The new Doctor is a balm, not a cure
This appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press: This past week, the BBC revealed that actress Jodie Whittaker will become the first woman to play the lead character in “Doctor Who,” which is now the longestrunning television show in the world. Reaction to the casting of Whittaker has been, well, predictable.
As has been the case in other films and television shows in which women have assumed roles typically held by men — including, most recently, the freakout that accompanied the all-woman cast of the 2016 “Ghostbusters” remake — trolls and random fanboys flooded the web with offensive, profane and misogynistic commentary.
If that were the extent of the abuse, it might be easily overlooked. But it was not. British tabloids published photos of nude scenes involving Whittaker from previous roles. “Dr. Nude,” a headline in the Daily Mail screamed after the BBC announced its decision. For everyone who longs for true gender equality, it was a disheartening reaction to an event that otherwise marks a true leap forward in the struggle to give women the same opportunities, in life and in work, as men.
How important is Whittaker’s appointment? “Doctor Who” is a global entertainment phenomenon, featuring what is surely one of the best-known fictional characters in the world. Assigning a woman to an iconic role typically played by a man is an important statement, both for society and for the entertainment industry, which has failed rather spectacularly to achieve gender equality. Male actors still generally make more than female actors of similar stature and profile, and are much more likely to get a percentage of the profits than their female co-stars. Men are also substantially more likely to serve as directors and executive producers.
The BBC should be congratulated for its “Doctor Who” decision, even though full gender equality remains as elusive at the public broadcaster as elsewhere. All of this means while Whittaker’s ascension to the title role in “Doctor Who” is a seismic moment in the evolving pursuit of gender equality, it by no means signals a mission accomplished. For the time being, progressive minds can celebrate the fact Whittaker is not just a doctor, she is THE Doctor. Deal with it.