Wednesday 14 January 2015

Eight times a woman played the Doctor

With a new incarnation of the Master played by Michelle Gomez, showrunner Steven Moffat stating that one day it's bound to happen, and acclaimed writers such as Neil Gaiman pushing for the development, it seems that a female lead for Doctor Who is pretty much inevitable. If not the next Doctor, then definitely the one after, I'd say. Peter Capaldi could very well be the final example of an old white man in the role, taking the traditionalist version of the Doctor as far as it will go before the series tries something truly different. Some people support this idea, others are horrified by it. However, it is not without precedent. Here are eight women who have played our favourite Time Lord.

Barbara Benedetti

The Wrath of Eukor (1984)

The first serious attempt to make Doctor Who featuring a female Doctor, The Wrath of Eukor was a fanfilm produced by "Seattle International Productions." Running at less than half an hour long, the story began a short run of adventures for this new incarnation. Clearly the creators of the project weren't too keen on Colin Baker's taking the lead in the series, since they immediately regenerated him into a new, seventh incarnation. Having regenerated too many times over too short a period, the Doctor's DNA matrix fails and he regenerates once more, this time changing sex, which is something of a surprise. Benedetti became a popular Doctor in fan circles, and she was certainly the best thing about these cute but amateurish films. She was joined on her travels by Carl, a crude American idea of a Victorian cockney chimney sweep (played by Randy Rogel, now a well-regarded animation screenwriter).

After four adventures, in 1988 the Doctor regenerated again, this time into a traditionally male incarnation, played by Michael Santo. The director, Ryan K. Johnson, has details of the stories and how to obtain them on his website, although they also available to view on YouTube.

Joanna Lumley

Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death (1999)

The first time a woman played the Doctor in an officially BBC-sanctioned production was in the closing moments of this classic skit from Comic Relief 1999. Written by Steven Moffat, The Curse of Fatal Death's running joke (apart from the farting) was the deconstruction of Doctor Who by doing all the things critics and comedians continually brought up. The Doctor freeing himself from traps using time travel, marrying his companion, and of course, regenerating into a woman. There really was no one else who could have played the archetypal female Doctor but Joanna Lumley, giving her a girls school, jolly-hockey-sticks good humour. In fact, it was regenerating into a woman that gave the Doctor back her sense of adventure. Since 2010, Moffat has pretty much done everything from the skit for real in the actual series, with the exception that is was the Master who became a woman, not the Doctor. And in Dark Water, they just kissed, while the Lumley Doctor and Price Master went off arm-in-arm. Bwahhahahaaa...

Arabella Weir

Unbound: Exile (2003)

Big Finish's Doctor Who Unbound range was a series of "What-if?" style stories that had featured new actors in the role of the Doctor. The sixth release posited a different outcome for the Doctor's trial by the Time Lords, and instead of being exiled to Earth in the form of Jon Pertwee, he escaped, forced a regeneration and changed sex. (Apparently what happens when Time Lords attempt suicide to force a regeneration.) Nonetheless, Arabella Weir's Doctor ended up on Earth after all, hiding out in Sainsbury's and spending a great deal of time in her local pub. A very different, comedic take on the Doctor, who spent much of her time arguing with the phantom of her former self (voiced by Nick Briggs, who also wrote the script).

Catherine Tate

Journey's End (2008)

The official TV series itself finally got round to having a female Doctor, of sorts, in the climactic finale to the fourth series of the revival. The tenth Doctor had begun to regenerate, before offloading his excess energy into his handy spare hand, sparing him the awkwardness of changing his appearance in front of Rose again. When his faithful companion Donna touched the detached body part, a "Time Lord-human biological metacrisis" kick-started an hour of nonsensical technobabble. Said metacrisis led to the hand growing into a whole new extra David Tennant, while Tate's character took on elements of the Doctor's knowledge, intelligence and abilities. The temp from Chiswick thus became a sort of female human version of the Doctor, joining with both Tennant-shaped versions as the "three-fold man" to defeat the Daleks. Unfortunately, her feeble human brain was unable to take the strain and the real Doctor had to wipe her memory of the event. For a short time though, Catherine Tate was the Doctor.

Katy Manning and Nicola Bryant 

Ghost in the Machine (2013) and The Widow's Assassin (2014)

Oddly enough, the sci-fi staple of a bodyswap has never been used on televised Doctor Who. Possessions a-plenty, but not two people switching minds and bodies. In the expanded universe material, however, it has occurred more than once, most notably in two productions from Big Finish. Ghost in the Machine is part of the Companion Chronicles range, which utilises a mix of audiobook and cast drama techniques to provide stories for Doctors no longer with us. As such, the various companion actors, many of them female, have had a turn at impersonating their Doctors, but this story went one further by having the third Doctor and Jo Grant briefly switch bodies. It finally happened in the main range this year, when the sixth Doctor went in search of his lost companion Peri and became embroiled in a web of espionage, possession and mind-swappery. This culminated in a gorgeous scene in which Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant got to play each other's characters.

April O'Neil 

Doctor Whore (2014)

A XXX porn parody, Doctor Whore (not to be confused with Doctor Screw) is better than most, and actually bares some resemblance to the show it's spoofing. It's clear that the people involved actually do love Doctor Who. It's not the first time there's been a sexy female Doctor in little to no clothes (a particular shout-out to GoGo Blackwater of Suicide Girls for her set "Twelve"), but this version has gone down quite well with fans of a certain persuasion. After tenth and eleventh Doctors played by Kris Slater and Brian Street Team, the twelfth Doctor is portrayed by April O'Neil, legendarily geeky porn starlet. "After all, why would they pass up the opportunity to cast a woman or a minority?" She travels with Martha, played by another porn-performing Who fan, Skin Diamond, and Captain Jack (Aaron Wilcox). And then they all have sex, obviously. OK, so it's not the most effective feminist argument for a female Doctor, but they do get points for poking fun at the BBC for casting yet another skinny white guy.

Jenna Coleman

Flatline and Death in Heaven (2014)

Along with the Master returning as the Mistress, this is the clearest argument yet that one day soon we shall see a woman in the lead role. While some fans disparaged the latest series as being "Clara Who," this was an effective way of not only putting the companion on more equal footing with the Doctor, but also teasing the possibility of a future female Doctor. Clara stepped up to take the Doctor's place as investigator and hero in Flatline, while Death in Heaven took it further, briefly having Clara claim to be the Doctor to try to outwit the Cybermen. The showmakers even tweaked the title sequence so that it was Coleman's name that was listed first, and her eyes that appeared in the Vortex. It has to be said, Coleman did a convincing job of leading the programme, even for that short time.

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