The Doctor is a transient man. Even aside from all of his hopping around galaxies, eras, and plot devices, he’s constantly running (lot’s of running), he talks like a quirky auctioneer, and even his beloved late companions the Ponds couldn’t inspire him to share a slice of their domestic lives for more than a few hours. That said, though he changes faces, companions, and physical locations at the drop of a hat, there are certain things about The Doctor that always stay the same…
The TARDIS, the universe-saving antics, and The Doctor’s race and gender.
Right. The Doctor regenerates every few years due to fatal mishaps or angsty blondes, and every single one of the doctor’s 11 incarnations has been a (progressively younger) white guy. I’m not so sure about the mechanisms of how the reincarnations work. I always imagined it’d be random generation or a composite based on the demographics of the place where he was reincarnating.
Or maybe it’s just that Time Lords are always white and reincarnations don’t include sex changes (though The Doctor alluded to the possibility when, realizing he had longer hair, he exclaimed in fear after his 11th regeneration “*Gasp!* I’m a girl! No!”). Not to mention, River Song exists, and in fact, one of her incarnations was a Black woman… Or maybe maaaybe this gimmick is much smarter than that. Maybe it designs The Doctor’s face and body according to what would be the most beneficial to him in the places he spends most of his time — in this case the wacky alien-invaded eras of England. Hell, if I was going to be running around England (present day or past) barging into homes and shady situations, telling folk to “trust me, I’m The Doctor” and inviting young white women to run away with me in my special blue box… yea, I’d probably wanna be a white guy too.
Doctor Who has explored questions of race, gender, and class in the scope of the universe and time through its companions. Martha Jones, the 10th Doctor’s second companion, steps out of the TARDIS into 15th century England and halts, “Am I gonna be okay?”
Cue The Doctor’s colorblind “huh?” face.
Martha: “I’m Black.”
Turns out 15th Century England was progressive enough that the worst Martha encounters are a few “Moor” comments and some really forward flirtation by a foul-breathed William Shakespeare. Of course that’s not the case when Martha has to pose as the humanized Doctor’s servant when they hideout in the early 20th century English countryside.
As for class, there was Rose Tyler, a working class girl living with her mum in the grittier side of London. Orientation? There was the wonderful flirt, Captain Jack Harkness. And gender? Well, all of the doctor’s steady companions are women, though occasionally they come with a tag-along boyfriend. But more importantly, though they might frequently find themselves the damsels in distress, The Doctor’s lady friends and companions are made of tougher stuff. I think Martha Jones rescued herself and saved The Doctor more often than he did. Then there’s Vastra, the reptilian warrior, and her girlfriend Jenny. And of course, there’s River Song… She bucks all the trends – a sexy middle aged woman saving the day,adventuring through time, jumping out of space ships, and talking dirty to the practically pubescent Doctor. She might not be full-on Time Lord, but she’s always in control, she dead sexy, and she’s oh so cool. She’s the closest we’ve gotten to a female Doctor so far…
But, what if we took the conversation about race and gender out of the sidelines and put it front and center? What if the next incarnation of The Doctor was Black? Or Muslim? Or Gay? Or *gasp!* a woman?! Would a female Doctor still take on companions? Female companions? Would strangers be so trusting with an Arab Doctor? Would a large chunk of human history be off limits to a Black Doctor?
Doctor Who has always given us engaging stories that explore the big questions of time and space, and reality, and the universe, of what our history means and what it is to be human. It’s a browner, gender mixed world out there, and a show with such great scope has the power to ask really interesting questions, to explore the vast worlds of experiences right here on earth, right there in London even. With Matt Smith leaving, I think a radically new look for The Doctor would make for a really dynamic next season…
So, Moffat and crew. Here’s my wishlist…
Richard Ayoade – With his thick-rimmed glasses, skinny ties, and quirky locks, he kind of already looks like The Doctor. He’s hilarious, he’s certainly oddball enough, and he’d be a smooth transition from Matt Smith’s tall, skinny, cool tie and notable hair Doctor. He’s got screen cred too, with a role in The Watch alongside comedy geniuses Vince Vaughan, Jonah Hill, and Ben Stiller. And from his central role as geeky Morris Moss in The IT Crowd, we know he could spout bad jokes and supergenius sciencey mumbojumbo talk to baffle his plucky companion. Others clearly agree.
Dev Patel – If we’ve got to keep our Doctor getting younger and younger, then at a fresh-faced 22 Dev Patel would be perfect. He ran around plenty in the blockbuster that shot him to fame Slumdog Millionaire, so we know he could keep up (literally) with The Doctor’s manic pace. And in his role as Neal Sampat on The Newsroom, he’s got the uber-excited geeky fast fact spouting thing down packed. He’s got a killer smile that’ll win him some pretty companions, and seriously who wouldn’t trust a guy who smiles at you like that? It’s possible he’s a little too cool, but throw a sweater vest on the guy and boom. Doctor.
Lenora Crichlow – She stole hearts in fantasy drama Being Human as the smilingly neurotic ghost Annie Sawyer. As Annie she literally single-handedly saved the world, had her own little timey wimey weirdness, and was mildly obsessed with tea. If that doesn’t qualify her for Doctor-hood I don’t know what does. I’d even say the vampire and werewolf she roomed with were basically her bumbling companions! Then, of course, as always, there’s the fabulous hair. Just Imagine all of the hair gloriousness that would occur whenever her time-path crossed with River Song…
Okay, let’s be real, my actual dream Doctor looks something more like Idris Elba. But he’s waaay too suave to give the doofy performance that defines the newest incarnations of The Doctor. Nonetheless, I hope the boundless exploration that Doctor Who has come to represent will come to explore new ways of being The Doctor.
Who would you cast?