doctor becomes another white male with a British accent. Have they ever considered maybe trying out an American one, possibly a New York or Boston accent? What about Welsh? Regardless, in a world where gender fluidity is becoming more understood and accepted, maybe it is time to start rethinking this reoccurring trend in the longest-running science-fiction/fantasy series in human history.
After all, Doctor Who has stayed progressive on certain issues, often priding itself on its strong female companions, yet there seems to be one glass ceiling even the TARDIS cannot break. In a world of Caitlyn Jenner, same-sex marriage, and more, now is the time to seriously reconsider who and what our thirteenth Doctor will be.
The Girls Who Have Waited
If you are taking suggestions, we are solidly throwing our hats in the corner of team Atwell, as her personality, range of acting, action chops, humor, and British accent, make her a perfect candidate for the job. For a show that prides itself on its innovate and creative stories, characters, and themes, this has been a change that has been a long time coming.
Yes, there will always be the complainers and the critics, but those exist no matter what. Whether you go from a 30-something Matt Smith to a 50-something Peter Capaldi or to a 30-something woman, the Internet will continue to be the Internet. More to the point, the arguments against such a change tend to hinge on ideas of tradition, or on skepticism that a woman could even do the job. Even worse, many complain that the dynamic between the companion and the Doctor would be ruined. These types of arguments are no better than many of the arguments thrown against gay marriage or the transgender population in general. Yes, change can be scary, but it can also be wonderful and amazing and open up new possibilities that can take life and 50-year old sci-fi properties in surprising new directions.
Even the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison has gone on record as being against the gender swap saying, “To have a female [Doctor] would be like having a female James Bond. It would be a rather odd thing.” Of course, we would also have to disagree with him about a female James Bond, or a black one for that matter, but that is an article for another day. Traditions are great when they are used to bring people together, but when they start to be used as justifications for discrimination or as a roadblock to progress, it might be time to reevaluate them and take a closer look at the people who are standing on the outside.
The transgender, pangender, cis-gender, and other gender communities are as vastly different and diverse as birds or bees or Sontarans. In the end, we are all our own creatures with out own gender identities, and we all have the right to chose who we get to be. Ultimately, that sounds very much like the moral of a Doctor Who episode, and of the Doctor himself. So we have to ask, if gender fluidity is good enough for one of our greatest nerd heroes, shouldn’t it also be good enough for us?