The men strug­gling to ac­cept a fe­male Doc­tor

The back­lash against Jodie Whit­taker as the 13th Doc­tor Who has al­ready be­gun – so what is it about geek cul­ture that makes it so anti-women, asks Michael Ho­gan

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page -

Acon­fes­sion: I am a male Doc­tor Who fan, and have been ever since I hid be­hind the sofa dur­ing the Tom Baker era. An­other con­fes­sion: I’m nei­ther swivel-eyed nor spit­tle-flecked with fury about this week’s cast­ing of the first fe­male Doc­tor, Broad­church ac­tress Jodie Whit­taker. In­deed, I’m thrilled by it, hop­ing it will boost rat­ings and bring back buzz to a show that has lost its mojo in the past few years.

How­ever, I also know that my en­thu­si­asm for the 13th Doc­tor makes me a traitor to my gen­der – or at least to my de­mo­graphic. If the past 24 hours worth of ra­dio phone-ins and so­cial me­dia out­pour­ings are any­thing to go by, men of a cer­tain age have seem­ingly lost their minds – there have been ac­cu­sa­tions of “lefty BBC agen­das” and “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad”. Some are so up­set that they have vowed to stop watch­ing the show that they have loved since child­hood. Oth­ers have threat­ened to re­voke their li­cence fee.

Many of their ar­gu­ments be­gin with the dispir­it­ing dis­claimer: “I’m not sex­ist but…” One on­line com­menter even said: “No­body wants a Tardis full of bras.” Wait a minute. Do Whit­taker’s 12 male pre­de­ces­sors mean that it’s cur­rently full of Y-fronts and string vests? It’s 2017. Af­ter a dozen con­sec­u­tive male Doc­tors, why is cast­ing a sin­gle fe­male still an is­sue, let alone such huge, di­vi­sive news?

Like many sci-fi and fan­tasy fran­chises – see Star Wars or Game Of Thrones – Doc­tor Who tends to at­tract ob­ses­sive fan­dom. Devo­tees gen­er­ally weren’t the sporty, lad­dish al­pha males at school. They’re more likely to have been hid­ing in the art room, tin­ker­ing in the com­puter lab or trad­ing comics in the cor­ner of the play­ground than rois­ter-dois­ter­ing on the sports field or be­hind the bike sheds. Yet, in its own way, their nerdy world is just as ma­cho.

It’s grad­u­ally chang­ing, but geek cul­ture has tra­di­tion­ally been a boys’ club that’s of­ten not ter­ri­bly wel­com­ing to women. Look at the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing last month’s Won­der Woman film – sur­pris­ingly, the char­ac­ter’s first-ever solo movie, de­spite the “Amaz­ing Ama­zon” be­ing cre­ated 75 years ago. There were out­rages over women-only screen­ings, while cin­ema­go­ers, fed an end­less diet of block­buster ve­hi­cles for char­ac­ters whose names end in “man” (Su­per, Bat, Spi­der, Iron) poured vit­riol on the first fe­male su­per­hero film for 12 years, since 2005 flop Elek­tra.

Sim­i­lar scenes have been played out in the geeky world of gam­ing, af­ter some play­ers asked for more di­ver­sity. This sparked the deeply un­pleas­ant “Gamer­gate” back­lash, which saw fe­male gamers ha­rassed by trolls and over­whelmed by an­tife­male sen­ti­ment. See too last year’s all-fe­male re­boot of Ghost­busters. Its trailer be­come the most dis­liked ever on Youtube, while ac­tress Les­lie Jones was hounded off Twit­ter by racist and sex­ist abuse.

It might be lucky that Whit­taker isn’t on Twit­ter be­cause Doc­tor Who hasn’t been im­mune to such un­savoury scenes. Cur­rent showrun­ner Steven Mof­fat was reg­u­larly ac­cused of sex­ism or misog­yny, which he ro­bustly de­nied. Shame­fully, six years passed, be­tween 2008 and 2014, without a sin­gle episode of Doc­tor Who be­ing writ­ten by a woman. It is Mof­fat’s suc­ces­sor, Broad­church cre­ator Chris Chib­nall, who has cast his for­mer col­league, Whit­taker.

While fe­male fans are de­lighted to see them­selves re­flected on screen as the lead in­stead of the side­kick, men are find­ing it much harder to deal with the na­ture of a fic­tional char­ac­ter’s gen­i­talia. They can com­fort­ably get their heads around a 2000-year-old alien with two hearts trav­el­ling through the time/space con­tin­uum in a mag­i­cal blue box. They’re fine with the fact that ev­ery few years, rather than dy­ing, he re­gen­er­ates into a new body. But if that body hap­pens to be fe­male, and it’s a woman now sav­ing the planet, then their sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief sud­denly turns to bit­ter in­dig­na­tion.

