Finally, we can be The Doctor, not just helper
Emma Reynolds MP praises trailblazing Jodie Whittaker for today's Talking Point
This weekend I was glued to my sofa to watch Jodie Whittaker’s debut as the thirteenth Doctor – I wasn’t alone.
More than 8.2 million watched the first woman to take to the screens in one of the biggest roles in UK television – only bettered in the modern era by Christopher Eccleston, when the show was rebooted back in 2005.
What Whittaker’s casting, and her first episode, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, shows is a changing culture in a show which is becoming more progressive, and an audience keen for change.
The majority of Doctors don’t have regional accents, and Whittaker’s Yorkshire tones blend well against this backdrop (only Peter Capaldi and Ecclestone before her did so – with Scottish actor David Tennant not using his natural Scottish lilt).
Seeing the show open with an episode in Sheffield was also a welcome change. We may not be seeing Daleks turn up at the Mander Centre anytime soon but, for a show where the whole universe is open to play with, I’ve found it strange how many episodes are set in London.
Joining Whittaker for the ride on Sunday was Ryan (a young black man with dyspraxia), Grace and Graham (an older interracial couple), and Pc Yasmin Khan (an Asian woman police officer frustrated by her lack of opportunities). The typical Doctor’s companion has been a stereotypically attractive young woman, who would usually need saving, so it was refreshing to see a motley crew of different ethnicities, genders and even disabilities stepping up to save the planet.
Beyond Doctor Who, what is interesting is how the debate over Whittaker’s casting opens the door to the possibility other characters could be portrayed by more progressive choices.
The 007 producer Barbara Broccoli has this week ruled out the possibility of a woman playing James Bond – but the question we should ask, which has never properly been addressed, is: why not? There is also no reason we could not see a black, Asian or even a gay or bisexual incarnation of the role – in a franchise in dire need of modernising.
It is easy to suggest women or minority communities should have their own roles specifically written for them. While there are some really impressive modern examples (anyone who has watched the BBC’s brilliant Killing Eve starring Jodie Comer, or Black Earth Rising can tell you this), it does nothing to change the culture that women should accept being a ‘companion’ and not The Doctor, a ‘Bond girl’ and not a secret agent.
On stage, Maxine Peake played Hamlet to critical acclaim in 2014, Kathryn Hunter played the title role in Richard III in 2003, and Nancy Cartwright has voiced Bart Simpson since The Simpsons was a sketch on the Tracy Ullman Show back in 1987. There is no reason why women cannot be considered for so-called ‘male’ parts, as audiences have shown they will accept them.
So congratulations to the Doctor Who team for putting faith in diversity and refreshing the show, and to Jodie Whittaker for blazing a trail for women.
- Emma Reynolds is the MP for Wolverhampton North East.