On July 16th 2017, the BBC announced their casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor in the sci-fi series Doctor Who. As the first female Doctor in the show’s history, the announcement became the biggest news in British television, however strong women isn’t new territory for the show.
Doctor Who’s dynamic has traditionally revolved around a male Doctor and his female companion, but the show never been reduced to portraying typical gender roles. The job description for the companion is courageous, merciful, decisive and empathetic – requirements that have always been fulfilled by a headstrong and powerful woman.
Considering that the Doctor is a Time Lord in possession of unmatchable intelligence and who introduces an unimaginable universe to his companions, he is not without flaws and where he sometimes falls short, it is always his companion that puts him straight.
In the first series of the reboot, Rose teaches the Ninth Doctor to be merciful again after the Time War when faced with a Dalek. The series concludes with Rose saving the day and she makes a sacrifice unaware of whether she will survive – all to save the Doctor and the universe. In Series Three, Martha is sent to Earth to spread stories of the Doctor. She is the only hope in stopping the Master and she uses words and faith to overpower guns and violence.
Another strong woman of the Doctor Who universe is Sarah Jane Smith, a linchpin between New Who and Classic Who, who returns as a freelancer and doesn’t need the Doctor in order to fight aliens and protect the world. And, in the Tenth Doctor and Rose’s final goodbye at the end of Series Four, the Doctor recognises he would be nothing without her. “You made me better,” he says as he leaves her on Bad Wolf Bay forever.
More recently, the Doctor’s archnemesis The Master regenerated into Missy, testing the waters and preparing the path for a female Doctor. In the Twelfth Doctor’s final series, he faces a showdown with both The Master and Missy. The Master says, “Is the future gunna be all girl?”, to which the Doctor replies, “We can only hope.”
But for Doctor Who it has never been a hope but a reality. Women have always been the strength of the show. The only difference now is that they’re getting the recognition for it with a title. Perhaps Doctor Who isn’t just science fiction after all.