I love this piece from my Slate colleague Laura Helmuth on why, following the announcement that Matt Smith will be leaving Doctor Who, the next Tardis-traveling Time Lord should be a woman. She argues that there’s nothing about the Doctor that is essentially male, and that finally flipping the Doctor’s gender during one of his reincarnations would help solve one of the show’s most significant flaws, its use of women as companions to the Doctor, who in recent years have become more in need of rescue on ever level. She writes:
The Doctor’s essential characteristics, the ones that show up in every reincarnation, are intelligence, courage, cleverness, adventurousness to the point of recklessness, and a sentimental affection for humans. The Doctor also has two hearts, but there’s no reason he has to have a penis.
We know it’s possible for Time Lords to switch genders when they are reincarnated. When the Doctor woke up in Smith’s body, he patted down his legs and face to get a feel for his new form, and he confirmed that he was a male by grabbing his … Adam’s apple. This would have been funnier if he hadn’t seemed so relieved.
There’s one point she left out that strikes me as important. If the Doctor is traveling around time and space in part in search of new experiences, it’s awfully incurious for him to keep reincarnating as a man, and as a white person. Wouldn’t he be curious, after all this time, to wonder what it’s like to occupy a woman’s body and to see what it’s like to live with a different set of gender roles (really, many different sets of gender roles)? Aren’t there some circumstances and societies where it might be more advantageous for the Doctor to be female or non-white? If the doctor was set up as an explicit exploration of masculinity, cycling him through all kinds of men’s bodies would make more sense, though it wouldn’t explain the Doctor’s continuing whiteness. But it’s not. And keeping the Doctor white and male over and over again is a contradiction to the show’s sense of wonder and exploration.