Friday, August 11, 2017

“Is the future going to be all girl?”

What does it feel like to be the first woman Doctor?
"It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be. It feels incredible."
Jodie Whittaker
And so, without an excessive amount of inappropriate fan-boy fallout*, the first woman Doctor: 34-year-old English** actor Jodie Whittaker. Whittaker fits nicely into the profile of Doctor Who leads since the 2005 reboot: she's an experienced professional with a solid portfolio of work, but her acting profile isn't extremely high, which makes her an affordable casting choice for the show.*** (As per previous discussion of budgets, salaries and so on.)

That being said, I hope that her wage packet is comparable to her predecessors, given the manner in which the BBC is currently struggling with gender pay gap problems. In one of this season's episodes, the Doctor commented that the Time Lords are "billions of years beyond your petty obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes" - BBC management would do well to follow their example.

As fans adjust to the change, it's fair to say that Ms. Whittaker will have to accept some changes as well.  Apparently in the past she has been happy to go unrecognized by people on the street, preferring a low profile in public - ah, well, I have some bad news for you there, Jodie...  

Similarly, she'll need to prepare herself to answer questions about life in the TARDIS that have little to do with her craft as an actor.  I recall interviews with Liam Neeson regarding his work as Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace in which he was so obviously baffled by questions about lightsabers and the Force, rather than character development and acting decisions.

Whittaker has worked with two previous Doctors:  she shared the stage with Christopher Eccleston in a theatrical production of Antigone in 2012, in which she played the title role, and more recently appeared with David Tennant on Broadchurch.  When asked for his opinion on Whittaker's casting during a recent appearance on The Tonight Show, Tennant commented:
“You know, sure, Jodie is from a different gender than anyone who has gone before, but that will be irrelevant almost immediately once she takes the part.  It’s about finding the right performer at the right time, and that’s Jodie, without a doubt.”
He's completely correct - Whittaker's gender should be irrelevant, she should be judged on the quality of her work rather than her sex. However, I suspect it's going to be challenging for people to avoid commenting on her status as the first female Doctor when discussing her performance  - I think of this as the Obama Effect.  Hopefully she'll be able to make her mark based on more than just being the first woman in the role.

But let's not diminish that milestone.  The last couple of years have been very positive for the genre in terms of strong female leads: Rey in The Force Awakens, Jyn Erso in Rogue One, the massively successful Wonder Woman movie, and now a female Doctor. To quote an exchange from the final episode of this season:
The Master: “Is the future going to be all girl?”
The Doctor: ”We can only hope.”
- Sid

* I somehow doubt that many of the naysayers are fan-girls, although you never know.

** I bet we'll have to wait a LOT longer for the lead in Doctor Who not to be from the British Isles.  It's been surprising enough that two of the last three were Scottish.

*** I've also seen photos of Whittaker that demonstrate a slightly maniacal grin, which seems to have become one of the prerequisites for the part.

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