The good news is that Doctor Who just got renewed for another five years. According to The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Steven Moffat told Doctor Who magazine that BBC Worldwide recently talked to him about plans for the next five years.
“I thought it would last ten years. I didn’t think it would last ten years with BBC Worldwide trying to get me in a room to talk about their plan for the next five years!”
As a Whovian, I'm excited. As a black woman, I'm cautiously optimistic that my favorite sci-fi show will ever come around to the idea that the Doctor doesn't always have to be a white man. When asked about how easy or difficult it is to plan the show, Moffat said,
"[i]t’s not easy to find new people. It’s not easy to find new Doctors."
Something makes me think it would be a lot easier if he expanded his search to include women and people of color.
The Doctor Who-niverse does such a good job representing difference—from pansexual space cowboy Jack Harkness kissing everything that isn't nailed down to aliens of various sizes, skin colors, and genders—that the obvious sticking point for most fans is a pretty serious one. In a world where a giant sheet of skin with lips can count as a human being and an entire race of murderous robots can be wiped out and brought back on a whim, why can't the doctor be a woman, a person of color, a bag of wishes, or literally anything other than the prototypical white man he's been for the past 50 years? Why is this long-running science fiction show so utterly common at its core?
When writer Jane Espenson was asked by The Advocate why she puts so much effort into making her shows expansive and accessible, she said,
I try to write and cast roles with an eye toward diversity of all kinds. There's a phrase, "hard to cast," that, when said of an actor, means that someone is of a type that no one is writing for. And when said of a role, it means that the role is of type where there aren't many working actors who fit it. I love the idea of making those two categories find each other. And if we can't write diversity into sci-fi, then what's the point? You don't create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones.
Which is precisely the point. The Doctor's personality shifts (consider moody David Tennant against delightfully silly Matt Smith), his companions change, even the goddamn TARDIS gets a makeover every couple of years, but in a world where anything can happen, the Doctor is always the same. It's incongruous to the tenacity and freedom of the rest of the Whoniverse. Moffat has trolled fans before, saying that of course the Doctor could be a woman but making no real effort to ensure that happens. I think that's what bothers me the most—he talks about the decision to cast someone into this role as if it's completely out of his hands when, as the showrunner, he has to have a tremendous amount of influence and power in the decision-making process.
I'm never going to be upset to get more Doctor Who in my life, but if people keep acting like the decision to be more inclusive is outside the realm of possibility I might throw my TV through a window.
Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.