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Who says the Doctor can’t be a woman?

She may be on a career break, she may be a new mother, but already people are talking about Billie Piper as a contender to succeed David Tennant in Doctor Who, writes Liz Thomas. The news has drawn scoffs from some stalwarts, with one veteran drama producer sniffing at the idea. “They are Time Lords not Time Ladies,” he told me rather witheringly.

Personally, I don’t see any reason why a woman can’t play the character, considering all the other wonderful and weird things the hit drama features. It’s almost laughable that there is even a debate — seemingly women can do pretty much every other job as well as, if not better then men.

But when it comes to a fictional dramatic hero, it is still something that provokes discussion.

Current incumbent David Tennant has been forthright about who is successor should be. Asked if Piper could step into the role, Tennant said a female Doctor was a distinct possibility. “Why not? It’s one of those parts that any actor could bring something valid to, because it can be anything and it’s a sort of blank canvas every time,” he told BBC Breakfast. “The fact is that the difference is a virtue with each Doctor. It’s not like you’re casting Tarzan, where you’ve got to have somebody who looks good in a loin cloth. It can be anything.”

Piper, 26, has taken a career break following the birth of her first child last month. Frankly, I think she is overrated, but I do feel the only reason she shouldn’t be considered for the role is that she is hugely annoying, with a limited acting range.

The fifth series will film late next year and early in 2010, which would give Piper time to spend with her young child. Other contenders include former EastEnders star Tom Ellis, Paterson Joseph, who has appeared in previous episodes of the show and would be the first black Doctor, David Morrissey (who appears in the Christmas special, entitled The Next Doctor) and James Nesbitt, star of Cold Feet.

Tennant ended months of speculation over his future in the role by announcing his departure live at last week’s National Television Awards. He will now complete four special episodes of Doctor Who, which will air in 2009 in place of the traditional spring series.

The 2010 series will mark a new direction for the show because Russell T Davies, the man credited with reviving the classic series for modern audiences, will be stepping down as executive producer. Bafta-winning writer Steven Moffat, who created popular comedy drama Coupling, will succeed Davies as lead writer and executive producer of the fifth series. I hear he has already got cracking with storylines.

• The BBC has a good dose of drama coming up, with Kenneth Branagh as Swedish detective Wallander. Produced by Andy Harries, the ITV man behind a host of popular dramas including Cold Feet, this is a must see in the schedule.

For those with a strong constitution, Martin Shaw in religious drama Apparitions is also worth a look. The production follows the story of a Catholic priest battling demons hellbent on destroying his life and the lives of those around him.

At its core, this is story about good and evil - and it is really nice to see a priest in a drama that isn’t an alcoholic or a womaniser, but just a man committed to the church. The series tips its hat to The Exorcist, with scenes of demonic possession, but the real test for viewers will be the scene where a man is skinned alive. Not one to watch while you are having your dinner.

  • Liz Thomas writes a regular column on television for the print edition of The Stage. This column also appears in this week’s issue, dated November 6. For more on what you can read this week, see our In The Paper blog.

10 Comments

Even if you were to go for a female Doctor (which I must admit after 45 years of men, I'd find very hard to take much as I love women as leads); it would be a crazy idea to go for a former companion.

I'd love to see Felicity Kendal, at least as a Time Lady of Gallifrey. I think she's got an off-beat, puckish humor that would make her comparable to Patrick Troughton's Doctor.

The show really ought to find some way to bring back the other Gallifreyans. I think it's time; there's no longer any reason to streamline the concept for new fans.....

We've ALREADY had a companion as the Doctor- Donna Noble- "Doctor Donna" as the Ood called her- was part of the trifold man in the series 4 finale- she was literally one of three verions of the Doctor in that story. And I for one thought she was marvellous. How about this for a sentence nobody ever dreamed of reading: "Catherine Tate to be the 11th Doctor Who!" Bite me, alien boy!

We've ALREADY had a companion as the Doctor- Donna Noble- "Doctor Donna" as the Ood called her- was part of the trifold man in the series 4 finale- she was literally one of three verions of the Doctor in that story. And I for one thought she was marvellous. How about this for a sentence nobody ever dreamed of reading: "Catherine Tate to be the 11th Doctor Who!" Bite me, alien boy!

Well, bully for you, taking an unnecessary shot at Billie Piper in the middle of an unrelated article. How utterly typical.

