EX­TER­MI­NATE!

As Doc­tor Who changes sex, our TV critic asks why ARE all the male TV he­roes dis­ap­pear­ing – and ar­gues PC cast­ing just masks pay in­equal­ity...

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By Christopher Stevens

PER­HAPS it’s my age, but there are some things I don’t feel happy dis­cussing with a fe­male doc­tor, and sav­ing the world is one of them. The an­nounce­ment of Jodie Whit­taker as the new in­car­na­tion of Doc­tor Who, re­plac­ing Peter Ca­paldi, has dealt an­other po­lit­i­cally cor­rect blow to a TV show that was once sim­ply a chil­dren’s favourite.

The news was re­vealed with a brief, word­less clip af­ter the Wim­ble­don men’s fi­nals, as an an­drog­y­nous hooded fig­ure walked through a wood. The cam­era zoomed in on a small, cer­tainly fe­male hand, hold­ing a key – and as the sig­na­ture sound of the Tardis echoed, the fig­ure re­moved her hood . . . re­veal­ing Jodie with a blonde hairdo. The new pro­tec­tor of the galaxy dyes her hair, ap­par­ently.

Whit­taker, 35, an out­stand­ing clas­si­cal ac­tress who trained at Guild­hall School of Mu­sic and Drama, made her pro­fes­sional de­but at Shake­speare’s Globe The­atre. She has drawn crit­i­cal ac­claim for ev­ery­thing from pe­riod drama (Cran­ford) to movie block­busters (One Day).

And Doc­tor Whit­taker was im­me­di­ately hailed on­line as ev­i­dence that women have achieved com­plete equal­ity to men. If an ac­tress can seize telly’s top role, surely there can be noth­ing in the en­tire uni­verse that the fe­male sex can­not do.

Well, not quite. To the BBC’s em­bar­rass­ment, top salaries across the or­gan­i­sa­tion will be pub­lished later this week, and the num­bers are ex­pected to re­veal a se­ri­ous dis­crep­ancy be­tween the earn­ings of its top male and fe­male pre­sen­ters. Women at the Beeb are equal in all things, ex­cept where it re­ally mat­ters – in the wages de­part­ment. Yes, girls, of course you can fly the Tardis... just don’t imag­ine you’ll be paid the same.

LIKE the Labour Party, the Beeb loves to wave the ban­ner for equal­ity. But it’s fem­i­nism for ef­fect – se­ri­ous com­mit­ment is lack­ing if you’re not pay­ing fe­male pre­sen­ters as hand­somely as the men.

There is, of course, no limit to the BBC’s ded­i­ca­tion to PC causes. The Doc­tor spent much of the last se­ries cam­paign­ing for gay rights across the so­lar sys­tem with his short-lived les­bian com­pan­ion, Bill (Pearl Mackie), in­tent on turn­ing the sci-fi ad­ven­ture se­rial into a ser­mon on gen­der flu­id­ity.

Don’t ex­pect this to stop now that a woman is in charge. Never mind a po­lice box – this new Doc­tor’s Tardis should be a soap­box. And that means Doc­tor Who, which has been steadily shed­ding its au­di­ence, is speed­ing to­wards its own doom – and the black hole of can­cel­la­tion.

The move heaps pres­sure on other TV and movie pro­duc­ers to be os­ten­ta­tiously fem­i­nist. Al­ready it’s rare to see a Bri­tish de­tec­tive show with a male lead: Un­for­got­ten, Happy Val­ley, Fear­less, The Loch and Mar­cella are just a few of the po­lice dra­mas with women at the fore­front, as was Broad- church – the se­ries that pro­pelled Whit­taker to fame.

Crime se­ri­als are of­ten best with fe­male stars. It’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine The Killing or The Bridge without their heroines. But if that means it is im­pos­si­ble to cre­ate a new Morse or Poirot, tele­vi­sion be­comes very much the poorer.

In al­most ev­ery new Bri­tish drama, men are rel­e­gated to side­kick sta­tus or else cast as moral weak­lings with a vi­cious streak. Char­ac­ters fall into two dis­tinct cat­e­gories: women good, men bad. Switch­ing the Doc­tor’s gen­der is just an­other ex­am­ple of this en­demic sex­ism in TV fic­tion.

Even in telly’s most un­likely fan­tasies, the women rule while the men crawl. Game Of Thrones re­turns to­day with a woman on the Iron Throne, and an­other com­ing to claim it. The world of Wes­t­eros is now a femoc­racy.

All this forces TV into nar­row al­ley­ways of story-telling, con­strained by what is po­lit­i­cally ac­cept­able. Imag­i­na­tion is sti­fled when drama is forced to con­form to ‘so­cially ap­pro­pri­ate’ ideals.

TV writ­ers and film-mak­ers who defy the trend will be con­demned as sex­ist di­nosaurs – and in this era of Twit­ter hate-mobs, that can be deeply un­pleas­ant. Many will sim­ply give in, and sub­mit the same pre-ap­proved plots about daunt­less sin­gle moth­ers be­set by psy­cho­pathic males.

