It’s official! 😀 the new Doctor Who is Matt Smith!

Okay, okay, I know eloriane and I said that we weren’t going to turn this into a Gender Doctor Who Goggles blog but it’s been a few days since we’ve last posted about the Doctor. As eloriane mentioned to me elsewhere, the Doctor could have saved the universe in that time so *pish* – time for another one. Onwards.

I don’t know this Matt Smith fellow, never heard of him. Maybe if I were British I would have? In any event, not having heard of him before is kind of good because that means that his face is a blank slate to me. I don’t need to work at getting used to seeing him play the Doctor rather than That Other Famous Role he did, if he had. And in the brief little interview of him at the BBC website you can see him flipping his fingers about in this manic and adorable way as he struggles to find words. Very cute! But, alas, also very David Tennant-y.

And that Matt Smith rather looks like Tennant (another thin, cute, manic, adorable white guy) is rather disappointing. I wanted something different. Eccleston, while white and male, was also very different physically, as well as being darker, more intense. That’s interesting. It forces us to look beyond the physical into the actual character and personality of the Doctor, shifting our awareness a little when we recognize, but don’t recognize him.

I think that is one of the things that’s very exciting about Doctor Who – this ability of the main character to change form, to regenerate. It is, as I said before, a studio’s wet-dream of a character. But it also allows for some very interesting stories and developments. Here we have someone who regenerates every cell in their body, a way of cheating death. Consequently we can have stories where his non-time lord companions try to deal with his physical changes, or stories where people who know him in a future incarnation don’t immediately recognize him, or where people who knew him before might not recognize him now. And we also have the capability of doing something really interesting:

The writers could make the new Doctor a black man. Or a woman, of any colour.

Doing so would highlight the resounding humanness of all of us – that we really aren’t that different. But, sadly and aggravatingly, there are a lot of people who still hold to this notion that people of colour are somehow deeply biologically different than white people, or that male humans are distinctly and profoundly different than female humans. But how much of that is actually true? I mean, certainly there are differences between males and females, people of european or african or asian decent – this much is obvious. But how much of that is truly deep? I suspect that it is more true of sex than race, as the physical differences between the two (main) sexes do run through the entire body and its systems, whereas with race it really is kind of superficial. However, as soon as I write that I start to think I may be wrong. There really isn’t that much genetic diversity within the human species and the sex differences seem to  largely focus on reproduction.

In any event, if the Doctor can regenerate every cell in his body and become tall and thin, when he used to be shorter and rounder – if he can go from being pale and blond to darker – if he can change his skeleton from being robust to being gracile, why the hell can’t he change his skin colour? Because apparently we still live in a deeply racist world. The resistance to the notion of a black Doctor that has been occurring in the Who fandom is really disappointing and distressing. It’s common enough that there is a Doctor of Colour Fail Bingo Card. Blah. And a female Doctor? Preposterous. That would be some crazy made-up shit to have a character who can regenerate EVERY cell in their body actually change their body a wee bit.

I think that this resistance to a black or female (or, heavens, black and female) Doctor illustrates something very important about how race and sex inform our notions of identity, be it our own or someone else’s. I’ve seen some Who fans describe the Doctor as needing to be British, with the implication that the character is somehow quintessentially British. They may be right. Certainly when I think of “eccentric” (and I’m Canadian), I think of British (and male). And from what little I’ve seen I think it’s safe to say that the Doctor is somewhat eccentric! So, why is the quintessential British eccentric white? Someone in the Doctor of Colour Fail Bingo thread linked to up above snarked that Paterson Joseph, who seemed to be the one most suspected of filling the role, was in fact a British male. I think this whole debate also illustrates the tendency to make black women completely invisible. We talk about the new Doctor being black or female, with the implication in the wording being that if it is one, it is not the other.

If the Doctor were to regenerate into a non-white male body the writers would likely have to have some kind of comment in there somewhere that that was cool, or interesting. Or irrelevant. Sadly, we are not yet at that moment.

So, while I suspect that Matt Smith will do a bang-up job as the Doctor, I am a bit disappointed.


4 Responses to NEW DOCTOR WHO!

  1. eloriane says:

    This post kind of perfectly sums up how disappointed I was that the next Doctor is another skinny white British man. Even the excited hand-flailing, which usually I would adore, just feels too much the same. I am sure he’ll be great, and that I’ll love him within a few episodes (this sort of NOT THE RIGHT ONE rejection happens all the time in Who and one gets over it).

