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Posted on Tuesday 6 August 2013 at 1:02 pm

Casting the Doctor

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The first part of this post was roughed out and mostly written on Saturday. I wasn't able to finish turning it all into complete sentences before the big revelation on Sunday (early afternoon for my time zone), but I decided to finish it and post it anyway. You'll just have to take my word that I really did say all this before the reveal and am therefore a genius :)
The fact that the BBC is making this reveal into a media event in its own right with a half hour TV special is the biggest clue possible as to what to expect for the casting of the next Doctor, I think. There are three big categories of what is possible that I want to consider:
  1. A young, white UK male who is relatively unknown
  2. Someone who doesn't fit the basic demographics of young, white, UK, and male
  3. Someone already more famous
The first option is basically what they've done with all of New Who. If they were going down this road again, there wouldn't be a half-hour special to announce it. You don't make a half hour TV show for a big announcement that amounts to "Here's a guy who is basically just like the last few and is someone you've never heard of before this moment." It is just way too anti-climatic and the BBC and Moffat aren't going to set up that kind of audience let down. So on Sunday we're definitely going to get something different. The real question is different how?

Both of my other two categories are absolutely not mutually exclusive. It could be a famous female actor or a famous black one or whatever. Or it could be a famous young, white, UK male or a not famous woman or whatever. While accepting that they aren't mutually exclusive, I'm going to sort of pretend they are for the moment and consider the likelihood of each in light of the single known fact that BBC is making a huge media production out of this announcement.

So... if BBC is going to do a half hour show for this announcement, what kind of show would it be if they're going to do a non white, UK male? There are two possibilities I can envision and both would involve at least a certain amount of attempting to calm the fanboy anger that would come from the kinds of people who would cry out "You're caving to the PC police and ruining this thing I love!" The first option would be a lot of reminiscing about what kind of character the Doctor has always been, alternating between focusing on things that have kind of always been the same and at the heart of the character and just how much he has changed as well to show that there is a common core that could be maintained even without the white, UK male thing but that even within white, UK male there has been a lot of variation in order to basically say this non-male, non-white, non-UK or whatever person can totally be the Doctor because the right core/heart will still be there and it really isn't that big of a deal to change it in this way because it has been changed in so many ways already. The big problem with putting on this kind of show is finding the balance between celebrating the character as a setup for the reveal versus sounding defensive about the decision to go in a different direction.

The second kind of show I can envision would be one much more Moffat focused in which we get more of the behind-the-scenes decision making process. For this, they would say fairly early on that they decided to go non-white, UK male and then just flat out explain why and how they reached that decision. It would be even more defensive sounding than the first option. I don't see either one of these honestly happening due to the unavoidably defensive seeming nature of it. The first is possible and could be made to work within the larger 50th anniversary context, but I think it would have been better planned and in more detail than this seems to have been. It is possible but just not highly likely in my mind. If they do decide to go non-white, UK male with the Doctor at any point, they shouldn't make the announcement in this kind of half-hour special. At least not in the first such special. Maybe if they already had a precedent for a special announcement show it would be different, but making an announcement in this fashion for the first time, they're too aware of what they're doing here and it just doesn't work for a non-white, UK male setup.

I think the kind of announcement the Beeb seems to be doing here only makes sense if it is a known actor. That's easy to make into a half-hour special. You just have a few random reminisces about how much people love Doctor Who, you make some random comments about "Aren't we all excited about finding out who will be the new Doctor?" and then you announce a name that people know and can go "OMG! So Cool!" or "OMG! No way!" or whatever over. It doesn't require a master plan and it doesn't have the let down that would come with an unknown. Now, back to the intersectionality issue: yes, it could be a more famous not white, UK male. The focus on the big name would take pressure off the need to justify the switch and would be completely possible. I'm highly skeptical that is what they'll be doing, but it is possible. So my big picture predictions are that the most likely candidate is a more famous white, UK male as the most likely, a more famous actor who isn't somehow white, UK male as the second option, a non-famous actor who isn't somehow white, UK male as the third option, and a non-famous white, UK male as the by far least likely option. As to a specific name, I don't know. There has been one late game betting favorite that could be due to a leak or could just be random speculation. I don't put much faith in random internet rumors so I won't go down that road.

