Saturday, August 3rd, Doctor Who fans were freaking out about the news of the new actor to play the British science-fiction TV series’ title character, sitting in front of a BBC or BBC America live show, awaiting the announcement of the next Nerd Pope (a title supplied by several people on Twitter). I’m one of the world’s biggest Doctor Who fans, but I don’t give a damn about the announcement for the casting of the next Doctor.
I don’t mean that I’m upset or in denial about who they cast. I mean I don’t care who they cast. It is meaningless to me until I watch the actual program. Knowing ahead of time and having an opinion doesn’t alter the BBC’s decision, so it’s not really worth my time and energy.
However, I did watch the live announcement and the following reaction on the internet. I knew people would ask me about it so I decided stay informed. And I realize that one of the things I’m going to be asked about the most is if I’m disappointed that the next Doctor isn’t a woman or/and a person of color.
And surprisingly the answer is “not really”.
I mean, there was an amazing list of people that fans were hoping would be cast, including Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Helen Mirren. However, none of them were in the running. None of them were asked or were interested in the role. Fans can make dream lists all they want, but, again, this has no effect on the actual casting process.
If you really want to be up in arms about the lack of diversity on Doctor Who, the main actor is hardly the problem. The larger issue is the representation of history in general. In the 50 year history of the show, although they have a ship that can travel to anywhere in time and space, they have never been to South America. While they have met the aliens who inspired the myths of the Egyptian gods, they have never actually been to Egypt, or anywhere else on the African continent. They have only been to Asia once to travel with Marco Polo to meet Kublai Kahn and they have been to the Middle East once, but only because they English were there during the Crusades. Unfortunately, we only know of these last two travels because the scripts and set photos still exist. These stories were among the early episodes that were thrown out or taped over.
The show has also been pretty skimpy on its representation of historical women. On a Wikipedia list of 56 historical figures seen in the program’s history, only nine of them have been women.
It used to be that the problem that science fiction had with the diverse representation of humanity was its depiction of the future. If you look at science-fiction films from the ‘60s and earlier it seemed that only white men survived to travel through space. By contrast, the current series of Doctor Who seems to do an okay job of placing women and people of color in prominent roles in their futuristic stories. However, the show’s depiction of the past eliminates 3/4ths of humanity as well as the influence of women. It seems the Doctor would rather travel to a planet knowingly invaded by genocidal cyborgs than travel to Nairobi or Mumbai.
I would love to see Doctor Who stories set in Buenos Aires, Cape Town, or Kyoto and other tales featuring Marie Curie, Joan of Arc, or Harriet Tubman. The token gender or racial casting of The Doctor is nowhere near as interesting to me as truly opening up Earth history to a complete and multi-dimensional representation of humanity.