A Lady Doctor Who, And Some Other Hopes and Dreams

I have long believed that BBC came up with the absolute perfect show premise when they came up with Doctor Who. For those who aren’t regular devotees of the show, The Doctor can regenerate his body when his physical form dies, allowing many actors to play the same lovable, iconic character. In essence, BBC created a show that never has to get shelved – people can continue to write it and play with it for as long as there are people to write and play. And they have. The show began airing in 1963, with a hiatus and then a reboot in 2005. All in all, 11 actors have played the alien of everyone’s dreams. Every single one of those 11 actors has been a white man.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the rumblings started. It could have been fans – fans calling for a female Doctor, fans (and failure “news” sites) totally against it. It could have been Helen Mirren, stating “I’m not going to be the first female ‘Doctor Who.’ No, no, no. Absolutely not, I absolutely wouldn’t contemplate that… but I do think it’s well over-time to have a female ‘Doctor Who’… I think a gay, black female ‘Doctor Who’ would be best of all,” and solidifying her place as president of my heart. Former Who cast member actor John Barrowman has said much the same: “We’ve had great guys playing the role. The character of River Song was so popular in the last part of the series and it [had] such an impact — why shouldn’t we have a female doctor?” When Captain Jack Harkness says something, you’d be hard put to argue. That’s even truer when the Doctor himself expresses the same sentiments. Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, will be leaving the show with this year’s Christmas special and will regenerate into…well, Who knows? The role is reported be as yet un-cast. But at San Diego ComicCon this past Sunday, there was much speculation and even a little bit of teasing, including from the mouth of the 11th himself:

Matt Smith says it truly doesn’t matter if the Doctor regenerates into a man or a woman, and that are so, so many women who would do a brilliant job with the role. He goes so far as to call the 12th Doctor “she.” And he does his trade-mark-Matt-Smith-mischievous-eyes at the camera. Could this be more than a tease? Could it be a hint? I have no clue. But he said during another panel in response to a question about how he sees his character’s death: “golden light would pour out of me then I’d turn into a woman!” Steven Moffat, the show runner/head writer of Who at the moment, was equally as tease-y, though quite a bit more silent than Smith:

Would I die of happy if the 12th Doctor wound up being a Lady Who? Yes. You bet – the Doctor is married to River Song, making the storyline a little bit queer if it happens. And think about it – probability is now in our favor. The Doctor has regenerated as male 11 times – that’s like flipping a coin 11 times and having it land tails all 11. What are the chances that it will happen a 12th time? That’s like winning the privilege lottery. That’s nuts, chances-wise. And let’s not forget that out of all 11 regenerations, there also hasn’t been a person of color. Add that in – it would be  statistically improbable for the Doctor to regenerate as a white man for the 12th time. Of course, that’s assuming that people with biases aren’t in charge of casting Doctor Who and that probability is actually allowed to reign. So do I think it’s going to happen? Maybe. But maybe not with Moffat in charge. You see, in much of Moffat’s writing, he occasionally seems to hit a stumbling block – I sometimes wonder if he believes women to be real people. Bitch Magazine puts it splendidly:

Steven Moffat doesn’t have a wonderful track record when it comes to writing women. The Doctor’s female companions written during Russell T. Davies’ tenure (he was the head writer before Moffat) are badass. Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Donna Noble all have their flaws, but they’re tough, smart, and nuanced. They save the Doctor as often as the Doctor saves them. Can we really say the same about Amy Pond or Clara Oswin Oswald, the companions penned by Moffat? Yes, River Song is tough, but she flits in and out of storylines too much to be considered one of the Doctor’s main companions.

And don’t even get me started on his female characters in, say, Sherlock.

via BBC

via BBC

I’m also torn about whether or not I’d want it to happen with Moffat in charge, if all he’s going to do is pen a one-note Doctor because he perceives women to be weak. I think, in the end, my excitement would reign supreme and I also think that Moffat is a good enough writer with eyes in his head to read the internet – I’m sure he’s seen some of the criticism out there of his female characters. I think he’s capable of changing his ways.

