Lady Doctors, Imagination, and DS9.

So, Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who. Soz for the spoiler- I know it’s the kind of thing that it’s almost imposible to hear about on the internet.
I have to say that I’m not tremendously bothered. Smith/Moffat era Who never grabbed me the way that Russell T Davies, Nine and Ten did. It’s not just Moffat’s well-known fail-y ways when it comes to characters that aren’t straight white dudes- although after the RTD years, that was a bit on the unpleasant side. There was just something about the Eleven era that failed to grab me. Some depth, flair or humanity missing from the characters. One of the things I loved about RTD’s companions was how grounded they were (aside from Captain Jack, natch. But that man is a bit of a deliberate enigma, isn’t he?). They had real lives- boyfriends, mothers, sisters, doting granddads, ordinary jobs- and the Doctor was just another part of those lives. They felt.. plausible, in a fantastic universe. They weren’t Manic Pixie Dream Companions. They were people.

But that was then, and this is now, right? Onwards and upwards, allons-y and all that, and we’re all a mite interested to know who’s going to be next. In this corner of the internet, we’re all simultaneously crossing our fingers for a Doctor that may not be yet another white dude (nothing against white guys, like, but you lot have been hogging being the Doctor for decades. It’s time you let the rest of the world have a go, k?), and shuddering at the thought of what Moffat would do to ’em, given his track record with everyone who isn’t part of his favourite minority.

In the middle of the speculation comes Russell T Davies. And what did the man who gave us Captain Jack and Donna have to say?

Russell T Davies explained to the publication how this mega change would never be allowed because it is “a family show”, adding:

“While I think kids will not have a problem with a female Doctor, I think fathers will have a problem with it.

“That’s because they will then imagine they will have to describe sex changes to their children.”

Before I go on, and as a bit of an aside- does anyone think it’s (not) funny that it’s apparently okay to cast Benedict “So White He’s Practically A Daz Ad” Cumberbatch as Khan Noonien Singh, but that changing the gender of a non-human alien with a well-documented ability to transform themselves into a whole new body would be going too far? If I were less unrealistically optimistic about humanity, I’d say that we were dealing with a one-way valve leading to straight white dude-hood.

Let’s get back to RTD and the Lady Doctor, though. In a fantastic reversal of the good ol’ Argumentum Ad Won’t Someone Think Of The Children, Davies is pleading with us to Think Of The Fathers. If the Doctor regenerates into a Lady Doctor, the fathers (but not the mothers?) of the nations will have to explain to their kids that real-live people sometimes transition to different genders. As a society, I guess that we’re just not ready for that. Right?

Maybe. But… maybe not. Let’s make a list, shall we?

A Lady Doctor Would Not Be The End Of The World: In Three Parts.

  1. It Really Wouldn’t.
  2. It’s Not That Difficult
  3. It’s Been Done Before.

Part the First: It Really Wouldn’t.

The Doctor is an alien. An immortal alien with two hearts, a telepathic time machine that is both infinite and the size of a phone box, a widget that will fix anything, and the ability to regenerate into a new body (and personality) every time his current body looks like it’s about to give up the ghost. The Doctor does tons of things that you or I can’t do. He’s just a little bit magic. When people die, we don’t get dramatic and glow-ey and turn into Matt Smith as our spaceship crashes to the ground to rousing orchestral music. If parents fathers are so disturbed at the idea of telling their kids that sometimes people change gender, all they have to do is wave their hands and say that it’s just another one of those wibbly-wobbly doctorey-woctorey things. By which time something exciting will have happened involving aliens and saving humanity and they’ll be distracted anyway. Easy.

Part the Second: It’s Not That Difficult

“But Daddy, Daddy! The Doctor turned into a lady! Can people do that too?”
“Yep. There’s less in the way of glowing TARDIS energy involved, though. Also: fewer violins.”
“Cool! Does that mean we can have sonic screwdrivers and TARDISes too?”
“Nope, unless you invent one when you grow up”

And then the kid grew up to invent a sonic screwdriver, and the parent father won at parenting.

Part the Third: It’s Been Done Before.

I wonder if you’ve ever heard something like the following:

“I’m fine with xyz, but society isn’t ready for it”

The speaker is cool with you, you see. They’re open-minded, accepting and desperately intelligent. Far more clever than the unwashed masses out there. Those masses, on the other hand? Are just not able to deal with whatever it is you are. We don’t want to tax their little prole minds too much. Best to wait an indeterminate amount of years until society grows up and magically, without exposure to difference, becomes cool with the rest of us.