It’s cer­tainly not an ob­jec­tion based on logic. Within the show, ground­work for a fe­male Doc­tor has been laid for years. Scripts have

re­peat­edly con­firmed that it’s a bi­o­log­i­cal pos­si­bil­ity for Timelords to switch gen­der. In the 2015 se­ries fi­nale, a se­nior Timelord was shot, caus­ing him to re­gen­er­ate from an old white man into a younger black woman. The Doc­tor’s child­hood fren­emy and arch foe, The Master, (John Simm) mor­phed into Missy (Michelle Gomez) and re­mained ev­ery bit as bril­liantly scary.

There have even been two fe­male Doc­tors be­fore, al­beit both played for laughs: Joanna Lum­ley in a Comic Re­lief sketch, and Ara­bella Weir in an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse au­dio­book. Spec­u­la­tion about the “proper” Doc­tor be­ing fe­male can be traced back to 1981, when Tom Baker de­parted and wished “good luck to the new Doc­tor, who­ever he or she may be”.

Un­til now, though, women have spent the show’s 54-year his­tory rel­e­gated to sup­port­ing roles: vil­lains, mother fig­ures, love in­ter­ests or trav­el­ling com­pan­ions

– in­creas­ingly feisty and smart-talk­ing, sure, but still re­duced to run­ning down cor­ri­dors, scream­ing at mon­sters, get­ting cap­tured by bad­dies and be­ing res­cued by the Doc­tor, be­fore the wise old man mansplains the mys­ter­ies of the uni­verse to her.

So if not a log­i­cal griev­ance, what then? It has some­how be­come more of an emo­tional knee-jerk re­ac­tion, bound up with nos­tal­gia and per­ceived own­er­ship. Mid­dle-aged men, re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion, have be­come strangely re­ac­tionary about cer­tain pock­ets of their lives. They have a com­fort zone, and God help those who ven­ture into it. In child­hood, boys are con­di­tioned to be rough, tough and emo­tion­ally re­pressed – “Don’t cry like a girl”, “man up”. Mean­while, their imag­i­na­tive, role­play­ing side is en­cour­aged and be­comes their out­let. Boys be­come fa­nat­i­cal, join clubs, col­lect mem­o­ra­bilia and delve deep into their favourite fic­tional worlds. Their he­roes, there­fore, be­come pre­cious, all-en­com­pass­ing and sacro­sanct. Even the most lib­eral men can flinch when their youth­ful totems get ruf­fled by the winds of change. They can en­ter­tain the idea that Hil­lary Clin­ton could have

been the leader of the free world, but they wob­ble when con­fronted with a woman pi­lot­ing the Tardis.

Doc­tor Who has long been con­sid­ered a Left-lean­ing show, ex­tolling the virtues of tol­er­ance, co-op­er­a­tion and paci­fi­cism, so it’s ironic how cer­tain Who­vians re­vert to un­re­con­structed views. “What next?” they cry. “Jane Bond?” Well, 007’s boss be­came fe­male 22 years ago, thanks to Judi Dench’s M. “A male Miss Marple?” That would be Her­cule Poirot.

The charge is sim­ply this. A fe­male Doc­tor sig­nals some sort of fem­i­ni­sa­tion and takeover of a cul­ture that men own. There’s a per­cep­tion that women are spoil­ing things or tak­ing some­thing away. That this is “ours”, not “yours”. These men then see progress as a threat. Per­haps it’s a throw­back to when geeks were bul­lied by jocks and re­jected by girls at the school disco. A fe­male Doc­tor has bro­ken the in­ter-galac­tic glass ceil­ing and male fans fear the floor fall­ing away from un­der their feet.

It’s now down to Whit­taker to con­vince this au­di­ence oth­er­wise. Af­ter tak­ing the sonic screw­driver from Peter Ca­paldi on Christ­mas Day, she can ex­pect to be judged much more harshly than pre­vi­ous, male Doc­tors – in the same way that fe­male politi­cians are of­ten held to higher stan­dard than men are in the pub­lic sphere. A gifted and ver­sa­tile ac­tress with an un­der­used funny side, Whit­taker has the tal­ent to prove the naysay­ers wrong.

I sus­pect that her Tardis ten­ure will be a pleas­ant sur­prise, and can only hope that in a year’s time Who­vians won’t even be­lieve that they were hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion, let alone so apoplec­ti­cally. Only time (and space) will tell.

The next six: Sylvester Mccoy (1987-89), Paul Mcgann (1996), Christopher Ec­cle­ston (2005), David Ten­nant (2005-10), Matt Smith (2010-13) and Peter Ca­paldi (2013-17)

The first six: Wil­liam Hart­nell (1963-66), Pa­trick Troughton (1966-69), Jon Per­twee (1970-74), Tom Baker (1974-81), Peter Dav­i­son (1981-84) and Colin Baker (1984-86)

Fem­i­nine wiles: Jodie Whit­taker is a ver­sa­tile ac­tress but can ex­pect to be judged more harshly than pre­de­ces­sors


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