Rewriting the 13th Doctor (Doctor Who)

One of the most interesting aspects of Doctor Who as a show is the concept of regeneration. For those unfamiliar with the series, whenever the main character, the Doctor, is fatally wounded, they change every cell in their body, becoming a whole new person. This allows new actors to take the character’s role and the writers to explore new aspects of that character’s personality.

For over fifty years, the Doctor has always remained a male character. It became a core part of his character. So, when it was announced that Jodie Whitaker would take the part, becoming the first female iteration of the character, I was pretty excited. How would the writers explore the character with the possibilities this change presented?

Disappointingly, the answer was simple: they didn’t.

Nothing new or interesting was brought to the table with the 13th Doctor. Her personality was essentially a less engaging version of the 11th. Worse, her character arc goes absolutely nowhere. She makes the occasional joke about how she used to be a man, but that’s it.

There’s also the problem with her wildly inconsistent sense of morality. Such as when she sends her archnemesis into a concentration camp while making a racist remark. But we’re just going to pretend that doesn’t exist and focus on other things.

Today, we’re going to explore some of the possibilities the show did not. What kind of character could the 13th Doctor have been?

Many of the ads for the 13th Doctor focused largely on her gender. For the love of god, the one I saw most was literally her breaking the glass ceiling. They decided to put a lot of emphasis on her being a woman, yet they basically ignored that in the show itself.

Of all the mistakes they made, this is among the biggest.

Why not explore a more feminine version of the Doctor? Rather than being a wise grandfather figure, why not try making her the kindly mother figure? With the change in gender, you’d imagine the Doctor would gain an even broader understanding of people and thus show even greater empathy than ever before.

To illustrate what I mean, we’re going to fix a scene from one of her episodes. In this scene, one of her companions, Graham, confides in the Doctor about his cancer. He tells her that battling it was extremely difficult and he’s terrified that it may come back. In the original show, the Doctor doesn’t have anything to say to this; she just awkwardly walks away after making a bad joke.

Now, imagine how a more kindly and motherly version of the 13th would react. Maybe she would sit Graham down and talk through his feelings with him and give him encouragement. Perhaps she could even try to bake him a strange alien treat to try and calm his nerves, like how your grandmother would bake you cookies if you scraped your knee. Suddenly, you’ve got the recipe for a scene that perfectly balances humor and character drama, one that builds the relationship between these two in an interesting way.

Perhaps the 13th could’ve been a bit more concerned about fashion than her previous incarnations. Rather than sticking with the one outfit like her predecessors, perhaps she could frequently swap out clothes and try on new costumes. You could even incorporate her signature terrible sense of fashion to allow for more character-building.

Let’s make up a scene to explore this idea. The 13th Doctor and another of her companions, Yaz, need to sneak into a high society party to pursue some alien threat. They scour the TARDIS wardrobe for a suitable outfit. While they’re discussing their strategy, the Doctor tries on all manner of ridiculous costumes and Yaz has to push her to wear something else. You’ve now got a scene that delivers necessary plot exposition and a fun character interaction in one go!

The 13th Doctor’s gender can even be a cause for conflict and a weapon for her to use. Up until now, the Doctor has always been a man, so it’s easy for them to step into roles of leadership in any given situation. But now being a woman, the 13th would logically come up against more heavy resistance due to gender prejudice. Suddenly, the Doctor now needs to fight even harder than ever to take charge of a dangerous situation and save the day.

You know. Because society is a nightmare that’s brutally unfair.

Of course, we don’t want to turn the Doctor being a woman into a weakness that she needs to overcome. Luckily for us, there’s an easy way for it to become a strength for her to harness. Perhaps the 13th Doctor could be cunning and deceptive; she could play into people’s preconceptions of her based on her gender and appearance, only to use that to sweep the rug out from under them and secure her victory.

Let’s construct such a scene by going back to the dress-up example. Upon reaching the party, the Doctor meets a nobleman that she needs to get information from. He sees her only as a silly woman with a pretty face. Rather than confronting him immediately, the Doctor would play into his preconception, using it to manipulate him and get the information. Once she has what she wants, she then drops the act, revealing that she played the man like a fiddle before coldly turning her back on him and returning to the mission.

Well, would you look at that? A scene where the Doctor crushes a prejudiced opponent by using their own prejudice against them in a way the show could never have done before. See Chibnall? It isn’t that hard!

You could even write some compelling stuff regarding the gender change itself. Rather than making it a cheap joke, use it to make a point about transphobia. Perhaps the Doctor could come across a closeted trans person and comfort them.

“There’s nothing wrong with change,” she could say. “I used to be a man. Might be again at some point. Honestly, I’m jealous of you. It’s all random for me. You know where you want to go. And I’m going to help you get there.” Something to that effect.

Is that too political? Dude, it’s Doctor Who. It’s been a hard-left political show ever since the 60s.

All of this could have made the 13th one of the most interesting, unique, and powerful iterations of the Doctor in the show’s history. Her constantly changing outfits could have inspired millions of cosplayers. Her motherly kindness could have given the show the heart it needed. Her cunning could have given her power. She could have been spectacular!

Alas, what we actually got went in an entirely different direction. Now, with the 13th Doctor’s era at an end, we know for certain that none of that potential will be met. It’s a total shame.

But who knows? Maybe the audio dramas will be kind to her. Big Finish redeemed the 6th Doctor in the eyes of fans, and that’s basically where all of the 8th Doctor’s stories are. Perhaps the 13th has a bright future in Doctor Who audio dramas. Only time will tell.

Whatever they do, it can’t possibly be worse than the Timeless Children storyline…

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