Last weekend saw the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, with the special episode being screened on TVs and in cinemas across the globe. In a few weeks, Whovians will also see the last of Matt Smith’s incarnation as the Doctor, before Peter Capaldi will take over the TARDIS. It seems appropriate timing then to ponder the question of whether we should have a woman as the Doctor.
There was a great deal of controversy sparked over the summer about who the next Doctor should be, with a heated debate over whether a woman could ever play the role. Doctor Who canon is apparently on-side with the proposition, so in theory it’s possible for the Doctor to regenerate as a woman, but many fans have declared that they will cease to watch the show should it ever happen.
Is this discrimination?
The Equality Act 2010 (Act) prohibits direct and indirect discrimination against a person on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as sex. If it was to prevent every female actress from playing the part of the Doctor, and therefore treat them less favourably than the male actors auditioning for the role, could the makers of Doctor Who be open to suggestions of direct discrimination?
Well the Act does have special provisions covering instances where there is an ‘occupational requirement’ that the individual have certain protected characteristics. It exempts discrimination where because of the nature of the job, it is crucial that it be performed by; in this case, a man if applying the requirement is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
So is there a legitimate reason why the Doctor must always be male?
There has always been recognition that a need for authenticity or realism may require someone of a particular sex for an acting role or modelling job, but perhaps it’s worth looking at whether the Doctor needs to be a man.
It has been suggested that the Doctor was created at a time in the 1960s when boys were in desperate need of male role models that did not resort to violence. Comic books and films of the time were dominated by men who hit first and asked questions later and the Doctor was a very different character: he would save the day by using his brains, his wits and his trusty sonic screwdriver. With Britain being left behind as scientists emigrated to better paid work abroad, the nation also needed a way to make science cool – and if the Doctor can make bow ties cool then surely making science cool is easy!
Doctor Who succeeded in its goal, inspiring boys in the classroom and beyond with entertaining plots that brimmed full of science, history and heroics. But with this summer’s exam results showing that girls are falling far behind boys in the sciences, perhaps this legitimate aim is no longer quite as appropriate as it was 50 years ago. Boys sat more science and maths A-levels in 2013, with 8 in 10 physics papers taken by boys. Perhaps the time is right for a female role model to inspire more girls that they too can have adventures in time and space. Then again, perhaps we should see what Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is like before we go looking for his replacement just yet.
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