Sunday, August 04, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (4)

Please understand I respect and admire the frailer sex
And I honour them every bit as much as the next
        Jake Thackray

Actually, the prospect of a lady Doctor doesn't bother me at all. It's the endless discussion about whether or not there should be a lady Doctor that I find so dispiriting.

You might be okay with the idea of the Doctor being a woman; on the other hand you might think that that would be a step too far from the "Edwardian English Gentleman" persona. We could have an civilized chat about that. You might, for all I know, think that the Doctor ought to shed, once and for all, the nerdy image and become a tough edgy gangster who thinks with his fists. We could have a civilized chat about that, as well. But the question is in danger of being co-opted by a quite separate discussion about equality and gender; about rights and morals. The next Doctor ought to be woman; anyone who thinks that the next Doctor shouldn't be a woman obviously hates women. People who ought to know better are saying things like "It is not fair that my young daughter is going to go through life knowing that she can't ever be Doctor Who" or "Saying that girls can't be Doctor Who is like saying that they can't be doctors or engine drivers or in particular Church of England Bishops." Some people even said that it was like saying that gay people couldn't get married, although that was mainly because the Matt Smith story broke on the same day there was a more than usually fatuous debate in the House of Lords. 

No, Mrs Worthington, of course your daughter can't ever "be" the Doctor. The Doctor is a made up character in a story. If you do decide to put your daughter on the stage, then she will not be able to play the role of, for example, Harry Potter, any more than your son will be able to play the role of, for example, Hermione Grainger, because the one is a dude and the other is a dudette. But even supposing that your son does become an actor rather than a nurse or an air-steward, he will still not be able to "be" Harry. When we were very young, many of us imagined that acting was like playing soldiers and Dungeons & Dragons. You pretend to fly the TARDIS, and you pretend so hard that is is almost practically real until you take the costume off and go home for tea. Now we are six we understand that acting is a very skilled and exacting (and often quite boring) trade involving moving your eyebrow at exactly the right time towards exactly the right camera and getting your breathing exactly spot on and then doing it six more times exactly the same. Most of us couldn't do it and wouldn't want to. That is why actors get paid such a lot of money. If your actor becomes a daughter, then of course there are roles that she could play and roles that she could not play. And of course it would be a good thing if there were more and better roles for women actors; and of course it is a good thing that there are, although still not enough. But saying that the roles of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Superman ought to be taken by women so that little girls who don't yet understand what acting is can aspire to cast magic spells, travel in time and space and break the necks of supervillains is simply nonsensical. I submit that there is ontological conclusion going on between the process of regeneration and the process of auditioning

That's the answer to the Black Spider-Man question, by the way: more black superheroes, better black superheroes. Superheroes whose whole back story is tied up in the their African heritage; superheroes who live in New York and Cardiff and who just happen to have dark skin; everything in between. And then turn some of them into movies.


This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.


Abigail Nussbaum said...

It is possible, I suppose, that the people reacting strongly to the suggestion that the Doctor can't be a woman genuinely don't know the difference between a fictional character and a real occupation, but somehow I suspect not.

The fact is, there's absolutely no reason why Harry Potter shouldn't be played by a girl, any more than there's a reason why Hamlet shouldn't be played by a woman, something that was first done more than a hundred years ago. It would change the story, but so what? That's what stories are there for, and Harry Potter is a much less versatile story than Doctor Who.

And while you're right that the real solution is for there to be more roles for women and POC, that's not the world we live in. The entertainment industry is growing more backwards-looking and risk-averse, and nerd culture in particular is being taken over by past-worshiping fanboys (as, per example, the newly minted Doctor), very few of whom seem interested in challenging the works they're rebooting on the grounds of race or gender. In this landscape, pretty much the only option if you want to put women and POC in front of audiences is to change the traditional race and gender of established characters - to make Watson a woman, or Heimdal a black man. It changes the story, but so fucking what? If we can't get new stories - and at this point it is painfully clear that we can't - then the story needs to be changed.

SK said...

Most of us couldn't do it and wouldn't want to. That is why actors get paid such a lot of money

Other way around, surely: acting is not very hard (you don't even have to make up the words! Somebody else does that for you!) and lots of people do want to do it, which is why most actors get paid a pittance on the rare occasions they get paid at all.

Personally, I have the same qualms about a woman playing the Doctor changing the nature of the programme as you do, but I would set those aside if the woman in question were either Judi Dench (obviously) or Sue Johnston.

Did casting Irdis Elba mean that Thor got a positive POC-mark?

Anonymous said...

I think you are right, the problem isn't that the Doctor might be played by a female actor because the writers have good stories to tell where the gender of the Doctor is irrelevant (and while their may be a genuine or perceived gender imbalance, a female "scientist" is not as unusual as it would have been in 1963), but because, with the subject being raised every time the prospect of a new doctor is discussed, someone decides to do it "because they can" and it then suddenly becomes a grand central theme, so the whole show becomes about the FEMALE Doctor rather than the female DOCTOR.

Louise H said...

It is of course possible for a woman to play Hamlet. It's a legitimate way of looking at some of the play's issues. However I would suggest that it isn't really possible for an actor to play the first two acts as a man and the remainder as a woman without ending up with something that might say something about gender fluidity and roles but no longer says anything much about Hamlet at all.

It's quite possible to change the Doctor's gender if you take the view that gender is something pretty superficial. I can imagine a 1970s Doctor becoming female and demonstrating in the process that there are no intrinsic differences between male and female psychology - It's all culture and upbringing, so basically remaining the same. That might have worked. But if you accept the more modern view that gender is in the brain and isn't always tied to physical attributes, "changing the Doctor's gender" Is a lot more problematic than just casting a woman. As you said, we'd be into gender reassignment and I think that's asking a bit much of a Saturday night family adventure story.

Caius said...

"very few of whom seem interested in challenging the works they're rebooting on the grounds of race or gender. In this landscape, pretty much the only option if you want to put women and POC in front of audiences is to change the traditional race and gender of established characters - to make Watson a woman, or Heimdal a black man. It changes the story, but so fucking what?"

Well for one thing there's a danger that such a show would end up being unbearably smug and self-congratulatory. And, while there is undoubtedly a legitimate role for fiction to play in challenging stereotypes, I think most people would be pretty miffed if they sat down to watch Sherlock Holmes and found that instead of being about foiling criminals it had instead become about the writers' views on race and gender.