Op-Ed: Is the new Doctor Who a woman?

Posted Aug 3, 2013 by Mathew Wace Peck
For Doctor Who fans, the wait is almost over as the BBC prepares to reveal who has been cast as the new lead in their long-running flagship science-fiction drama series.
Georgia Moffett and  friend  outside the TARDIS
Georgia Moffett and "friend" outside the TARDIS
Creative Commons
For the past two months, the BBC have been searching for an actor to replace Matt Smith as the Doctor, following his decision to step down from the role at the end of this year.
The search for a new Doctor has led to increased speculation that, for the first in its 50-year history, the person chosen will be a woman.
Consequently, a number of names of female actors have surfaced, including, but by no means limited to, Helen Mirren (Prime Suspect), Sheridan Smith (Mrs Biggs), Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife), Olivia Colman (Broadchurch), Georgia Moffet (White Van Man), Lara Pulver (Sherlock), Zawe Ashton (Case Studies), Adelayo Adedeyo (Some Girls), Vicky McClure (Line of Duty), Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Paris Jackson (Lundon's Bridge and the Three Keys) and Billy Piper (Doctor Who).
Whoever has been chosen, the new Doctor will be the twelfth incarnation of the TV character since the show began way back in 1963. The Doctor is a Time Lord from Gallifrey, who has two hearts and the ability to “regenerate” in order to save himself when fatally injured.
Up till now, except in spoof episodes of Doctor Who [1], the Doctor has appeared in male form, the previous eleven having all been played by men. However, female Time Lords are known to have existed and, in The Doctor’s Wife – a 2011 Doctor Who story by Neil Gaiman – it was established for the first time that a previously male-looking Time Lord can regenerate into female form.
Jon Pertwee: the prototype female Doctor Who? (screenshot)
Jon Pertwee: the prototype female Doctor Who? (screenshot)
Outside of the fictional Doctor Who universe, up until 1980, there wasn’t any suggestion that the Doctor would be played by anyone other than a man, as the first four Doctors – William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker – had been.
However, over the years, and increasingly so, there have been calls for a woman to take on the iconic and very much sought-after role.
The first stirrings of the possibility of a female Doctor began way back in 1980, at a press conference held to announce that Baker would be leaving the show after a record-breaking seven years. Baker’s parting shot to the journalists gathered was to say that he wished his successor the best, “whoever he or she is”.
Subsequently, it emerged that the BBC had not been considering casting a female actor; that Baker – known for his wicked sense of humour and tall-tale-telling – had come up with the comment on the spur of the moment. However, that didn’t stop the ensuing media and public interest in the possibility of a woman becoming the Doctor.
In the event, when the announcement of Baker’s successor was made, the person cast as the Fifth Doctor was unveiled as Peter Davison, then well known for playing Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. Most definitely male, Davison’s casting was still a first, in that he was, at 29, the youngest-ever person to be as the Doctor. (As an aside, that record was broken by Matt Smith, who was 26 when he was unveiled as the Eleventh Doctor, in 2009.)
Doctor Who: Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor
Doctor Who: Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor
Creative Commons
Notwithstanding that the Doctor was still male, the notion of a female Doctor has persisted in the intervening decades. However, the only time we know for sure that the BBC has actually contemplated casting a woman, was when the series was revamped by Russell T Davies in the early noughties.
Recently, Russell T Davies (Wizards and Aliens) confirmed that back in 2003/4, when he was looking for someone to play the Ninth Doctor, the BBC considered many, many actors – male and female. Of women, top of the list was Judi Dench – probably most famous now for playing James Bond’s boss, M, in the 007 movies. (Interestingly, as another aside, top of the list of male actors was Tom Baker himself!)
Once again, though, the part went to a man – this time, Cracker actor Christopher Eccleston, who played the Doctor for just one season. His successor, David Tennant, had already been cast as the Tenth Doctor before anyone outside of the BBC was even aware that Eccleston would be relinquishing the role at the close of the 2005 series.
Vengeance on Venus
The idea of a female Doctor came back with a vengeance in 2008, when Tennant announced, at the National Television Awards, that he would be leaving Doctor Who sometime the following year.
This time, the press and fans went into overdrive, speculating that, at last, he would become she. UK female scientists even launched a campaign to encourage the BBC to cast a woman.
In the event, in January 2009, the BBC announced a man had been cast: the former football player and then-little-known actor, Matt Smith. When, however, the Tenth Doctor regenerated into the Eleventh (The End of Time, Part Two, New Year’s Day 2010), the writer, Steven Moffat, included a nod to the Doctor being a woman – Eleventh Doctor: “Hair ... [Notes its length] I’m a girl! [Checks for his Adam’s apple] No! No! I’m not a girl!”
