Doctor Who as a Woman

thedoctors Separator

by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)



The recent announcement of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor set the interwebs on fire, not simply because people liked, or disliked, Capaldi. There was another question asked, which has been gathering steam for some time now, and that is this: when will we see a woman Doctor?

Now, I am in no way qualified to answer questions involving Gallifreyan physiology, means of reproduction, or even if the Time Lords are mono-gendered like the Asari from the Mass Effect universe. I don’t know the intricacies of the Whoniverse like many of you. So, my purpose for the article isn’t so much to offer an opinion on whether or not the Doctor should have been, will be, will never be, etc. be a woman. I simply want to ask a couple questions, and hope that you all will constructively and politely, add to the discussion in the comments section.

Is there any precedent, or hint, in the mythology of Doctor Who, which suggests that regenerations can be cross-gendered? Even a newcomer to the Whoniverse like myself understands that each regeneration brings new possibilities: height, weight, hair color, eye color, and so on. It even brings on new personality traits, so that each Doctor is, in many ways, a completely new character, yet the underlying person is the same. But, as a newcomer, I don’t know if the groundwork has been laid for a Doctor who is a woman.

In fact, in “The Christmas Invasion,” the 10th Doctor tells Harriett Jones, “I’m him. I’m literally him. Same man, new face. Well, new everything.” This brings up a whole host of other questions. How do Time Lords reproduce? Does it look like human reproduction? Is their reproduction sexual or asexual? Do they clone? Are they hatched? Does how they reproduce affect how they regenerate?

Is what makes the hypostasis simply a collection of memories and experiences? Theoretically, aside from bots and programs, if you’re reading this, you’re a person. But what makes up you? I’m not a big believer in the singularity idea. I, personally, don’t think that our consciousness can be uploaded to a machine. I prefer my ontology a bit more mystical than that. But the question still remains: is the hypostasis (underlying concrete principle, or “personhood”) simply a collection of memories, which can be transmitted across genders? Is the Time Lord who has chosen to be called “Doctor,” ontologically Male? Female? Intersex?

When we say “regeneration,” do we actually mean “reincarnation”? Stick with me on this one. I wonder if we sometimes confuse the two terms when it comes to the Doctor. With “reincarnation,” a person can be reincarnated into any form, any species, and any gender. But with a regeneration, the basic underlying principle of the being does not change. The one who regenerates does not become another person or another species. For example, the Doctor never regenerates into a human. But does that mean one cannot be regenerated into another gender? If regeneration includes the formation of new tissue, what is the extent of it? Does the new tissue simply replace lost tissue? Is there a biological framework, or boundaries if you will, that limit what form the regenerated tissue takes? Does the Time Lord physiology allow for not only the regeneration of new tissue, but the reforming of the basic framework that the newly regenerated tissue conforms to.

We’ve all learned that many types of lizards can regrow their tails, and starfish can regenerate when they’ve lost tentacles. But these regenerations stick to the basic patterns of lizards and starfish. The newly regenerated body part may have different coloring and so forth, but that’s about it. A lizard regenerating its tail isn’t suddenly going to sprout an alligator. So, their regenerations stick to the basic framework, but how does this process work for Time Lords? Do they have a personal framework? Are there a set of templates somewhere? What governs the pattern for the regenerations?

So, there are my questions. I didn’t even get into the ideas of character, and storytelling, or mythology. Certainly there are a myriad more questions that will spur on the conversation. What do you guys think about a woman Doctor? Is it time? What would that look like? Add your comments below, and please keep it civil.


    16 Comments

  1. JayneAugust 14th, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Wow, you’ve come up with some questions that I never even thought of … I like your regeneration/reincarnation question … And will need to do some more thinking on this before I can sensibly comment 🙂

    I can’t imagine The Doctor being female, but I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to the idea … she would have a lot to live up to though.

  2. LauraAugust 14th, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I love the idea of the doctor being a female. I was hoping that the 12th doctor would be a female and would finally have ginger hair. Maybe next time?

  3. Shevi ArnoldAugust 14th, 2013 at 11:53 am

    When David Tennant’s Doctor regenerates and Matt Smith first appears, he touches the long hair on top of his head and says, “I’m a woman.” So clearly, it’s possible.

  4. TanyaAugust 14th, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Hey there!

    There actually is one episode that I can think of where it’s suggested that a Time Lord can regenerate as a different gender. In the episode “The Doctor’s Wife”, the Doctor refers to another Time Lord either named, or titled “Corsair” who had allegedly been both male and female in various regenerations: “[he regenerated as] herself a couple of times, oh she was a bad girl.” Granted, rule number 1, “The Doctor Lies”. And as with most things Eleven was prone to saying, everything that came out of his mouth was to be taken with a grain of salt.

    If including a link is okay, I found a really great web page that goes into really great commentary on regeneration, and whether or not it’s possible for a Time Lord to switch genders.

    http://geekmom.com/2013/06/doctor-who-woman-2/

  5. HCSelfAugust 14th, 2013 at 11:55 am

    You raise some great questions about story mythos. I think the answer to the gender question is addressed in “The Doctor’s Wife” where there is actually a line about the Corsair having regenerated (will stick with the generally accepted term for clarity) as both male and female.

    Now, from a viewer standpoint, and as a mother of two boys who also watch the show, I actually don’t want a female doctor. There are many male characters on tv/in movies where brawn is the answer to solving problems, and a high value is placed on physique and physicality. The fabulous thing about The Doctor is the emphasis placed on intelligence. It’s okay to be smart, and awkward, and a little goofy–and hey, girls will still like you too. You don’t have to fight your way out of every situation, but can reason your way out. There aren’t a whole lot of characters out there who are like this, so I for one, hope The Doctor stays male.

  6. MarieAugust 14th, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Great questions, and I agree with Jayne–a female doctor would have a lot to live up to. The producers would need to find a female who already had a huge fan base to garner more acceptance. There would still be a lot of naysayers, though.

  7. Sara JoAugust 14th, 2013 at 11:59 am

    When 10 regenerates as 11, he thinks he’s a girl when he’s first discovering his new hair, but then feels his adam’s apple and figures out he isn’t… so it would seem entirely possible. I think it’d be very very interesting to see the Doctor as a female! A ginger female too, since “he”s always wanted to be a ginger! 🙂

  8. NonnanazAugust 14th, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Personally, I would love(!!!) to see River in a spin-off as a Time Lord in her own right. But as for The Doctor, there’s only one, and he’s always been male. After 1000 years and 12 regenerations, there’s no reason to suppose that would or even could change.

  9. Shevi ArnoldAugust 14th, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    As for not being able to picture it, I’ll give you a scenario.

    The Doctor regenerates. We see her for the first time from behind. “Is that my hair? Oh, good, I’m finally a …ginger?” She looks down. “Oh, no, no, no, not a woman, not a woman! And why does this voice sound so familiar?” The Doctor grabs a mirror and looks into it. We see what she sees. It’s Catherine Tate! “Oh, no, no, no, not THAT woman!”

    I actually have the entire episode to follow that written out in my head, and it’s hysterically funny.

  10. Rubeus GrumpyAugust 14th, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    “A woman after my own two hearts.”

    If humans can transgenderize(?); then surely a species, that can regenerate their complete physiology, can too! Right? The Doctor performing a sex-change operation via his regeneration would surely still be The Doctor, albeit with a female physiology. Just like with humans! 🙂

    However, if we never see The Doctor as a female… at the very least, he could/should pass on the mantle to a female! #LadyWho (As is done when fictional male characters do not change gender, yet a woman can deserve the title: think Batwoman, Spider-woman, Supergirl, etc.)

    That said, a female Doctor…should be ginger. 😉

  11. PrincipiaAugust 14th, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Let me crack my old-school Whovian knuckles here. This one may take a bit.

    The closest the show ever came to answering most of your questions in any definitive way was under the “Cartmel masterplan,” a long and detailed backstory that was hinted at towards the end of the Seventh Doctor’s run and would’ve informed the next series (or more) of the Seventh Doctor’s adventures, had the show not been cancelled by the BBC in 1989. This backstory was used to construct several of the Virgin New Adventures series of novels featuring the Seventh Doctor. Marc Pratt’s Doctor Who novel, Lungbarrow, dove specifically into the deep end of the what the Doctor’s origin would have turned out to be, had the show continued. The BBC made Lungbarrow (which is notoriously expensive in the second-hand market), available on their website for free for quite some time, along with some of the other novels, though I’m not sure how many of those have survived the multiple redesigns of the Doctor Who site over the past few years. Those novels were not considered canon, though theoretically the new series’ line of books — published by the BBC — are, since events from at least one book have been directly referenced in the dialogue of an episode.

    There were hints even back in the 1970s that the regeneration of a Time Lord could be quite varied: when Romana regenerated, there was an extended sequence that involved her voluntarily changing what form she was going to take a few times during her regeneration. She took both female and arguably nongendered or male forms of different species, and even took the same form twice during the process. She finally settled on the form she’d originally picked before having been chastised by the Doctor that she shouldn’t deliberately take the form of another person just because she liked the way they looked. (Lalla Ward had previously played Princess Astra in The Armageddon Factor.)

    Looking at the RTD stories, The Doctor’s Daughter does imply, if somewhat indirectly, that Gallifreyans might be able to change gender. The only genetic sample the computer had was of the Doctor, yet the progeny produced was female.

    If you go by what’s happened in the Moffat era, there are a few episodes that deal with the matter. How seriously you take the Doctor’s exclamation that he’s a girl during his regeneration sequence is up to you. However, during The Doctor’s Wife, explicit mention is made of The Corsair having been both male and female across regenerations.

    Furthermore, we’ve been shown that you don’t need anything more to produce a Time Lord than two human beings conceiving their child aboard a TARDIS, which arguably could make some sense, because we know from Classic-era Who that not all Gallifreyans were Time Lords. It would also jibe with Jenny’s apparent inability to regenerate at the end of The Doctor’s Daughter: she was a genetic remix of the Doctor’s own genes and therefore Gallifreyan, but didn’t inherit his Time Lord characteristics. So it stands to reason that what differentiates Time Lords from other beings is more a matter of deliberate exposure to certain types of energies at various stages of development than the biological species of origin. It also makes the Doctor’s lamentation of the loss of his people more a matter of the loss of culture and society than the literal loss of “we can’t make any more people who share these physiological characteristics.”

    In terms of storytelling, there could be many justifications for having such a change, none of them outside the range of plausibility. They could go with something specific to the Whoniverse (they could say the Doctor’s first 12 bodies were all male and the 13th would be female, or the first 13 were male and the next 13 would be female), or more along the lines of general science fiction tropes (think what would happen if the Doctor had to regenerate in a world like those of The Outer Limits episode “Lithia,” or “Y: The Last Man”).

    Given the current management, I doubt the Doctor is going to be recast as a woman any time soon. It would be more likely that we’d see the return of an existing character in reverse-gender form first, like the Rani or Romana or Chancellor Flavia turning up as a Time Lord rather than a Time Lady, and I doubt that said character would be treated as or consider themselves to be transgender.

    I think that we’ll see a non-white male actor taking on the role before we see a female actor becoming the Doctor, but who knows? Even as someone who started watching the show when I was a young child, back in 1980, I don’t think there’s anything inherent to the Doctor that says it’s got to be a man playing the role. There are any number of terrific female actors who could take on the role and do something brilliant with it, and the BBC would be lucky to have them.

  12. CarrieAugust 14th, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    This article makes a good point but the reality is that they never have touched on much of the reproduction process of time lords. There is also no specific thing saying that the doctor couldn’t eventually regenerate into a woman. Steven Moffat himself has actually spoke of the possibility of a woman doctor. It is to say that it could be anyone. Male or female. I would like it if there was a female doctor but I suppose it needs to be at the right time. Moffat just needs to stumble across the right actress for the job and may just not have yet. I say give it time. Don’t make such a big deal about it.

  13. ShantelAugust 14th, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Excellent questions.

    I will premise my response with the fact that I am part of the NuWho. I started with 9, and have only watched a few key episodes from all the previous doctors. From my recollection, the only time that a transition in gender during regeneration was mentioned, was in The Doctor’s Wife (Series Six). The Doctor mentions that another Timelord, the Coarseair (that’s probably spelled wrong), was a male Timelord who had once regenerated into a female. Going by this tidbit (which was mentioned very briefly), Timelords can in fact switch genders.