In terms of female doctors, the rumblings point to Helen Mirren, Tilda Swinton, Olivia Coleman, Billie Piper (formerly Rose Tyler) and a few other names floating around in the mix. But we don’t know. Here’s what we do know for sure (and be careful, spoilers):

via BBC

via BBC

– There’s a Dark Doctor coming (some are considering him doctor 8.5?), played by John Hurt (“wow, another white cis man! Surprise!” said absolutely no one) in the 50th Anniversary Special to air in the US on November 23rd, starring the 10th and 11th iterations of the Doctor (Matt Smith and David Tennant). The Daleks will also be returning. The teaser trailer premiered at ComicCon, but it hasn’t been posted on BBC’s website yet (and you can bet I’m watching for it).

– Other rumblings point to Idris Elba, a black British actor, as the possible 12th Doctor which I would also consider a victory in casting, and maybe an easier one for Moffat to pull off since this would circumvent his apparent lady problem.

– If Rupert Grint or any other white male actor is cast as the Doctor, I will be supremely pissed. Sure, you can bend space and time and I will suspend my disbelief episode after episode. But my suspension of disbelief runs out at the notion that the Doctor will be white and male 12 times in a row.

– Everyone should listen to Helen Mirren for casting advice. Black gay female doctor ftw.

Catch up on Doctor Who, series 7 (part one and part two) on iTunes.

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. #1 I have a lot of feelings for River Song

    #2 I have a lot of feelings for Tilda Swinton

    #3 I would be very okay if they were TV married.

  2. I’m pretty much in agreement with you. I’d love a female Doctor (and wouldn’t that technically make her trans* in a science-fictiony way? :) ) but I loathe the idea of Moffat writing her. Regarding her sexuality, I hope they don’t go the heterosexist route—as in giving her a male companion and implying that now that she’s a woman she of course prefers guys now.

    • It has been implied that the Doctor is bisexual, but I really hope they won’t use that as a cop-out if they do cast a lady Doctor.

        • Vastra and Jenny are so wonderful. I love them to pieces. They are easily one of the best things Moffat has done on DW.

        • *swooning over queer lady lizards from the dawn of time*
          *and their badass Victorian martial arts fighter wives*

        • I do love Vastra and Jenny! Maybe I’m being a bit too cynical about Moffat. But the grand majority of his female characters are womp womp, even as I love them.

    • omg the only thing holding me back is the fact Moffat is head writer. I don’t particularly like the newest story line and how the companions have been treated (Oswin and Amy have been more like playthings to the doctor than actual people like Rose, Martha, and Donna. If it was another writer in charge i would be less hesitant but I would like to wait for another writer to take the helm before they do anything with the potential to be majorly amazing.

      also, can Tilda Swinton play all the things? is there a petition going for that yet?

      • I absolutely agree. I don’t really like Moffat’s writing. Occasionally there are parts I like, but it could be other writers not him. His stories just aren’t captivating, and the characters are so flat.

        • even though eleven was my first doctor, i feel somewhat diassapointed with the way he turned out. i recently started watching classic who and while its slow its enjoyable. i hope twelve is better than eleven… maybe i’ll watch it again…

      • that’s the thing about Moffat (can’t say the same about Remender) is he likes to make everything one big showy things for the main character (usually a white male) he does the same in BBC’s Sherlock (if possible the women are written worse than, i can’t even name two secondary and both are used to further Sherlock’s role. I felt that when Clara was introduced it was too “manic pixie dream girl” to be anything in depth amazing.

        he made it explicitly clear that shes a plot device? what is he a bad English teacher telling students that their interpretation of the book is wrong?

  3. I would love a female doctor so much! There are so many amazing actresses who deserve a shot at it. I tend to want a lesser known actor in the role because it is a star making role no doubt about it and it’s a wonderful way for a great but underappreciated actor to get the attention they should.

    An actress I keep coming back to is Fiona Button. She played Tess in Lip Service and she has the perfect blend of dramatic and comedic chops to play the Doctor. There are dozens of actresses who could do it though and I wouldn’t be disappointed.

    Not Tilda Swinton though. I’d stop watching if she was cast.

    For males at least being not white would be a nice change and Idris Elba is a great choice. Such an amazing actor. He steals every show or movie he’s in from The Wire to Luther to where I just saw him, Pacific Rim. If the next Doctor is male my number on choice is Chiwetel Ejiofor.