    But still.

    I actually really want Lucy Lawless to be my Doctor. I was taken in by a hoax a few months back suggesting she was being considered, and now I just can’t let go. Lawless is an extremely versatile actor– she often played several identical-in-appearance-only characters in individual Xena episodes, and she was always able to instantly convey precisely which lookalike we were dealing with (except in the scenes where it was important that we didn’t know). She also has the perfect blend between manic glee and true darkness that makes a good Doctor (especially post-reboot.) PLUS, she turns the Doctor into a lesbian! There are no downsides here, people!

    So, since in my heart of hearts I was still hoping for Lawless to come true, and in my heart of, uh, less-deep hearts, I guess, I was teaching myself to love Paterson Joseph…no matter how excellent a specimen of a white guy he is, Matt Smith is going to take some getting used to, just on those counts.

    But I’m sure I’ll get used to him eventually. I love all my Doctors equally. I just think I could love some of them move equally than others.

  2. calixti says:

    WHY would the Doctor regenerate as a woman? Let’s look at a few things:
    1. Time Lords have some control, at least subconsciously, over how they regenerate: Romana was shown going through multiple faces before settling on one; the Master, in new Who, regenerated from Yana into Saxon specifically to match the Doctor; and the Doctor’s regenerations, thus far in new Who, seem to be at least somewhat in response to how and why he regenerated (Nine all broody and broken from the Time War, Ten young, happy, and manic to match Rose).
    2. There’s never been any indication that Time Lords have anything but a fixed gender identity, and the Doctor identifies as a guy.

    So WHY would the Doctor deliberately regenerate into a body that doesn’t sync with his gender identity? It just doesn’t make sense. In fact, the only situation where I can see it making sense is if the Doctor somehow lost ALL control of his regenerations due to the destruction of the Eye of Harmony and regenerated into a female body by mistake (and he did seem worried about regeneration going awry when he changed from Nine to Ten (“I could have two noses! Or no nose!”), but we’ve already seen that’s not the case.

    A non-white Doctor would be neat, though.

  3. eloriane says:

    It could be a side-effect of the biological metacrisis, somehow; it was, after all, a two-way metacrisis.

    But I think the Doctor, as an alien, is exactly as tied to his gender identity as he is to his racial identity– which is to say, he exists outside those conventions. He appears to have a habit of being a white male, but since gender and race differences are only cell-deep and he can change every single cell in his body, why not change?

    The new Who doesn’t really explore gender as much as I wish it would, in terms of how it’s expressed in alien societies, but I’ve always considered it a given that the Doctor has moved among countless societies that don’t have the same gender binary we do. Honestly, even we don’t have the gender binary we do. And just as he allows himself to be treated as a human, even though he does not identify as one, I suspect he allows himself to be treated as male in order to blend in properly, but doesn’t necessarily identify firmly as such.

    The key thing with being trans, from my understanding (which may be faulty) is a feeling of one’s body not matching up to one’s expectation of one’s body. But as someone about to embark upon his eleventh body, I’d be very surprised indeed if this was a problem he has. The essence of the Doctor is not tied to any body; it just exists in a nice human-shaped body in order to interact with the world.

    Changing one’s race (against one’s identity), for a human, would almost certainly cause an identity crisis, because we move in a context of racial identities. Changing one’s sex would be similarly disturbing…for a human. The Doctor is an alien, and he surely knows better than to put any stock into the ways we divide ourselves, especially based on superficial variations within the same species. It just doesn’t apply to him. So, why not change?

    And if he looked a bit like Donna (going with the biological metacrisis technobabble as an additional reason) he could finally be ginger!

  4. yeomanpip says:

    I tend to agree with the general feeling that the shows producers have missed an oppurtunity.

    Except to say that he’s a skinny white English man, rather than British

    The point being that his dialect will be standardised english, not welsh, scot, cornish, geordie, etc etc, but someone with a dialect from, well, nowhere.

    Now I want a Geordie woman, who’s muslim and a lesbian to play the role.

    Diversity is failing.

    But then it is the BBC, the only corporation that has its own tax.

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