In Doctor Who, change is part of the game. The heroic Doctor is a long-lived alien scientist and traveler. His people, the Time Lords, have the ability to “regenerate” when their bodies are old or suffering from serious disease or fatal wounds. If there isn’t too much damage, and providing that death wasn’t instantaneous or didn’t destroy their hearts and brains, a Time Lord will cheat death by regenerating, causing their body to rebuild itself all over. This results in a new appearance and in the brain being jostled enough that there are some surface changes in personality. Thanks to this, many men have played the strange, nameless Doctor over the decades. Next year, we’ll be seeing a new Doctor. And so many fans are once again asking, can the Doctor be a woman finally? It’s been established that Time Lord regeneration can result in a sex change, but does that mean the BBC will ever actually do it for their title hero? Will we ever see it?
Tom Baker, who played the fourth incarnation of the Doctor on-screen for seven years and continues to play the role to this day in audio dramas, was the first to suggest that the role did not have to be exclusive to male actors. In 1981, after announcing that he was leaving the role of the Doctor, Baker remarked that it the role had stuck with men because of ideas of tradition but that there was no reason it couldn’t be a woman. The Doctor was, after all, an alien, so as long as you played the role as a heroic, brilliant, strange alien person then all would be well.
Many people have supported this point over the years, including Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman who suggested that a woman should take up the role in 1987. Instead, the role went to Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor, who has said he is unsure whether casting a woman in the role would be a good idea as it might be a change too far for some and could cost the show some of its loyal fanbase. Fifth Doctor actors Peter Davison has agreed with him, arguing further that the personality of the Doctor is inherently male.
But Sixth Doctor actor Colin Baker disagrees. In July 2013, the actor was interviewed by the website blastr and said, “There’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be female.” He then added jokingly, “If the Doctor has [multiple] incarnations, surely he must be in touch with his feminine side to a certain extent.”
Eighth Doctor actor Paul McGann has said on multiple occasions that he would like to see a female Doctor and doesn’t think there’s any good reason to prevent such casting. At the Armageddon Convention in New Zealand in 2010, he even had a suggestion for who could play the female Doctor: “Tilda Swinton as Doctor Who, can you imagine that? Tell me you wouldn’t watch that. You would. You know you would!”
While appearing on the show Daybreak in 2013, John Barrowman (who played Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who and Torchwood) also supported the gender swap, saying, “Give it a whirl. If it doesn’t work… she can always regenerate back to a man.”