Is the attitude to the Doctor's gender stuck in the last century? - Todays news, tomorrow's lesson - 3 June 2013

This week, current Doctor Matt Smith announced that he would be leaving the BBC programme, following a 50th anniversary show in November, and a Christmas special.

Is the attitude to the Doctor's gender stuck in the last century?

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 3 June 2013

Adi Bloom

He comes from a world where many things are possible: intergalactic voyage, time travel, endless regeneration. But, while Doctor Who's titular character may negotiate intergalactic wars and interspecies friendships, one thing still remains beyond the limits of Time Lord possibility: gender equality.

This week, current Doctor Matt Smith announced that he would be leaving the BBC programme, following a 50th anniversary show in November, and a Christmas special. This has prompted speculation that the Doctor may be ready for a cross-gender regeneration.

Steven Moffatt, the lead writer on the programme, had already mooted the idea last year. "How many people would continue watching quite happily, and believe it was the same person, if the Doctor turned into a woman?" he asked an audience at the Edinburgh Television Festival. "It is a part of Time Lord lore that it can happen."

Potential lady Doctors (or simply Doctors, as they are known in the modern world), include award-winning actress Helen Mirren. "I would like to play the new female Doctor Who," Mirren has said. "I don't just want to be his sidekick."

Comedian Sue Perkins has also been linked with the role. She said that she was "beyond flattered", when a sci-fi website suggested that she might make a future Doctor.

Right-wing daily newspaper, the Daily Mail, however, has responded with a Tardis-rocking meteoric storm of vitriol and outrage. "A woman Doctor would…betray a British tradition," it thundered. "Why must the Doctor fall victim to a politically correct trend for gender neutral childhoods?"

Never one to bow to political correctness, the Mail went on to suggest that the notion of comic actress Miranda Hart "galumphing around the Tardis" would "dismay" any Whovian, as Doctor Who fans are known.

But the Whovian mind is in fact like the Tardis: bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. "Should there be a female Doctor?" asked the blog Den of Geek. "Yes, if an actress is the best person who auditions."

"Would children cope? Children would probably be more willing to accept it than adults."

If the Doctor cannot change his chromosomal make-up during regeneration, however, he may still be able to change his skin colour. Many Whovians are American and, in the Tardis as in the White House, may accept a black man as their leader before they accept a woman. And so bookies are offering odds of 8/1 on black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as the next Doctor.

Questions for discussion or further research:

  • Should the next Doctor be a woman? Why/why not?
  • What is 'positive discrimination'? What are some of the pros and cons associated with it?
  • Do you think that readers or viewers should have a say in how well-loved stories, characters and worlds develop? Or should the power lie with the creators alone?
  • The BBC is a public corporation. Does this mean that it has different responsibilities to other broadcasting companies?

Resources for you

Introduction to Shakespeare's Globe: Doctor Who

  • Get your students thinking about what The Globe theatre would have been like in the Elizabethan era with this Doctor Who-themed resource.

Doctor Who script writing

  • A wealth of exciting Doctor Who-themed resources from the BBC to develop children's writing skills including specially recorded video challenges from the Doctor and his companions.

Women on film

  • How are women represented on screen? Explore more with activities from TES partner Film Education.

History with Doctor Who

  • Travel back in time to Ancient Greece for an adventure with Dr Who.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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On television news last night and on the front pages of newspapers around the world this morning: a bloodied man wielding a machete just moments after an off-duty soldier was attacked in Woolwich, London.

65 years after Mahatma Gandhi's death, his peasant outfit is affordable only to those with an excess of worldly goods.

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