Is Missy's identity Steven Moffat's way of testing the water for a potential Doctor gender swap? Dominic Fellows hopes not...
So we have a female Master. Or do we? Assuming there isn’t another twist in the tail let’s say this is the case. And everyone seems ok with it. Everyone except me.
At the risk of being unpopular, gender-swapping in fiction is not something I’m keen on. And of course Time Lords being able to change gender is now a stone-cold fact (if it wasn’t already) which undoubtedly paves the way for a female Doctor. I have a theory on what course this will take but more on that later.
First off I must cautiously say why I am utterly against it. It's not because I’m a stick-in-the-mud grumpy old fan who doesn’t like change, and nor because I am some kind of sexist (my wife, my mother, my sister, my sister-in-law are just some of the great women I can mention). What I am against is cheap stunts and that was the bitter taste that Missy’s reveal left me with. And why you may ask. Because I really liked Missy, I felt that we were finally presented with a brand new and interesting antagonist (something that has been missing from 21st century Doctor Who), who was a genuine mystery, someone I wanted to find out more about. My train of thought went something like this ‘Ooh, someone from The Doctor’s past we haven’t seen before, who could she be? His mother? His wife? His Daughter? Romana gone bad? The suspense is unbearable!..... Oh it’s just The Master’.
Suddenly I know a huge chunk of back story and the character has become less interesting. Taking the gender-swapping issue out of the equation this was not so much shocking as typical. But I perhaps could have stomached that were it not for the grotesquely tasteless kiss earlier in the episode, which in hindsight made me think ‘so all this time The Master just had a thing for The Doctor. He should have just asked him to the cinema’, giving me visions of Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado no one should ever have...
Or worse Tom Baker and Geoffrey Beevers...
Ok, I’ll admit I’m over thinking that one, but someone’s gender is so vital to who they are and how they perceive the world and their place in it, to make light of the subject is something I am deeply uncomfortable with. To apply a real-world sensibility, there are people who really struggle with identity and gender issues, in some cases going to the extreme of changing their sex. I can’t imagine this is something anyone as ever taken lightly. I realise we are not talking about a real person but the fictional larger-than-life-maniacal-time lord/lady mad man/woman known as The Master but you would hope that these issues were at least considered when this was written.
Going back to the notion of a female Doctor, my theory is this; if Moffat’s tenure out lasts Capaldi’s then the next Doctor will most likely be a woman as he has gone to great lengths to set it up. If the reverse is the case, a new show runner will probably go with the safer option. Believe it or not, many moons ago I was very much in favour of a female Doctor. When asked I would say ‘Sure, why not, it’s about time, wouldn’t such and such be great’ what I never said was ‘What kind of stories would there be? What would the companion dynamic be like? What affect would it have on the character? What form would The Doctor’s trademark sensibilities take? Is this being done for a genuine dramatic reason because there are stories to tell that won’t work with a female lead? Is the right actress for the part out there?’ and as time has gone on and I have asked myself these questions I have not liked the answer to any. My motivation for wanting a female Doctor was ‘just because’. Maybe it’s because I spent too long in creative writing lectures, but that is now the sort of reasoning I can’t justify.
To paraphrase Phillip Segal, speaking of casting Eric Roberts he noted ‘We were required to cast an American as the villain, with that restriction in place you are already not necessarily picking the best actor for the job’, although the situation is different the principle is the same. I do not agree with Steven Moffat’s assertion (and I’m paraphrasing again) that as soon as the right female actor is found, The Doctor will become a woman. I cannot accept this. In any form of fiction there has to be a logistical reason within the story structure for characters to behave in the way they do and gender plays a huge part in that. At its most basic level, women and men do tend to react differently to any given situation. If you will pardon me a gender stereotype for a moment, women are more likely to react thoughtfully where as men tend to be more physical. Although a notable exception to this is (you guessed it) The Doctor. Part of the character’s appeal lies in the fact that he is not like other masculine heroes. He rarely reacts physically, he doesn’t use guns, he doesn’t (generally) go after the girl, no, many of his attributes such as thinking the problem through, rarely being physical and not being guided by sexual desire are traits more commonly associated with female characters (I’d like to stress that this is not the rule, just a generalisation for arguments sake). In short, he is already quite feminine and that is what is brilliant about him. Apply this to a female Doctor and you lose much of what makes him unique. It’s not too much of a stretch to presume that a female Doctor would have a young male companion resulting in let’s assume a middle-aged, slightly barmy lady rattling around the universe with a young lad in tow… hold on a moment that’s been done, it was called Teabag. I watched it as a child, it was quite good but Doctor Who it was not although Georgina Hale would have made a good female Doctor.
What else I find quite ridiculous about this whole argument is its one sided-ness. The argument is always ‘shouldn’t we have a female such and such?’ no one ever says ‘Do you know what I want to see; Mr Marple!’ and that’s just the point. I don’t want to see Brenda Wayne, Kate Kent, Sheila Holmes or Jane Bond any more than I want to see Danny the Vampire Slayer, Wonderman, Terry Brannan or Louis Lane. Lois Lane is perhaps the most pertinent example as her ‘woman in a man’s world’ mantra is so integral to her character a gender swap would turn one of comic most iconic creations into ‘just another reporter guy’. Incidentally many of these characters do have female/male counterparts. I do in no way want to suggest that I think women can’t handle a ‘Man’s job’. ‘M’ was famously and successfully re-cast as a woman and Doctor Watson in ‘Elementary’ has been re-imagined as such. So why are these alright but not other’s? For me, the reason ‘M’ works is because it’s not character but a Job title. Robert Brown’s ‘M’ didn’t go in for a sex change operation he simply had a female successor which is stated in ‘Goldeneye’. In the same vain, ‘Elementary’ is not intended as a faithful re-creation of Conan-Doyle’s Holmes but something entirely different using his premise making Lucy Liu’s character, while filling the dramatic requirements of Conan Doyle’s Watson, is someone completely new.
Of course if one day we are presented with a female Doctor it wouldn’t be the first time, Joanna Lumley took on the role briefly in ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ (in which she hooked-up with The Master, ever feel like Moffat is plagiarising himself?), Catherine Tate played the part in the final scenes of ‘Journey’s End’ (to a degree) and Billie Piper at the end of her tenure became so much like The Doctor one almost believed she was being groomed for the part. Though she had nothing on Lalla Ward who became so much like Tom Baker she had her own Sonic Screwdriver. But the closest there has ever been to a genuine, bona fide female Doctor is Arabella Weir in Big Finish’s ‘Exile’ Now is probably a good time to give it a listen.
Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also
producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more
than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them.