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Published on June 24th, 2014 | by Jonathan Appleton

McGann: BBC “Missed a Trick” by Not Casting Female Doctor

Paul McGann reckons the BBC ‘missed a trick’ by not casting a woman as the Doctor.

In comments made during an appearance before the Cambridge Union Society, Paul joined the now-not-inconsiderable number of people who think it’s about time for the programme to opt for a female lead.

Looking very much at home in the grand surroundings (those fine leather armchairs would go nicely in his version of the TARDIS) he told the audience he’d have gone for Tilda Swinton or Diana Quick in the role, suggesting they could both bring brilliant qualities to ‘one of the greatest characters ever written’.

In other news, Paul said he fancies a role in HBO hit Game of Thrones, if for no other reason that it would guarantee him a pension.

Whatever your views on the female Doctor debate, it does feel as though the ground is shifting on this issue. Rather like gay marriage being legislated for or a Brit winning Wimbledon, some things are so difficult to imagine ever coming to pass as to be pretty much unthinkable until one day they just… happen. And we all carry on with our lives and, eventually, most of us will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Whether we’re quite at that point yet is a tough one to call. There are perfectly valid arguments on both sides, of course. Steven Moffat has talked about the time not feeling right and said it has been female fans who have been the ones most strongly urging against a female Doctor (that one opens up a whole other debate of its own…). The showrunner has also said it’s about picking the right actor for the part, and that ‘when that person is a woman, that’s the day it will happen’.

Colin Baker thinks there should a woman in the role, but that timidity on the BBC’s part is stopping it from happening. Peter Davison is among who have argued that the role is essentially a male one, and that it would be ‘a bit odd’ to go against that.

What do you think? Do you have a strong view, for or against a female Doctor? Are you open to being persuaded? Would Paul’s choices have made for a good Doctor? Who would be your choice for the first woman in the role?

(Via Cambridge News.)


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About the Author


has watched Doctor Who since those great big spiders did for Jon Pertwee, and it's way too late to stop now. When he's not at his job working for a charity he spends his time following Hull City's fortunes, listening to Bruce Springsteen and wondering why it took thirty years too long for Doctor Who action figures to come along. Currently listening to: The Fifth Doctor Box Set. By, it were a crowded old TARDIS in them days...

26 Responses to McGann: BBC “Missed a Trick” by Not Casting Female Doctor

  1. avatar heikoc says:

    I don’t quite understand, what makes the doctor that “essentially male”. None of the qualities that make the doctor the doctor have anything to do with his gender, even with a very conservative view of gender roles in mind.
    The doctor is adventurous, compassionate, smart, quirky and loyal to his friends and companions. That aren’t male exclusive qualities.
    I get some of the arguments on the male-doctor-only-side, but not this one.

    And I agree with McGann, I can see Tilda Swinton as the doctor with no major difficulties. She would be the Tom Baker of female doctors. But I guess she is too high profile to take the part, even if a female doctor would be considered.

    • avatar teddybowties says:

      exactly. and the fact that MCGANN is saying this… makes me suspicious. the man is obviously some kind of superspy ninja. And he picked TILDA SWINTON TOOO! MY first choice! I think there’s been some wool pulled here.


  2. avatar Spider-pope says:


  3. avatar Michael says:

    Female Doctor? No. I would stop watching the series. I have no problem with show having a strong female Time Lord, but not as the Doctor. There are distinct differences in men and women in real life, and Doctor Who is not the place to blur the lines.

    • avatar mrjohnm says:

      I agree. The Doctor is a male and should remain so. However, I would love to see Romana return. Of course the irony here is that Romana agreed to the 4th Doctor’s’ rather flippant suggestion that she go by the name Fred!

      • avatar Michael says:

        Fred, Fredricka, Fredrickadvoratrelundar. Maybe Romana should have changed just her name and became the first female Time Lady named Fred.

  4. avatar Michael says:

    So are we going to get a female Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Captain Kirk, Frodo, Poirot, a male Miss Marple, the Broadchurch detectives swapping roles for series 2?

    If you want a female Time Lord just do a spin off. Give her a TARDIS and away you go with none of the Doctor’s baggage.

    • avatar Sutekh'sGiftOfUnlimitedRicePudding says:

      The “so are we going to get a female James Bond et al” argument falls flat because all of those characters you mentioned are human (well,hobbits are basically human), not aliens whose entire bodies regenerate when they die. The nature of the Doctor at least allows for the possibility that, as well as changing height, weight, eye and hair colour, etc, the gender (and/or skin colour) of the Doctor might change.

