A New Direction in Gender and Space for Doctor Who?

It was back in July of this year when the BBC announced that Jodie Whittaker would be taking over the role of the Doctor following Peter Capaldi’s departure from the series.

The reveal sparked debate and divided opinion, but on the whole the decision to cast the first female Doctor proper (avid fans of the series will no doubt remember Joanna Lumley taking on the role for a Red Nose Day special back in 1999)has been applauded as brave and perhaps somewhat overdue.
With hindsight the decision to allocate this lead to a female actor was perhaps not as surprising as people may have thought; after all the traditionally male role of the Master has recently been given a full female makeover in the form of the brilliant Michelle Gomez, and several seasons prior to that River Song was introduced as the first child of the TARDIS – human for the most part but possessing Time Lord DNA.
Of course the BBC has long been accused of gender inequality that relates as much to pay as it does to the allocation of lead roles. It has however been making small steps (too small more often than not) to redress this issue; when the late Bruce Forsyth announced that he would no longer take part in Strictly the Beeb made the decision to continue the show with Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman at the helm – a decision that attracted divided opinion. Certainly all female presenters and panels are not a new thing, but they are usually reserved for the more lightweight world of lunchtime magazine shows aired on commercial broadcast channels, Loose Women or Mel and Sue’s Light Lunch for example, rather than a prime time Saturday evening slot such as the one that Strictly holds.
What has been a genuine surprise however is the most recent announcement from the team at Doctor Who, revealing only very recently that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor would be accompanied by a male companion; a role that is to be played by Bradley Walsh. Of course male companions are not a new direction for the series – but it is nevertheless a role usually reserved for females.
So, two major announcements within as many months – and each to occur within the same series. Bold? Yes. Innovative? Absolutely. A step too far? That remains to be seen. I hope not, Doctor Who is a wonderful series – ground-breaking, boundary pushing, genre crossing, often simultaneously frightening and fun and one of the very few television programmes that can genuinely be called family appropriate. It has been regular Saturday night viewing for me and my children for the last few years – and I hope that come next autumn when the series returns it will remain so.

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