Good morning everyone!
I’d like to wish a happy anniversary to my beloved parents-may I still be as in love (and good looking) after 31 years!
Today is my favorite day of the week, WTF Wednesday. my column may seem a bit trivial today, but a) I never claimed my rants were important, and b)there’s more to this topic then meets the eye.
If you have a facebook account, chances are you are at least tangentially aware of BBC television series “Dr. Who”. (disclaimer: I want to be very clear upfront that I am a casual fan. I have not watched the whole series, not even close. I have a basic grasp of the concept, I can name most of the major characters, and I know what the TARDIS is. I’m already anticipating the backlash from Serious Fans (aka My Brother) so let me be quite honest-if you think I don’t LOVE “Dr. Who” and don’t truly UNDERSTAND what it means…you are right.) It has been on the air for apparently ten thousand years and is super-duper popular. There is a Doctor Who experience in Cardiff, Wales. You can get TARDIS Christmas tree toppers. It’s a huge deal.
Part of the reason it’s been going forever is that the mythology of the show explains that the Doctor can regenerate into a new body. So whenever somebody’s done with being the Doctor, you can get a new one and it’s still the same show. It’s like when the changed Darrens on “Bewitched”, except not at all, because that made no sense (and nobody noticed, whereas I’m told the changing of the Doctors is cause for much weeping).
Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor, announced this week that he’s stepping down, and the internet went WILD. Writer of the series Steven Moffat breathlessly related that, “Somewhere out there right now – all unknowing, just going about their business – is someone who’s about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again! After 50 years, that’s still so exciting!” Exciting, indeed. And nothing has caused more speculation than the revolutionary idea that the newest Doctor may be…GASP! A woman.
But I don’t watch “Dr. Who”, you say. Why does this matter to me? Well, it actually does, and I’ll tell you why. Because we are who we see on TV, to a great degree. Stories matter. After the movie “Top Gun” came out, sign-ups to the Air Force and Navy skyrocketed. The heroes we look up to come from our televisions. And our televisions need more kickass women.
Many diehard Dr. Who fans agree with me. They rejoice at the idea of a woman doctor, or a doctor of color, or any other minority, for that matter. Since the Doctor is in point of fact an alien, they don’t feel that having the spirit of the Doctor in a female body violates the essence of the show in any way, particularly since the Doctor has never been explicitly romantically involved with anyone, male or female (except for an arguably non-canonical kiss in a TV special-universally reviled by fans), so the thorny question of sexuality can be skirted. No penis? No problem!
There is a group of fans, however, who are totally and adamantly against it. Why? Tradition, predominantly. The Doctor is a man, I was told by a fan, because he just is. That’s what it means to be the Doctor. He’s angry and full of testosterone and it just wouldn’t work with a woman because women are different. Besides, they argued, what about the Companions? The Doctor travels around with a lady in his TARDIS, and wouldn’t it be weird if there were two ladies?
This argument to me falls flat, for several reasons. First-tradition. I love traditions! Especially around the holidays. But there are some traditions that are embarrassing. Like whites-only swimming pools. The justification “we’ve always done it like this” only works if the reason WHY you’ve done it like this ISN’T “because men/whites/straights are superior”. This is my issue with folks who want to hang the Confederate flag for “Southern Heritage”: that flag represents a legacy of oppression. I bet those same people would balk at hanging a swastika for “German Heritage”, but to me it’s all the same. As a Southerner, I understand the need to not totally write off our history, but the fact is that sometimes the way we do things is wrong, and we need to accept that and do them differently, even if it means jettisoning “tradition”.
Secondly, the “women are different” line is just bogus. Women are biologically different, but we still manage to hold the same jobs as men; we are doctors, lawyers, and someday, Presidents of the United States. Sure, we can trot out tired tropes about men being from Mars, women from Venus, but in the end, we’re all REALLY from Earth and can do just about everything the same, except pee standing up. I’m still mad about that. Saying a woman can’t handle the rage of the Doctor is silly. What about “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? What about Clytamnestra? Lizzie Borden? Margaret Thatcher? Emma Goldman? Heck, Steven King’s Carrie? Those women all got pretty mad. And this one is getting even madder thinking about it.
Finally, the Companion argument. First, the Companions have not always been female and they have not always been such damsels in distress. Those particular characteristics we owe to Gatiss and Moffat, the current showrunners. Classic Dr. Who had male companions, as well as some brilliant female ones. And the show was richer for it. So the question “who will squawk and need rescued if the Doctor is a lady?” can be answered with “maybe nobody (and that’s good).”
Look, I’m not saying that it HAS to be a woman Doctor. I don’t like tokenism anywhere-but I’m saying that the fact that a woman might be a token at all is distressing. The idea that Doctor Who might crumble if a lady was involved is distressing. Ladies are not so different that our introduction will fundamentally change anything. As Cynthia Nixon said, “when women got the vote, they did not redefine voting. When African-Americans got the right to sit at a lunch counter alongside white people, they did not redefine eating out. They were simply invited to the table.”
On TV, there are not a ton of women at the table. Sure, there are shows with women, but I can’t think of a single show where there’s a woman action hero (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” being a notable exception, and that has been off the air for a long time). It’s not because women don’t like action. It’s because TV execs are afraid that men won’t watch shows with women heroes as leads. They have to be companions or they have to be sexy (aka man-friendly, like Scarlett Johansson’s “Black Widow”). Otherwise men will be threatened or worse, bored.
I want to give men much more credit than that. I had a (straight, macho) male friend in college who loved “Sex and the City”. Why? Because it was hilarious. It was well-written and clever, and he could see past the fact the protagonist didn’t share his genitalia. But SATC showed girls doing girly stuff, you say. What happens when they are fighting bad guys and karate-kicking and stuff? I truly think men can handle it. I happen to know and love a lot of men, and I have faith in them. Dr. Who has great writing. It’s good TV. And it will remain good TV, even if there’s a lady doctor.
Seeing yourself onscreen is powerful. I volunteer with teens, and I can’t tell you how many times one of them has said to me “seeing Kurt Hummel and Santana Lopez on Glee (a gay man and a lesbian woman, respectively) gave me the courage to be myself/not commit suicide”. Having someone you can identify with, root for, and strive to be on TV gives us hopes and aspirations. And it shows us that we are not alone. Men, you have a lot of heroes already. You have Don Draper and Sherlock Holmes and most of the cops on Law & Order and all of those sword fighting dudes on “Game of Thrones” and tons of others I can’t name because I don’t actually watch a ton of TV (but I would, if I had more heroes to admire). Can you share just this one with us? Give us a chance to have an ass-kicking hero? Don’t worry, you’ll love cheering for the Companions.
TV has undergone a lot of changes. I am amazed (and proud) at the variety of characters I see on TV now versus the lineup I watched as a kid. But it’s not through evolving. And it needs to continue to evolve. It’s time for a female Doctor. And to all the haters, I say, you will survive this. We’ve got an Asian, female John Watson on “Elementary” and the world hasn’t ended. But it’s time for this stodgy tradition to end-and I hope that Gatiss and Moffat are savvy enough (and brave enough) to realize it.
See you Friday, where I will actually review “Wide Awake” by David Levithan (a week late is better than never, right?)