“I’d never put a bar on that. The great thing about Doctor Who is that anything is possible.”
BBC One Chief Charlotte Moore confirmed this week that there’s no reason the universe’s most famous Time Lord can’t be a woman, with this season’s opener renewing speculation that an actress will be cast in the iconic role.
The Doctor’s arch-nemesis, now known as Missy (Michelle Gomez) told long-time companion Clara that she’d been frenemies with the screwdriver-wielding maniac “since the cloister wars, since the night he stole the moon and the President’s wife, since he was a little girl. One of those was a lie – can you guess which one?”
Doctor Who has always been cast with a male lead, with The Thick of It veteran Peter Capaldi now following in the footsteps of 11 other dudes. The titular character, despite breaking the rules to regenerate more than the allowed 12 times over his 52 year run, has never morphed into a woman.
Whether Missy’s lying or not, the regeneration of the Doctor’s recurring foe, known previously as the Master, into the very female antagonist has shown that natives of Gallifrey can in fact regenerate into different genders.
Showrunner Steven Moffat has indicated he wants Capaldi to fill the role indefinitely, but as good as Capaldi is, a female Doctor could introduce a very different and welcome dynamic to the series.
“It’s not the impossibility that there will be a lady Doctor – it is not a lock, either… there is no guarantee,” Mr Moffat said.
Doctor Who is an iconic role but it is by no means an iconic male role. The show is distinct from more male-centric pop-culture canons like the James Bond series, centered on a character still revelling in its traditional sensibilities and gender dynamics; his boss referring to the spy as “a relic of the cold war.”
Premiering a year after the first Bond feature Dr No, Doctor Who has never relied on a male lead, but has been propelled into popular consciousness (years before Star Trek) for its whimsical and endlessly imaginative treatment of what an alien, a few humans and a little blue box can do with all of space and time at their fingertips.
Experiencing a lengthy hiatus between 1989 and 2005, Doctor Who is an ideally adaptable show for different eras – he’s a time traveller, so all a producer has to do to make it relatable is transport the action to the present day. The modern show is very modern, and in this day and age there’s no reason the increasingly popular cultural juggernaut can’t buck the trend and introduce a female protagonist.
It’s not like there aren’t options – British actress Tilda Swinton would be an ideal choice and a treat for fans. The highly adaptable, quirky, multi-talented performer could make the role her own and craft an eccentric Doctor to rival the portrayal of Tom Baker.
Alternately playing characters mirthful, intense, hilarious and droll, she has all the qualities to pull off a figure whose iterations and mannerisms have become increasingly bizarre, retaining the dramatic chops to deliver some of the role’s more impassioned scenes.
London-born Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), perhaps too young right now at 23 would be well-placed to take on the role later down the track. Showing off her tack for British fanfare and off-centre humour in this year’s A Royal Night Out, Powley is an emerging talent and one performer who could do justice to the Doctor.
Comedian and Who veteran Catherine Tate would likely get a lot of the fan vote. Having cast actors in multiple roles before (Freema Agyeman had a bit role in season two before becoming the Doctor’s companion), her antics in season four remain a favourite of the show’s fan base and a re-entry into the title role would have many followers jumping for joy at the prospect of a very new-look Who.
Capaldi is doing a decent job and by all accounts he’s going to be around for a while. Regardless of this, there’s no harm in looking around for the next big casting call, and with the series’ habit for re-using performers, we may have already seen her.
In the meantime, here’s a great sketch featuring Tate alongside former Doctor, David Tennant: