One of the first panels of C2E2’s 2018 show was She’s the Doctor: Regenerating a Time Lord – and a Science-Fiction Franchise. As Doctor Who is set to relaunch later this year with a new showrunner and its first on-screen female incarnation of the Doctor, it was a prime time to discuss representation in sci-fi and hopes for a 50-year-old show mired in its own mythology while simultaneously being centered around change.
Panelists included Karlyn Meyer, Shira Raider, Phil Salomon, Dawn Xiana Moon, and moderator Gordon Dymowski. Both the panel and the room had a generally positive reception to the idea of Jodie Whittaker as the upcoming 13th Doctor. Sonic screwdrivers in the room even went off in approval. But of course it’s not as simple as all that.
Moon admitted that when the question of who the new Doctor should be originally came up, she advocated for it to stay a man (preferably a black man) because of how uncommon it still is for a human(-appearing) male character in this kind of storytelling to be someone who isn’t a fighter. And while she’d still like to see that some day she also noted that once she saw Jodie in the role, she was accepting of the decision.
The panel addressed the practical side of a female Doctor as well. Salomon pointed out that the show needs to evolve to survive and the Doctor technically isn’t human so why not have a female Doctor. The audience appreciated Meyer’s addition that it’s gotten to the point where if the character can regenerate as anyone it’s statistically impossible to keep turning into a white man. The panel also briefly drew attention to the concept of fluidity in Time Lord gender already having establishment not only with the Master coming back as Missy but also in Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor first assuming he was a girl after regenerating due to his hair.
Storytelling possibilities open up with the new Doctor too. While she noted there is nuance among different types of men in previous editions of the Doctor, Meyer applauded the opportunity for even more nuance including the possibility of really showing female friendships.
The mention of actress Jodie Whittaker’s creative input into the new series connected to a discussion of female contributions behind the scenes. Despite the show’s first showrunner being Verity Lambert, there haven’t been a lot of women in charge creatively. Dymowski described being able to count the number of female writers on the show “on one hand and still have fingers left over”. He wondered if there should be concern about a group of men writing a female lead. Should we be worried that she’ll become a stereotypical “action girl”?
While the panel expressed a desire to have female writers involved to help inform the experience they seemed to put more emphasis on the power of “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Meyer spoke of starting her 4-year-old daughter with the 12th Doctor. When she asked her daughter what she thought the next Doctor might look like, her child used he pronouns and then was floored to see the 13th Doctor revealed to be someone who looked more like her than she expected.
Movies including The Last Jedi and Black Panther were cited as examples of improved representation onscreen and a possible shift in nerd culture. Meyer asserted that people besides the white male audience have always been there in fandom, citing her own mother who was a fan of Star Trek early on and was the one to introduce Karlyn to it. She said all this is a long time coming and it was nice to finally see it.
Moon backed her up sharing that she’s been a geek all her life but never saw someone who looked Asian like her and talked with an American accent like her on TV. When she was gifted Star Wars’ Rose Tico and Paige Tico action figures for Christmas it made her cry despite not being a crier. Moon’s long been an advocate for diversity on behalf of the next generation, but she was surprised by how moved she was to see both Tico sisters in the movie and feel like she had representation for herself. When there are Asian people on screen speaking with American accents she divulged it means less people come up to her and tell her her English is good.
The panel’s hopes for this new season included Dymowski’s wish to not keep pulling in enemies from the show’s history – specifically for the season not to end with Daleks. Raider desired strong emotional underpinnings to the stories like she felt were in the Davies run. And Meyer reiterated the hope of lady friendships and that the show keep going for more queer representation after the good start with the character Bill.
When it came to audience questions – they ranged from whether Whittaker’s casting was a step far enough, to the panel’s reactions to Whittaker’s speaking up to get paid as much as her predecessor, and what they’d say to fans of the show who don’t like this new direction. In response some panelists acknowledged that now is the time to take larger strides but Whittaker was probably already a hard sell to the BBC, that they hope the show deals with the idea of being a woman after being a man for so long beyond quick jokes, and wondered if Whittaker should actually be paid more since so much of the brand relaunch rests on her shoulders.
Alternatively they had a few opinions as to whether the story should address why the Doctor is a woman now in response to another audience question. While Dymowski was a hard no, and Moon said they shouldn’t have to because that could reinforce the idea of a character being female as something weird, Meyer indicated it’s an issue she struggles with – finding herself wanting it both addressed and not.
It can be exciting and scary to see our favorite stories make big changes. This panel was a great presentation of positivity laced with honesty and hope for the future of Doctor Who.
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