When the producers of “Doctor Who” revealed that Jodie Whittaker was the 13th incarnation of The Doctor in 2017, there was a lot of celebration, though some fans of the show weren’t so happy. Whittaker took over from Peter Capaldi and joined the franchise along with Chris Chibnall, who worked with her on “Broadchurch” and took over the showrunning reins from Steven Moffat. Neither Whittaker nor Chibnall had much association with the larger Whovian universe, but that mattered less than the fact that Whittaker, a woman, stepped into a role previously played by 12 white men.
Anyone who remembers this sexist uproar must have felt some relief at the wider elation that greeted the announcement of Whittaker’s successor, Ncuti Gatwa, whose historic rise to this legacy role begins in November 2023. doesn’t mean racists and homophobes haven’t come out of the carpentry to make a fuss on the news; trolling is as sure as death and taxes, but it’s easier to ignore in cases like this because sane people agree that such bigotry is stupid and done.
People shot him when James Bond author Anthony Horowitz felt Idris Elba was too “street” to play the suave spy in 2015, three years before People named him the most sexy of 2018. It came for Lashana Lynch when she assumed the 007 designation for Daniel Craig’s latest Bond film, 2021’s “No Time to Die.”
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When a conservative commentator complained that Doctor Who was being played by a black gay man, the internet stood up and told him to sit down, and with good reason. (And to be clear, Gatwa has never publicly stated his sexual orientation. Nor is he required to.)
If the reaction to Gatwa’s casting as the first black Doctor seems more unified than the sentiment Whittaker was met with, it’s as much down to the fandom’s faith in Russell T. Davies as it is an endorsement of the actor.
Trolling is as sure as death and taxes, but… sane people agree that such bigotry is stupid and done.
Gatwa’s talent is self-contained, which is obvious to anyone who took his “Sex Education” character Eric Effiong to their hearts. And that is only fair and wise. However, the fact that Davies will be writing for his doctor is a gigantic boon.
The ‘Queer as Folk’ creator ushered in the modern revival of ‘Doctor Who’ and is the man who led the extraordinary era of David Tennant between 2005 and 2010. (Tennant and Catherine Tate, who played the his doctor Donna Noble, also return for the 60th anniversary of “Doctor Who” in 2023.)
Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong in “Sex Education” (Netflix)But it’s the work Davies produced after leaving “Doctor Who” that makes me particularly excited for his return, including his gritty speculative series “Years and Years” and the heartbreaking but joyful “It’s a Sin.” Through each of these shows, Davies has embraced visions of inclusive families and communities. He also wrote in honest and unforgiving terms about the discrimination gay people faced at the height of the AIDS epidemic and still face today.
Davies is expected to bring this freshly expanded view to this universe, because it badly needs it. He acknowledges this through the casting of Gatwa and the subsequent announcement that Yasmin Finney will be joining Gatwa’s 14th Doctor as a character named Rose – which could also be significant, but it’s too early to tell.
Finney, a scene stealer featured in Netflix’s teen comedy-drama “Heartstopper,” isn’t the first transgender actor to appear in “Doctor Who.” This story was made by Bethany Black in 2015. However, she plays a character who shares a name with one of the Whovian universe’s most beloved companions, a woman widely regarded as the Doctor’s greatest love – or if not. , the deepest romance. of Tennant’s time on the show.
Perhaps this portends a new era of the show that does a better job of centralizing queer personas than it had in the years before Whittaker and Chibnall.
After all, Davies is the first “Doctor Who” showrunner to bring LGBTQIA+ characters into the story who are more than just their sexual orientation or gender identity, the most famous being John Barrowman’s pansexual Captain Jack Harkness. Moffat included a few, and there were some weird characters during Chibnall’s run, but Davies showed how to write those characters as fully grown individuals without falling into stereotypes or, worst of all, killing them.
He’s also the origin of some of the best female characters in the franchise – namely the role teased by Davies that Finney could take over in some ways, Rose Tyler, created by Billie Piper.
Yasmin Finney as Elle Argent in “Heartstopper” (Netflix)But even during the Davies episodes, the characters and the queer women are supporting characters to the Doctor. It was the Aughts, and tradition still reigned in this franchise, a banner Moffat carried long past its sell-by date. Whittaker broke that barrier, and now Gatwa and Finney can continue what she started.
Of course, with the usual dismissal of backsliding bigotry surrounding any casting announcement that ignores the usual white male box, there are the questions of why something like this still matters in 2022 — which is also dishonest.
Davies offers optimism in the form of a being who travels the universe in a ship that looks like a police box, who triumphs over brutality using his intellect and logic, and who has two hearts.
Frankly, it hasn’t been established that the Doctor of Gatwa is expressly anything other than a Time Lord, a race whose sexuality has been established to be fluid and can look like anyone. (Technically, he’s not even the first Black Time Lord. Jo Martin was introduced as the Fugitive Doctor during Whittaker’s time, a pre-First Doctor incarnation that was erased from his memory.)
Finney’s Rose has also not been specifically identified, as the performer does, as a transgender person.
And to address the predictable and unfair concerns that casting a black actor as The Doctor and a transgender woman as someone who might end up being his sidekick means the show will somehow turn into a weekly exercise social justice – please. Davies was never that type of writer. Even when he centers marginalized characters, his aim has always been to grab us by their universality.
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Also, Davies doesn’t have to write a series of episodes on the nose specifically about deteriorating race relations on Earth or politicize the identities of its characters.
Whovians are smart enough to understand the extra layer of meaning that will be present when the 14th Doctor inevitably faces off against the Cybermen or the Daleks, two alien races with an overbearing zeal dedicated to maintaining the purity of their species by exterminating other forms of life. Seeing The Doctor defeat these foes is always thrilling. Watching Gatwa play it will definitely hold extra meaning – and he’s still the Doctor.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to remind people that “Doctor Who” is a family show, especially written with kids in mind. There are still countless children for whom seeing Gatwa and Finney means seeing a reflection of themselves in “Doctor Who,” and for the first time in its 60-year history.
The unfortunate change since Davies’ round as showrunner of “Doctor Who” is that homophobia has reinvigorated the political and legislative momentum behind it in the United States, and anti-Blackness around the world is still very much alive. . Hate crimes are on the rise.
Something somewhere should offer hope, as well as escape, that doesn’t rest on another muscular superhuman for salvation. Instead, Davies offers optimism in the form of a being who travels the universe in a ship that resembles a police box, who triumphs over brutality using his intellect and logic, and who has two hearts.
The main difference is that he’s played by a black actor who is as up to the challenge as his predecessors. Some of us have been willing to take this journey with Gatwa for our entire lives. We can (and can’t!) wait another year.
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