When the Master was revealed to be reincarnated as a woman I wrote a long post about it. Part of the reason I wrote that was I never thought Who would actually have the balls to change the gender of the Doctor. And now they have. So what do I think about that? I’m transgender, after all. This should be pretty close to my heart.
Well, that’s a very good question. I encountered the news through posts on Facebook complaining that their entire f’list was now about the Doctor, so I scrolled a bit and googled a bit and then thought: Oh dear god, here comes the internet-feminism shitstorm. I was not wrong about that, but I’ll chuck peanuts at the failings of humanity in the netwatch post.
I watched the five or ten seconds of footage that was causing this whole furore. Ten seconds doesn’t really say enough to judge a whole show on. Then I sat back and examined my own reaction to the news. It was a kind of full-body wince. It took me some time to realise that the wince was provoked by a horrible suspicion that nu-Who is going to spectacularly fail at dealing with the questions raised by this development.
I disagree with the people claiming that Who has been (a) ruined or (b) made perfect by the change. I think the Doctor belongs to everyone; not to women, not to men. Not to RTD or Moffat or this Chibnall fellow either, come to that. People explain to me how Chibnall is a huge fan of Who and they’re keen to see it in his hands, and I remember feeling the same excitement about RTD, who proved to be incapable of deep storylines, and about Moffat on the grounds he was the guy who gave us the Weeping Angels and maybe we’d get some real actual story now. But I was disappointed then and it’s perfectly possible Chibnall will disappoint too.
I mean I was complaining when Missy rolled round that the gender swap had to happen to the bad guy. It smacked a little too much of that era in media when gay characters always died. I should be deliriously happy that they’ve gone the whole hog, shouldn’t I? Dancing in the streets.
But I’m not. They still didn’t have the courage to make the Doctor the flagship of the change. They used Missy as training wheels because it would be easy to get rid of her if the change didn’t go over well. That’s still an attitude that treats representing me and people like me as abnormal and a risk.
They’ve also walked squarely into a bunch of gender stereotypes with Missy. Notice that it’s only the character’s female incarnation who is uncertain enough to question the character’s basic nature, and who shows vulnerability openly (as opposed to the Doctor who lies about his blindness until forced to tell the truth). That’s not challenging this stereotype we have that men don’t or can’t show certain emotions. It’s not going to educate young boys about having the strength to be a complete person. It’s still saying that emotions, inner change and personal development belong to girls, and that boys should just keep on pretending to be strong. What would John Sim have done with a script that demanded subtle and emotionally charged interaction with the Doctor? We’ll never know. He won’t get the opportunity because that stuff’s not for men.
The thing is, I’ve been waiting for Who to get good again since they cast Matt Smith. He was a gift in the part and has a colossal talent (I recommend Christopher And His Kind), but the scripts were consistently awful and let him down immensely. There was a catalogue of howling diversity gaffes on Moffat’s part, followed by someone having a quiet word with him about sensitivity and the resulting several seasons of unmemorable pabulum. In hindsight I honestly have difficulty telling the recent ones apart.
I still enjoy the asexuality of Capaldi’s Doctor, since it’s a pleasant return to Whovian tradition. To date the only time I’ve ever stopped watching Who completely was in the nadir of the Tennant era when the Doctor’s only ability was emoting and an unfunny comedienne was cast as the Companion. I also like the fact that we have a middle-aged man playing a character that is OK for children; sometimes I think that as a society we’ve slid so far down the men-are-rapists rabbit hole that we’ve forgotten men can be decent humans too.
But given the way they didn’t challenge stereotypes with Missy’s personality, I’m not optimistic about how nu-Who will handle the Doctor’s gender change. They may choose the wish fulfilment approach in which the Doctor gets to do and say all those things that women want to – the trouble with that is that it’ll essentially turn the female Doctor into a sort of gender-swapped Bernard Manning and the Companions will all be scantily-clad ripped twinks. Certainly if they go with what the feminists on my Facebook are saying.
If, however, they choose to wave their authorial magic wands and have the Doctor’s gender switch make no difference at all, then it is highly likely I will break whatever screen I’m watching it on. I have done changing my gender and it is years and years of misery and pain – and that, as transition goes, is having it easy. If I feel like that about the mere thought of the new Doctor trivialising my personal journey, what are the trans women going to feel when they actually see it? (And if you can’t figure out why this might bother me, imagine they cast a black person instead and then went on to have all other characters behave as if racism didn’t exist. Why might that annoy people who have to deal with racism every day?)
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I’ve enjoyed in this year’s Who. The slew of gloriously political little digs – capitalism in space and so on. My left wing soul was delighted. But with the news that Moffat will be departing, those little digs look less like subversion of Auntie Beeb and more like someone who knows he can’t be fired because he’s already gone. Bill was a lesbian and working class, which is great, but if she’s ever sold as an action figure it will probably come with a sledgehammer that has I LIKE GIRLS carved into the business end. Another case of the scripting letting the cast down.
So yeah, Who hasn’t got good yet. I’m still waiting. And now it has a complicated and subtle change to deal with which is also one I’m very personally invested in.
I’ll give Who 2018 a chance, but I’m not going to hold my breath.