There are few television series more beloved than the English sci-fi show Doctor Who. It premiered on BBC in November of 1963 and has enjoyed thirty-six seasons since then. Twelve different actors have played the eccentric Doctor, but the recent announcement that the new Dr. Who will be played by a woman—popular English actress Jodie Whittaker—has raised questions about whether or not dedicated Dr. Who fans will accept a woman in the role.
In fact, as a recent interview in Variety with showrunner Steven Moffat revealed, the supposed backlash against Whittaker’s casting might just be an invention of an overactive media imagination:
“There has [sic] been so many press articles about the backlash among the ‘Doctor Who’ fandom against the casting of a female Doctor,” Moffat said Sunday at Comic-Con. “There has been no backlash at all. The story of the moment is that the notionally conservative ‘Doctor Who’ fandom has utterly embraced that change completely — 80 percent approval on social media, not that I check these things obsessively. And yet so many people wanted to pretend there’s a problem. There isn’t.”
If you haven’t seen the show, it’s centered on Doctor Who, a Time Lord who can travel back and forth in time in his TARDIS, a device that looks just like a blue phone booth, but is invisible to people wherever it lands. The TARDIS is famously “bigger on the inside,” with plenty of space for the Doctor and his companions on a particular adventure. That includes the many famous actors who’ve appeared in cameos on the show over the years, such as James Corden, Timothy Dalton, John Cleese, Andrew Garfield, Michael Sheen, Carey Mulligan, Bill Nighy, Felicity Jones, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Maisie Williams.
But there’s nothing that requires that Doctor Who be a man. Whittaker, who previously co-starred in the BBC TV series Broadchurch and has been involved with Black Mirror and many other TV projects, has the charming and wry sense of humor on-screen that the role requires, and she is savvy enough to understand that some fans might be surprised by her casting. She offers this advice: “[don’t] be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change.” When asked by the BBC, “What does it feel like to be the first woman Doctor?” Whittaker responded, “It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be. It feels incredible.”
The small subset of Doctor Who fans who did complain (mainly on social media) claim that Whittaker was cast because of rampant political correctness. “After 54 years Doctor Who is finally finished. I shall mourn its passing, finally killed off, not by Daleks or Cybermen, but by political correctness,” said one Twitter ranter, and “Gender ideology gone mad. I’m willing to bet viewership will drop.”
But just as many social justice warrior liberals are too quick to see discrimination where none exists, too many conservatives are over-eager to cry “political correctness!” at every hint of cultural change. The world is changing—and that includes embracing a new era of role models in pop culture. That’s a good thing. Still unconvinced? Go see Wonder Woman and ask why it’s taken so long for a strong, intelligent, and compassionate female superhero to emerge, one that both men and women find appealing. It’s important to call out unfairness in the form of political correctness when it occurs, but critics on the right shouldn’t do so indiscriminately. When it comes to cultural change, we would all do well to follow the advice of Doctor Who, from an episode back in season 6: “I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”