Doctor Who’s Race Problem: On Jodie Whittaker’s Casting as the 13th Doctor

 

Until the last 7 years, the Doctor, a trans-dimensional, space jumping, time traveling, god like, non-human being from another planet/time never implied he could assume the form of anything other than a British white human male, but with Jodie Whittaker set to take on the role as the 13th incarnation of the Doctor, we now know the Doctor can also take on the diverse form of a British white female too… Sensing the problem yet?

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Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the 13th Doctor is so so wonderful, but the casting just feels less #GirlPower and more #AboutF*ckingTime. Even then, a 54 y/o show in the year 2017 only just now casting a white woman in a role written for white men, feels more like tentative tokenism masquerading as revolution, then progressing Doctor Who into becoming an inclusive show.

Casting women (specifically white women) and claiming that the casting ticks the ‘diversity box’ and calling it a day shows how racism/colorism in media is so apparent nowadays. We get more mainstream content centering on white women with poc/woc (especially black women) still being shunted aside in the narrative (i.e. the handmaid’s tale, the 100, game of thrones, big little lies, orphan black, star wars, atomic blonde etc). All these stories feature kick-ass white female leads, while people of color are mostly sidelined, poorly written, assigned to the role of the villain, or killed off.

This not only presents a problematic perception of class and race, but reinforces the toxic idea ‘womanhood’ and ‘femininity’ is synonymous with whiteness. Women of Color in narratives are often brutalized, sexualised, written with negatively masculine traits that make them seem less human and the less desired alternative to white women. Women of color are rarely allowed to embody the same (perceived) innocent, puritanical nature of white womanhood, nor are they allowed the space to abandon this nature and return to it. Women of color (especially Black and darker skinned women), make one wrong decision and are branded with a negative stereotype that divorces them from an ideal of womanhood, justifying their unjust treatment in narratives.

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If you don’t believe me, take a look at the backlash from Doctor Who fans over Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman), or did you not notice that we didn’t get another companion of color for almost 10 years? Did you miss the way the Doctor treated her compared to Rose? The way she was characterized as angry and aggressive? The Doctor fell in love with Rose so easily, but barely acknowledges Martha (it is interesting to note as well that both Bill and Martha are written in ways that keep them from being able to be with the Doctor romantically, when most companions in New Who – with the exception of Donna – have some kind of romantic subplot involvement). The Doctor wants Rose to be safe and sound in an alternate universe, but asks Martha to walk a Master-ruled earth, risking her life, to save him. There is even an entire episode where Martha is left to be an indentured servant while the Doctor hides out as a human because the Doctor left Martha to her own devices, something he would never have done with Rose. While its nice to palm this treatment off as “independence,” it feeds into the negative stereotype of the ‘strong independent black woman’ that doesn’t need to be nurtured or cared for.

So, Doctor Who has always had a glaring race problem. I’m disappointed that Chris Chibnall had the chance to move past that, building on the wonderfulness of Bill Potts and yet……white feminism rears it’s head again and it’s even more insidious because the Doctor is now female being written by a man. Of course, I am sure Chris will be nowhere near as bad as Moffat in terms of sexism, but i’m always wary of of anyone writing an experience they may know of but never understand and it is very obvious to a female audience when a female character is written by a man. Very. Obvious.

At the end of the day, Jodie is a wonderful actress with an impressive range (if you didn’t cry at least once at her performance in ‘Broadchurch’ I’d be shocked!). Chris is a talented writer and I’m still very excited to see how the show’s dynamic will shift, but none of that changes the fact that a female doctor is long overdue and a white female lead isn’t all that revolutionary in pop culture at this time, even if (relatively) a female doctor is a big shift.

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