In a common display of sexism, some despondent Dr. Who fans have taken to social media to voice their feelings following the announcement earlier this week that actress Jodie Whittaker would indeed be the next Doctor Who. The outrage comes as no surprise, following the trend of gender related backlashes which surrounded the all-female Ghostbusters reboot last year, and with the gender change of Battlestar Galactica’s “Starbuck”—played by Katee Sackhoff in the 2004 reboot. While there are those negative voices who say they will no longer be watching, there are also sci-fi fans who are welcoming this transition. Dr. Who is, of course, all about regeneration, and die hard fans have seen 12 Doctors cycle through over five decades.
Whittaker has proven acting chops, coming off four years of Broadchurch—a BBC crime series—to venture back into the world of science-fiction. She starred in the popular cult film Attack the Block in 2011. Whittaker knows what she’s taking on, and has attempted to comfort the downtrodden saying that she wants to tell the fans, “Don’t be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change.” What’s important to understand here is fans aren’t questioning her acting abilities, the upheaval is based solely on her gender. It’s unfortunate that outcries of politically correct “tokenism” have cast a shadow on the announcement, especially considering the long track record of women prevailing in the mostly male-dominated genre.
The reigning “Queen of Sci-Fi”, Sigourney Weaver, was made famous by her first lead role as Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), going on to star in three of the film’s sequels. As well as other favorites like Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, Cabin in the Woods, Paul, and Avatar. Weaver also happens to be close friends with Jamie Lee Curtis, the original “scream queen,” who starred in John Carpenter’s Halloween movies. The success of these leading ladies is illustrative of a slow, but growing tendency of including strong female characters in their films. We’re seeing television series’ like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more recently, The 100 begin to utilize women as their leads. In the case of The 100, it too was attacked for having perpetuated what some call a “white feminism problem.” What they are calling a “problem” I call progress.
We have come a long way from 1979, and it’s going to happen in this age of the “reboot” and the “re-imagining,” character’s genders are going to get changed up. Katee Sackhoff was cast as “Starbuck” in the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica and was met with the same hostility. Until everybody ended up loving her. Galactica was a show which already had a strong female cast, with half the Cylon race as well as the President of the Colonies—played by Mary McDonnell—being women.
It’s true that women in the sci-fi fandom are a minority, but we are also some of the more vociferous. As someone who has frequented several sci-fi message boards, I can say that women are speaking up about this casting and are enthusiastically embracing Jodie Whittaker as she tackles this cherished role. The day it was announced one regular sci-fi commenter even went as far as posting a Facebook status that said “And the 13th Doctor Who is a woman! Jodie Whittaker is an excellent actress, great choice. I think I can hear the broflakes crying from here.” While I don’t generally partake in name-calling, this seemed like a playful take on the negative discourse that was coming from the critics. Another playful social media post went on to say that “we have taken your Ghostbusters and Star Wars and Super Heroes and Doctor Who. Nothing is sacred. We will defile it all with our womanly hands!” This is light-hearted, of course, but the point remains. Women have been strong players in this genre for decades, playing some of the most beloved characters with conviction. We will support each other, yes, but in the long-run men tend to end up liking these portrayals too. We just need to be given the chance and Jodie Whittaker has been given that chance.