This next part I also started writing to at least some extent before the reveal and is my desires and preferences on the subject of a Doctor, specifically whether or not I want a non-white, UK male, as distinct from what I expect. I changed it to reflect the fact that I now know who they picked for Twelve and that Neil Gaiman has revealed that he is aware of a Black actor having been offered the part of the Doctor at some point and said actor turned it down, but most of the ideas were there before the announcement.
So that's what I expect to happen on Sunday. A completely separate question is what do I want to happen on Sunday or for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, etc. Doctors? For the Twelfth, all I really want is something different. Ten and Eleven are way too similar for my tastes and I'm burnt out on energetic and hyper young dude who is constantly flirting with or being crushed on by a young female companion. Anything different from that characterization will make me exceedingly happy but you can have that exact same characterization played by a woman (well, close enough) or a non-white guy so I'm less concerned about the non-white, UK male aspect. Now knowing that Twelve will be Peter Capaldi, I've got hope that I will get my different characterization. They've obviously gone older and I hope that means there will be less manic energy and more something else... cynicism, darkness, an edge, gravitas, ANYTHING to the next regeneration. Since Moffat will still be in charge there is only so much change that can be expected as Moffat's greatest strength is also in many ways his greatest weakness as far as I'm concerned, namely his love for cleverness. I've seen lots of people accuse him of sexism because all his female characters are very similar and my response to that is that I don't honestly think he is sexist at all. I think ALL his main characters are very similar. They are all two-dimensional with one of those dimensions being witty cleverness and the other being one of a small handful of similar traits. Even if they aren't supposed to be witty and clever, they spout witty and clever and out of character bits of dialogue because Moffat can't help himself. And I tune into Moffat's shows week after week because I like witty and clever almost as much as he does and am quite happy to have him continue to provide it to me, even if I do occasionally roll my eyes and grumble about a bit of out-of-characterness. I would eventually like to see the Doctor do something different, but I'm not completely burned out on that yet and am perfectly OK for Moffat to keep giving it to me for a while longer yet, though I fully respect others who are already tired of it. My only hope this time is that the witty and clever comes with something other than manic energy as the second trait because that's really where I'm burned out and I think the casting of someone older and already known makes that more likely.

My thoughts on Capaldi more specifically: I'm on board. I'll need to see what he actually does with the part and where they go with it, but I'm excited about the possibilities. I've been meaning to watch The Thick of It for a while as I've heard lots of good things about it (not least from failte_aoife's guide to it posted months ago), but it isn't on DVD at either of my easily accessible libraries and it isn't on Netflix Instant so I've thought I couldn't. Due to the Who announcement, I had a friend let me know it is on Hulu Instant (the free with ads version or the paid Plus accounts) so I'll definitely check it out soon. The primary things in which I've seen Capaldi to date are as the Angel Islington in the original TV version of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (the part played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the recent radio version for anyone confused) and as one of many crazy people in Fortysomething which also contained Cumberbatch and starred Hugh Laurie. I know he was in a previous Who episode which I of course saw but I don't really remember his part. I think of him mostly for his Fortysomething role and... that show is atrocious (though if you can make it all the way to the end there is a bit of a payoff that almost makes it worth the suffering to get there) and his part is just creepy and uncomfortable to watch in many ways. Of course, the fact that he makes me so uncomfortable, gets that much of a reaction from me, is a good sign.

For the future post-Twelve, well... I certainly hope and expect to someday have a non-white and non-male Doctor. I'm not sure now would have been the time to do it, though, so I'm kind of glad they didn't honestly. The main problem ties in with the above racist/sexist fanboys complaining about PC police. This is the first time people have been seriously demanding / requesting a non-white male Doctor. There have been mentions of the possibility before, but nothing as vocal as and on the scale of the "It's high time!" cries this time. If this one had gone non-white male, the backlash would have been enormous. The new Doctor would have never even been given a chance as it would just be called stunt casting of someone who didn't really deserve the part but just got it due to reverse racism / sexism. That's a terrible reason to not cast someone non-white male in many ways as it is just caving to the sexist / racist assholes of the world. But as much as I am an optimist and idealist in many ways, I am also a realist and cynic in other ways. I don't think the fear of the backlash should ever prevent the right thing from being done, but I think if it had been done this time the backlash would have been the absolutely worst and will be less in the future because it wasn't done this time. That's not enough to sway me, but I can understand why it would sway something like the national corporation that the BBC is and I think it is part of a problematic system but not necessarily a problematic action on the parts of the people involved (systemic and institutional discrimination versus individual and specific).

