Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Spectre of a Female Doctor

My girlfriend and I had a long conversation about the ever taboo question in Doctor Who:  Can the Doctor regenerate into a woman.  Now, she was arguing that the damsel in distress trope is used too often, and that can be solved by making the Doctor a woman.  While I personally think that most of the modern companions are the heroines as much as they're the damsels in distress (and Rory was one very constant damsel in distress), I admit that a strong male character always having to help out a female companion can create a slight, overall sense of gender inequality.  My argument has always been that there's no precedent in the series for the Doctor to be capable of regenerating between genders.  For the most part, my girlfriend just agreed with me because I knew more about Doctor Who than she did.  But a friend of hers reminded her of the holes in my theory, which I always knew about, but didn't bring up.

The first indication that the Doctor could regenerate into a woman came at the very end of "The End of Time" when the 10th Doctor has just regenerated into the 11th Doctor, and the 11th Doctor becomes worried that he's regenerated into a girl:

"I'm a girl!"
Thankfully, it's a family show, so he checked his Adam's apple to make sure he was a man.

The second indication in canon was in "The Doctor's Wife" when the Doctor talked about his old friend, a Time Lord called The Corsair

"The mark of the Corsair. Fantastic bloke. He had that snake as a tattoo in every regeneration. Didn't feel like himself without the tattoo. Or herself, a couple of times. Ooh, she was a bad girl!"
Okay, so his friend the Corsair became a woman during certain regenerations.  However, I always chose to believe that the Corsair was trans in certain regenerations.  Hey, it's a very LGBT friendly show, after all.

There are two big examples of female Doctors outside of canon.  Now, a lot of times I talk on this blog about "questionable canon," expanded Universe stories that fit in with the overall canon, but nobody has officially declared it "canon."  The examples I'm about to give are absolutely not canon.  They're in alternate universes that exist outside of--and directly contradict--canon.  Still, it shows some interest in a female Doctor.

In 1999, Steven Moffat, before he had any official connection to Doctor Who, was commissioned to write an officially BBC licensed Doctor Who parody called "Curse of the Fatal Death" for a charity telethon called Red Nose Day.  The sketch started with Rowan Atkinson as the 9th Doctor, and, in the end, the Doctor regenerated four consecutive times, finally regenerating into a woman.

With her new genitalia, the female Doctor suddenly finds the fact that the sonic screwdriver can vibrate to be a wonderful feature.
No really, not kidding, that happened.
The other non-canon example comes from Doctor Who Unbound, a series of audio adventures which depicted a universe in which the events in the Doctor's life went extremely differently.  In one, he was defeated by the Valeyard in the end of "The Trial of a Timelord."  In another, he was not a pacifist, and was a vengeful killer when he felt it was in the name of justice.  In one, called "Exile," he regenerated into a woman.

Apparently a sex change turns the Doctor into a pathetic alcoholic.  Again, not kidding.
In that story, it was established that the only way a Time Lord could change genders during regeneration by committing suicide.  Interesting idea, but I don't know how exactly the Time Lord's body knows that it's being killed by its own hand.

So no, it's not out of the realm of possibility.  It would be a continental shift in the nature of the show.  And a lot of people would protest.  The question is, is it sexist to resist a female Doctor?

I think that, part of the reason I want the Doctor to stay male, is that part of the reason I look up to him so much is because he's a strong, confident male whose superpower is his vast intelligence.  It's an empowering thing for a very shy and meek man to look up to.

But should we deny female fans that opportunity?  Perhaps that's unfair.  And people might suggest that the majority of the Doctor Who fan base is male, but I've found that there are a lot of female Whovians out there.  I think the more hardcore, devoted, nerdy fans are male, but that's just because, again, the Doctor is a male figure to emulate.  I think that a female Doctor might not alienate the male fans as much as it would attract more female fans.  Women aren't opposed to sci-fi/fantasy fandom, as evidenced by the wide and devoted female fanbase that exists for Buffy.  And there's no shortage of male fans for Buffy.

The problem is that, while there are suggestions of Time Lords being able to regenerate between genders, we've never seen it happen.  That either means it doesn't happen, or it's extremely rare.  The latter is the more likely possibility, considering the dialogue about the Corsair.  And certainly, we haven't seen the Doctor regenerate between skin-colors either, but that's been confirmed to be possible twice ("Let's Kill Hitler" and the SJA episode "Death of the Doctor (Part 2)").  It might also be a rare occurrence.  I really want to see a black Doctor, and, as it says on the "About" page, this blog strongly supports Richard Ayoade for 12th Doctor.  If he can regenerate into any appearance, 11 white guys seems a little silly.

Maybe it's time for a (sex) change.

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