The Doctor Decision
Ridiculously enough, “Doctor Who” is important. The programme (yeah, I know, weird spelling, but it’s British) airs on BBC and subsidiary channels all across the globe, and currently holds the Guinness World Record for longest running science fiction television series.
It premiered in 1963, the day after the Kennedy assassination. It utilized electronic music in ways that, at the time, were downright revolutionary.
All over Britain (and indeed, the world) millions of successful professionals, actors and politicians grew up watching the programme and cite its influence in their personal and professional lives. So yeah, it’s a big deal. And this past Sunday, they announced the identity of the twelfth actor to play the time-travelling, world-saving Doctor: the talented Peter Capaldi.
And a lot of people are pissed about that. Because he’s a white guy.
Now, I’d like to note that I don’t have anything against white guys — I am one. In fact, shockingly enough, I enjoy my own company, and, on occasion, the company of other white dudes.
Additionally, I’m not in objection to the choice of Capaldi; he’s a talented, versatile actor who will bring a certain amount of grimness to the character. Furthermore, at 55, he’s the oldest actor to play the Doctor since the reboot in 2005, and will hopefully bring back the scholarly tone the character was made famous for, in addition to eliminating the somewhat incessant sexualization of a role that was considered, for years, to be asexual.
But the fact remains that, since the character’s inception 50 years ago, the Doctor has only been played by white dudes.
Now, for those of you who aren’t Whovians, here’s the deal: the Doctor is an alien called a Timelord — he’s got two hearts, and every time he “dies,” he regenerates with a new face and personality. This acts as a convenient plot device and allows for actors of all ages and types to portray him. And here’s why this is cool — unlike other continuities where characters don’t spontaneously change appearance (for example, Bruce Wayne suddenly changing skin color or gender would require heaps of retroactive continuity), the Doctor has the potential to represent any gender or ethnicity with no weird story consequences.
It’s already been established within “Doctor Who” that Timelords have the ability to change genders and races. And the programme has featured more than its fair share of people of color and female cast leads: companion Rose’s boyfriend, Mickey, various UNIT commanders and (my personal favorite companion) the medical student Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyemen. So why does the main character remain in the pale?
Many fans blame the current head writer and executive producer, Steven Moffat. Somewhat disturbingly, on the bizarrely popular social blogging site, tumblr, ever since Capaldi’s announcement as the Twelfth, the “#burn steven moffat alive” tag has risen in trending numbers.
More outspoken critics of Moffat claim him to be both racist and misogynist, hence the tumblr hate. Extreme claims, and certainly unfair, but Moffat’s treatment of the Doctor’s companions (most of whom are female) was less-than-ideal, their characters serving as little more than flat sidekicks with bland, dependent personalities.
And with the exception of the Doctor, “Doctor Who” had a long history of being ahead of its time in terms of its treatment toward female and characters of color — until recently, according to some.
But bottom line, Peter Capaldi is a damn talented actor. Furthermore, he didn’t charge into the studio demanding that he get the position because he’s white. Yes, there are many, many talented not-white-guy actors who would rock the part (Idris Elba? Maggie Smith? Tilda Swinton?), and I’d be a very happy camper if any of them got the role. Who knows who auditioned? And who knows how the auditions went? None of us are members of the casting department for “Doctor Who,” and we can’t really know what exactly set Capaldi apart from the rest of them.
It’s a shame that the role of the Doctor — one of the best opportunities to give a starring role to deserving minority actors — won’t be employed to its full potential this round, we have no idea what kind of character Capaldi will play, or what values or stories the writers will inject. We simply have no way of knowing until we see it.
Besides, all Whovians out there recognize that the oldest struggle of the Doctor is as yet unresolved — he’s still not ginger.
Ryan M. Cady is a fourth-year English and psychology double major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.