Gerrin me TARDIS, duck!
* Doctor Who has no penis.
* A new lexicon of hatred.
* Tacit class prejudice in 2018.
* North / South divide wider than the Medusa Cascade.
On July 16th, 2017, the BBC announced that the actor to play the 13th Doctor, the lead character in the BBC 1 family sci-fi drama Doctor Who, would not have external sexual reproductive organs.
Within minutes, sci-fi message boards erupted with accusations of Social Justice Warrior (SJW) meddling. Words like 'chauvinist', 'gammon', 'troll', were met with 'SJW', 'woke', and 'snowflake'. This fuelled the flames of acrimony, and most discussions melted down into a crucible of personal insults, reductive labelling, and dismissive responses - 'get over it'.
Politically and socially the world has become highly polarized. We live in artificial echo chambers where confirmation bias and a sense of validation ensure our opinions become entrenched. The anonymity afforded to us online emboldens us, it makes us more argumentative. Nationalism and protectionism are flourishing. Changing your mind is simply a thing of the past, it appears - a concession of weakness, a betrayal of your tribe. Opinions are formed and before too long are set in stone, so much so that even empirical evidence and irrefutable facts don't change minds. Whataboutism, selection bias, and citing dubious sources has become the norm. Paradoxically, opinions have become fixed and facts have become fluid. It's a strange time.
From a longevity perspective, Doctor Who has had flexibility built into it's triple helix DNA since William Hartnell declared that he was 'wearing a bit thin'. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and Doctor Who needed to find a solution to their leading man's ill health. This story was told beautifully in Mark Gatiss' 'An Adventure In Space And Time' - a biopic made for the show's 50th Anniversary in 2013. If you're a Whovian and you haven't seen it, it's well worth a watch, not least because it illustrates just what an incredible woman Verity Lambert (Doctor Who's first producer) was.
Changing the lead actor (and almost everything else), makes sense. It periodically refreshes the format, and allows it to stave off the inevitable viewer apathy that buries most long running shows. Over the decades we've had 12 official incarnations, and every one had a penis, until that moment in 2017 when the BBC decided it wanted a female actor to play the 13th.
It's fair to say that whenever there is a change of Doctor, or TARDIS, or show runner, some people get upset. David Tennant was better/worse than Matt Smith. Rose was better/worse than Donna. The Christmas episode, The Doctor, The Widow, And The Wardrobe was bett- actually, no... Nobody's ever said that.
Flash forward 15 months from the announcement and the voices of the irate were louder than ever. "It's a male character", "PC gone mad", and "what next, a female James Bond?" For what it's worth, men love strong female protagonists in sci-fi too. Look at The Hunger Games, Alien saga, Terminator saga, and Star Trek: Voyager.
It seems to me that the argument 'The Doctor has always been a man', is a piss poor excuse for keeping the status quo - she is an alien who changes appearance, why not a female? The issue it seems is that some men feel that the casting of Jodie Whittaker was done for political and social justice reasons, rather than for story purposes. Again, piss poor and rather myopic as an argument on it's own. Doctor Who has always been a reflection of the society it was made in:
1: Sarah Jane Smith was a political commentary on feminism.
2: The Green Death, was an analogue for environmental issues.
3: The Daleks represented not just fascism, but also pacifism in the face of violence.
4: Remembrance of the Daleks, was an allegory for racism in the 60s.
5: Genesis of the Daleks dealt with morality, and genocide.
6: Famously, The Happiness Patrol was a criticism of Thatcher's Britain.
7: The War Games was a criticism of soldiers being used as canon fodder.
8: The Mutants explored colonialism, and apartheid.
9: Carnival of Monsters - slavery.
10: The Peladon stories - industrial disputes, and EU membership.
The list goes on.
In the past, fascism, genocide, refugees, Thatcherism, and environmental issues were top of the political agenda, today it is identity politics. That's why those things are currently explored in Doctor Who.
One social identifier that doesn't have a well supported movement behind it, or the advocacy of influential people, is class. Class prejudice is still rife, and never gets the publicity of some of the other issues.
To demonstrate the point just look at the reaction to Jodie Whittaker, not her gender - that's been discussed and discussed ad nauseum, but her accent.
Her northern accent.
Here are some screenshots of some of the comments I've read.
Worse things are said, of course. Disgusting and intolerant comments made to women, BAME, and LGBTQ persons. Much worse, but we now live in a world where those things are roundly called out. People condemn those bigoted opinions, and voicing such opinions can lose you your job. Yet these comments above went pretty much unchallenged.
There is a tacit prejudice of class here. When I was 18 I moved to London, on my own, and worked for the NHS in an office. On my first day I overheard one of the office managers saying to a Doctor (not THE Doctor), "He's called Michael. He's northern, they're not very bright but they work hard". How dare she! I'm a right lazy arse.
It was widely reported that several BBC executives resisted the move to Salford, as if it was a crime ridden, uncivilized place. The same BBC who allowed sexual assault to go unchallenged, the same BBC that has tied itself in knots trying to represent everyone has actually, in my opinion, failed to represent the working class - particularly working class males. History is full of white men in powerful positions, and on our screens it has been so for decades. We need more representation of minorities. We don't, however, need to conflate all white men into the same category - privileged and middle class - because those working class individuals have never had the upper hand, and now have even fewer opportunities than any other demographic. Perhaps this is the root of the acrimony.
Those men with valid concerns and reservations are conflated with the genuine bigots, racists, and homophobes. Slapped down on internet message boards if they fail to eloquently express themselves with the correct pronouns, or the most up-to-date appropriate language.
I'm happy that we have a female actor playing The Doctor. I have never felt anything other than excitement at the prospect. I love that the new companions are played by actors from a diverse background. I love that we have more female writers on the show. It's an exciting time, and I wish Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker the best of luck and feel confident that they will be great.
I try to remain optimistic that these equality issues will be resolved. I hope that one day soon we find a way to have real equality, not just lip-service, so that people of any background, or gender, or sexual orientation can feel like they have equal opportunities.
Even those of us who are working class.
What do you think? Have I missed the obvious? Am I just part of the problem? Let me know!