As anyone who cares enough to be reading this already knows, yesterday the BBC announced that it had cast the new Doctor, and to the shock of absolutely no one paying attention, he looks like this:
I confess to being disappointed: I’d hoped to see Idris Elba fulfil the Doctor’s wish of regenerating ginger—yes, you read that correctly—because a show whose operative principles are any thing, any where, any time shouldn’t limit its protagonist to white men from the British Isles. Endlessly doing so constitutes a failure of imagination on the part of a show predicated on imaginative possibility. I’m not claiming the new Doctor had to be a black man. Neil Gaiman introduced into canon the concept of regenerating into another gender in “The Doctor’s Wife,” so I would’ve been satisfied with a white woman.*
Essentially, I wanted Steven Moffat to make a selection as outrageously ambitious as the show itself can be, and Peter Capaldi is more of the same. Which isn’t to say he’ll be a terrible Doctor, as Capaldi’s a fine actor and will bring to the role a gravitas it’s lacked since the end of David Tennant’s run. But as heroes go, the Doctor’s just “a madman with a box” whose power, such as it is, is the ability to bluff his way out of a war. And as powers go, “intelligence” is limitless in its potential appeal because everyone likes to think they’re smart. Having him embodied by an endless parade of white British males creates an unwholesome and unnecessary connection between intelligence, acts of extreme whiteness and penises.
Why does that matter? I’ll tell you the same story I told my Doctor Who class when trying to explain its cultural significance to the British people:
One evening while I was trapped in North London by an Icelandic volcano, I noticed the streets were unusually empty. The hundreds of Pakistani children usually found playing in the street had vanished, so I decided to take advantage of the quiet and read on the front porch. About five minutes later, the Pakistani family that lived next door returned home from wherever they’d been and went inside. Five minutes after that, another Pakistani family from down the street walked up to and in my neighbor’s house. Five minutes after that, another Pakistani family, this one completely unfamiliar to me, did the same. This continued for about an hour, until the house was packed well beyond capacity.** I had no idea what was going on, so when one of the children I recognized was walking up, I asked.
“What’s going on?”
“The Doctor,” he said.
Imagine what the atmosphere in that house would be like if Matt Smith regenerated into someone who resembled them. Because that’s all you can do, imagine, for the time being.
*I’ve read that some are disappointed that the Doctor will be straight again. I sympathize—though the series deserves credit on that front for Captain Jack—but unless they have access to scripts Moffat hasn’t written yet, I’m not sure why anyone would conclude from Capaldi’s casting that the Doctor will be straight.
**Writing this story down is, believe it or not, the first time I’ve ever realized that the house was bigger on the inside. I’ve always worried people would think I was making some sort of derogatory statement about the living conditions of Pakistanis, when I should’ve been making it clear that they have a TARDIS and we don’t.