The Curious Case of The 13th Doctor 

Well, this is an interesting old hullabaloo.

For anyone who has been lucky enough to avoid social media over the last week, the identity of the 13th Doctor (of Doctor Who fame) has finally been revealed. This is always a time of great strife within the popular culture community. Conflict of opinion, sometimes violent disagreement, floods the internet to saturation point.

I was pretty laid back about the whole business. After a run of regenerations covering over fifty years, the powers that be were yet to cast anyone other than a cisgender white man. They sometimes played around with the ages, and obviously they each had their separate characters, but I was pretty meh about everything. I was completely convinced I knew what to expect.

What an agreeable shock to be proved wrong.

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I cried.

Well, first I squealed. And flapped my hands. A lot

But then I cried. 

I cried because for such a long time I had been falling out love with this show. It had been a long, slow, agonising process. I could feel my heart gradually losing it’s grip on this show that had once been so wonderfully bright in my life – and as it lost it’s grip, it began to crack as well. And now heart began to swell. I had never allowed myself to believe that they would do such a thing. I had never allowed myself to hope. I cried because my heart swelled again.

I cried because I knew how important this was going to be to all those geeky little girls out there. Make no mistake, the companions have been glorious; I have loved them and rooted for them and held them as a positive influence in my then-teenage life. But the Doctor is different. All those little nerds, those little Aspergirls like me, banished to the corner of the classroom to read a book at lunchbreak because no one was going to play with them; to see a reflection of yourself in such a strange, wonderful, alien, heroic and eccentric character, would have meant the world to me at that age.

I know not everyone is happy. I know that. I’m not going to fart all over anyone else’s opinions, because everyone has their own feelings and their own attachment to this character (of course they do – it’s been a part of people’s childhoods for over fifty years!). But I do ask people to stand back and consider the impact – the positive impact – this will have going forward. I ask for adults to step aside and think of the video of the little girl screaming with delight because the new Doctor is a girl!!!!!!

Yes this is our show. But it is also their show.

The little girls of the future who will grow up thinking that they can be nerdy and twitchy, that they can waffle non stop on one topic for hours, that they can be hyperactive, socially inappropriate and unable to comprehend silly Earth rituals and…at the end of all that…they can still be the hero.

I know that people have been pointing out all the absolutely amazing female characters we have had in other shows, but this is The Doctor. This is a pop culture icon. This is a character people have followed for fifty years. This is a show that has endured. This is a character that everyone knows. This is as big as you can get.

This is amazing.

As a nervously awkward little girl, who became a nervously awkward teenage girl, who then became a nervously awkward woman, this is so heartrendingly important to me.

We can see the image that is being drawn for us here: the 13th Doctor presents as a woman. As a woman, this resonates with me. Other than that, there is much to be seen on the further ripples this could create. It’s a difficult one to discuss from the limited angles I have to see it from – after all, I’m a cisgender woman. I cannot speak for all the wonderful trans, including non-binary and gender-fluid, people that I have come across in my adventures down the rabbit hole of queerness.

Gender is a funny old thing. It’s varied and wide-ranging, differing in understanding from culture to culture, from country to country, and even sometimes from family to family. I am endlessly excited for how they are going to tackle this big old box of pre-conceptions, of conservatism vs progressivism, of stereotypes and broken binaries. I am crossing my fingers that they do it right. I am crossing my fingers that we get a conversation about pronouns. I am hoping against hope that they do their research, and are willing to play with the concept of gender fluidity that they have opened the lid on.

Will this Doctor evidently be treated differently on Earth in this presentation? Will people be less likely to listen because they no longer present as male? Do they even actively identify as a woman? Is this something that even crosses their mind? Do they take a more neutral approach to gender? Do they reject the binary as a silly Earth custom that even large parts of the Earth itself scoffed at before the encroach of Western-European colonialism? Will we get a discussion about pronouns? Will we finally have a discussion about whether or why the sex binary is reflected in species a billion light years away when all the science says ‘nope’? 

This why I’m excited. And scared. 

Gender is a topic that comes up so frequently in my conversations in Autistic circles. Many of us question the strict binary culture tries to impose on us – but why, we ask, I dont understand this, its nonsense. A large number of trans people I know are Autistic. Maybe we are more open to ideas outside of what is ‘acceptable’ in society, simply by virtue of not seeing or understanding societal rules in the first place. 

As I said, I am cis. I am not trans. I am parroting a lot of what has already been said by the people on the ground. This is an area that has been beautifully discussed by trans people on the spectrum, and I urge you to seek it out. I just cross my fingers that this area of Doctor Who will be explored with the respect and intricacy it deserves.

I am also not going to talk about the disgusting comments about Jodie Whittaker, our fabulous new Doctor, and her various anatomical parts. Because that is a level of grossly inappropriate intrusion and casual cissexism (that parts = gender) that I am automatically consigning to the block button. 

Blech. That is all I have to say on that matter. Blech, blech, and also blech.

There are some excellent critiques of this casting in terms of ‘progression’ for women, particularly in sci-fi representation, only being extended to white (cis, abled) women, and the continuing failure of intersectionality in these ‘successes’ for women. These are by far the most compelling criticisms of the whole business. Again, I urge you to seek out the voices that are more knowledgeable than myself. I may add some links at a later date. 

In the meantime, I want everyone to sit back, take a breath, and for one moment imagine the importance of this to every little girl watching. Set aside your feelings, and allow the magnitude of this decision to come to the fore. I don’t care if it’s ‘pandering’ or ‘political correctness’ – I care about the young girls I know are living the existence I lived. I speak for my own experience, as the eccentric and alien little Autistic girl that I was, and what seeing this 13th Doctor would have done to my lonely and self-hating young mind. 

That is my ‘proof’. My life. 

I know that for every person boycotting the show, there are ten little versions of me screaming and flapping with pure, unadulterated delight.

And that right there? That’s the only damned thing I care about.
 

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