Gender-Swapping the Doctor

It’s official: We’re getting a female Doctor! Jodie Whittaker, best known for playing Beth Latimer on Broadchurch, will now play the 13th Time Lord and first woman Doctor on BBC’s popular show Doctor Who.

Doctor Who, which debuted in 1963 and relaunched in 2005, has become a British national treasure and international money-making enterprise. The show follows the adventures of an alien who travels through time and regenerates after death in a different form—yet all of its bodies before Whittaker were white, cis, male ones. Much of the popularity of the show stems from the fact that the actor who plays the Doctor changes every few years, adding a constant sense of renewal to a show critically acclaimed for its superb acting and production values. Doctor Who is often BBC Worldwide’s biggest-selling TV show internationally, and it is widely considered the most successful show in BBC history.

Whovians (die-hard fans of Doctor Who) and celebrities alike took to Twitter to show their support for Whittaker, often pushing back on the sexist backlash that emerged after the BBC announcement.

Previous Doctors also congratulated Whittaker on her new role and celebrated the historic decision by the BBC to cast a woman in the role. Colin Baker, the 6th Doctor, declared that he was “over the moon that at least we have a female lead” in an essay for The Guardian. “Change my dears and not a moment too soon,” Baker then tweeted. “She IS the Doctor whether you like it or not!”

“Anyone who has seen Jodie Whittaker’s work will know that she is a wonderful actress of great individuality and charm,” Peter Capaldi, Whittaker’s immediate predecessor, said in a statement. “She has above all the huge heart to play this most special part.”

Though the BBC’s decision comes on the heels of last year’s popular all-women Ghostbusters reboot and the box-office record-setting hit Wonder Woman, it remains important and groundbreaking. Doctor Who is an immensely popular show embracing gender-swapping—casting traditionally male roles as female—in a television landscape that still lacks in gender diversity. The television and film industries have fallen behind in producing art more reflective not only of the communities who consume it but the growing diversity of the general population.

The comic book industry has been gender-swapping characters for some time now to make a dent in gender imbalances in their texts. Within the past decade or so, Marvel has made almost all of their main characters women and/or people of color: Jane Foster took up Thor’s mantle; Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American girl from New Jersey, became the first Muslim Ms. Marvel written by a Muslim woman; and a 15-year old African-American MIT student named Riri Williams became the new Iron Man.

“It feels completely overwhelming,” Whittaker said in a BBC announcement when asked what it felt like to be the first woman Doctor, “as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be. It feels incredible. I’m beyond excited to begin this epic journey with Chris [the new head writer and executive producer] and with every Whovian on this planet. It’s more than an honor to play the Doctor. It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can’t wait.”


Micaela Brinsley recently graduated from the Performance Studies department at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, she is a feminist theatre artist, activist and writer with a background in performance art and labor rights. Passionate about social justice, she is an avid conversationalist committed to making the world a more just place. She has been writing for Ms. since the summer of 2017. You can contact her at mbrinsley [at]