      • avatar Paul McGann's Cat says:

        You are correct that it is more than possible “in universe”. But I think the problem is that he audience identifies with the Doctor as a man, and the character becoming female represents a major paradigm shift. Not only would it be very risky in my view, from the point of view of maintaining the audience, but there would also be many questions raised over how the female incarnation would reconcile her past as a man- which in turn would get into territory that the audience might not want to be bogged down in. We can debate the “in universe” possibilities until the cows come home, but for the audience the difference isn’t that different. Take Batgirl and Supergirl. “In universe” they are different characters from Batman and Superman, but the concept is basically a female version of the same character, which is exactly what a female Doctor would be. But Supergirl and Batgirl have never been as popular as they characters they spawned from, and it’s not because they are female, but rather because the primary images they are based off of are inconically male, in much the same way as a “Wonderman” from Wonder Woman would likely be less popular then the character he spawned from, because the world identifies Wonder Woman as an iconic strong female lead character, not a bloke with a lasso.

        I think the problem with this debate is that it has been hijacked by a subset of fans who like to feel worthy by advocated gender equality on the show. But I’ve always found that to be something of a spurious approach, because it ignores the concept of dramatic licence in fiction. Just because you can do something it doesn’t always mean you should. I very much agree with Moffat’s public statements in that regard, namely that the paramount concern is that it should be about what is best for the character and/or who the best candidate for the role is. Notions of equality are therefore irrelevant. It’s fiction and the showrunners should have flexibility to do as they see fit without having to worry about sad worthies popping up to lecture them about what they should be doing. Consequently it follows that fans should be entitled to be comfortable knowing the type of show they would like to see without being lambasted for sexism.

      • avatar Spider-pope says:

        All those characters are frequently rebooted so the “they are human so shouldn’t change” is moot. There is nothing stopping a reboot that changes the sex of any of those characters.

        So i will echo Michael, where are the campaigns for a male Miss Marple?

        How about instead of removing one of the handful of male rolemodels that don’t use violence to solve their problems and who don’t spend their days either kicking a ball or swearing and sleeping with prostitutes, you create a new female rolemodel to work in addition to The Doctor?

  5. avatar Christine says:

    I don’t have that strong a view really. I wouldn’t mind having a female doctor, although in Classic Who we had Time Ladies who generally did not regenerate into men either. So that last would be perhaps a reason to oppose it. On the other hand, as it is supposed to be possible to do gender switches through regeneration, why ever not? It’s not as if the qualities the Doctors have, are limited to males. I actually think Moffat’s stance is the right one (although I don’t know about the females bing the most vigorous in their opposition): it’s all about picking the right actor, who could be a woman. But for now it’s Peter, and that is a choice I rather like. However, I do feel it is important that the characterisation of other cast members should also be good.

  6. avatar DonnaM says:

    This particular female wishes people who want to see a show with a female lead would just go away and watch one! And yes, Mr McGann and Mr Baker, that includes you.

    Far from “missing a trick” or being “timid” by not bowing to the demands of one noisy section of the audience (most unusually) the BBC, or more specifically the Doctor Who bosses, have cast a superb actor who happens to be a man. Big issue? Only for those who see it as some kind of test case for womens’ rights.

    I see it as a fictional character in a television show. In the grand scheme of things, a triviality. There are far more urgent concerns where equality of the sexes are concerned, ones that don’t get headlines Doctor Who generates. Not wishing to rant, but please – if you’re concerned about our rights, find a genuinely important aspect to promote!

    • avatar Simon Magellan says:

      I’d also like to add that casting a woman as “a trick” is incredibly patronising towards women.

      The BBC have just announced a BAME initiative where they want 1 in 6 of on screen talent to be ethnic. What I’d say is that I would rather have people on screen who are the best at their jobs, regardless of race, sex, colour or creed.

      God save us from the best intentions of the white middle classes.

      • avatar mrjohnm says:

        Simon, in America, we call that affirmative action. but I have to agree with you. Let’s hire people based on their qualifications, not their race, religion, or skin color. I once asked a black American (no, I’m not too politically correct either!), how he felt about being hired simply because he was black. He felt it very demeaning as it basically made his 4 or more years in college wasted time.

        • avatar DonnaM says:

          That’s a slightly better euphemism than the UK’s “positive discrimination” I suppose, but the term I prefer for the policy is tokenism. I’d like to think if I apply for a job I get it as the best person, not simply the best of those with a certain set of physical attributes….

          I’m actually quite glad (despite the muppet who comes into our offices once a week and insists on calling every woman present “poppet” “petal” or “honey” – do you think I’d get the sack for slapping him? :-) ) to be female. If you’re a white male it seems anyone is free to “discriminate” against you sometimes!

  7. avatar Randa says:

    While I would be willing to give a female Doctor a chance, I don’t think it would completely work out. The Doctor travels to different time periods that a female Doctor would not be listened to by males of the time. The same goes for some time periods and a Doctor o a different nationality. It’s a sad fact of human history. For that reason, I think a male Doctor works best.

  8. avatar losinthetardis says:

    Moffat’s right. It all boils down to the actor. You need to have a situation like he described when he talked about casting Matt Smith. That is someone comes in who doesn’t fit what you are looking for but is so right for the role that you go with them anyway.

  9. avatar lozzer says:

    I hate this subject so I’m going to say nothing rather than blurt out a load of passionate and angry rhetoric.

  10. avatar Randa says:

    I would be willing to give a female Doctor a chance, but I’m not sure it would work. The Doctor visits all periods in Earth’s history, and a female Doctor may not be taken seriously by men of some times. It’s a sad fact of human history.

    • avatar heikoc says:

      Well, Davisons doctor wasn’t taken seriously too, a lot of the time. Some say his doctor worked. :)

  11. avatar Mugen Pharoah says:

    I would have said they missed a trick in not casting a woman…until I heard they cast Capaldi. I think Neil Gaiman had it right in that it wouldn’t be the right time for a female doctor if you look at all the incarnations. It was right to go for an older male right now.

    Still, the time will come when a female Doctor will appear. Really arguments why a fictional television character who regularly rebuilds their body at a cellular level, who travels through time and space in a ship disguised as a phone box shouldn’t ever be female are incredibly flimsy and don’t go beyond ‘I just don’t want a woman to be the Doctor’. It’s not a good enough reason. I think it would be great. But let’s see Capaldi first!

    • avatar lozzer says:

      If Susan turns up does she suddenly call the female Doctor Grandmother…? If a male and female timelord are in a relationship do they not mind if one suddenly changes sex…? I mean it’s kinky, but… It doesn’t make sense on so many levels. But hey, it’s just a TV show and if the next producer wants to shoehorn some nonsensical bit of sex change magic into the show then so be it. I didn’t want to comment but it just winds me up.

  12. avatar kevin merchant says:

    I don’t think the TARDIS would be keen

  13. avatar Steve Andrew says:

    It may not look like it from what I’m about to say, but I’m open-minded on the subject: I currently waver vaguely on the side of “the Doctor should always be male” (and for no particular reason), but am happy to be persuaded otherwise.

    One big problem is that there are just not enough female-led drama shows on TV, certainly not enough female-led action or sci-fi shows. We need to have more shows where the lead actor is female – this really needs to happen.

    Another big problem is that Doctor Who is really the only major British sci-fi show. There really is nothing else (Red Dwarf and Primeval are sporadic at best.) Look at American TV: the schedules are rammed with genre television, all we have is this one show.

    These problems combine to form a different, but related issue: Casting a female Doctor – is that really the ONLY way to have a female-led British sci-fi show? “Sorry ladies, we can’t be bothered to come up with a good show for you to shine on your own. Tell you what, how about we take a show where the main character has been male for 50+ years, and change his gender?” That seems incredibly condescending to women.

    But I’m a man, so… you know… blinded by privilege…

  14. avatar Shaun Bennett says:

    Its all very well saying that the ground is shifing bexause tge “great and the good” have started saying the BBC should impose a female doctor, but what evidence is there that opinion is changing in the wider community?

    And what happens if they do get a female doctor in? What if it coincides with falling viewing figures and a new cancellation threat? What if they are forced out like Colin Baker? Wouldn’t that damage both the series AND the female caue unnecessarily?

    And wouldn’t the Beeb going BACK to a male actor subsequently be seen as a climbdown, an admission that a female Doctor hasn’t worked etc WHATEVER the actual outcome! You know what the media are like looking for a story.

    In short, why do you want all this hassle? Would a female Doctor really enhance the part? Or as many of us suspect, is it not just pointless efforts to break a glass ceiling that was never really there?

  15. avatar losinthetardis says:

    I think its only that bad if it’s forced. With the right show runner, actor combination it could work. The important thing is having writters and a show runner that can handle it, otherwise you are right and it could be a total trainwreck.

    On the otherhand, its not like the male doctors are always listened to or respected and it might be interesting to see a female doctor cope with this.

    The thing is all the pieces need to be right.

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