Begun as a story by story blog of my 'Journey Through the Whoniverse' (see my Starburst Magazine column for era by era updates) this is a Doctor Who review blog. If you haven't seen any of the stories then beware the dreaded SPOILERS. If you want detailed reviews this ain't the place. These are more spur of the moment instant judgements focusing on what gets my attention. I hope you like it.
Friday, August 8, 2014
Telling Different Stories
So, I've been thinking about the 'Great White Saviour' that is the Doctor, although I usually don't think of him quite like that. There's a couple of reasons for that. Firstly Doctor Who is just a television programme so why would I think that deeply about the central character. [Yes, I know but imagine I am writing this as someone else who doesn't actually do that kind of thing.] Secondly it is embarrassing to admit that as a white, middle-class, straight man of a certain age I try to avoid thinking about the more 'old-school' aspects of the Doctor. Thirdly - and I apologise for coming over all Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition here - the Doctor's alienness seems to provide an excuse for excluding him from tedious Earth-bound questions about gender and race. He's from Gallifrey after all.
I blame the Verity Podcast for getting me thinking about this again. Having a voice outside my own head with experiences unlike my own and therefore perceptions of a different kind makes you think. And I hate questioning my own ways of privileges.
Anyway...let's put a line of thought together. Let's assume Gallifreyans have a flexible approach to skin colour and sex. Let's assume that a Time Lord can be male in one incarnation and female in the next. Let's not get too hung up for the moment on how that affects sexual relationships.* And let us assume that your first incarnation is pretty much a lottery, although with a tendency towards the Caucasian - if stories set on Gallifrey are anything to go by.**
Tilda Swinton - Perfect for The Doctor?
So The Doctor's first incarnation is - by fluke - a white male. He ends up spending a lot of time on Earth. He likes it and it so happens that being a white man seems to be a pretty safe thing to be in most periods of Earth's history. So when he regenerates he sticks with the white male outfit. After all being white and male avoids a lot of tricky questions most of the time. (Lewis CK, the American comedian has an amusing routine along a similar line). Therefore the Doctor is a white male most of the time out of convenience.
There. I have provided a semi-logical reason for the Doctor's perpetual white maleness.
Now, let's step back into the real world - or what passes for the real world. What if we were to cast a black actor as the Doctor or a woman? I have no strong opinions on this any more. I did once. I think I might have got over it. But let's assume they do.
We immediately have a potentially very different television series. Not just because we've got a different Doctor but because we now have a political issue to deal with. Does the production team ignore the change - except to make one or two jokes about it - or do we confront a genuine issues: power and who has it. In any Earth based story set in either the present or past does the production team behave as people are colour or gender blind to the Doctor's appearance (as they kind of did with Martha in the Shakespeare Code) or do we confront this head on?
What if a Black Doctor found himself in the US during the Civil War? How would the powerful of - most - eras of Earth history react to female Doctor? Would the silencing of the non-white and the non-male be reflected in the stories? The Doctor's opinions dismissed because of his colour or her sex? Does every story require the new Doctor to do something impressive to emphasise his or her credentials in order to get over this problem or does it become a running issue? Does Doctor Who confront these things or gloss over them?
It's a big question.
The 13th Doctor?
Personally I'd love Doctor Who to get its teeth into these issues if we still have time for tea-time adventure. These issues can be tackled without being tediously politically correct or dull. The key is always the power of the story. And I'd prefer that to ignoring it all together.
I don't know whether these things will ever happen. It does seem more likely we'll get a black or asian Doctor before we get a female Doctor. But even that step - as I hope I've outlined - brings with it political decisions. It's wouldn't - couldn't? - be business as usual. The world doesn't give an equal hearing to people of colour or women (without a fight) and to pretend otherwise might be a grievous fault.
It would though be an interesting choice. And a chance perhaps to tell some different stories.
*For theories on the sex lives of Gallifreyans I think another blog would be required. Well, not required as such.
**Although perhaps this all white male thing is a phase Gallifreyans are going through at the time, like a fashion. Even it does appear to have lasted a bloody long time.