I find I’m just as uncomfortable with sneering schadenfreude when it’s our ‘side’ doing it as when it comes from the opposition.
Young Christian Americans sometimes wear a bracelet around one wrist inscribed with the letters ‘WWJD?’ This of course stands for ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and is intended to help them clarify their thoughts in times of crisis or indecision. I have on occasion, contemplated making myself a similar bracelet, but bearing the letters ‘WWTDD?’
This of course stands for ‘What Would The Doctor Do?’
Last Sunday the BBC committed an act of extraordinary cruelty… quite deliberately, and maliciously, they forced me and millions of my fellow Doctor Who obsessives to sit through half an hour of a live sporting event. Such was the resulting trauma and bewilderment that when, after Federer had bashed Cilic like an unwell Croatian piñata, it was announced that the next Doctor would be female (specifically the rather wonderful Jodie Whittaker) the shock barely registered.
That was a joke, by the way. The bit about Doctor Who fans being traumatised by watching tennis, not the bit about there being no shock at the announcement. There was a BIT of surprise, and of course, consternation from entirely predictable quarters, but I’m pleased to say that the appointment has been met for the most part with glee and excitement.
There really shouldn’t have been any surprise; the show has been building up to this quite consciously for the last couple of years. We’ve had the Doctor’s arch-nemesis The Master return in the feminine form of Michelle Gomez’s hilariously villainous ‘Missy’; at the end of the last series but one we actually saw a male Time Lord die and regenerate into a woman (back into a woman, in fact, to her evident relief). And the idea of a lady Doctor is well over 30 years old; Tom Baker, at his farewell press conference back in 1980, ended his prepared remarks by wishing his replacement the best of luck ‘whoever he or she may be’.
This was largely mischief on Tom’s part (and it garnered more coverage for the announcement than it might otherwise have had) but it planted a seed which has been growing ever since.
When the show was mired in suspension/possible cancellation doldrums in the mid-80s, its co-creator Sydney Newman re-surfaced to opine that a female Doctor would re-energise the format. Back in 1999, when the show was all but a fading memory (having been cancelled in 1989 and unsuccessfully re-launched in 1996 as an American co-production) an extended Comic Relief Doctor Who parody sketch (penned by none other than current, albeit departing, head writer Steven Moffat) ended with Rowan Atkinson’s Doctor (I said it was a parody) suffering multiple celebrity cameo regenerations (Jim Broadbent, Grants both Hugh and Richard E.) before settling happily on Joanna Lumley.
Even the choice of Jodie Whittaker is, in retrospect, obvious; her biggest role to date has been as the bereaved but resilient Beth Latimer in Broadchurch, whose creator Chris Chibnall is taking over as Doctor Who’s head writer. Once this was known, it seemed likely that he would bring a Broadchurcher across to succeed Peter Capaldi (who we’re all still going to miss like crazy). Jodie W is the perfect age (35), has the acting range, and crucially, the kind of intelligent, unconventionally attractive and interesting face that all the great Doctors have.
None of this, of course, has mollified the aforementioned consternation proceeding from the aforementioned predictable quarters. The volume of protest at the announcement has, however, been at least matched if not drowned out by the volume of smug rejoinders to it, mocking the ignorance and tiny-mindedness of the doubters and indeed revelling in their squirming discomfort. I find this troubling.
Yes, the taste of ‘Men’s Rights Activist’ tears is delicious. Yes, there’s a bizarre irony in seeing bro-flakes whine that the ‘Social Justice Warriors’ are taking over a show whose hero is the very epitome of a social justice warrior (have they been watching? If so, whose side were they on?). But I find I’m just as uncomfortable with sneering schadenfreude when it’s our ‘side’ doing it as when it comes from the opposition.
That’s not what the Doctor would do. (S)he would hope that the ‘OMG CHIBNALL HAS DESTROYED MY CHILDHOOD IT’S PC GONE MAD I AM NEVER WATCHING AGAIN’ crowd would give the next phase of Doctor Who the benefit of the doubt, get over their fears and suspicions, learn from the experience and grow as human beings. (S)he would know that a moment to embrace change is not a moment to laugh at those who can’t, but an opportunity to help them to try. And if they can’t or won’t try, we should ignore them, rather than pursue them derisively across the internet like so many online Nelson Muntzes. We – rightly – hate it when the Trumpers and the Brexiteers give it the old ‘WE WON YOU LOST GET OVER IT’ bit; no need to sink to their level just because we’ve won one.
Still no casting announcement re: the new Doctor’s travelling companion; for balance’s sake let’s hope it’s a ridiculously buff and handsome young man who, for no obviously plot-related reason, spends his whole time in the TARDIS wearing Lycra bicycle shorts. Proper old school Who.