Daily Mirror front-page “exclusive”  1 September 2012
Daily Mirror front-page “exclusive”, 1 September 2012
Daily Mirror Twitter
Twelve who could be Twelve
So, let's take a light-hearted look at some of the contenders for the first-ever female Doctor Who!
Helen Mirren – Dame Dr Who
Although Mirren seems to have ruled herself out of becoming the first female Doctor, she has had the backing of Doctor Who alumni Arthur Darvill (Rory Pond), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) and the current Doctor himself, Matt Smith.
Not only would she be the first female in the part but, as far as beginning a tenure as the Doctor, Mirren – at 62 – would be the oldest actor to take on the part. The First Doctor, William Hartnell, was 55 when the series began in 1963, although his Doctor had the appearance of an older “grandfather-type” character. All of Hartnell’s successors have been younger.[2]
Sheridan Smith – Dr Joan Smith
Smith would be the first female Doctor, but not the first with the surname “Smith”. Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, was there first. Of course, there have also been two “Baker” Doctors – Fourth Doctor, Tom, and Sixth Doctor, Colin – two David Doctors – Tenth, Tennant and new First, Bradley – two Jo(h)ns – Third, Pertwee, and “your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine”, Hurt – and two “Peter” Doctors – Fifth Doctor, Davison, and 1960s movie Doctor, Cushing.
Incidentally, Smith is a very Who name. In the Who-niverse itself, there’s the companions Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Mickey Smith (Noel Clark), Ricky Smith (Noel Clark, too) Martha Smith (née Jones) and Mr Smith (Alexander Armstrong), the story Smith and Jones and the Doctor’s own pseudonym Dr John Smith (or will that be Dr Joan Smith?).
Smith is already part of the Doctor Who family, having played Lucie Miller, a companion to Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio-drama range.
Miranda HartCall the Doctor
Hart is well known for her part as Midwife Camilla “Chummy” Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne in the BBC’s popular drama series Call the Midwife. Despite being the first woman to play the Doctor, Hart wouldn’t be the first comedian to do so. When Pertwee took on the role in 1970, he was best known for comedy – most notably radio series including The Navy Lark and Round the Horne. In fact, although Pertwee was hired because of his comedy background, and against all expectations, he portrayed the Third Doctor completely straight.
Olivia ColmanThe Colman Show
Not to be confused with the Casualty actor Oliver Colman, who, if cast as Twelve, wouldn’t be the first female Doctor Who, on the account that he’s male!
Olivia, on the other hand, would be. However, she wouldn’t be the first actor to play the lead part after having already appeared in the series in a minor role (Colman played Mother in Matt Smith’s first adventure – in 2010 – The Eleventh Hour). That accolade goes to Colin Baker[3] who, in 1983, turned up in Arc of Infinity as Commander Maxil, Gallifrey’s Head of the Chancellory Guard. In the story, Maxil attempted to kill Fifth Doctor Peter Davison. Although the Doctor survived on that occasion, the following year, Baker took over the role.
By Colman’s own admission, not so long ago, she was unable to find any acting work. These days, it seems, the 39-year-old is everywhere – from comedies (such as Rev. and Twenty Twelve) to harrowing dramas (Broadchurch, Run and Accused: Mo’s Story) to British cinema (Tyrannosaur) to Hollywood (The Iron Lady).
The opening credits would be interesting: the Doctor’s current companion – Clara Oswald – and the one who will, it has already been announced, continue into the 2014 series, is played by Jenna Coleman. Given that a female Doctor would ideally need to have a male companion, too, why not go for the hat trick and cast Oliver Colman?
Georgia MoffettThe Doctor’s Daughter’s Doctor
Like Colman (Olivia, that is, not Jenna or Oliver – keep up!), Moffett has already appeared in Doctor Who – in Steven Moffat’s The Doctor’s Daughter (2008).
In that episode, she played the Tenth Doctor’s daughter but, in reality, she’s his wife. Not the Doctor’s wife, you understand. The Doctor’s wife is Suranne Jones (The Doctor’s Wife, 2011). Except, that’s the Eleventh Doctor’s wife – in a kind of way (ask Neil Gaiman!) – not the Tenth’s. Although, come to think of it, the Eleventh Doctor’s wife is Professor River Song (The Wedding of River Song, 2011) … or isn’t (also, The Wedding of River Song).
