So, another Doctor is about to bite the dust and regenerate. And once again, the debate swirls around whether the next Doctor should be (played by) a woman.
I have to admit, when Susan Calman tweeted a (mocked-up?) image of a Doctor Who Magazine cover with herself in the title role, I really liked that idea and she would be great bringing a different spin on it.
When Matt Smith announced he was leaving the show, I wrote a piece about the same question with some hypotheticals, including the question, “What if the basic primary sex characteristics of a Gallifreyan stay the same when they change secondary sex characteristics during regeneration?” (I cringe looking at some of the language I used to express the idea back then, but hey ho.) (Also, note that I got my wish for an older actor as the Doctor!)
A lot has changed since then, including two bona fide sex change regenerations on-screen, and in implied third off-screen earlier (which is to say, the Master becoming Missy counts as on-screen because we saw before and after; the general’s earlier F-to-M regeneration doesn’t because it was only implied).
We know, without much doubt, that Time Lords do change gender appearances when regenerating. The line by the general in Hell Bent/Heaven Sent about being glad to be a woman again because of “all that testosterone” is a throwaway but implies that there is some core sense of identification that lies deeper than the body: she still felt “female” was her more natural representation (although what would cause a regeneration to run against one’s sense of one’s own gender is another intriguing question). Missy seems to embrace her new appearance much more readily, though again, it’s not clear what drove it in the first place.
All of which is fine and dandy, but I don’t want to write yet again about the story reasons for changing or not changing the Doctor’s gender or physical sex.
There are many good reasons why it would be a good thing to make the Doctor “a woman”. But I want to talk about why I now want the Doctor to be a male figure.
A while ago, I did an exercise to work out who my “Dom Icons” were and what that said about my style of BDSM.
It was not surprising to me to find terms like “parental” and “suffers from losing” turn up (both of them came from the Doctor, though “suffers” was an undercurrent for some of the others). My dominant icons care about stuff, and people, especially. Losing, failing, letting people down, really matters. While the “thinking” theme, and “controlled” theme, both speak to a certain aloofness, when it comes down to it, my icons need to be people who will act to do the right thing. They are emotional. They are, in fact, vulnerable. They can be hurt.
The Doctor exudes these characteristics, some of which are “stereotypically” feminine. He is also vehemently against the use of violence to solve disputes (although when one side or the other proves intransigent, he will stand firmly and use force to defeat or destroy them or their ambitions).
This is an icon of masculinity that is sorely needed in a world where ever more violent rhetoric and more heavily gendered roles seem to be being touted everywhere. the Doctor is an un-macho man, but he makes it okay to be. He makes it possible to choose not to compete on the dick-waving, gamergating, hierarchical, he-man levels that institutional and performative maleness demands.
The Doctor is anti-masculinity.
Now, there is a slight flaw in all this, and that is basically, Steven Moffat. Moffat writes the Doctor as a man, and as having the same dick-waving tendencies. I have always felt that Steven had an underlying dislike of the Doctor which I found hard to understand.
The Doctor is at his best when he is able to be compassionate, caring, and fiercely so. When he can be a vibrant force to epitomise some characteristics or roles that traditionally are feminine. (Although male nurse Rory was a really good foil in the same way, and still one of my heroes!)
There are very few heroes left who show that it is possible to be a man without being a Man and the Doctor is one of them. He doesn’t need to get the girl (dear God, stop with the romantic adoration!). He doesn’t need to be the tough guy. He just cares for people.