Friday, 22 December 2017
Doctor Who Spoilers
I have been a fan of the British TV show Doctor Who for most of my life. The title character of the Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey. One of his race's most well known attributes is the ability to "regenerate", which heals the body from grievous injuries with the side effect of changing the outward appearance. (This conveniently allows the lead actor to change every few years without otherwise disrupting the show's continuity.)
Since the beginning of the series the Doctor has been a man. His appearance, perceptions, and general attitudes have been undeniably male. He has neither wanted to nor even mentioned that he had the capability of changing gender (in the classic series 1963-1996 at least). Despite their regenerative abilities, it appeared that gender was hard-wired into Gallifreyan DNA.
The idea of Gallifreyans being able to change gender was floated in the past. In fact, Sydney Newman, the co-creator of the show, suggested that a way to bolster flagging ratings in the 1980s was to put forth a female Doctor. While Newman's vision didn't come to pass, writer Neil Gaiman and producer Stephen Moffat were open to it.
That resulted in a throwaway line in the 2011 episode The Doctor's Wife. Near the beginning of the episode the Eleventh Doctor receives a communication from an old friend of his known as The Corsair: "Fantastic bloke. He had that snake as a tattoo in every regeneration. Didn't feel like himself unless he had the tattoo. Or herself, a couple of times. Ooh, she was a bad girl."
The fans' reaction was swift. Blogger Sarah Pinault wrote in 2012:
"...to me, in my heart of hearts, this is not only utter nonsense, but is heresy! ... Unlike Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: DS9, who is a joined Trill, Time Lords are not symbiotic beings as the Trill are. Time Lords have a definitive sex, though I'm sure that the frequent regenerations could leave some of them with gender issues as a result of tremendous life experience, and the confusion of regeneration itself." She goes on to give evidence from throughout the series that stereotypes of gender exist for Gallifreyans.
Why Doctor Who can Cross Time and Space but Can Never Be a Woman
But as if the implication wasn't enough, the show went one step further during the 2015 episode "Hell Bent". The Twelfth Doctor tasers a Gallifreyan general, who then regenerates from a male body into a female body. Afterwards the general expresses relief at the change because she preferred the female form.
Doctor Who fans have long endured the uncertainty of each regeneration, but the concept of the Doctor regenerating into the opposite gender was practically verboten. When the rumours began swirling about the next actor to play the Doctor following Peter Capaldi's departure, I went into denial. I unfollowed everything that was related to Doctor Who; any details that managed to filter through I could hopefully dismiss until I saw the "regeneration episode" with my own eyes.
Eventually however, with so many web sites and vloggers talking about the upcoming changes to the series, I had to accept the inevitable. And I hated it. They'd killed him. A character whom I had followed and loved for over 30 years had been rewritten to serve as a gimmick, a surrender to political correctness. I felt bereft, as if I had lost a dear friend, and I have no doubt that many fans of the show feel the same way.
I find myself thinking of Beverly Crusher's words at the end of the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Host", after the symbiont of her male Trill lover has been tranferred to a female body. "Perhaps it is a human failing; but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes. I can't keep up. How long will you have this host? What would the next one be? I can't live with that kind of uncertainty. Perhaps, someday, our ability to love won't be so limited." Time will tell if this changed Doctor will still resonate with fans.
Already there are signs indicating that the show might be falling apart. The BBC announced that Series 11 will be shortened to 10 episodes instead of the usual 12 or 13. Plus it won't even begin until at least the autumn of 2018.
I doubt the Doctor's past selves would be happy with any of it.