On changing the Doctor’s sex

I am somewhat annoyed that I know that Matt Smith is leaving the role of the Doctor on Doctor Who, both because I thought he was very good in the role and also because I hate spoilers and just wish something in a story could be a surprise for once. (Don’t get me started on “Next week on…” coming up during the closing credits – grr!)

The F-Word Blog has a piece proclaiming There’s nothing to debate: the next Doctor cannot be white and male. Now, I get annoyed by the “cannot be” part, but the piece itself is reasonable and explains why there’s no reason the Doctor has to be always White and male. Indeed, the female Doctor has been played for laughs on television (for instance, the Comic Relief special) and seriously in fanfic (including in a fanfic video that I bought on VHS). Lenny Henry did a Doctor Who skit (fighting the evil Thatchos, IIRC) and played perfectly the regeneration scene with a shocked assistant/comapnion exclaiming, “But Doctor, you’re… you’re…” and LH says, “I know! I’m bald!” (Again, to my best recollection). The skit wasn’t that good, but that scene was perfect.

Claire Askew, the author of the F-Word piece, brings up the fact that it’s canon that “Time Ladies” exist (and it seems as though not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords, and in Pyramids of Mars, the Doctor denies being a Time Lord, so it’s all a bit unclear what it means to be a Time Lord/Lady). Askew writes “though let’s please not make that term a thing” but I think the ship’s kind of sailed on that one, like, back in the 1970s when the term was introduced. She seems to be wondering if that’s why a lot of fans seem unhappy with the idea of a female Doctor.

I want to turn away from this. We know to some extent that Time Lords reproduce (although whether it’s via genetic Looms, as in the Virgin novel series, or via fucking while time travelling, as suggested by River Song’s origin story, is a relevant question). We certainly know, as Askew points out, that, “Since the show’s 2005 resurrection, the female companion’s storyline has always had a(n unrequited) romantic element, with the exception of Catherine Tate’s wonderful Donna.” And there’s that kiss in the 1996 TV Movie.

For the sake of arguing, let’s assume that Gallifreyans come in two physical sexes (and maybe also have intersex folks as well) and that their genitalia have a convex/concave alignment that at some point match up, jiggle about a bit, and gametes are exchanged/combined to create a new zygote. That is to say, they fuck to make babies. While we know that some species on Earth can change sex in order to balance a population and improve the chances of reproduction, and there’s no obvious reason why Gallifreyans couldn’t do the same thing, more intriguing to me is the idea that they definitely don’t.

What that means is that if a regeneration also changes the secondary sexual characteristics (that is, a Time Lord appears female or vice versa), their genitalia might stay the same. Also intriguing is the possibility that their genitalia also change configuration but they keep the same gametes, which would explain why a distinction of “Lady” and “Lord” would be necessary, so that fucking for the purposes of reproduction will result in an egg-bearer meeting a sperm-bearer, rather than two sperm-bearers or two egg-bearers. Of course, we can hope that sex is as fun for them as it is for us, and recreational sex would take place across all combinations (which would make our distinctions of “gay” and “straight” seem completely bizarre and arbitrary to a Gallifreyan, no?)

What I’m building up to here is the idea that there’s no reason why the Doctor couldn’t be portrayed as female-bodied, while maintaining the idea that zie remains on some level a Time Lord. And if the idea of a trans* Doctor offends the people who want the Doctor to remain male even more, then in some ways that’s even better. If they need the companion to play “love interest” then fine, let’s have a lesbian crush on the Doctor instead of a straight crush on him – but the whole “love interest” thing has grown somewhat tired for me (I mean, he’s a thousand years old, and views humanity generally as precocious children, his role is parent, not lover!). I have missed there being male companions on the TARDIS, in their own right (Mickey and Rory were present only as attachments to the regular female companion, while Captain Jack Harkness was peripheral to the central Doctor/Rose thing, and an occasional guest), precisely because that would show that it doesn’t have to be about sexual tension for the straight, cis audience.

If I have a concern with the idea of a female-bodied Doctor, then it is to do with this “sexual tension as substitute for dramatic tension” issue. If we have a female-bodied Doctor, what’s the betting that we get a male-bodied companion? We already had an episode where Amy Pond all but sexually assaults the Doctor because she was lusting after him and he wasn’t responding to her desire. Do we want to see that scene with genders reversed? I don’t. The prospects aren’t much better even if they steer clear of letting it play out that way. Frankly, the idea of seeing a whole season of “Nice Guy”-ism played out on the TARDIS doesn’t inspire me with much other than disgust. If I thought their current writers were capable of writing male-female without making it about romantic/sexual tension, then I wouldn’t be nearly as bothered.

If we have to have a male-female dyad as the core TARDIS crew, and we have a female Doctor, then at least focus on the Doctor as the parental figure that zie was early on. It’s annoyed me how the Doctor has become a young male figure. The early actors were all middle-aged or older, and really it’s only since Paul McGann in the 1996 TV Movie that the fresh-faced cutie has become the norm (although you can point to Peter Davison as setting the precedent). I want to see them cast someone older (or older-looking, anyway), regardless of gender. But yes, I would like it to be a female-bodied person and then, if they have to have a male companion, let him see the Doctor as a mother rather than a potential girlfriend/fuckbuddy.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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