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.