Yesterday, in an unexpected announcement, Peter Capaldi revealed that he was to step down from Doctor Who at the end of the year. Although surprising, I kind of saw it coming. Stephen Moffat, lead writer for the show for the past few years is leaving too and as it was with Russell T Davies, the star of the show is going too, leaving a clean slate for the new lead writer, Chris Chibnall. For me, it’s a bit of a shame. Doctor Who has been in a bit of a tailspin for the past few years, good ideas sandwiched between warm, sugary stories and unending hero worship of the Doctor. I’m looking forward to a change of writer and hopefully a change of direction too, less grown up fairy tales and more science fiction and daring plots. Capaldi is an excellent actor and I was overjoyed when he took the role, however his run has been mired in the same problems that plagued his predecessor’s stint in the TARDIS.
As seems to happen every time the Doctor regenerates, speculation has been rife over who should take over. Everyone from Kathy Burke to the Pope seems to have been nominated and more than a few times, suggestions have been made as to whether it’s time to change the Doctor’s gender, race and/or nationality. We know from the series lore that these changes can occur and with the last twelve Doctors played by white, British guys, there’s some appetite for change. However, would making these changes ruin the character of the Doctor or would it lead the series in a bold new direction? For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the matter.
Should the Doctor be American?
Simple answer: No.
The Doctor has flirted with America many times, more so in recent years following the success of the Eleventh Doctor in breaking out with American audiences. Consequently, I’ve seen a few calls for the role to be given to an American actor, making the show more international. Although I can see the appeal of such a move, I’d argue that the Doctor’s Britishness is one of the most important things about him. From the doddering, fuddy duddiness of the First and the gently Fifth to the bumbling, apologetic Eleventh, the Doctor has always been quintessentially British in character, brought to life by actors from around the British Isles. Whether it was the Ninth declaring that many planets have a North or Twelve rejoicing in his Scottishness (because then he could blame the English for everything), Doctor Who has showcased the diversity of our island and I reckon it would be a tragedy to suddenly transplant his character to the Americas.
Besides, we already have plenty of American heroes (quite a few, yes, played by British actors, sorry) and it’s always a source of pride to have this galaxy spanning hero who always loves to return to Britain every few episodes for more adventures and a cup of tea. For me it would be like watching a horrid American version of a beloved British show. For every success like The Office, there are dozens of remakes of our shows such as Red Dwarf or Fawlty Towers, all of which jettison the very thing that made it special in order to pander to American audiences. And although it might be interesting to see some other accents from the Doctor other than English and Scottish, I still believe that Doctor Who is a British show and that an American actor would cheapen that.
Should the Doctor be a woman?
I’m still divided on this one. In my opinion, Doctor Who has been low on strong female roles in recent years. River Song might have been good but she was hardly around and fell into the trap of falling for the Doctor, a problem that seems to have plagued the show in recent years. Even Amy, feisty and engaged, still made a move on Eleven. The last great companion in my books was Donna, someone who enjoyed the travelling and had no intention of ‘mating’ with the good Doctor. Alas, she was stricken with the other problem of recent companions: becoming the most important person in the universe (for the duration of that particular plot).
So would it ruin the show to swap roles for a bit? To have a strong, female Doctor travelling about the universe with a male companion? Possibly, it would very much depend on the actor and the way the character was written. What compelling reason would the Doctor have for changing his gender? When he encountered the regenerated Master recently, he was somewhat appalled at the change of sex (but that might have been just because she recently snogged him). Also, in The Doctor’s Wife, he was taken aback to learn that The Corsair had swapped his gender too. This could just be the Doctor being surprised by both revelations or perhaps intrigued, it’s unclear. One of the problems with the Doctor’s regenerations is that they’re often done in an emergency rather than as a conscious choice and so they sometimes go wrong and he’s left wondering what or who he is. So the possibility is there.
My only reservation comes from comments made when the comic version of Thor was recently replaced by a female version (did you really think you were going to get through one of my pieces without something on comics?). As some observers have noted, why swap an existing character’s gender just to appeal to more people? Why can’t the writers come up with new and exciting characters for audiences to get behind? Does Doctor Who need stronger female characters? Yes, most definitely it does however that doesn’t necessarily have to be the Doctor. Give me a really challenging companion or, even better, someone like The Rani, who could run rings around the Doctor and play him at his own game.
If they do go this direction, my personal nomination would be for Miranda Richardson. Excellent actor and comes with the added bonus of having already appeared in the show (there’s plenty of precedents for this). However, if you really wanted to push the boat out, I’d go for Hayley Atwell (above) as she’s already expressed an interest in the role and has a documented history of kicking arse. Plus, she’s kinda looking for work at the moment…
Should the Doctor be non-white?
Short answer: Yes.
This is one I do think is overdue. Typically, the Doctor is always white but we live in a world now which is much more diverse than it was fifty years ago. Whereas we’re used to white leads, different ethnicities and races need to be much more commonplace in the leading role. It’s also a change that I don’t think would alter the essentials of the character that much. Being British, bumbling and quirky is not an attribute that knows race and there are far more hues to our skin tones now than ever there was before. Although I might not necessarily think that perennial fan favourite Idris Elba would be a good match, it would certainly be interesting.
As an added bonus, I kinda enjoyed the outpouring of rage when a black Stormtrooper was revealed a few years ago and I always enjoy upsetting those kind of folk.
In the end, I reckon the BBC will play it safe. The show has been meandering a lot of late and with budget cuts and an incoming showrunner, I’d be surprised if they decided to rock the boat too much and risk the income from one of their most popular shows. That said, Doctor Who has always been a show to challenge the norm, to toy with new ideas. Ultimately, I’m not too concerned with who will play the Doctor, whether male, female, black, white or a nationality other than British. The show needs new, exciting stories and to engage with audiences again and it’s this that I’m looking forward to most of all, not the actor portraying him.
In the end, the Doctor will always be the Doctor, strange, quirky and bold, never cowardly or cruel. And as he has been known to say, in the end, we’re all stories, so you might as well make it a good one.
Images: BBC and Google Images