    • Sorry I feel I should put context to my dislike of the Swinton casting idea for people who haven’t seen me talk about it before on here.


      She has never yet that I’ve seen accounted for her signature on that piece of filth or taken it back. As someone who was sexually abused as a child I find it painful how short people’s memories are and how willing they are to forgive someone who thinks 13 year old girls being drugged and anally raped is excusable if you are a “great artist” because she’s attractive and androgynous. She ought to be asked about it whenever she gives interviews. They all should. But no, it’s like it never happened.

      Yes it’s hard and painful to remeber the names of celebrities on that list that I used to like, but it’s not something I can just forget or forgive.

  4. Despite being rabid with anticipation about this, I actually hope this decision has already been made and they’re just not announcing. Cos I know the earliest Matt Smith episodes were actually written before they had cast him and it really shows in places.

    Ruth Negga (Misfits, Love/Hate) would kick ass at this. Also she has a bit of recognition with British audiences but is new enough to make it her own.

    Also, I can’t help thinking Joely Richardson would be a bit fabulous at this.

  5. And I somehow forgot to mention, I AM ALREADY SHIPPING DOCTOR TILDA/RIVER SONG SO HARD!

  6. I feel like if they cast a female doctor they’ll just sexualize her and she won’t be allowed to be a smart, adorable, tragic nerd like the last 3 doctors.

      • I wish the writers changed as much as the actors, it would keep more refreshed. Not just the same sort of story all the time.

        • I’m pretty sure that, regardless of how I feel about Moffat’s women, his stuff is stale and he needs to hand the keys over so someone else can drive. Like in general. Matt Smith’s big, emotional monologue in The Rings of Akhaten? Totally unearned in the writing but beautifully performed by Matt Smith. I was actively angry that they wasted that moment. I feel like he’s just spinning his wheels, plot-wise.

  7. I agree- definitely time for a female Doctor.
    However, the chance of the Doctor reincarnating as male for the 12th time, given that the other 11 incarnations have already happened (and assuming randomness), is exactly the same as it was for the first 11: 1 in 2. Same with the 12th coin flip after 11 consecutive heads. See http://mathcentral.uregina.ca/beyond/articles/gambling/odds.html .

    (As an irrelevant aside, were we to estimate the chances of the Doctor being male 12 consecutive times back in 1963, we would estimate it as 1 in 4096, or 42,700 times more likely than winning the powerball. But that’s just compelling evidence to never buy powerball tickets.)

  8. I’m going to say something controversial here… I can actually see the logic in keeping the Doctor male. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a Time Lord to keep the same gender across regenerations. (Not that I’d complain if we got a lady Doctor, mind!)

    That being said, I can’t see the logic in keeping the Doctor white! There’s even precedent.. (~SPOILERS~) River’s second regeneration was black, after all! So I’ll still be cranky if we have a white dude Doctor.

    • (also one time I had an argument with my boss about this and I still can’t decide if that was a bad idea or the best idea)

    • They’ve already established that Time-Lords can switch gender. In “The Doctor’s Wife”, his friend (too lazy to look up the name) is mentioned as having had male and females regenerations.

      Also, when the Doctor regenerates into Matt Smith, they did that gag where he initially thinks he’s “a girl” (and still not ginger), suggesting that a female incarnation is at least a possibility.

  9. Wil Wheaton even claimed to know who Twelve is last month but has been keeping mum. http://www.themarysue.com/doctor-who-12/

    *SPOILER* Also, don’t discount John Hurt’s doctor (rumored to be 8.5) introduced in the last episode. The next doctor will technically be the 13th, with all previous 12 being white dudes. While hibiscus is right about the odds not changing, it is worth considering as a Moffat casting choice.

  10. “The Doctor has regenerated as male 11 times – that’s like flipping a coin 11 times and having it land tails all 11. What are the chances that it will happen a 12th time?”

    It’s 50%, just like the previous 11 tosses, because every coin flip is an independent event.

    With regards to The Doctor’s regenerations, there’s of course lots more at play than just chance.

    • You’re right but it’s only 50% if you only want the probability of it being a tail on just the 12th time (one independent event)

      If you want the probability of it being tails on the 12th time after it’s been tails on the 1st time AND 2nd AND 3rd time….then each of these events are dependent on the other and must be multiplied by each other:(.5)^12 and the final probability dwindles to .02%!

