Friday, July 07, 2017


It got a little heated on Facebook yesterday because I dared to suggest I would stop watching Doctor Who if the next regeneration was female and there wasn't a valid reason for it other than the BBC wanting to tick a diversity box. But was I really so wrong to question the reasons for a female Doctor?

This is what I said...
"The new Doctor - "Looks like it's Phoebe Waller Bridge!" 
I have nothing against a female Doctor, but it should only happen if there's a solid story/character based reason for there being so. If the producers can't come up with a very good reason for this then it'll just be because the BBC want to tick the diversity box. 
If that's the case I'm afraid I'll stop watching it. 
*ducks for cover*"
And here's the link to the responses to MY ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST if you want to have a look for yourself.

I was called a sexist, emotional and anti-diversity amongst other things. It was mostly a good-natured debate though. I was even told that insisting there was a reason for the change had nothing to do with me being a writer. Wrong! It is exactly because I'm a writer that I'm concerned about box ticking.

To be ultra clear...



There I've said it, so why am I complaining about the possibility of the Doctor becoming a woman? It's simple. As a writer, I take time and great care to create my characters, to shape them, to make them believable so the audience will want to invest their time in watching them.

If a producer then turned around and asked me to make a male character female because they thought there should be more female characters on TV, I would simply say no. However, if they gave me valid story or character reasons why the character should be female, I would think on it. If I agreed with their reasons I would be happy to make the change. If I didn't, I would give my reasons for why I thought it was a bad idea and ask them to reconsider. After all, I made the character male in the first place because I felt he was the best choice to tell that particular story and changing his sex for diversity's sake would lessen the impact I intended.

In the Facebook post, I kept asking, 'show me WHY the Doctor should be female?' I was continually countered with, 'WHY NOT?' But that's not a valid reason, that's just laziness. The characters we remember are the ones that are well thought out, the ones who fit their environment and drive the story and conflict because of who they are. Change that without a valid reason and you weaken your story and risk losing your audience.

Some change can be for the better. For example, I joked in the post that if I were to write an action movie with the lead as a female Muslim, the first question I would probably be asked by a producer is 'WHY?'. Lisa Holdsworth said I should totally write that movie as she would watch it. The thing is I am. But I didn't make the lead character a female Muslim because I wanted to tick a box (or two), it's because she is the best character for this particular story.

The original idea was to have a male character in his late thirties. But I asked myself, 'WHY?' and I soon realised he was the wrong character. So I examined the story I wanted to tell, the situation, the location and time it was set and asked myself, 'who is the best person to deal with this?'. Diversity didn't come into it.

I'm not questioning the drastic character change just because the new regeneration might be female, but because it is eaxctly that - a drastic 180-degree change. I would question the reasons for any character that changed that drastically, regardless of sex, race or religion.

There has to be a reason why the Doctor is female, not just because people want more diversity. Diversity is great, but if the Doctor is female simply because of 'why not', then not only does it not do justice to the character, but also to the actress who plays her. It just becomes a novelty that will quickly wear off, rather than a strong female character we can believe in, who empowers diversity rather than diminishes it. More importantly, box ticking also insults the audience. We (the audience) aren't thick; we can recognise change for change's sake. We want to be drawn to a character for the right reasons, not put off them for all the wrong ones.

If, as a writer, you put a diverse character in your screenplay for diversity's sake, don't be surprised it the screenplay doesn't work.

The post was not about objecting to there being a female Doctor, it was about being true to the character of the Doctor.

It'll be interesting to see what Chris Chibnall decides. Whatever the decision though, I'm sure we'll be debating it for a long time to come.

Happy writing!


cynosurer said...

I see your point. Often a female character change works well as it can add an interesting layer. Joan Watson for Sherlock Holmes comes to mind. Whereas creating a Sherlock Holmes-like character that is female would be interesting making Sherlock Holmes female would not as that character is so well established as male.

Bob Schultz said...

"Why not?" is a valid question. I would be curious to hear your answer beyond "That question is lazy."

Dominic Carver said...

I think I have answered it, Bob, but I'm happy to clarify for you, sir.

For me, it depends on the context. 'Why not?' is a valid question if it's not used to create things on a whim, with no forethought as to why and how that decision will impact your story or characters. Here's an extreme example to help illustrate what I mean - Pride and Prejudice; a ball in full swing and Mr Darcy enters wearing pink spandex. 'Why not?' simply wouldn't cut it for me. I don't care if the writer thinks the audience wants to see Mr Darcy in pink spandex.

If however Mr Dacry decided to go into the clothes business and discovered a new material while experimenting, then I might just buy it. LOL!

As writers, we're taught to think, examine and dissect everything about our characters, plot and structure, editing, refining and continually improving our work. For me, just to say the Doctor can be a woman without reason, or because as others prefer 'why not?', goes against everything I've been taught. The first thing anyone ever says about my writing is, 'Brilliant, well thought out characters!'

Will a female Doctor be great? I think that is quite possible. But, I don't think they have yet given us a satisfactory explanation of why the Doctor could or should change gender. Lucy's argument that it should happen because the audience wants it, simply isn't enough for me. I want, I need to see a reason, preferably story based, why the Doctor regenerates as female. If and when that happens I'll be one very happy writer indeed.

Does that explain it better, Bob?