I'm a feminist woman, and I have no problem with the Doctor remaining male. He's a male character. It's like the BBC is trying to be politically correct every step of the way, and my concerns lie with entertainment, not with what a couple of hundred people on the blogosphere are saying.

I have to say, I am in full favor of brilliant women actors, I am a woman, it would be horrible of me to not be proud of my gender. However, I always thought, though it's never outright been said that you either were a Time Lord or a Time Lady. I don't know because I only came to the show when it was revitalized and my father suggested I may enjoy it, I was 15 then and 3 years later it is my favourite television show.

I do not however, think I could deal with a female Doctor. Bring in a Time Lady, I have no trouble. But changing the Doctor, who for 904ish years has been male, had a long line of friends who knew him as male, and fell in love as a male. It just seems like it would be out of character, even though arguably the character can be anything.

Imagine meeting a former companion again? Hiya Sarah Jane, i know you loved me. Do you love me now? Or how about dealing with past emotions? The show has recently proven that characters such as Jack, the omni sexual can be done in a family show and done well, and all power to them, Jack is one of my favourite characters, but it seems in a way that unless it were done really really well, scenes recalling his past or past characters and her feelings towards them, may also seem farcical. It just seems unneeded in a show that already has so many things going for it.

Maybe this view is not shared by many, including the actors and maybe people will hate this comment, it is just how i feel. I don't know if I could continue watching the show if there were a female Doctor, I know I would try, especially if it were Billie because I think she has done a lot of great acting in recent years, but it seems like a bit of an insult to DT's 10th doctor's memory in a way- horribly sad death followed by a sex change? And just what exactly would happen if the Doctor were to meet Rose again...as unlikely as that is...tell me?

Another thing I would like to mention- Billie has nothing to do with this new speculation...why has it started? David Tennant was asked if he could see Billie playing the role. He said yes, there was no confirmation, it was a question out of the blue by interviewers.

We will see what will happen in the future- Right now I am just trying to enjoy what we have left of the 10th Doctor *sob*, before focussing on another, although, like everyone reading this...I am intrigued.

Sorry if i ruffled anyone's tail feathers or seemed overly harsh, not my intention, just some thoughts i had.

The thing about Doctor Who is that while each episode has a different story there is a certain amount of continuity that made his gender quite clear throughout the past 45 years or so. Turning Doctor Who into a woman will completely alter the identity of the character and this just isn't going to help in fact it might kill it off.

I like Billie Piper but she has been already involved in the series it just doesn't make sense to have her as a the doctor now. The Doctor now has a daughter who's also a time lord, Donna Nobel became a time lord for a short while too. It is not a question of having a woman take the role or not it's just that such a fundamental change will come off as if we're starting a whole new tv show. Good luck with that!

I think they should consider a young actor, someone like Leo Gregory with looks, energy and action.

Tennant was not "forthright". If you watch the interview on bbc breakfast carefully you will see he had pretty much the same response to every question about his successor, that it could be any, and any actor would bring something valuable to the part. They threw the billie piper question at him, in tandem with the idea of a female doctor, and in a very non committal way he said that the role could go to a woman just as it could go to a man. He was sitting on the fence and being careful so he wouldn't be held up as having heralded the next Doctor.

And also, who decides who these "contenders" are?! I mean, they're just random names that to me have little or no connection to the role. It's just who the media pick as their own likely preferred actors, not an accurate representation of the actual successor.

Why not make James Bond a woman next time they change the actor?
Why not have Miss Marple as a man, or Sherlock Holmes as a woman? Or Superman, or Tarzan as women, or Wallace as a dog and Gromit as a sheep?
Why not have the Doctor as a zebra, or a dolphin - or a Dalek, for that matter?
Can anyone think of a good reason?
Continuity, perhaps?

I seem to remember Joanna Lumley coming under serious consideration back in the 1980s, and at that time it would have been brave and credible to go in the 'female Doctor' direction. But not now, not 10 regenerations in. That would be like some kind of politically-correct afterthought.

There were Time Lords and Time Ladies (Romana, anybody?) and Time Ladies could regenerate (Romana again, anybody?), and the fact that they were referred to as Time Lords and Time Ladies does suggest mutual exclusivity. But while Gallifrey isn't in existence, all bets are off, surely. Time Lords are 'allowed' only 12 regenerations. Allowed by who? Who's making the rules, even within the story world? The Time Lords themselves. Gone. So maybe the Doctor CAN now be a woman.

But if you're going to write an article about how the Doctor can be a woman, at least suggest a few names beyond Billie Piper, or the conversation doesn't even get started.

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