Doctor Who Series 10 is now well under way, and yet rather than focusing on the mystery at the heart of this newest story arc (seriously: what’s inside that vault?!) most fans are more fixated on who will take over from current series lead Peter Capaldi in December.
As every Doctor Who fan knows, the Doctor is a Time Lord: an alien who “regenerates” when mortally wounded – a convenient plot device that allows a new actor to take on the role of the Doctor when the current star decides they want to call it quits. With Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat set exit after the 2017 Christmas Special, fan speculation – and outrage – has centred around the prospect that incoming series mastermind Chris Chibnall will make history by casting the first ever female Doctor.
A recent statement by the BBC seems to have put these rumours to bed, however, plans for Series 11 of Doctor Who are far from set in stone. So, there’s still a slim chance that Chibnall will hand the keys to the Doctor’s time-travelling TARDIS to a woman. Let’s take a look at why this has to happen – for the good of the Doctor Who franchise and its fans – and consider which actress should fill this iconic role.
Could a woman realistically headline Doctor Who?
But first, let’s address the elephant in the room: could a woman really play the Doctor, given the character’s 50+ year history has firmly established him as male? The official Doctor Who canon certainly suggests it’s possible – after all, in Series 9 episode “Hell Bent”, we see a male Time Lord regenerate as a woman. So from a purely in-universe perspective, there aren’t any roadblocks preventing the next Doctor from being a woman. But what about from a real world, behind-the-scenes perspective?
The BBC has certainly allowed Doctor Who to become more socially progressive since its 2005 relaunch. The show regularly features a multicultural cast and has incorporated at least two LGBT supporting characters – bi-sexual Captain Jack Harkness (John Borrowman) and new lesbian companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) – so a gender-swapped Doctor wouldn’t exactly come out of left field.
And while the BBC’s statement implies the next Doctor won’t be woman, not only was the wording used deliberately ambiguous, but a lot can change in pre-production. A female Doctor really could happen – and more than that, it should.
Reinvigorating the Doctor Who franchise
Over the last half century of Doctor Who adventures, we’ve seen the Doctor tackle outlandish obstacles from 12 different points of view.
Each of these incarnations of the Doctor – which have run the gamut from baby-faced 20-something to cantankerous older geezer – has brought with it a new expression of the Time Lord’s core personality. The major underlying consistency, however, is that all these different personalities shared an inescapably male perspective – we’ve never seen how a woman with the Doctor’s distinctive personality quirks would handle something like a Dalek invasion.
Because of this, introducing a female Doctor would massively reinvigorate the Doctor Who franchise simply by bringing with it a fresh point of view. We’ve already know how a bloke from Gallifrey goes about facing down a horde of tyrannical salt and pepper shakers before; it’s getting stale. But we’ve never seen how female Time Lord would tackle such a threat – and this different perspective could give the show a new lease on life.
Who should play the Thirteenth Doctor?
So which lucky lady should be handed the keys to the TARDIS? There’s certainly no shortage of fantastic candidates being bandied about in the press and by the bookies – including Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham-Carter and Lara Pulver – but of the bunch, my pick is Tilda Swinton. Beyond her obvious acting chops, Swinton is the only front runner for the role with requisite otherworldly quality required to play the Doctor.
Admittedly, this is probably a long shot. Not only does it depend on Swinton’s availability (as an Oscar-winning actress, she’s in high demand), but also requires her to commit to the hectic production schedule of a TV show (I’m not sure it would suit her). Stranger things have happened, however, the odds of seeing Swinton gallivanting around time and space aren’t all that great.
But if I’m being really honest? I don’t care who Chibnall casts as the next Doctor – just so long as it’s a woman!