So if I think caving to the assholes is understandable and not necessarily condemnable (and also not necessarily something that was consciously done by anyone involved in this process) but also not the right thing to do, why do I think not casting someone non-white male was the right thing to do this time? Because if they had cast someone non-white male this time, it would have been because they were caving to the PC police. OK, I don't actually think that because I think PC is a stupid made-up accusation and the entire argument is ridiculous. Looking at it from a more progressive angle, the better term is probably tokenism. If you cast someone just because you think you need to cast a minority and not necessarily because he or she was the best choice, that's a problem. Setting out to cast a Black man or a woman or whatever is the wrong way to do it. The right thing to do is to decide what direction you want to go with the character and cast the best possible actor for that direction regardless of racial, gender, whatever traits. That's why Gaiman's revelation that he knows of a black actor having been offered the role of the Doctor at some point and having turned it down made me so happy. I honestly think that's the way we will get a non-white Doctor someday but not this time because from the sounds of it they knew where they wanted to go post-Smith and they knew Capaldi was the right person, not man and not white man but person, for the job. Maybe next time they'll know the right person and it will be a non-white man or they will know the direction and have open auditions and a non-white man will be the best. Getting a woman Doctor is harder because society still sees man/woman and male/female as inherently different in ways we try not to or lie to ourselves and claim we don't at all with races. The only way we will get a female Doctor is if they set out to write a feminine not just female Doctor and have auditions to find the right actress. Even if they go with someone more famous because they have that person in mind from the start like with Capaldi, it will be because the new direction they want to go is inherently feminine. I desperately hope I can someday be proven wrong on this front and would love a female Doctor someday who is just another Doctor and not something treated inherently different due to being female, but I don't think it is possible currently and won't be anytime soon.

Also, I honestly think given Britain's complicated history on multiple fronts but also the current domestic and international political reality, having an Indian, Pakastani, or Middle Eastern Doctor would be more interesting than a Black one. Again, I hope it comes about through race blind casting in any circumstance, I just think if they were willing to be daring and address the issues (as they sort of tiptoed around a few times with Martha in historical settings), there are more interesting things that could be done in more recent contexts with an actor with major heritage from the Subcontinent or Mid East rather than Africa. I'm not sure the Beeb is that daring with a flagship program like Doctor Who, though.


donutsweeper at 5:59 pm on 06 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
After reading this
I have to wonder about Gaiman's revelation. Does that mean Matt Smith wasn't the first choice? I really can't see it having been for Ten instead of David Tennant, Who was barely back then and anything other than a 'safe' casting could have tipped it over the 'failed experiment' edge. I don't know.

Fandom's reaction to the casting has been so terrible overall, it's nice to see your thought out and steady look at it.
bratty_jedi at 6:29 pm on 06 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
My assumption on the Gaiman revelation is that it was in place of Matt Smith just because that one makes the most sense to me for basically the same reason you mentioned. The other possibility is not so much that Smith wasn't the first choice as there was a miscommunication somewhere along the line. Perhaps the unnamed Black actor was one of three or four final candidates before dropping out and Gaiman misunderstood when the actor told him the story? That would still indicate a willingness to pursue race-blind casting, which the BBC supposedly does generally. Of course, we could be wrong and it wasn't for Eleven at all. Could it be possible the Beeb is more progressive than I would have thought and this was even something during the Classic Who run? Doubtful for me, but I suppose possible.

it's nice to see your thought out and steady look at it.
Thanks :)
I've avoided the main fandom discussions as I assumed it would be nothing but "Moffat is a sexist asshole!" which as I said in my post is a sentiment I don't share and I'm kind of burnt out on the angry echo chamber of it within Who and Sherlock fandoms. Moffat's "Time for a man to play the Queen." snark was problematic and out of line, even if clearly aimed specifically at Helen Mirren and not a more general sentiment, and I'm sure it has just added fuel to the already raging fires of hatred there.
donutsweeper at 6:35 pm on 06 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
a miscommunication somewhere along the line

This was my assumption. I'd like to think it could have been for classic Who, but that (as well as for Nine) seems just too unlikely.

Avoiding it was smart, I tried to do so but tumblr makes it hard to manage that without using a bunch of addons and then missing things you might want to see later.

Oh well, I'm really curious to see what Twelve will be like, I hope this casting is a sign that they're moving back to the kind of Doctor we saw more in the early days when it was all about spreading the wonders of time and space with others and less about the flirting or doom and gloom.
Unsentimental Fool
unsentimentalf at 7:38 pm on 06 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for that - way more intelligent that most of the rubbish being spouted.

A couple of thoughts of mine -
All the "best person for the role" comments seem to miss the point that there is no script available yet - we don't know what "the role" is. Moffat presumably picked Capaldi with an eye to the story he wants to tell. If he wants to do something other than tell a "change of sex /change of colour" story then it's his show, right now, and he's the one in creative control. To tell him that he *has* to do story A or story B is to misunderstand his role and I'm not surprised he was a bit sharp about it.

