Jodie Whittaker is an inspired choice for next Doctor Who... but you don't have to agree
So, how's your week been? I've spent most of mine being asked what I think about the new Doctor Who. Honestly, you write one half-a-million-word history of a TV show and people automatically expect you to have an opinion on it.
Actually, I have loads of opinions on it, of course I do. The headline one being that I think Jodie Whittaker is an inspired choice for the Thirteenth Doctor. She’s someone whose work I’ve admired for ages, and I think she’ll made a terrific Time Lord. Time Lady. Whatevs.
Some people don’t think that, of course. Some Doctor Who fans have thrown their toy sonic screwdrivers out of their prams at the very idea of a female Doctor. But then, they were always going to, weren’t they? Make no mistake – those “backlash against the new Who” stories you read in the papers last week would pretty much have been written before Whittaker’s casting was even announced; all the journalists had to do was fill in the names and tweak some of the insults.
In reality, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, even among hardcore Whovians. Or at least the hardcore Whovians I know (and, reader, I know a few).
It’s only when you go poking about under rocks in some of the darker, danker corners of the internet – like the comments section of Mail Online, from which, like a black hole, no light can escape – that you find the spittle-flecked keyboard warriors in full meltdown. (“She’ll fill the TARDIS with bras!” shrieked one, possibly more in anticipation than outrage.) As Grace Dent, author of How To Leave Twitter, once said: “Never read the bottom half of the internet.”
Really, it ought to be quite easy to ignore these cave-dwellers, if only other people wouldn’t keep insisting on lifting up the rocks and exposing them to the rest of us.
Because it seems to me that, for every one person wailing and gnashing their teeth about “political correctness gone mad” and spaceships full of underwired lady garments, there are 10 more desperate to shame them and call them out for being privileged white manbabies. (Former Doctor Peter Davison – my teatime childhood hero – has even been driven off Twitter by a torch-wielding lynchmob for trying to offer a nuanced argument about the lack of non-alpha, non-violent male role models on TV.) It’s virtue-signalling of the most nauseatingly smug kind that only serves to feed the narrative of a backlash, when in truth there’s barely been more than a ripple in the space-time continuum.
And besides – tin hats on, everyone – if some people don’t want a female Doctor Who, then I think that’s OK, too, actually. As long as they’re polite about it, and not foaming at the mouth and screaming about feminazis like the Mail Online lot, then they’re entitled to that opinion. Doctor Who is one character in one TV show: if you want that character to be young or old, male or female, black or white, that’s up to you.
Actually, not black or white – that would just be plain racist. A change of gender, though, brings a more fundamental shift to a character that’s previously been a very specific type of slightly spoddy beta-male, which some might not embrace. My nine-year-old son is one of them – and I’ve gone down the route of assuring him that, given time, he’ll grow to love the new Doctor as much as the current one, rather than shouting him down as a misogynist dinosaur.
Also, as I pointed out in my column a few months ago, women are currently massively outperforming men in British television drama anyway, taking the lead in shows like Happy Valley, Doctor Foster, No Offence, Scott & Bailey, The Crown, The Replacement, Line of Duty, The Durrells, In The Dark, The Loch, Fearless and many, many more.
I was slightly mortified, in fact, when the Daily Mail ran an article last week making the same point. Except, of course, the Mail presented this as evidence of the appalling emasculation of modern men, or some such nonsense. Whereas I think it’s something to be celebrated. If the fabulous Jodie Whittaker wants to fill her infinite space-time ship with an infinite number of bras, bring it on. I for one welcome our new female over(time)lord.
• Cambridge Independent columnist Paul Kirkley is the author of the two-part Space Helmet for a Cow: The Mad, True Story of Doctor Who
As a feckless dolt, this male stereotype doesn’t offend me
As the world debated the implications of a lady in the TARDIS, the Advertising Standards Authority opened up a new front in the identity politics war by declaring it is set to ban sexist adverts.
Fair enough, you might think. But the ASA’s definition of sexist would apparently extend to ads that “are deemed to present activities as only appropriate for one gender”. Which I think is their way of saying that, in future, the Oxo dad can bloody well pour the gravy himself.
“Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take,” explained an ASA spokesbod. “Tougher standards in the areas we’ve identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.”
In a sense, this is entirely laudable. But is it really the ASA’s job to worry about “how people see themselves”? Was social engineering ever intended to be part of their remit? Wouldn’t they be better concentrating on stopping people selling us dodgy insurance and snake oil “anti-ageing” products?
As a principle, I worry about the idea of “banning”, as opposed to encouraging a cultural shift. There’s just something a bit Fahrenheit 451, Nazi book-burney about it. Also, I’m sure that some mums, somewhere, do still pour the gravy. I’ve seen my mum do it, for a start.
It’s not just female stereotypes in the firing line, though. The ASA is also concerned about men being portrayed – as they generally are in adverts these days – as feckless dolts acting as a tiresome burden to their long-suffering womenfolk. As a man, I’d like to say that I am in no way offended by this. And as a feckless dolt with a long-suffering wife, I’d also venture to say it’s less a stereotype, more just real life.
There is also a proposal to clamp down on adverts that “body shame” consumers, such as the controversial Protein World ads that presented a toned and tanned bikini-clad model as “beach body ready”. Again, I can see the danger of bombarding people with unrealistic body images – and Protein World deserve anything they’ve got coming to them, given their chief exec’s vile, abusive Twitter tirades against his critics last year.
But should we really be legislating against the very idea of getting in shape? As someone with a pot belly and varicose veins, who’s as “beach body ready” as the next pasty, middle-aged white Brit who’ll be strewn across Europe’s beaches like stranded whales this summer, there’s no way I can compete with the toned hunks flaunting their six-packs on the cover of Men’s Health. But I’m not sure I’d go so far as to view such images as a personal attack.
When I was a kid, comics were always full of those adverts for the Charles Atlas Body Building Course – short cartoon strips in which a weedy bloke who’s sick of getting sand kicked in his face by the local bully transforms himself into a ripped alpha-male in order to take revenge and get the girls. I have to say, I always rather liked that advert – even in the full knowledge I would always be the weedy kid wiping the sand out of his eyes.
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