David Tennant married Moffett in 2012. That’s Georgia, not Steven (the spelling’s different!). If David had married Steven, that would have been a gay marriage (interesting aside: can you have a gay marriage between two straight men?), and they weren’t legal in Britain at the time. Gay marriages, I mean; men have always been legal, as far as I know … though not gay men. (Of course, if it’d been the Doctor marrying Doctor Who ’s showrunner, he could have travelled to 2014 in his TARDIS and married him then … but this is getting silly!)
Now, Moffett’s father (Georgia, not Steven – we’ve already been there) and, hence, Tennant’s father-in-law – is none other than Fifth Doctor actor Peter Davison. Therefore, Moffett would not only be the first-ever female Doctor, but the first actor to play the Doctor who is also married to the Doctor and whose father is the Doctor. Not to mention is the Doctor’s daughter in reality and, in fact, in fiction!
Confused? You won't be, after this week’s episode of ... Doctor Who
Lara PulverA Scandal in the TARDIS
Pulver would be the first female Doctor but not the first that viewers have seen naked. Both Tennant and Smith have been so – and both as the Doctor. The first time viewers caught sight of Tennant's alt-Tenth Doctor (in Journey's End, 2008), he was completely naked; whereas, Smith stripped off in 2010, in The Lodger.
Pulver is remembered for her “naked performance” in Moffat’s other show, Sherlock, where she played Irene Adler in the opening story – A Scandal in Belgravia – of its second season.
Doctor Who: Lara Pulver as the Doctor?
Doctor Who: Lara Pulver as the Doctor?
In 2012, she joined the main cast of Da Vinci’s Demons as the “seductive and politically minded” Clarice Orsini, wife of Lorenzo Medici. Da Vinci’s Demons is a historical fantasy, telling the story of how, at the age of 25, Leonardo da Vinci “invented” the future; and is filmed just down the road from Doctor Who, in Swansea.
In 2012, Pulver said she’d relish playing the Time Lord, if fans were happy for a female Doctor. Asked by the London Evening Standard whether she’d be up for the role, she replied, “Yes and no. Not if it meant the end of the Doctor Who franchise, because the fans aren’t keen on it."
A poll conducted for Radio Times in May this year showed that fans were roughly split down the middle on whether or not the Doctor should transform into a woman.
Zawe AshtonDoctor Who Studies
If Ashton wins the coveted role, as well as being the first female Doctor, Ashton will become the first non-white actor to play the part, too. A recurring criticism of Doctor Who is that too few non-white actors appear in the series.
In so-called “Classic” Doctor Who (that is, everything before 2005) ethnic-minority actors were, on the whole, few and far between. However, New Doctor Who (not to be confused with New Labour, which – unlike, “NuWho” – is a woefully poor imitation of a great movement) has cast a far greater number, including two of the Doctor’s companions: Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman).
However, to date, all the Doctors have been played by white actors. A number of black actors have been named in connection with the role, including Chiewtel Ejiofor, David Harewood (Homeland), Patterson Joseph (Survivors)* and Adelayo Adedayo …
Adelayo Adedeyo – Adedrwho
Likewise, Adedeyo would be the first female Doctor and the first black Doctor.
Adelayo Adedayo
Adelayo Adedayo
Public Eye
Like Matt Smith was back in 2009, Adedeyo is relatively unknown to TV audiences. She was in the 2011 urban-thriller movie Sket and, recently, played the lead in the BBC Three sitcom Some Girls “with intelligence, wit and great world-weariness”, according to Una McCormack – all prerequisites for playing the Doctor.
“What a great role model she would be,” McCormack writes of the Some Girls girl in the current issue of Doctor Who Magazine.
Vicky McClure – McDr Who
McClure would be the first female Doctor but the third McDoctor Doctor. She’d be following in the footsteps of Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy and Eighth Doctor Paul McGann. (McGann’s brother, Mark McGann, was also once considered for the role.)
McClure is one of my personal favourites in my “Who should play the Doctor?” list. Not that it has any sway on the BBC, but hey-ho.
McClure – who starred in last year’s police thriller drama series Line of Duty – came to prominence as Lol in the 2006 film This Is England, and the subsequent follow-on TV series (there have been two with a third in production) from director Shane Meadows. For the first series, McClure won a BAFTA, and although she lost out the following year, her performance in the second series was simply outstanding.
