The Thirteenth Doctor is a woman!

Jul 16, 2017 | Hot Topics

Yes, let’s get it out there: there are more important things to talk about. Hunger, world peace, inequality — but this is big too: Today the BBC announced that the Thirteenth Doctor will be played by Jodie Whittaker, a female actor most known for Broadchurch. If you don’t follow Doctor Who, it’s a gazillion-years old TV show about an alien who generally keeps the human race safe from extraterrestrial invaders and goes gadding around the universe, saving the underdog using only a his wits and a sonic screwdriver. The Doctor regenerates every so often (usually when an actor wants to move on from this role) and all 12 prior incarnations have been male. The next one, won’t be. Why does this matter?

Oh so glad you asked. The Doctor uses smarts, charm, technology and cunning to solve problems. He saves Mars from some invading insect-y species; he goes back in time to help the giant sea snake who made the Thames River as bendy as it is around London; he gets in the middle of conflicts between ancient civilizations and travels forward to the end of the universe … He observes his surroundings, analyzes and synthesizes what he sees to discover what’s really going on. Is that crack really a crack, or is it a portal into another dimension or time? Is that cyborg evil? Is that giant snake a captive, and will freeing it fix the problem?

The Doctor usually had sidekicks, many of whom have been female. It gives the impression that women can come along but can’t lead the expedition. That’s a serious problem to the legion of girl Whovians (get it? Doctor Who fans) who see themselves as just as capable, adventurous and good at waving around a sonic screwdriver** as any boy. And as good, or perhaps better, at creating action plans than the Doctor. By engaging Ms. Whittaker for the next series, the BBC (and, by extension, we fans) are telling those girls that they do have a place in the TARDIS*, that they can be scientists, explorers and problem-solvers in their own right. And we’re telling boys that the girls deserve a turn, too.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t just a UK thing. Every Halloween here in Andover, MA, USA, we get a couple of kids dressed up as the Doctor or a TARDIS or a Dalek***. They watch, they internalize, perhaps they dream of what they would do with access to all of space and time.

So how cool is it that next year, we get to see a woman outsmarting the bad guys with her TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver? Very, very, very cool.

PS: Seriously, this is a great #STEAM opportunity. Girls are often hesitant to show their smarts, especially in coed settings and when it comes to math and science. We can now open so many conversations with, “How do you think the Thirteenth Doctor would handle it?” A smart, relatable female who has (in imagination) solved an even gnarlier problem provides cover for so many things. And, art – drawing worlds, aliens, space travel, the next iteration of the sonic screwdriver. It’s a bummer that we have to wait until the new season begins, but, oh the possibilities!

* The TARDIS is a blue police box in form but a Time And Relative Dimension In Space spaceship in function. It’s how the Doctor and his entourage zoom around the universe.

** A sonic screwdriver is a fancy, pen-like thing that can open safes and doors, remotely activate electronics, amplify some types of energy. Apparently has unlimited potential.

*** Daleks are bad guys, robots that look like washing machines with one claw hand and one plunger hand. They have a hive mind and generally shriek “EXTERMINATE”. Terrifying.

The cover image is of a TARDIS, courtesy of Pixabay contributor succo: