‘Doctor Who’: The BBC had the perfect response to the backlash over casting a woman Doctor

‘Doctor Who’: The BBC had the perfect response to the backlash over casting a woman Doctor
Jodie Whittaker at The British Independent Film Awards in 2016.
Source: John Phillips/Getty Images
Jodie Whittaker at The British Independent Film Awards in 2016.
Source: John Phillips/Getty Images

After it was announced that Jodi Whittaker, former star of BBC’s Broadchurch, would become the first woman to play the Doctor on BBC’s Doctor Who, a barrage of polarized responses erupted from fans. In fact, the backlash was so overwhelming, the BBC felt it necessary to respond publicly on their website.

While many fans were thrilled the show was finally taking this bold leap forward with its main character, others were not so pleased with the decision, and weren’t shy about expressing their disapproval on Twitter.

Several tabloids even took it a step further and published nude and topless photos of Whittaker, pointing a finger at her “saucy” past. They were, however, taken out of context. The photos were not personal nudes, but taken from professional movies in which she was in various states of undress. Obviously, the casting of a most beloved British series is a sensitive matter, but the liberties these tabloids took far outweighs the outcry from fans — vociferous discontent over the direction of a series is one thing, but trying to shame an actress for being nude onscreen is another low entirely.

After a few days of backlash, the BBC decided to issue a formal response to all the people who felt their decision to cast Whittaker was somehow sacrilege. As one might expect from a British-run network, it’s eloquent, but to the point.

Since the first Doctor regenerated back in 1966, the concept of the Doctor as a constantly evolving being has been central to the programme. The continual input of fresh ideas and new voices across the cast and the writing and production teams has been key to the longevity of the series.

The Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey and it has been established in the show that Time Lords can switch gender.

As the Controller of BBC Drama has said, Jodie is not just a talented actor but she has a bold and brilliant vision for her Doctor. She aced it in her audition both technically and with the powerful female life force she brings to the role. She is destined to be an utterly iconic Doctor.

We hope viewers will enjoy what we have in store for the continuation of the story.

Cue the British version of a mic drop, aka deftly placing the mic on the floor and walking away slowly, but with gravitas.

This declaration on behalf of the BBC is supported by a letter Doctor Who creator, Sydney Newman, wrote to BBC management back in the mid-1980s.

Here’s the important part:

At a later stage, Dr. Who would be metamorphosed into a woman. This requires some considerable thought — mainly because I want to avoid a flashy Hollywood ‘Wonder Woman’ because this kind of hero(ine) has no flaws — and a character with no flaws is a bore.

If the Doctor is an alien who can change gender, then there’s simply nothing else fans can say that won’t come across as irretrievably sexist.

Gender development was always in Newman’s plans for the show’s future, it just took another three decades for it to actualize. And, based on the BBC letter above, the change is in good hands. If the fans who were upset over the casting choice give Whittaker a chance, they might just be pleasantly surprised by what a woman Doctor brings to the table.

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