Of course, that falls apart when you realise that a major sci fi series did just that twenty years ago, with a main character who was centuries old, who had regenerated many times into different bodies and personalities, who had friendships that continued from one life to the next, and who- yes- had been different genders many times. I’m referring, of course, to Deep Space Nine’s Dax.

If you haven’t seen DS9, you should obtain all 7 seasons by whatever method you do such things yourself, clear out your diary for the next few weeks, and watch it now. In the meantime, a little background on Dax. Dax- or Jadzia Dax, as she is when we meet her- is a joined Trill. Trills are a species who, in their joined state (most Trills aren’t joined) are composed of two parts- a humanoid host who lives and dies like other humanoids, and a wormlike symbiont who can live for many centuries and who holds and preserves the memories of its hosts. When a host dies, the symbiont is transferred into a new host to begin another life. A joined Trill individual is therefore a blend of the current host, their symbiont, and all of their past lives. Trippy, eh?

Where the Doctor rarely refers to the past, Dax doesn’t have that luxury. Jazdia Dax lives and works among people who knew her when she was an old man. Her boss, closest friend, mentor and mentee (life is complicated when you’re a twentysomething with a centuries old mind) calls her “Old Man” and reminisces about old times. She encounters people of many species who she knew in past lives, deftly negotiating complex terrains of age and gender, owning both who she is and all of the other people that she was. She’s also, by the way, a badass science officer, wicked smart, and manages to gamble with the Ferengi and win. The Doctor ain’t got nothin’ on Dax (although, dear sweet FSM she would make an incredible Companion. Although I suspect it wouldn’t be long before it’d be the other way around).

When Russell T Davies says that fathers wouldn’t be able to deal with telling their kids that girls can be boys and boys can be girls, he betrays his own transphobia, not theirs. When he implies that society just isn’t ready for a female doctor, he betrays his own classist elitism. And when he narrows the scope of shape-shifting science fiction aliens to just another guy in a (delightfully dapper) suit, he betrays the very point of storytelling and imagination. If in this fantastic playground of space, time, changes and identity we can’t recreate our ideas of who we are, then where can we?

13 thoughts on “Lady Doctors, Imagination, and DS9.

  1. There is so much bullshit right now about the Doctor being unable to be anyone but a gorgeous white man — people are suggesting American Hollywood actors ffs. First, the Doctor’s only real requirement is that s/he look human and be from the British Isles (Even David Tennant had to change his Scottish accent for an English one). Period. So all the “The Doctor can’t be Black/Asian/Female” is just people showing off their prejudice. Or ignorance of the show’s universe.

    You don’t even have to go outside the Who-verse to show that Time Lords can regenerate as different genders and races. River Song, who has Time Lord DNA regenerated from a white child to a black one and then back to a white adult. The Doctor himself, upon regenerating into Matt Smith, suspected briefly he’d regenerated into a woman based on his long hair. He also mentions he knew of a Time Lord who regenerated into a woman in The Doctor’s Wife. They’ve been setting this up as a possibility for some time now, probably trying to gauge public reaction to it. Sadly, if they’ve seen what I’ve seen, we’re getting just another white guy again. I have a wish list that does not include either gender or race — I want an older, angrier doctor right now.

    Personally, Eleven is my Doctor — I loved his darkness, his sinister-youth appeal, even if the only Pond I was particularly taken with was child!Amelia and Melody/Mels/River Song.

  2. I’ve read a few articles which have suggested that the Doctor can’t be a woman because he is somehow essentially male.

    I have the opposite problem with having a female Doctor: I don’t really see the Doctor as male. I guess I perceive him almost as genderless. He’s first and foremost an alien, who happens to have a body that resembles that of a human male. But I can’t really think of him as male. This is harder to work into NewWho given that both RTD and Moffat seem very keen to present the Doctor as a straight-ish man, but in Classic Who there are plenty of instances of queerness, along the lines of both sex and sexuality. is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but very comprehensive guide.

    So how does this not fit into a female Doctor? Basically I’m concerned that – if Moffat is in charge, anyway – having a female Doctor will lead to the Doctor being explicitly gendered. And suddenly even with a good deal of squinting I won’t be able to see Doctors 1-11 as not being blokes. That would spoil much of my view of the show. I don’t want the Doctor to be – or have been – a straight white man. I want him to be an alien.

    For a female Doctor to work for me would be relatively simple: it would just take one line suggesting that gender on Gallifrey doesn’t quite correspond to gender on Earth. That would do. But if Moffat is in charge then it won’t happen. Nor would most other possible showrunners – maybe Mark Gatiss or Paul Cornell would do a decent job, but even then I’m not convinced.