    However, I feel that at this point, the discussion doesn’t have to do with continuity (Doctor Who pretty much laughs in the face of continuity), but with popular opinion, or what the fans would feel comfortable with. To my mind, the Doctor could be a woman, and I think quite a few fans would not only agree with that statement, but are anxious for that to happen. There are however, more fans, who would be completely uncomfortable with the idea, and a large portion of that group are made up of people who have stuck around with/are fans of Old Who.

    Added to this problem, is the writing that’s been done on the show thus far. Within the series, a lot of story arcs and decisions that the Doctor has made have been gendered. This is most obvious in NuWho. His story lines with his (largely female) companions, have started to have a sense of romance to them, more than friendship. To suddenly have a woman on screen, as the Doctor, would be a bit of a jolt at this point, because in the minds of a fan, the Doctor is carrying around the baggage of all past incarnations. You’d have to ask “How would this female Doctor react to seeing Rose? To seeing River?” and the possible answers to those questions might be uncomfortable to some fans, particularly considering that this is largely considered a family friendly show. Plus, there is always the chance, maybe fear, that the Doctor, upon finding himself suddenly a woman, would turn into lots of shticky moments. “Guess I’ll be learning to run in heels now!” “Wow, that ‘bit’ is new!”, etc.

    At this point, I think the best bet would be to have a show featuring a new Timelord altogether, who could start out as a woman. There is so much history to explore (even just on Galifrey! let alone other parts of the universe), that there would be plenty of material to go around. I think it would be nice to see a woman not as the companion of the explorer, but as the explorer herself.

  14. KarissaAugust 14th, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Excellent questions, all of which are adequately addressed in Principia’s fabulous comment. I will only say that the insistence some have on making the Doctor a woman is infuriating, and honestly, a bit insulting. Not everything has to be genderbent, people. There have been amazing female characters in Who, both classic and new era, some of whom have completely stolen the show from whomever has played the Doctor during their run on the show, all of whom people are overlooking in their furious campaign for a female Doctor. I, for one, would rather see these strong and fabulous women continue accompanying the Doctor and adding their own intrinsic value into his universe, rather than the Doctor becoming a woman himself. The Doctor’s character is built on his existence as a male, with men and women lifting him up and making him better throughout his many years. And that, honestly, is how it should stay, in my opinion (love it or leave it).

  15. CiaranAugust 14th, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Although I do think it is entirely possible that the Doctor in all probability could regenerate as a woman, I really don’t feel he should. The Doctor I love is and in my opinion should always be a male character. I really don’t see how changing it to a female role can add anything to an already perfect character. To me it would be the equivalent of making Sherlock Holmes female.

  16. LynAugust 15th, 2013 at 12:39 am

    Principia, fantastically detailed response, and lovely to hear from another old-school Whovian!! Going back to the original run, there is another example of regenerative choice when the second doctor is given ‘options’ by the time lords before his exile on earth (as the third doctor) at the end of The War Games. It would seem that there is precedent for both Gallifreyans and companions to choose how they will look in their next body.
    HCSelf I really hope you didn’t mean to say by “The fabulous thing about The Doctor is the emphasis placed on intelligence. It’s okay to be smart, and awkward, and a little goofy–and hey, girls will still like you too” that only male characters can have an emphasis on intelligence! The 21st century is the age of the nerd, but I would really like to think that nerd is one of the human race’s first non-gender-specific terms that includes women just as much as men.
    As the writing of the show obviously reflects our own 21st century western scoiety, I would personally love to see the dynamic changed to reflect how women have managed to, if not shatter, at least raise the glass ceiling. I remember watching as a child in the 70s and being impressed by the prominence of the female companions so surely it would be fantastic to have someone other than a white male as the lead? It was different enough for Chris Ecclestone to keep his accent that he had to comment ‘every planet has a north’ – I would love Peter Capaldi to keep his Scottish accent! At least the doctor is getting older again – I seem to remember Five struggling with having a young body and great experiential age.
    Perhaps the Gallifreyans could take a leaf out of Iain M. Banks’ Culture and make ‘human-basic’ a choice very few people keep? I’m sure that Time Lord scoiety must have advanced to the same point (or further).
    Whatever happens, I’m delighted that the Whoniverse is alive and well, and long may it remain so!

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