And it’s not. Not really.
We’re talking about an alien who just happens to look vaguely human. That Gallifreyans mostly resemble humans on an anatomical level is coincidental at best. The similarity of humans and Time Lords is very much skin deep as Doctor Holloway found to her cost. So, given the fairly huge evolutionary coincidences that have led to the Doctor resembling a white British man for most of his life; would our suspensions of disbelief need to be stretched much further him to look black?
No is the answer you’re looking for.
The Looming method of Time Lord reproduction strengthens this argument considerably. If each Time Lord is loomed from DNA gathered from every member in it’s house then surely the possibility exists for varying skin tones within the house of Lungbarrow. Even without Lungbarrow we already know the Doctor must have a significant amount of varying DNA (or it’s Gallifreyan equivalent) to have expressed so many different bodies already.
That and we’ve already seen a regeneration that saw the recipient change the colour of their skin thanks to Mels regenerating into River Song. Rassilon has also been subject to changes in skin tonel; regenerating from Don Warrington (if you follow Big Finish) into Timothy Dalton. Gender isn’t an issue either according to Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife. If Neil Gaiman say’s it’s alright I’m inclined to believe him. Besides, Jenny was loomed from his DNA and she’s very definitely female.
Mind you fans have always had issue with change. I’m sure there were plenty of people were upset when Patrick Troughton took over the role in 1966, certainly my mother has never forgiven Jon Pertwee for replacing him. My old next door neighbour was distraught at the idea of David Tennant being replaced, although he also insists on referring to Matt Smith as the “third Doctor”. But that’s a whole different article.
A reasonably big deal was made when Mickey Smith began travelling with the Doctor. At last the Doctor had a black companion. Except that the Doctor’s first black companion was in fact Alison Cheney as played by Sophie Okonedo (The Beast Below‘s Liz 10) in 2003’s Scream of the Shalka. Even earlier than her was Roz Forrester, but she only appeared in the books, so a lot of people tend to discount due to uncertain canon. But given that the Doctor has been accompanied by aliens, robots, Gallifreyans, penguins and robot dogs surely a black (or indeed any colour of skin the universal die can roll) companion isn’t that big of a deal?
The thing that struck me most about Noel Clarke’s character was that he was the first non-chronologically challenged human male to travel with the Doctor since Harry Sullivan.
But I digress. The point is that it took to 1995 for the Doctor to travel with a more diverse representative, so how long before we can have a black, or even female, actor from being considered for the role without it being considered a big deal?
I’ve seen several names mentioned for consideration when it comes to playing the Doctor and there’s always a feeling of “oh he would have been fantastic” or “thank goodness we didn’t get them” when going over the various choices. Adrian Lester, Colin Simpson and Patterson Joseph (Bad Wolf‘s Rodrick) have all been considered at various points during the Doctor’s recasting. I’ll remain forever disappointed that Bleeding Cool’s prediction that Joseph would get the part turned out not to be the case. I recall being a little uncertain when a 26 year old virtual unknown landed the role instead, but that seems to have worked out alright. I have no strong feelings either way regarding Adrian Lester and I rather enjoyed Colin Salmon as Dr Moon in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. Would any of them given Smith a run for his money in the role? I rather think Paterson Joseph might have and who knows, maybe we’ll get a chance to find out yet.
The last actor that got me excited when he expressed interest in the role was Chiwetel Ejiofor. When asked by Andrew Marr if he would consider the part answered, without any hesitation, that he would.
I loved him in Firefly and he amused me in Love Actually. He’s an actor that’s constantly nominated for awards whenever he picks up a script and I would be overjoyed to see him pilot the TARDIS.
Unless of course his American Gangster co-star Idris Elba is free. But then I think every show should have Idris Elba in it. I have done so ever since he appeared along side my other fantasy Doctor, Jack Davenport, in Ultraviolet.
But a lot of this is fairly redundant. As long as the producers continue to choose the best actor for the job and ignore CVs, age, gender and skin colour I’ll be happy with whoever plays the Doctor. And let’s not forget that the Doctor has been black before. You might not consider a sketch from the Lenny Henry show to be canon and the main villan of Thatchos may date the sketch considerably, but there is a certain satisfaction to watching Henry taking on the role. He may be mocking the Doctor, but you get the impression that he’s doing so lovingly.