    • i’m late to the party, but this bugs me:

      “having a female Doctor will lead to the Doctor being explicitly gendered. And suddenly even with a good deal of squinting I won’t be able to see Doctors 1-11 as not being blokes. That would spoil much of my view of the show. I don’t want the Doctor to be – or have been – a straight white man. I want him to be an alien. ”

      you only see doctors 1-11 as not being men, because being a man is the unmarked default of our society. having a woman play the Doctor would make the gender of the previous Doctors more apparent, but their gender is only not apparent because being a man is the unmarked category. the same arguments could be made around having a person of colour play the Doctor.

      i vote we have the Doctor played by a feminine woman, but have the character a pre-everything trans man. that will mess with the boring people’s heads.

  3. Jadzia Dax? I don’t think i really considered her that way, i mean the Dax symbiote isn’t really gendered, as far as i recall; while Jadzia was always female (and replaced later by another female host) The gender-bender aspects of Dax did come up when Jadzia met an ex-lover and shock horror they had a lesbian kiss, but i’ve always felt the lesbian relationship implied in Babylon 5 (i say implied in that i missed it completely as a child originally watching B5, and when re-watching more recently I couldn’t help but notice how freaking obvious it was, and wonder how i missed it) – the two shows were in direct competition, and I kind felt DS9 was coping out a little – it was saying it’s ok for Jadzia love a woman but only because of the special circumstances of sharing Curzon’s memories (i’ve never seen Jadzia as a pro-Trans figure, but maybe i didn’t really think about it… i mean Curzon didn’t turn into Jadzia, he died on an operating table and Jadzia took his memories).

    DS9 did manage to repeat this kind of exception to the ‘norm’ by having a lesbain kiss between Kira and her Evil double, though that was more of a power trip for the narcissistic evil double…

  4. Much as I hate to draw attention away from my beloved DS9, I’d like to point out another British show that did it, a year or two before DS9 premiered: Red Dwarf. Holly, the ship’s computer, transitioned from male to female, then back a few seasons later, with very little fuss or fanfare. (Red Dwarf is admittedly a comedy, not an action drama like DS9 or Who, but it still counts.)

  5. Doctor = Man. Respect his gender identity.

    • Er, the Doctor isn’t a man. He’s an alien. Respect his ever-regenerating Timelord identity, eh?

      • He would experience gender dysphoria if he got a differently gendered body. Every Doctor, ever, has been a man, comfortable living as a man. I think that makes his identity very clear.

        • How charmingly binary of you. Because there’s absolutely no such thing as genderqueer, bigendered, agendered people, or people who simply aren’t terribly bothered about their gender, right? And because dysphoria is the only way to experience any gender other than cis, right?

          And because gender works exactly the same when you’re a 1000 year-old Timelord as it does when you’re a human.

          And because it is utterly impossible for a female Doctor to be written in such a way as to not have gender dysphoria.

          What an interesting imagination you have.

          • I seem to remember that in “The Doctor’s Wife” (an episode written by Neil Gaiman), The Doctor refers to the particular Time Lord they seem to have gotten the distress call from having Regenerated into both male and female bodies. It was a particular tattoo that made The Corsair feel at home in the new body, not the genitalia.

            In other words, there is no reason that The Doctor couldn’t become female-bodied, and there is no reason that becoming female-bodied would put The Doctor into a state of dysphoria.

  6. Other examples of similar occurrences in TV science fiction – just off the top of my head:

    – The Goauld / Tokra in Stargate are parasites / symbiotes who can become parasites in human bodies of any gender. Osiris, a traditionally male god, spent a lot of time in a female body and as it would have been possible to find a new host with no trouble, apparently didn’t mind.

    – Somewhat less well written, a male officer in Star Trek: Enterprise became pregnant after an encounter with a alien species.

    – Andromeda had a species of alien with only one gender

    My point is – it’s science fiction, so more or less anything should be possible. It’s definitely been done before. Unfortunately it’s often played for laughs, which is more problematic. But I can’t think of a single child I know who would bat an eyelid at the Doctor becoming a woman. It’s sad that it should be even remotely controversial.

  7. Reblogged this on THE VENUS ENVY and commented:
    I wanna lady doctor!!! Awesome post by Aoife AKA considertheteacosy

  8. I was hoping for awhile that River Song, in a weird twist of self time-line crossing, was a future generation of the Doctor. She had a lot of his same mannerisms and knew the TARDIS inside and out… But I really liked Donna… Catherine Tate would have made an awesome Doctor… I wish they’d bring her back somehow :/ (If you can’t tell… I really miss Donna)

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