On Female Leads and Genre Fiction

Taken in the British Library. Sadly he was busy saving the universe. Travelling by train is all very well, but travelling by Tardis...
An encounter of my own, some years ago. Though time travel makes that a tricky thing to pin down.

On a weekend when Roger Federer won his 8th Wimbledon title and Disney announced its intention to release all the movies coming out over the next three years (these were the things that registered with me – your mileage will undoubtedly vary), the biggest news was that the newest incarnation of the Doctor will be, for the first time, female. This is not only a big thing for me – a viewer of Doctor Who since an unreasonably young age – but it means that the three big ongoing science fiction/genre fiction franchises (Star Wars, Star Trek (with its new Discovery series) and Doctor Who) will soon have female leads.

The announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor caused me such simple joy that I actually had to check myself. Was I just feigning it – having the right reaction to an obviously correct move? (Not in itself a bad thing – “fake it until you make it” works well as a method of overcoming any prejudices that culture has dropped on you.) Nope – I was simply 95 percent happy that the Doctor, a character who has changed with the times again and again over the years and has always been about doing the right thing rather than the easy thing, would now serve as a direct inspiration for even more kids. The other 5 percent of my happiness came from amusement at the fact that Twitter would (and did) blow up over this simple change. My feed was mostly positive, but there were plenty of butt-hurt reactions too.

I shall now pause and digress to attend to arguments of the female-Ghostbusters, “this has ruined my childhood” type. If it helps, imagine me wielding a hurley during the following paragraph.

Not me, but more appropriate in this instance.

This does not <smack> in any way <smack> invalidate <smack> the things that you love. <smack> Those pieces of culture are already out there <smack> to be enjoyed again and again <smack> in this era of infinite storage and re-watching. <smack> If it makes you happy <smack>, ignore the changing world around you <smack> and devote yourself to an ever smaller <smack> circle of media <smack> unsullied by “political correctness”. <smack> I assure you, your opinions will not be missed <smack> by those of us eager to see a new spin <smack> on an old favourite. <smack> Moreover, those girls, young and old, who will find themselves represented in another place where they’ve only been allowed to assist before, <smack> will have a head start on dreaming up even more stories for the future.

You might argue that girls should have their own characters rather than appropriating old ones. To which there are two responses: the first being “that’s already happening, in case you hadn’t noticed”, and the second being that we lived in a world consumed by nostalgia and bestrode by media colossi who are determined to milk every penny out of that love of the familiar. Opening up these storied stories to new representation (race and sexuality are fields that will be explored sooner or later – it’s just that gender is an obvious first step here) is an inevitable step when it comes to seeing just how big this can get. Financially and morally, you’re on the wrong side of history, and that’s a confluence that’s both rare and very difficult to halt.

(For anyone who doubts the appeal of female representation in the current cultural climate, there’s also the recent Wonder Woman movie. Not perfect in any way, but a better offering than many and one that’s showing longer legs at the cinema than any superhero movie in years. Possibly a more important consideration than the flashier opening weekend box office figures, which tend to favour sequels anyway.)

Though this change may not be aimed at me, I’m heartened by it and will be looking forward to enjoying the stories it leads to. I’m a straight, white male, born in Western Europe in a time of affluence and growth. I’ve had the chance to travel the world and have been spoon-fed media with heroes who looked like me (my favourite Doctor is the second because I had a haircut like his when I was a kid – true story) throughout my life. It would say terrible things about my upbringing if I didn’t believe that others deserved the same level of representation that I’ve benefited from through the years. Thankfully for my parents, they raised someone who believes in those slippery concepts of equality and justice.

So here’s to the thirteenth Doctor (actually the fourteenth if you include John Hurt, but numbering the Doctors is as tricky as numbering Popes these days) and her upcoming debut. With a revamped cast and crew, she’ll have a chance to carve out a new legend, and thanks to the excellent recent series from Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, and Pearl Mackie, she’s been given the best possible platform. Some of her stories may disappoint but others will enthral, as has been the way since the very beginning. I’ll be watching with a smile on my face, and if there are more faces and more varied faces in the crowd with me, I’ll just be smiling all the more.

One thought on “On Female Leads and Genre Fiction”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.