I'm not sure that changing the sex or race of the Doctor is going to work the way people think it will anyway. You could cast an Indian woman actress but she'd still be playing a Time Lord from Gallifrey who grew up and lived for centuries as a white male*. All you'd get is a change of sex and skin colour, not gender and culture, and it would be an absolute minefield to write. Much as I loved Eccleston I hated the whole "other planets have a north" line because it was clever but made no narrative sense.

Edit. *Not to say that being born as a man precludes being a woman but presenting gender reassignment as something that just happens as soon as you are given the right bits would be pretty dreadful in its own right!

Edited at 2013-08-06 09:15 pm (UTC)
bratty_jedi at 9:25 pm on 11 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Moffat presumably picked Capaldi with an eye to the story he wants to tell
Precisely! Moffat knows where he wants to go and I do not know where Moffat wants to go. Until I have evidence otherwise, I have no reason not to trust him when he says Capaldi is the best actor for the stories that are coming.

All you'd get is a change of sex and skin colour, not gender and culture
Not past for sure but I don't think we know enough about Timelords to be able to say there wouldn't be a change in gender. If every cell is rewritten, that includes the brain and not just the bits between the legs. The memories of having been a male/man would still be there but that doesn't preclude the regen being a female/woman. Of course, male/woman and female/man are still options as well. That said, as I said above, I'd sort of prefer if they ever have a female Doctor that it definitely not be feminine and perhaps even be a man. I don't think a transgender man is the only way it could or should go, but I think it is an option and I'd prefer closer to that end of the gender spectrum than a hyper feminine one.
failte_aoife at 7:43 pm on 06 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
I am rather quite happy about the choice...as you might have guessed but not only because I really like Capaldi (not that anybody would believe that at the moment ^^) but also because I think an older actor could get in a very different direction characterwise. As you wrote 10 and 11 were quite similar and I think somebody like Capaldi could get more into the direction of 9. I loved Eccleston's Doctor and found his character was fascinating but he was also always in a quite depressed mood due to the time war...he thawed up a bit over the season but then he already regenerated and turned into young and quirky 10. I'm hoping for a Doctor with a bit more gravitas without Nine's PTSD if that makes sense...

One of actually sensible posts that went round tumblr was along the lines of 'It is possible to be dissapointed about the fact they did not cast a POC or woman in the role but also be happy that the actor who was cast is brilliant' which is a really good way to aproach this.
bratty_jedi at 9:27 pm on 11 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
I'm hoping for a Doctor with a bit more gravitas without Nine's PTSD if that makes sense...
Makes perfect sense to me and isn't far off from what I'm hoping as well. I have enjoyed your enthusiastic posts. Sorry I haven't had more time to comment on them.

'It is possible to be dissapointed about the fact they did not cast a POC or woman in the role but also be happy that the actor who was cast is brilliant' which is a really good way to aproach this.
That certainly seems like a reasonable attitude.
Wine gums, envy, pieces of rainbow
qwentoozla at 6:40 am on 07 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
That was smart of you to figure that it must be someone that people would know! I guess it would have been sort of anticlimactic if it was someone fairly unknown.

This whole entry was very thoughtful and well-reasoned! I really hope and believe that the future will bring us a female and/or non-white Doctor, but I think I agree that now may not have been the time. I think the time will come soon-- there was so much more talk about the possibility of a female Doctor this time. I feel like maybe in four years or so when it's time for another Doctor, people may be more used to the idea of a female Doctor and there will be less resistance. I think people would probably have been fine with a non-white male though. I am very curious about who Neil Gaiman was talking about!

I hope you enjoy the Thick of It! :)
bratty_jedi at 9:29 pm on 11 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
I feel like maybe in four years or so when it's time for another Doctor, people may be more used to the idea of a female Doctor and there will be less resistance. I think people would probably have been fine with a non-white male though.
I agree on the first count. On the second, I think most people would have been fine with a non-white male this time and for the vocal minority that wouldn't have been... well, they won't be in four years or perhaps even in forty and shouldn't count anyway.

I am very curious about who Neil Gaiman was talking about!
Me, too! Oh well.

I hope you enjoy the Thick of It! :)
Thanks. I'm sure I will. I still haven't had time to even watch the first episode yet. Stupid life being all busy.
Wine gums, envy, pieces of rainbow
qwentoozla at 11:16 pm on 11 August 2013 (UTC) (Link)
On the second, I think most people would have been fine with a non-white male this time and for the vocal minority that wouldn't have been... well, they won't be in four years or perhaps even in forty and shouldn't count anyway.

Yes, that is definitely true.

I heard a rumor that it was Chiwetel Ejiofor who turned it down, for the Eleventh Doctor-- that he was interested, but turned it down because he didn't like the contract. Interesting if true!

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