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29 Jan, 2020 14:15

Doctor Who introduces a black female Doctor, making history... and throwing up a diversity smokescreen against bad ratings

Doctor Who introduces a black female Doctor, making history... and throwing up a diversity smokescreen against bad ratings

Thirteen is an unlucky number, even for an alien Time Lord wanting attention. UK TV classic Doctor Who, amid a massive ratings slump, has unveiled a new incarnation of the lead character – injected with a new level of diversity.

As a striking male fantasy character, the time-and-space-traveling Doctor has come in all shapes and sizes since the show started in 1963, but it was actress Jodie Whittaker who became the 13th Doctor and first female to take over the role in a 2017 Christmas special that got everyone talking.

In a subversive twist, this week's episode introduced a black tour guide in the English city, Gloucester named Ruth Clayton, portrayed by Jo Martin, who surprisingly announced that she was also the Doctor.

Knowing the parallel universe and alternate timeline storylines, it is unclear if this new incarnation is from the past or future. It confused viewers and left them divided. Many fans were not impressed and took to social media to vent their anger, accusing the BBC of running “through a diversity checklist,” while others praised the creative team for bringing the children's fantasy character up to date.

Reincarnating into a different Doctor is nothing new – explained in-universe as the power to regenerate into a completely different body when lethally wounded, it was originally introduced to allow the recasting of the original star William Hartnell, who was in poor health. Nothing in the lore prevents sex or race change, but over a dozen Doctors across the decades were white men, until Whittaker. The latest episode marks the first time a black actress has been cast in a new ‘manifestation' of the role.

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While the character is not a full-time ‘new Doctor' as such, the way her gender and race are being played up as a ‘making history' moment represent a zeitgeist where being diverse trumps a show's need for good writing, plot, and whatever else constitutes quality and attracts viewers.

But ratings don't lie – and turning the Doctor into a woman has not helped the viewership, which fell by almost half from start to end of Whittaker's debut season. Critics and fans have attributed it, among other things, to the new showrunner Chris Chibnall's weak writing staff, disjointed plotlines and politicized stories, and shallow plotlines, with one fan online suggesting, “It's obvious that the BBC are going to cancel Doctor Who,” and another saying, “This new series is so boring! – their solution is clearly to triple down on woke.”

Is there an appetite for the liberal casting policies?

Entertainment journalist Sarah Robertson says that the show's recent ratings say everything. “The BBC have a remit to include different actors from different backgrounds but the reality is that this new series with a female lead has brought in the worst ratings ever for the series. Having a new black version of a previous Doctor isn't just confusing, but it's prime woke millennial mindset that people are now just bored with.”

And why does it have to be a character with a history and a ready-made baggage of fan adoration that gets the PC treatment? Many film fans have said the next James Bond should be played by an actress of colour, while others state that this overt politically correct agenda box ticking is tedious and if you can't leave traditional heroes alone, then writers should invent new ones.

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Less a case of Doctor Who than ‘Doctor who it isn't', if film and television bosses continue to change the famous beloved characters we have grown up with to promote their left-wing agendas, the fall-out reality will be that many of us will switch off or find a new hero to support. A new hero, who in 2020 might turn out to be a disabled LGBT-represented Power Ranger.

Perhaps it's time to watch and re-watch Superman, on repeat.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.