Last Sunday saw the identity of the 12th and potentially next-to-last Doctor Who revealed, with the BBC announcing during a live ceremony of pomp and kitschy bombast that Scottish actor had landed the role of the eccentric Time Lord. The announcement brought to an end weeks of speculation linking a who's who of British acting talent to the role, and while I think Capaldi is a fine choice to step into the good Doctor's adventuring shoes, I can't help thinking that he is also the safest.
Hear me out.
During the last few weeks there had been some serious talk permeating the web that the Twelfth Doctor would be the first to be either non-white or non-male. The Wire's , Homeland's and (12 Years A Slave) were names that were making it onto many wishlists, while , and were flying the flag for girl power. Unfortunately, the rumors proved to be just that. What began with the promise of pastures new, ended with the controls of the TARDIS being in the capable, but also white and male hands, of Capaldi.
The first Doctor strutted onto our TV screens in 1963 in the form of and from that point on we've had a procession of white guys quantum leaping into the time vortex and saving the universe. As a loyal Whovian - and citizen of the 21st Century - I had high hopes that this latest regeneration of the Doctor would see a cultural shift away from the norm and give us our first non-Caucasian (or God forbid) female Doctor. This is not because I enjoy standing on my politically correct soapbox banging my liberal drum (although I do love a bit of liberal drumming now and again) but because I thought it was an opportunity for Who to break the shackles of tradition and offer a new, exciting and groundbreaking direction for the show.
Current showrunner , along with writer , were responsible for the 2011 episode The Doctor's Wife that established the universal lore that the Doctor could change gender whenever they regenerate. Moffat himself admitted in the days leading up to the announcement that a female doctor "was likely to happen someday." Obviously that someday isn't today.
So why didn't it happen?
Moffat claims that the timing for a female Doctor didn't feel right and that there wasn't enough public demand for it, saying:
Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I'll get into trouble for saying this – were women. [They were] saying, 'No, no, don't make him a woman!
Putting aside the intellectually offensive argument that just because a couple of women didn't want to see a female Doctor that Moffat's decision not to cast one has been legitimized, I think the reason that some fans seemed so reticent to cast a female in the lead role was because they simply couldn't imagine it.
A lot of people don't like change, this much is clear. Be it your favorite football team changing their jersey or your local pub importing a different beer, changes to the norm are normally met with resistance, threats of boycott and reminiscing about the good ol' days where everything stayed the same and everybody was happy and content. Of course, normally three games into the new season or five pints down the hatch (whichever comes first) you forget exactly what so annoyed you in the first place and as quick as you can say "change is bad" what was once new and distrusted is now the norm.
On this very website we are constantly inundated with narrow-minded comments that if a certain actor doesn't return to a role then that franchise is dead to them because so-and-so IS that character. It's absolute rubbish, of course. It's a thought process stuck in the immediate present with no consideration for what has gone before and what is to come. Put simply, it's a symptom of a lack of imagination and pandering to this only makes matters worse.
Another argument concerning the gender or ethnicity of the Doctor is that he's always been a white guy. Therefore, it's impossible to imagine him being anything else. "If he's female how can we relate to him?" runs at the unspoken heart of the argument. And yet, since the show began have we not expected women to do exactly that and try and relate to a white man? It seems we can imagine a Doctor time-traveling across the galaxy encountering grunting aliens, but envisioning him as a her is too much for our minds to handle.
It's the 21st Century and women can do stuff now. The Doctor has had lots of kick-ass female companions over the years. Without Rose, the universe would probably have been destroyed, Amy Pond showed her nerves of steel when she stood up to the terrifying Weeping Angels and Donna was the equal of the Time Lord in every way. Heck, River Song is even a time traveler. If we are OK with having strong female characters that can hold their own against the Good Doctor as a sidekick, why can't we just give them the power to regenerate and take on the mantle of Time Lady?
Without wanting to wander too far down the path of mawkish sentimentality, stories have the ability to shine a light on society. They won't change the world but they can help to shape our perceptions and encourage us to re-imagine a different present and future. No matter how equal and civilized we believe we are there are still big social divides that run along gender lines. I'm not naive enough to believe that making the Doctor a woman would have solved this because sweeping social and cultural change takes time and huge sacrifice. However, it would at least force us to open our minds, confront our own prejudices and perhaps even give us a new female hero to fall in love with.
As it is, the decision to cast Peter Capaldi has given us is a very capable actor who will do a very capable job and continue the tradition of those that came before him.
Then again, that hardly takes much imagination, does it?