Opinion dw-lennyhenrydoctor

Published on June 24th, 2012 | by Alasdair Shaw

A Question of Colour

It annoys me. Does it annoy anyone else? Each time the Doctor goes to change the great British media starts proclaiming that the next Doctor might be black or a woman as if it’s a major issue.

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.

[pullquote align="right"]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. [/pullquote]

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.

So, the real question is not when are we getting a black Doctor, rather when are we getting the next one?

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About the Author

Alasdair Shaw dabbled in Who throughout the 80s, but didn’t really get into it properly until 1989. His sense of timing has not improved over the years. He’s a third generation Who fan as well as a father of two. His wife has a bad feeling about those two facts. When not working as a lab technician or writing for Kasterborous Alasdair runs the Doctor Who Reprint Society for which he writes In Print and Dangling Threads. He’s a big fan of the Valeyard, but that’s neither here nor there. He has never worked for UNIT and is not related to Dr Liz Shaw.




20 Responses to A Question of Colour

  1. Gally says:

    You forgot Sharon! A black female companion from 1980. From the comic strips in DWW.

  2. Mugen Pharoah says:

    completely agree – though you forgot Sharon, the Fourth Doctor companion from DWM as first black companion…years before Roz…

    • Alasdair Shaw says:

      I had no idea about Sharon. Off to look that one up, thanks.

  3. Gavin Noble says:

    I don’t mind if the Doctor is not played by a white actor. Where I would have an issue is if the Doctor was played by a woman. That would be the point I would stop watching the show. I don’t think the whole Time Lord can change their gender argument is a valid one – given the shock that David Campbell and Leela may be awaiting if they can change gender!

    • James Guthrie says:

      But humans can change gender. Why not Time Lords?

      • Gavin Noble says:

        I refer to my earlier comment about David Campbell and Leela being in for a shock if that’s the case!

  4. Rich Johnston says:

    Patterson Joseph came second to Matt Smith in the audition process… he’s confirmed as much.

    • Alasdair Shaw says:

      Thanks for the confirmation, Rich.

      I was looking for one of the initial articles you wrote to link to it for this. As much as I love Matt Smith in the role I wouldn’t have been upset with Patterson Joseph.

  5. Krumstets says:

    That bit in `Remembrance of the Daleks’ in the guest house where Ace sees the notice in the window that says `No Coloureds’ …That was a defining moment I think In Who where the issue of racism and our own part in it was briefly tackled.

    Lets have more of that.


  6. After a revision and some consideration of the wider effects of using a word that was quite acceptable when I passed GCSE English Language and can be commonly heard in parts of the UK that don’t have many non-white faces, I’ve decided to reopen comments on this article.

    There is a condition, however: commenters stick to discussing the article.

    Some previous comments have been removed; I’m not happy about this, but the integrity of the site is more important than a single post.

    Finally, if you were *genuinely* offended by this faux pas, then you have our deepest apologies.

  7. Tig Lang says:

    Anyone who saw the RSC’s ‘Julius Caesar’ on TV on Sunday night will know that we would be in safe hands with any of the lead actors in that.

  8. Steve Andrew says:

    I used to think the Doctor should always be a white, British male, just because that’s the way he always was. Once he gets up to double figures in regenerations without a change in apparent race, I thought, it would get increasingly difficult to make such a change. I emphasise I USED TO think all that as I’m happy to say my views on the subject have changed, for various reasons.

    Firstly, the change from Mels to River. OK, she’s not strictly speaking a Gallifreyan, but she’s shown that a regenerating character can change race. It can happen, it’s now TV-canon. Secondly, I also saw the recent all-black version of Julius Caesar, not just on TV, but at opening night at the RSC. (Showing off, sorry.) I never really understood why Patterson Joseph was getting so much hype before the casting of the 11th Doctor – it all seemed like a big bandwagon to me. But after seeing him on stage, just owning the play, all I could think was what an awesome Doctor he’d be. Seriously, he would be utterly fantastic, as would most of that cast. (I totally recommend anyone seeing that – should be on iPlayer now.)

    That said, I don’t think the next Doctor should be cast BECAUSE of the colour of his skin. Nor should we be disappointed if the 12th Doctor ends up being played by another white actor.

    And of course, all this does raise a few questions. Why are we focussing on black actors? Could the Doctor be of Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern appearance for example? Why does he always need to speak with a British accent? Why not French or German or American?

    And to ask a deliberately silly devil’s advocate kind of question – why is the TARDIS always a blue Police Box?

    • Carl says:

      “And to ask a deliberately silly devil’s advocate kind of question – why is the TARDIS always a blue Police Box?”

      …erm… because the Chameleon Circuit jammed in London in 1963 when the TARDIS was disguised as a blue Police Box. The sixth Doctor managed to briefly unjam it, but the fix failed pretty quickly.

    • n. says:

      i think the Doctor always needs to be British (or at least from anywhere where they still use something similar to British English, i mean imagine an Indian or Aussie one!) … in Hollywood or US tv stuff we always make it all (Earth, Space, etc.) american-flavored, so we need you lot to balance that out. (~_^)
      i was kind of hoping that *after* #12 they would start over with a whole series of women Doctors.
      i really think Black or any race (but only British-sounding) Doctors would be great, so if the gender changes at #13 then i think it would be neat to have at one (official) nonwhite male Doctor before that.

  9. Gazza100 says:

    I always thought, when I have given the little thought I have spent to this subject, that the Doctor speaking as he does is part of the same telepathic TARDIS gift (or whatever it’s called) that also allows TARDIS occupants able to understand aliens or a foreign language.

    As far as the Doctor being ‘black’, I do think it comes down the capabilities of the actor playing the role and the explanation given as to why. After 11 actors playing the role and all being ‘white’, why suddenly would he change ‘colour’… or sex come to that? It has to be plausible. Otherwise, it seems that the Doctor and any other Time Lord might as well regenerate and be bright blue, or scarlet, as ‘Black’ or ‘Indian’ or ‘Inuit’ – he’s alien not human, after all.
    Once the reasoning behind the change has happened, and makes some sort of sense, then just get on with telling good stories.

  10. Tig Lang says:

    I do draw the line somewhere – we have to have some privileges, having invented him, so whatever the colour of his skin, he’s British. Beyond debate. An American Doctor? Sorry, but aaaargh! No!

  11. Amber says:

    I’ve liked Patterson Joseph ever since he was in Neverwhere, I have no doubt he’d’ve made a great Doctor. Jack Davenport on the other hand…!Let’s just say I’ve never been inpressed by his actng.

    Personally I think race & gender are non issues for the Doctor, the main thing is to get a good actor who can embrace the role and all that goes with it.

    • Alasdair Shaw says:

      Nothing wrong with Jack Davenport’s acting. This Life, Ultraviolet and Coupling show he has versatility. Coupling especially show he’s a master of timing and knows how to take direction from Moffat.

      Bring on the Cyberman Spank Inferno!

  12. TonyS says:

    The role that sold me on the thoughtn of Paterson Joseph as the Doctor is De Carabas in Neverwhere. I am hoping we shan’t need to think about who will replace Matt Smith for quite a while. However, the question of race, skin tone or even gender should not come into it. The right actor for the part regardles of gender nationality or the colour of their skin

  13. iank says:

    Couldn’t care less about a non-white Doctor. A female Doctor, however, would just be bloody stupid.

    I expect New Who to do it next week…

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