Last Sunday saw the debut of Jodie Whittaker in the titular role of the Doctor in the long-running TV sci-fi drama serial Doctor Who. I am an unashamed nerd and have been a Whovian since the 1970s – I grew up watching Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Peter Davison playing the role. I was overjoyed when it returned to the small screen in 2005.
And then came the announcement that the new Doctor was to be a woman, Jodie Whittaker (pictured above, second from right). Previously, the character had always been male with his companions mostly female, mostly white and mostly in need of saving by the male lead. New Who (post-2005) did see an increase in diversity and strong female characters that were equal in importance to the storyline, but this casting was a bold step by the BBC for one of its flagship programmes.
Like many fans, my initial reaction was shock – despite knowing the one thing that had always been a constant with Doctor Who was change and the question of gender transformation had been raised repeatedly since the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. Another Time Lord character from Doctor Who had also changed gender in 2014 when Michelle Gomez took over the reins from John Simm to play ‘Missy’, and delivered an amazing take on the character.
In the workplace, women are often overlooked for roles they are equally suited to. Too many businesses never consider the possibility things may actually be better with more diversity at the top. Usually these decisions are taken by men, in favour of men, preserving the status quo.
I decided to keep an open mind and reserve judgement – I was not disappointed. Whittaker’s incarnation of the Doctor was as entertaining and quirky as any of her male predecessors and when she finally stated “I am the Doctor” I felt a chill go down my spine.
This was as diverse an episode as I can remember. The companions were – at the risk of sounding like a tick-box exercise in diversity – an older companion, an interracial couple, a young black man with dyspraxia and a young Pakistani Muslim woman. Set in Sheffield with working-class characters and beautiful Northern accents, it was a refreshing break from the London ‘vibe’.
The end credits revealed a plethora of guest stars for future episodes with many diverse actors. To see characters that look like me in one of my favourite shows means a lot. They become instantly more relatable, but also in the backdrop of a far-right narrative, it is necessary to show we are all stronger together.
More immediately, in the workplace, gender is still a stumbling block for many boards and senior appointments. This particular recruitment decision opens the door in the world of entertainment to ask if other typically male lead roles could be replaced by women. Could we see super-spy Jane Bond in the near future? Or, better still, allow writers to create new characters dependant not on gender but on finding a talented actor irrespective of gender, ethnicity or perceived difference.
There is certainly much to be learned from this move for the world of work. We should not be surprised by the positive reviews for the new Doctor, since research data confirms increased diversity improves performance and leads to greater ingenuity. In a world where stereotypes still hold people back, a powerful message was sent out that gender does not dictate whether a person can be a doctor, an engineer, a scientist or a planet-saving Time Lord.
I’m now waiting for the first bald Asian Doctor, as surely changing pigmentation is a far easier regenerative change than gender? BBC take note: I am available.
Shakil Butt is an HR hero at HR Hero for Hire