Emma WatsonDoctor Who and the Potters of Doom
Emma Watson, if cast, would certainly become the first female Doctor, but the second Harry Potter actor to play the part. Although Watson’s Harry Potter co-stars Daniel Radcliffe* and Rupert Grint[4] have both been mentioned as possible Doctors, it’s a much older Harry Potter actor who’s actually done so. David Bradley – who played Argus Filch in the Harry Potter movies – will be seen in November, recreating the late William Hartnell’s First Doctor in Mark Gatiss’s An Adventure in Space and Time.
Paris Jackson – TARDIS Moonwalk
If Jackson fulfilled her wish to become the first female Doctor (the 15-year-old tweeted her desire some weeks ago), she’d have achieved something her late father, Michael Jackson, didn’t.
Paris Jackson wants to be first female Doctor Who
Paris Jackson wants to be first female Doctor Who
Paris Jackson Twitter feed
I’m not sure what’s more bizarre: the thought of the King of Pop moonwalking as the Doctor (according to a new Doctor Who book, Now on the Big Screen, he was considered for the part in the late 1980s, apparently); or the realisation that the Daily Star front-page headline in June was actually true!
Of course, as well as being the youngest-ever person to play the Doctor by far, Jackson would also be the first non-actor to be given the part!
Billy PiperThe Secret 500-Year Diary of a Police Public Call Box Girl
Rose Tyler (Billy Piper)  Doctor Who 2005
Rose Tyler (Billy Piper), Doctor Who 2005
Piper once said in an interview that she’d like to play the Doctor, to which Doctor Who’s former showrunner Russell T Davies responded favourably. Whether either were serious, though, is open to conjecture. After all, Piper has already played one of the Doctor’s most well-known and most loved companions – Rose Tyler – a role she’s returning to this November, for Doctor Who 50th-anniversary special.
However, her status within the Doctor Who universe hasn’t stopped many from putting the former pop star’s name forward as the Twelfth Doctor. Currently, Piper is one of the bookies’ favourites to become the Twelfth Doctor.
If, indeed, she did take possession of the master key to the TARDIS, Piper would be the first woman to play the part and the first actor to have played the Doctor and the Doctor’s companion (though not at the same time … presumably!). She would not, however, be the first “Billy” to be Doctor Who. That would be Bill – or Billy – (a.k.a. William) Hartnell, who played the first Doctor from 1963 to 1966.
Well, there we have it, ten of the women who have been named as a possible future Doctor. Whether any of them actually become the Twelfth Doctor, only Time (actually, 7 to 7.30 p.m. UK time on Sunday, 4 August) and Steven Moffat[5] will tell!
[1] Arabella Weir played a female Doctor in 2003, in the audio drama Doctor Who Unbound: Exile. Joanna Lumley – who in 1986 was actually considered as the Doctor – played the Thirteenth Doctor in The Curse of Fatal Death (1999). Jon Pertwee dragged up as a washerwoman in 1973's The Green Death.
[2] Several older actors have played the Doctor in a “one-off” capacity, including: Richard Hurndall and David Bradley, who have both recreated the First Doctor – Hurndall (75) in The Five Doctors (1983) and Bradley (71) in An Adventure in Space and Time (2013) – and John Hurt (74), who was introduced earlier this year – in The Name of the Doctor – as an unspecified incarnation of the Doctor; the mystery of which is expected to be unveiled in this year’s 50th-anniversary special.
[3] Elsewhere, in the Big Finish range of Doctor Who audio dramas, an unknown actor – one David Tennant – turned up as UNIT Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood in Doctor Who – UNIT: Dominion in some time before he would begin his meteoric rise by becoming the Tenth Doctor.
[4] Incidentally, if Grint became the Doctor, he’d be the first ginger-haired Doctor – the fact that the Doctor has never had red hair has become a running gag in Doctor Who itself, with some of the first words uttered by both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors being a reference to once again not having ginger hair.
[5] The decision as to “who will be Who” rests in the hands of a small number of people, including Doctor Who ’s current showrunner, Steven Moffat, and long-standing casting director, Andy Pryor.
* Other male actors named over recent weeks have included the bookies’ current favourite Peter Capaldi (Spin-Doctor Who), * Other male actors named over recent weeks have included the bookies’ current favourite Peter Capaldi (Spin-Doctor Who), Aneurin Barnard, Ben Daniels, Ben Whishaw, Domhnall Gleeson, Eric Lampaert, Harry Lloyd, Idris Elba, Rory Kinnear and Russell Tovey.
Doctor Who Live: The Twelfth Doctor, presented by Zoe Ball, will see the new Doctor materialise live on TV, on Sunday, 4 August, on BBC One at 7 p.m. – simulcast in the US by BBC America.