Well it has been a while. The blog did die something of a death, largely because maintaining it kept getting pushed to one side by other demands on my time. It hasn’t been for want of things to say, it’s just that there have been other ways to say it. However I’ve suddenly got a few things to get of my chest and one of these is the recent casting decisions around the BBC’s flagship science fiction show.
As we all know the lead role will shortly pass to a woman for the first time; Peter Capaldi’s Doctor will regenerate into Jodie Whittaker. And unlike too many people I don’t have any problem with that at all. It is a bold decision, possibly one that won’t work but I’m happy to give the new Doctor a chance – and if she doesn’t work out the sword of Damocles is always dangling over her character anyway. But given her track record (and that of the writers) I’m sure she’ll be great.
But in all the fuss over who the new Doctor would be and the eventual revelation there was a fairly important question that remained unanswered; what happens to the main supporting role of the Doctor’s (previously invariably female) companion.
Well if the rumours are true we now have our answer; Bradley Walsh, 57 year old comedian, quiz show host and actor is reported to have been cast in the role. It should be noted that to the best of my knowledge there is no official confirmation of this. I am acutely aware that I am going to jump the gun here as we don’t know exactly how Bradley Walsh will be cast. I should also add that I have nothing against him personally and I’d probably be making the same post if another actor of similar age and background had been cast instead.
However my worry (and I’d be reasonably happy to be wrong on this) is that Bradley Walsh’s companion will be a bumbling sidekick to a feisty female doctor. And here we come to the crux of the problem; a female doctor wouldn’t miss the point but such a casting combination would.
The Doctor is a centuries old alien and as such has always had something of the bumbling professor about him, even when played by Matt Smith. Every incarnation has their own quirks but ultimately the Doctor is the same character. And here comes the rub; the companion is not the same character although, again invariably, the role of each companion is very similar.
Since the series was revived in 2005 the Doctor has had six full time companions; all women living ordinary lives until their path collides with that of the Doctor and their life changes forever as a result. And there are other similar plot devices that connect each companion; how many times has the companion been the emotional anchor when the Doctor fails to consider the human angle? More critically the companion ultimately ends up being the heroine of the overall plot arc. The idea of a female Doctor correcting some sort of gender imbalance is a red herring; all fans will have their favourites and not so favourites but Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, Amy Pond, Clara Oswald and Bill Potts have all been terrific role models for any girl (and a few boys as well).
And another point; with the exception of Donna all of these characters have been YOUNG women. Also, again with the exception of Catherine Tate who was an established actress and comedienne prior to her casting, the companion has always been played by a relative unknown who enjoyed a major career boost as a result.
Which takes me back to the rumoured casting of Bradley Walsh and why I’m so annoyed about it. When a female doctor was confirmed I thought there was an equally groundbreaking opportunity for a youngish male companion. We could have (for example) a newly demobbed soldier adjusting to civilian life in the Tardis, or a long haired emo type juggling his band and his studies with being whisked off to deal with Daleks and Cybermen. What a chance for the series and what an opportunity for a rising young actor (the young cast of the recent Knock Knock episode did well for example – perhaps one of the lads could step up like Karen Gillen did from an early appearance). But no, a female Doctor means we need an older male companion who will probably (not definitely – he could be a hard bitten veteran of the first Iraq war for all I know) play the part of the comic relief.
In the revived series there have been male supporting companions; Wilfred Mott (veteran actor Bernard Cribbins) memorably stepped up to the guest companion role and Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) got his own spin off show. However the only real male breakout within the series proper has been Rory Williams and even he was a babbling wimp in his first series before they realised Arthur Darvill was being wasted as an actor and gave him something to stick his teeth into.
And finally, the elephant in the room. Gender and more specifically gender stereotyping. On the surface Doctor Who does appear to present a male lead/ female sidekick dynamic which could suggest that the man leads and the women follows. If the companion was presented as a screaming bimbo forever having to be rescued by the dashing male Doctor then that would rightly be unacceptable in the 21st century. However I have shown above that this is not the case as far as Doctor Who is concerned. In fact they often go the other way by presenting another stereotype; the girl is the gutsy hero while the man is a useless buffoon (and let’s face it, the Doctor often is a buffoon on occasion). Times have changed and women are rightly presented as both the leader and the heroine. Jodie Whittaker’s casting reflects that. So Doctor Who makers, if you’re reading this, give us a male companion and hero to remember (and make some lad a star while you’re about it).