      • But that’s also the same probability of it being head on the 12th time after its been tails on the 1st 11 times – that is also .02% (assuming your maths was correct). So the two are equally as probable – making it 50/50 again.

  11. I just have so many feelings about this!! All of the points that were made in the article echo my copious amount of feelings. I am just so invested in the outcome of the 12th Doctor that I am terrified for the inevitable letdown when they pick a white man AGAIN.

  12. I really want a lady doctor because there is a part of me that wants to see her gallivant across time and space in skirt suits (it is such an odd weakness of mine). However, a female Doctor wouldn’t automatically assume queer relationships because sadly River Songs arc is over.

    I agree with the idea of Idris Elba if we don’t get a woman (I was pulling for him as Moriarty for ages but that’s another story).

  13. I nominate Kate Winslet, I know, I know but she would look so so so so good in a suit, oh gurl.

  14. As much as I would love a female Doctor, given that Moffat appears to be sticking around, I’m pulling for a guy who is not white this time around.

    I’m really creeped out by Moffat’s glorification of motherhood and childcare, like it’s the most important thing women can do.

  15. I have no faith in Stephen Moffat to not be awful writing a female doctor. I think I’d rather he kept the doctor male until someone else can take over as showrunner – someone who doesn’t compare women to dogs, who doesn’t say that 10 was lucky to have been able to ditch his clingy girlfriend in a parallel universe, and who doesn’t consistently reduce female characters to puzzles for the doctor to solve, instead of three-dimensional people in their own right.

    That being said, I cannot pretend I’m not completely obsessed with the idea of Angel Coulby or Michelle Dockery as the Doctor!

    • I am so happy to supply reasons to hate him!

      PBS Sherlock event (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MltF5YNPac, around 7:26): in response to questions about the sexist portrayal of Irene Adler: “I think there was somebody who was attempting to extract a version of my own personal sexual politics based on “A Scandal in Belgravia,” which is completely untrue. But let me tell you this! You can extract Mark Gatiss’s views on dogs from “The Hounds Baskerville”! ‘Cause what Mark likes to do with dogs is accuse them of murder and explode them.” (Not as bad as I remembered, but yeah bro, treatment of female characters is on the same level as treatment of animals on tv.)

      Comic Con, 2008 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P_cT9Nt5ic&t=3m35s): “You have to hand it to the Doctor for dumping a slightly needy girlfriend by palming her off on a copy of himself. He tried leaving her in a parallel universe, and that didn’t work.”

      And here’s a bonus super gross comment about the lack of bisexual representation on television: “We don’t acknowledge you on television cos you’re having FAR TOO MUCH FUN. You probably don’t even watch cos you’re so BUSY!!”

  16. OH ALL OF THE YES. I want a black, gay Lady Doctor so badddddd. I would be content with Lady Doctor, but QUEER POC DOCTOR?! YESSSSSSSS.

  17. ALL THE FEELINGS. I really hope we get a lady doctor. And having this article on here is making my life because the comments section isn’t full of people saying they will refuse to watch the show if there is a female doctor like EVERY OTHER ARTICLE ON EVERY OTHER SITE – ugh.

    • Ugh. I have been reading a lot of articles about this (because I, too, have A Lot of Feelings about it). I keep making the mistake of reading the comments on those articles and they pretty much turn me into Feminist Hulk. Thanks Autostraddlers for being the best people on the internet!

  18. I think a female doctor would be fantastic! Just think of all the new dynamics and stories to be explored :) However so long as the next doctor is as brilliant an actor as the last few have been I’ll still enjoy watching the show even if we end up with another white male.

  19. I wouldn’t hold my breath for the Doctor to be female anytime soon. There’s been rumors and debate over that since the ’70s. Tom Baker, shit-stirrer extraordinaire, started that rumor when he decided to leave the show, and it’s been something the show runners have had to address every regeneration since. Still no joy.

    I echo everyone else’s opinion and say that I, too, doubt Moffatt’s ability to write a good female Doctor, to the point where I actively DO NOT want one until he’s gone. If we get one now, and Moffatt’s Issues end up defining her run, people are going to say “see, a female Doctor doesn’t work!” and that will drastically reduce our odds of getting another one.

