There’s absolutely no in-universe reason why the next Doctor shouldn’t be played by a woman.
Whenever the current Doctor’s regeneration is announced, the question that’s grown tired by repetition and gone unanswered by the show is raised: Could the next Doctor be a woman? And every time it’s raised, the same nonsensical cries are heard: ‘Of course he can’t be a woman – why would you change something like that? Do you want Wonder Woman to be played by a man?’ or somesuch tiresome variant, and the even less valid ‘He’s always been a man, he should always be a man. I’m all for strong Time Lady characters, but the Doctor’s a man.’
To deal as briefly with these arguments as they deserve would be to ignore them completely and go skipping about our day, but let’s see.
To the ‘Of course he can’t be a woman’ crowd – yes. He can. If you buy the premise of regeneration at all, and 54 years down the line, if you don’t buy that by now, you’re reaaally watching the wrong show, then the idea of ‘every cell in the body’ being changed, rejuvenated and generally re-made during the process should be clear to you by now. If every cell is re-made, then there’s no theoretical problem with Time Lords changing sex. Not for nothing, among the first words of the last three Doctors have been some comment on the ‘new’ biology they have.
‘Hmm. New teeth. That’s weird. Anyway, where was I?’
The Tenth Doctor, on his regeneration.
‘Legs! I’ve still got legs! Yes!’
The Eleventh Doctor, on his regeneration, and shortly afterwards:
‘New mouth – new rules!’
‘Kidneys! – I’ve got new kidneys. I don’t like the colour!’
The Twelfth Doctor, on his regeneration.
‘Womb! Oh, that’s fun, I’ve never had a womb before!’
Probably Not The Thirteenth Doctor, on her regeneration.
So even in theory, there’s no reason why the Doctor couldn’t be played by an actress. But even if there were, and believe me, the fanboys have tried to find them – ‘Missy’s not the product of natural regeneration’ (where they get that from is anyone’s guess), and ‘Time Lords only change sex if they’re murdered, like the General’ (again, there’s not the slightest justification for that idea, beyond misogyny) – we’ve now seen ‘male’ Time Lords regenerate into ‘female’ ones ‘live’ on screen, we’ve seen the greatest evil Time Lord of them all come back as the Queen of Evil, and we’ve heard of the Corsair, who – apparently without any undue strain - was a male and a female in successive regenerations. It’s a fact of Who. Whether you think it should be is supremely irrelevant. The point of differentiation with ALMOST EVERY OTHER CHARACTER IN FICTIONAL HISTORY is regeneration. Sherlock Holmes couldn’t just become Sheryl Holmes without a conscious nod to the feminisation of the character. Wonder Woman couldn’t become Wonder Man without some shenanigans on the part of the Amazonian goddesses. But – for instance – Iron Man can become Iron Woman because it’s a person in a suit. Thor can turn female because, well hell, he’s a god. Part of the point of godhood is you can do pretty much whatever the hell you like, so if he wants to be she, that’s possible and groovy. The same is true of the Doctor – regeneration means anything is possible. During Romana’s wheel of regeneration in Destiny of the Daleks, it became clear that Time Lords don’t even need to retain the basic ‘humanoid’ shape. That the Doctor’s always done so is more a function of his requirements – ‘something that’ll fit in anywhere’ than it is of his particular love of the pinkish bipedal shape. That retaining that shape is not by any means a given is referenced in some of Matt Smith’s first words – ‘Legs! I still have legs. Good.’
If you’re still maintaining there’s some lore that means the Doctor should never be a woman, that’s your own sexism showing through. Sorry, not sorry.
The ‘He’s always been a man, he should always be a man’ crowd can be addressed even more easily. The show has always been about change. The idea that simply because something’s never been done before, it can never be done is practically antithetical to the whole ethos of the show. If nothing could be changed, we’d still be looking for actors who looked vaguely like William Hartnell and strapping white flowing wigs on their head. Except we wouldn’t be, because the nature of renewal would never have been encountered and all the stories that could have been told with a single version of the character would have long been told. What you mean by ‘he should always be a man’ is that you personally wouldn’t be comfortable if he were a woman. Annnd bottom line, the show is about telling new stories in new ways much more than it is about the comfort of any particular group of fans. There were fans who said Matt Smith was too young. There were fans who said Peter Capaldi was too old. And too Scottish, come to that. The show moves forward, with or without fans who want it always to be the same. In fact, that it would make some fans uncomfortable is an actual positive reason why it should absolutely be done at some point.
Believe it or not, I’ve just spent 900 words explaining why there’s no in-universe reason why the next Doctor shouldn’t be played by a woman, more or less because I’m aware that ‘There’s no reason this shouldn’t happen, but…’ is the Who-fan’s version of ‘I’m not racist, but…’ I need to make it clear beyond a shadow of doubt that there’s no in-universe reason this shouldn’t happen. I, personally, would love it to happen, but of course, the show’s under no obligation to take my desires into account when it chooses the next incumbent in the Tardis either.
It will be Chibnall’s Choice whether this happens, not yours or mine. But will it happen this time?
After all, historically the odds against it are 12-1. A hundred percent of the main-show Doctors so far have been not-women. But there’s an additional unlikelihood this time round.
If you’re an incoming showrunner and you get to choose your first Doctor, it’s your chance to stamp your signature on your first few years in the chair, and the chances are if you’re qualified to be the showrunner, you already have an idea how you want that to look, to sound, to be. And with the most optimistic will in the world, the ‘it’s always been this way’ factor is likely to have played a part in forming those ideas. If you’re an incoming showrunner and the haters are already lining up to criticise every move you make – and they are: the anti-Chibnall chorus is tuning up to take over from the anti-Moffat chorus as we speak – in the precarious world of television, you’re likely to want a couple of years under your belt before you risk alienating even misogynist or traditionalist fans, because significant drops in audience numbers can spook TV executives, to the detriment of good drama. Now, Chibnall’s neither a fool nor a bad writer, and as I say, I personally would love to see him come in with a blaze of glory in terms of writing strong female characters, say ‘Up yours, we’re doing it my way, things change, X was the best actor available for the job, she’s a woman, the Doctor’s having a female regeneration, like it, lump it or leave it!’
If he does that, I’ll cheer. But I’ll also acknowledge that as his first Doctor, it might be terminally courageous. The only time so far in New Who that a female Doctor would have been genuinely viable was after Matt Smith left. Davies’ second Doctor was only a year into the revival, and the concept of regeneration had to be proved to a new generation of fans – Tennant was the way to go. Moffat’s first Doctor probably had to be a guy, even if it didn’t have to be that guy, on the basis of incoming showrunner fear and the need to prove the safety of your hands to the execs before you go wild and crazy and claim both halves of the species could play the role. The Capaldi Doctor would have been difficult not to love, but after Smith it could have gone any of several ways – Doctor of Colour, Female Doctor…but sure, Older Doctor, that’ll be controversial (bizarrely, it was!).
There seems more general acceptance across the board of the idea of a female Doctor as each regeneration advances, so maybe, just maybe, Chibnall will have the confidence to go for it right out of the big blue box.
But don’t be overly surprised if he doesn’t. 14th Doctor, maybe?
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk