By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
So we’re about to enter a new era for Doctor Who which despite what you may have read, has caused a massive division in fandom. Many see it as a PC stunt and a desperate attempt to revitalise the show given its falling ratings. Even the trio of new companions tick the right boxes allegedly.
Now let’s admit it, Peter Capaldi was not served well by his stories. He should have a string of classics as powerful and timeless as Pyramids of Mars or Seeds of Doom. Instead we got the moon is an egg…
Now let me be clear, this is not about transgender or gender equality. I’ve seen this argument used along with the antifeminist one towards people who aren’t taken by the idea of a female Doctor. This is abhorrent to bring such an ethical question down to that. I never saw very few including me defend the new female Ghostbusters whom the world tore them apart to the level of racism. So ladies can’t be Ghostbusters? Have these fools ever been to a convention? I’ve also heard they had a female captain in Star Trek and that one baffles me. Janeway was a separate entity to Kirk and the others, not a regeneration of the same person!
This article is about the logic and implications of a species that can change gender.
It all began as a joke from Tom Baker when he announced at his leaving press conference that his successor could be a woman. Then producer John Nathan-Turner decided as he always did to push it as good press for the show. It remained a rumour every time an actor left the role but never came to pass. It remained up there alongside the Tardis becoming a portaloo.
Oddly enough, it was Steven Moffat, the man ultimately responsible for the Time Lord gender changing that gave us our first female Doctor in the form of Joanna Lumley. This occurred in the Children In Need story, Curse of the Fatal Death but she promptly ran off to have an affair with the Master! Oh how everyone laughed.
I can hear all the fans who think the show started with Christopher Eccleston yelling now about how in the Doctor’s Wife, the Doctor stated a Time Lord called The Corsair had been a woman on a couple of occasions. Today’s fans cry this is proof positive that the Doctor can become a woman because, as they say, it is canon.
I love that word canon; like most in the English language it can be so fluid and used to fit any argument as any time. Of course we all know what comes out of a cannon; yep, big balls!
I jest of course. A cannon isn’t canon after all. So I’m going to show that canon is double edged sword. I’m going to look at how a gender changing species can play havoc with personal relationships and how it doesn’t make sense as a species. How one line changed fifty years of established fact and casts a darker light on the actions of the first, ninth and tenth Doctors.. We’re going to travel back to the beginning and examine just how the Doctor lost his crown jewels.
We establish in the very first story, An Unearthly Child, that the Doctor is a grandfather to young Susan.
This is firmly and unequivocally canon.
When Carole Ann Ford was brought back to resume the role of Susan in the Five Doctors, John Nathan Turner wanted her to drop the grandfather title and just called our favourite Time Lord, Doctor. Fair play to her; she refused, insisting the Doctor is, was and always will be her grandfather. We never learned anything more about their family but leaving Susan behind to live a life with freedom fighter David Campbell in the Dalek Invasion of Earth broke his hearts.
But let’s stop for a minute and look at exactly that means in the light of the gender change. It completely changes the emotion of this action and dilutes it story wise.
Pre gender change it is an act of deep love from the Doctor to prevent his granddaughter ending up like him; alone and drifting. He knew she would never leave his side despite being in love with David because of their bond so he made the decision for her. Her happiness was more important to him than a life on the run with him. However, now it takes on a whole new perspective.
It becomes one of the cruellest things the Doctor has ever done.
Now Susan will spend the rest of her lives on Earth with no Tardis. What happens to David if Susan regenerates one day and becomes a man? He will not be in love with this person because it’s not Susan. As the tenth Doctor says, when you regenerate you die and a new different man (now woman) walks away.
Even worse, if Susan becomes pregnant, what happens if she regenerates into a man while still carrying a child?
It opens up a whole new moral question. The Doctor has effectively condemned his granddaughter to a hell that would destroy her and David.
Surely that as an intelligent technological species is immoral? Are Time Lords arrogant enough not to care and see emotions and love as disposal? Thirteen lives where gender is fluid is cruel. How many ancestors would that Time Lord meet throughout their lives? What if they fell in love with one of their relatives and didn’t realise the lineage? If Susan became a man it is possible David would love him too. But when you put children into the equation, then it’s a whole new story.
What happens if mummy suddenly disappears one night and a new face and body tells you they are your mummy or daddy? Does daddy then have to regenerate into a lady to maintain the balance? How does that impact the family structure? Does gender change from mummy automatically make you Daddy? Similarly does grandfather become grandmother? What does that do to a child’s psyche? It has lost the founding figures in its young life and having a different face will not compensate for the emotional trauma of losing a parent even if they have a different face.
As the tenth Doctor says the old person dies and a new person walks away. That has to have a tremendous impact on a young child. Adult Time Lords accept it easily enough. It is said that no matter what body they wear, another Time Lord can recognise them from their aura. But does this ability to recognise each other no matter what the body, apply to normal Gallifreyans like a child and its mother? I’m not so sure it does.
In later years the ninth would fall in love with Rose Tyler. He deliberately enticed her so she would leave Mickey Smith to come with him. He was jealous of both Adam and Captain Jack when Rose seemed interested in them. Hence the whole discussion about dancing (The Doctor Dances curiously enough) where the ninth Doctor makes it clear he has had intimate relationships He’s jealous to the point where he’s quite prepared to let Jack die on his exploding ship. But even he never took the final step of committing to a life with Rose in his tenth incarnation.
As the tenth Doctor tells Sarah Jane in School Reunion, he cannot love anyone because it is too painful to watch them wither and die while he goes on.
And yet he actively encourages it with Rose. Again this changes the love story we cried at in Doomsday into something dark and cruel. Is the Doctor so lonely after the end of the Time Lords that he will willingly lead a young girl on to think they could have a happy ever after together? What if in The Stolen Earth when injured by a Dalek, the Doctor regenerated not into another tenth Doctor but a woman? Rose had crossed entire dimensions to track down the man she loves and I have to emphasise, man. She even allows Donna to die in a cruel manner in Turn Left to achieve that goal.
I have no doubt the Doctor loved her but in light of the new ability to change gender, it comes across as cruel, a way to pass the time. The Doctor allows Rose to love him but he isn’t being honest with her. He doesn’t tell her everything. Did he count on the fact that Rose would wither and die to justify keeping that secret to himself?
Remember that the Doctor dropped Rose in the Girl In The Fireplace, choosing to live a life with Madam Pompadour which adds to the notion that their love was on the Doctor’s terms and not what Rose believed it to be. Is that just another example of the dark cruelty of a Time Lord?
In the end he left her with his double to satisfy the life she wanted because he couldn’t do it. A crisis of conscience perhaps? Poor Leela remained on Gallifrey as she fell in love with a guard called Andred. Somebody’s getting a Janis thorn if they regenerate overnight.
Of course there is always the question of compatibility? It is heavily indicated the Doctor has sex. He has children and a wife which would indicate his mating rituals are the same as ours. We know this from Donna’s reaction to seeing a naked tenth Doctor in Journey’s End. We know he has a penis or Rose Tyler is going to be one shocked lady when she gets him home. Time Ladies have boobs also and I refer back to Time Tots.
We’ll come back to Susan’s situation later because it’s all canon but we race through the first twenty six years of the show. We discover little about what it is to be a Time Lord.
The second Doctor talks to Victoria about his family and how they sleep in his memory. Family does not have to be blood so that remains a nice character moment. The third Doctor talks of his childhood and a hermit on the mountain.
It isn’t until Romana that we meet our first Time Lady. Up to that point Time Lords were all men in the show. It is also the first time we hear of the Time Tots in a conversation between the fourth Doctor and Romana.
Now I have heard people refer to the novel Lungbarrow as proof that Time Lords do not procreate like we do. But that’s in the bin because it’s not canon.
Time Lords are born and sleep in cribs just like human babies (Good Man Goes to War) and are read nursery rhymes (The Five Doctors). They grow and play with their friends as the Master and Doctor did when they were kids. They have mothers and fathers and this is where it gets complicated.
Not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords: Gallifreyan children are born into normal families before being taken away at eight years of age to join the Time Lord Academy. They are made into Time Lords once they graduate and given their regeneration cycle. If the Doctor had never gone to the Academy, he would have been a normal Gallifreyan living his family, raising his family just like the ones we saw running from the Daleks in the Day of the Doctor or an outcast in the wastelands as seen in Invasion of Time.
Being a Time Lord is a hierarchy, a gift bestowed on those that qualify and graduate from the Academy. We saw the Doctor given a second life cycle in the Time of the Doctor. Indeed, to fight in the Time War, the Master received his new lives which were first offered in the Five Doctors.
Time Lords can marry as we saw in The Wedding of River Song.
In fact over the course of the classic series we saw a total of 6 Time Ladies. There was Romana, the Rani, Chancellor Flavia, Thalia, Susan and the Inquisitor. Even right through to the end of the David Tennant era, we never saw a single female Time Lord. The fact they were all dead probably explains it. I’m not counting the mysterious woman helping Wilf nor the ladies at Rassilon’s table in the End of Time. It was never established if she was a Time Lady or not but she was close to being revealed as the Doctor’s mother.
We do learn however that the Doctor was a husband and a father, painful memories that surface when he meets Jenny in the Doctor’s Daughter. They all died in the Time War and since he can’t sense any other Time Lords we can assume that Susan died too.
It wasn’t until the Doctor’s Wife that the idea of a Time Lord becoming a woman was spoken about. That paved the way for the Master to become the Missy.
As she says, she couldn’t exactly go on calling herself the Master. Let’s check that out. Regenerating into a female obviously results into a name change. You have both male and female doctors in life so he’s safe but not the Master. So if it means you have to change your name, surely that’s only the tip of the implications?
After that we witness a male Time Lord, the General in Hell Bent, becoming into a female who immediately says she is delighted to be a woman again. This along with the line about The Corsair indicates that the gender swap is not a wanted event. When the eleventh Doctor arrived, he thought he had regenerated into a girl which horrified him until he realised he had an Adam’s apple bringing great relief.
So we are expected to believe that this ability to swap genders just happened out of nowhere? No because the answer lies in the return of the eighth Doctor. How ironic that is again Steven Moffat that changed the entire show with a single line.
In the mini episode the Night of the Doctor, the Doctor is killed then brought back to life by the Sisterhood of Karn.
In the fourth doctor story the Brain of Morbius, the Sisterhood have an elixir that can bring someone back from death. Indeed they used it on the Doctor after his battle with Morbius, a renegade Time Lord in a Frankenstein’s monster like body. But in Night of the Doctor, they have refined and improved it.
Up til that point regeneration had been a lottery with the exception of the second Doctor who was given a choice by the Time Lords before being exiled to Earth. In the end, they chose his third incarnation for him. What the eleventh Doctor told Clyde in Death of the Doctor can be dismissed as nonsense given everything else that has happened to contradict what he said.
But anyway back to Karn. Ohila, a member of the Sisterhood, tells the Doctor the elixir can trigger his regeneration but with added benefits.
He can now choose to be young or old, fat or thin, man or woman. And that’s the line that changed everything. The Doctor now can choose to be female if he pleases but he chooses the warrior elixir.
We can assume that sometime after this the Time Lords somehow got their hands on the improved elixir hence the ability to become any gender they wished. Was there a regeneration crisis in an unseen story that made them use the new improved elixir? If not, why do the Time Lords act like it has always been this way normal to swap genders?
Liar, liar, pants on fire!
So why is this more important than the canon callers realise? Well, there has been a continuing series of audio adventures called Big Finish that have allowed the eighth Doctor to have years of adventures along with his other incarnations. He has had many companions including the first Irish one.
He mentions them all by name on screen before he takes the elixir. Producer Steven Moffat has stated this makes all of the eight Doctor’s adventures on audio canon.
Indeed the fact the movie stated the Doctor is half human has been brushed under the carpet. It is canon at the end of the day but highlights my point about fans picking and choosing their ‘canon.’ You can’t pick one and ignore the rest. Although personally, I’m glad this was never mentioned again.
This brings us back to Susan. She returns in several stories alongside the eight Doctor set after her television adventures.
David is dead but Susan has a son, half human, half Time Lord. The Doctor is a great grandfather now. This is again canon as confirmed by the show’s producer.
Remember in Destiny of the Daleks Romana projected possible future bodies to regenerate into after the Doctor complained about her choosing to look like Princess Astra. The interesting thing here is not only are all her choices female but some of them are also aliens. Could it be that Time Lords can become another species other than human?
Again it is a point ignored by many as everyone jumps on the bandwagon and screams canon.
To be a fan means to be able to say when the show isn’t delivering, not to blindly accept that every episode is great. It’s also our responsibility to point out inconsistencies or to patch events together in a sensical manner when writers don’t.
Doctor Who is a show of contradictions. Susan said she made up the name Tardis but every Gallifreyan adopted it apparently out of nowhere. The Tardis wheezing and groaning is the sound of the Doctor leaving the brakes on when landing. It seems every Time Lord forgot about the brakes. Why does the eleventh Doctor begin to regenerate at Lake Silencio when shot by River Song when we discover in Time of the Doctor he has no regenerations left? Why does Sarah Jane not remember events of the Five Doctors? How is Captain Jack being scooped up by the Tardis at the end of season one of Torchwood then running like a madman complete with coat and Doctor’s hand on his back in Utopia?
With so many writers and interpretations there are bound to be contradictions. When you change the fundamental character into something to fit the century, a change that flies in the established history yet is remedied by a single line of dialogue, then it has to be looked at. It’s no longer a question of whether a character like the Doctor should remain a man as he has been for decades. It’s a question of whether it is the right thing to do within the logic of the series or a knee jerk reaction to ratings.
As the seventh Doctor once said, time will tell, it always does.