    I will say, though, that if either Idris Elba or Ruth Negga are cast, I will explode from joy.

  20. Yes, yes, and thensome. I really love everyone’s picks for a female Doctor so far! Thought I have to say I am definitely not holding my breath for it to actually happen. (Though I would be SO thrilled if it did!)

  21. Ruth Negga for the 12th Doctor, definitely. Also I’m not a huge fan of Helen Mirren after, er, this: http://jezebel.com/5044364/helen-mirren-on-being-raped-and-why-women-should-just-learn-to-work-it-out (tw: rape, victim blaming)

    But I’d never want to see Moffat writing a female doctor – I feel uncomfortable enough about the fact that he’s writing for Rose, a character he’s never, ever showed any respect for.

    Also, on the offchance that any of the commenters here are unfamiliar with it: http://feministwhovian.tumblr.com/ is brilliant.

  22. I would love Olivia Williams to play the Doctor, but I also have A LOT of problems with Moffat’s writing and I’d rather he left before the doctor regenerates as female. Perhaps Moffat could handle writing a male POC though? There’s also a serious need for female writers in Doctor Who. I think there’s only been 1 female writer (who wrote 2 episodes) since the reboot in 2005 (Which is pretty horrendous).

  23. I will positively die of happiness if the 12th Doctor is a woman. I think the show has such an opportunity here to make a statement and do something wonderful and creative.

    But I just don’t think Moffatt will do it. Which makes me sad.

    When they inevitably cast another white guy in the role I’ll probably throw something and say things like, “I’m never watching the show again!”

    Then I’ll sit down on Christmas day and watch it anyway.

  24. From a lore perspective, I’d LOVE to see Billie Piper as the Doctor. I’d rather have a white guy and no Moffat than Moffat and no white guy, though.

  25. I would love to see a female Doctor. Or pretty much any Doctor that represents a departure from the white cis male pattern of the entire show to date. It saddens me that when I tell some people that, their response is something to the effect of “but the Doctor has to be a white man because of REASONS!!!”

    I just wouldn’t trust Moffat to do justice to a female Doctor, based on how he writes the female companions and what he did to Irene Adler on Sherlock. I’d rather wait a little longer and see a female Doctor written by someone who writes better female characters.

    Also, I maintain that Madam Vastra and Jenny should have their own show. Who doesn’t love inter-species crime fighting lesbians?

    • Million times yes to a spin off! Why has this not been done yet? Especially if River could make some guest appearances…

  26. First comment on here :P

    I’ve been following all the discussions very carefully about who should be the next doctor since Matt announced he will leave.

    Like many others I have MAJOR reservations about Moffat and his women. And yet somehow I love Vastra, Jenny and still love River. Though I certainly have not been happy with much that he has done with the character. For example her entire life now only revolves around the doctor, she was brought up with that one purpose in mind…ew. Then of course Amy and Clara were brought in as puzzles for the doctor to solve and etc etc I could go on a full blown rant but first impressions and all :)

    Anyway my votes for the new doctor:
    Angel Coulby (female, POC)I don’t know though how much being in a successful show like Merlin might work against her. But I finally saw the last two episodes after years of not watching Merlin and I really sat up and noticed her.

    Lauren Socha (female, POC) Misfits was slightly less popular so…Young, springy and a good actress.

    Jaime Murray (female) DO I NEED TO EXPLAIN WHY??? Though…again maybe too well known :(

    Idris Elba – at this point I would sell my soul for him to be the new doctor! He was my very first choice. Now though I’m mainly hoping that one day he will make James Bond watchable for me and be the first black man to play him. The doctor ship was sailed I fear :( Way too well known.

    Chiwetel Ejiofer – despite being an OBE I believe he’s more probable, though I would be very disappointed if he couldn’t Kinky Boots it up in the Tardis ;)

  27. “Lady Dr. Who” I can handle. “Lady Dr.” just makes me think you are all demanding the BBC provide you with a gyno.

  28. Just out of curiosity, now that it’s been made known to everyone, how pissed are you about Peter Capaldi? (IMP, at least he’s not Rupert Grint, who I’ve always had a rather peculiar loathing for. :P)

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