The lat­est se­ries of Broad­church was a case in point: ev­ery man was fa­tally flawed, and most were sex­ual mon­sters. It’s telling that Broad­church was writ­ten and cre­ated by Chris Chib­nall – the man who now con­trols Doc­tor Who.

And Whit­taker was not the only Broad­church ac­tress tipped to play the Time Lord – so were Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Col­man, both friends of Chib­nall.

But the prob­lem of PC cast­ing is far more wide­spread than that. No hero is safe, how­ever long he’s been around. A new ver­sion of Drac­ula is promised on the BBC – what’s the bet­ting the blood­sucker will be more vamp than vam­pire, a Princess of Dark­ness... Drac­ulette? When Daniel Craig turns in his li­cence to kill, al­ready there is in­ces­sant spec­u­la­tion that 007 sta­tus will be con­ferred on a Jemima Bond.

But as ev­ery par­ent knows, chil­dren are a deeply con­ser­va­tive au­di­ence. They can­not abide changes to much-loved char­ac­ters. Father Christ­mas can­not be Mother Christ­mas, just as the Tooth Fairy is never a boy. And, of course, chil­dren need pos­i­tive role mod­els – male as well as fe­male.

If all the men on TV are rapists and vil­lains, how does that help?

Trans­form­ing the Doc­tor into a woman will not please a sin­gle viewer un­der the age of ten. This de­ci­sion has been im­posed solely for the adults.

Sadly, Doc­tor Who has been rav­aged and wrung out in the name of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness for too long to be sal­vage­able.

De­part­ing pro­ducer Steven Mof­fat, who liked to call him­self the ‘showrun­ner’, could never de­cide whether to ap­peal to mid­dle-aged fans who treated clas­sic Who episodes as holy scrip­ture, or young new­com­ers who wanted scares and slap­stick.

The re­sult was a wretched mess, with a Doc­tor who wore sun­glasses and played elec­tric gui­tar like a drunken ac­coun­tant at a school re­u­nion. Co­me­dian Matt Lu­cas hammed it up as side­kick Nar­dole, but the show’s time slot zigzagged vi­o­lently, some­times go­ing out af­ter the 9pm wa­ter­shed and at other times shortly af­ter tea.

View­ers en­dured in­ter­minable sto­ries about the wicked­ness of Bri­tish Em­pire Red­coats, and the pu­rity of stu­dent same-sex crushes. Hardly sur­pris­ing that Ca­paldi looked bored to tears, and ad­mit­ted ear­lier this year that the role, one he had coveted all his ca­reer, had turned out to be a sad dis­ap­point­ment.

IT’S a mis­er­able de­cline for a much-loved TV trea­sure. When Doc­tor Who was re­launched in 2006 with Christopher Ec­cle­ston, 10mil­lion young (and young-at-heart) view­ers were agog with ex­cite­ment at the Doc­tor’s ad­ven­tures. The mon­sters were scary, the plots in­tri­cate without be­ing non­sen­si­cal. And the only con­ces­sion to po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness was Ec­cle­ston’s earthy Man­cu­nian ac­cent, the po­lar op­po­site of the plummy dic­tion favoured by pre­vi­ous Doc­tors Tom Baker and Jon Per­twee.

‘If you’re an alien, how come you sound like you’re from the north?’ de­manded Bil­lie Piper’s Rose Tyler. ‘Lots of plan­ets have a north!’ re­torted the Time Lord.

Pithy, witty and ir­rev­er­ent, di­a­logue like that has long been ab­sent from the show – re­placed by earnest ex­changes in which Ca­paldi’s Doc­tor preached to Bill about trans­gen­der pol­i­tics, and claimed that his own species was su­pe­rior to hu­man beings, be­cause all Time Lords were cross-sex­ual.

At least you know where you are with a Dalek (or maybe they’ll soon be fe­male, too, with lit­tle metal tu­tus). Lit­tle won­der the au­di­ence drifted away, leav­ing the show strug­gling to at­tract 5mil­lion view­ers.

When the se­ries was first con­ceived in the early Six­ties, star­ring Wil­liam Hart­nell as the iras­ci­ble First Doc­tor, the BBC had a more pa­tri­otic agenda. This was the new era of science and tech­nol­ogy, and Britain was in dan­ger of fall­ing be­hind.

Doc­tor Who was in­tended to in­spire a generation of young fans to take up science. Chil­dren had to be con­vinced that gad­gets, me­chan­ics and elec­tron­ics were cool rather than nerdy.

The ex­ec­u­tives at the BBC are so des­per­ate to prove they have left those old-fash­ioned ways be­hind that they will try any­thing, even wreck­ing their own Satur­day night main­stay, to demon­strate how right-on they are.

Ex­cept, of course, they are not. When on Wed­nes­day the BBC re­luc­tantly makes pub­lic the salaries of its high­est earn­ers, we’ll all see how far its fe­male stars fall be­hind the men.

The BBC’s com­mit­ment to gen­der pos­tur­ing may be only skin deep, but hypocrisy runs right to its core.

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