No, the new Doctor shouldn’t be a woman…. (in praise of alpha males)


This is a photo of an otter. Otters starred in the most internet meme of all time, “Otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch”

Benedict Cumberbatch is an otter-looking English actor of great skill who has played Stephen Hawking and Sherlock Holmes, but you would never confuse him with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis, say, or with a regimental sergeant-major, or Attila the Hun.

Yet in the most spectacular piece of mis-casting I can ever remember, somebody thought it would be a great idea to give Benedict Cumberbatch the role of Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Khan. As classically played by Ricardo Montalban, a man so hard, he flosses his teeth with diamonds. A man modeled on Genghis Khan. Who, to lead you round in alpha male circles, is the origin of Schwarzenegger’s deathless Conan the Barbarian line: “What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.” The last bit was censored; Genghis’ original was “and use their women as a nightshirt”.

Despite an acclaimed script and direction by J J Abrams, the Star Trek movie was a disappointment at the box office compared to the gigantic blockbuster it was expected to be. It did fine, but it was supposed to be the overwhelming hit of the year and it just wasn’t, with an opening weekend $25 mil below expectations.

I don’t give a stuff what they say over at Metacritic, Khan is meant to be a warrior, a genius, yes, but a warrior, all the same. He who in the original says of the swooning history professor who casts herself at his feet, so great is her longing for a real man, “a superior woman. I will take her.”

It is impossible to imagine this line being uttered by Benedict Cumberbatch. His cerebral Khan is about as scary as imagining your geography tutor getting really cross. And because every movie needs a great villain, this one tailed off as soon as Cumberbatch says the name “Khan”. I hadn’t read any reviews and could not suppress an open groan in the cinema.

Look, guys, I’m as enlightened as the next chick but there really is a need for dominant males in the world. For your alphas, your muscular, ambitious, driven, ass-kicking commandos who play rugby and/or drive Hummers and manage metal bands (OK I’m biased). For Darth Vader. For Klingons. For Terminators. For Khan.

I’m not saying I could take him in the weight room but nobody that looks like an otter should be playing one of the greatest, baddest, sexiest villains in space.

Alpha males don’t have to be all muscles, although it certainly helps. Indeed I have met many muscular males who I’d say were more gentle and beta-ish. I go back to my first crush Avon from Blake’s Seven, played by Paul Darrow. What a cynical, clever bastard that character was. An equal-opportunity offender. Sexist, unrepentant, marvelously foiled by Servalan (incredible sexual chemistry). Darrow was not a he-man but he was most definitely an alpha male.

Now the Doctor is different, and interesting, but he should be male, because sex is a defining part of who we are, and males and females are different, and the Doctor is a male. (small note: I detest the use of “gender” when people mean “sex”, and am guilty of it myself, but that’s just weakness because everybody else does it. I will man up.) He should not only be a male, but he should be a male with a sense of massive power behind him, not some befuddled teenager or student beta type as of late. Tom Baker [edited: not Colin Baker ffs, posting late at night) was somebody whom you never quite understood; he was mysterious; he knew far more than you did; he gave the sense of being extraordinarily strong, and born from darkness, and of having battled impossible terrors. That was why Dr. Who was so frightening; and I would love to see the BBC cast an actor who could take viewers back to that sense of power. It has gone missing from our screens, replaced with heroes and villains with interesting backstories and “childhood issues” that made them what they are. I don’t give a monkeys about Anakin Skywalker’s pod-racing; I do like “I find your lack of faith disturbing”.

If you’re feeling your hand is being forced by the commentariat into a female Doctor, BBC, just remember: Star Trek: Into Darkness = Star Trek: Could Do Better.

No women. No Matt Smiths. No Sylvester McCoys. No Peter Davidsons. No David Tennants. More Tom Baker, Christopher Eccelston and Patrick Troughton. TIA.

photo by pixel addict


  1. Luke Miller · June 4, 2013

    You make these claims to be a feminist, yet still buy in to the gender stereotypes that so many feminists are fighting against. Do you genuinely think a woman can’t “take viewers back to that sense of power”? Do women fail to demonstrate any powerful qualities? The Doctor isn’t defined by physical strength, but by mental power, something it seems you feel women lack…

    • louisemensch · June 4, 2013

      There are dominant females (Servalan) but the Doctor is an alpha male, not an alpha female. To flip his sex turns every past flirtatious line into a lie. Sex is central to human identity and males and females differ significantly, including in aggression.

      • Luke Miller · June 4, 2013

        The Doctor’s changed so much with each new actor. I don’t think the gulf between Matt Smith (who isn’t exactly the stereotypical alpha male) and a strong woman is as much as the differences between Matt Smith and some ‘uber-man’ like Schwarzenneger. Having a female doctor would matter so little that most people wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. That said, Schwarzenegger as the Doctor would be hard to turn down!

      • Laura · June 4, 2013

        You’ve missed a couple of points here:

        Firstly each embodiment of the Doctor is a new personality. He doesn’t always react in the same way to the same situations. He doesn’t always fancy the same people.

        Secondly did you miss the RTD years? The Tenth Doctor and Captain Jack had a lot of flirtation. And the Eleventh had an interesting bromance with Rory and the character James Corden played.

        It’s ok to say that the BBC shouldn’t be pressured into a person who doesn’t fit just to meet the pressure. But don’t assume that a woman couldn’t take on the role. It’s an acting job at the end of the day. And it’s incredibly short sighted for you to think that only men can do certain things.

        Also to the article’s point on Benedict Cumberbatch: sexism goes both ways. If you’ve got a thing for meat heads then fine. But don’t assume that anyone else does. He was incredible, terrifying and a good version of a modern day threat. It’s not the Cold War anymore and that sort of villain is dated and not needed.

  2. Cliff Hulcoop · June 4, 2013

    Not a lot of people know this but apparently it has been done already.

    Apparently, I read somewhere in the past, that the Doctor turned into a woman and then back to a man in a radio episode.

  3. Cliff Hulcoop · June 4, 2013

    If you had seen the original Star Trek TV show what would you have thought about having a female captain?

    What was your view when they actually did make a Star Trek series with a female captain? Star Trek Voyager

    • JRS · December 19, 2013

      That was just fine. A female captain was a marvelous idea and long overdue. But turning specifically Kirk into a woman would be stupid. Possible within the rules established by the show? Absolutely. A good idea? No freakin’ way. For a one-off episode, okay. “Turnabout Intruder” could have been much better than it was, had it not been ruined by sub-par acting and a sexist script. But to permanently turn Kirk into a woman … no. Just no.

  4. CRawas · June 4, 2013

    Two words. Dr Donna.

  5. louisemensch · June 4, 2013

    I didn’t have a problem Cliff, she was good. Like Julie Dench as M.

    The problem would have been casting Captain Kirk as a woman, because he’s a man.

  6. louisemensch · June 4, 2013

    The Doctor is not a position, he is an ongoing entity. A male entity. Nobody cares about the radio.

    If they cast a woman viewing figures will be well under par.

  7. Jane · June 4, 2013

    I find your lack of imagination disturbing.
    First, as long as Moffat’s writing, the Doctor will never be very good but I’m going to ignore that for now.

    The Doctor is not a human. He is not constrained by human identities, human boundaries or human gender roles. Even supposing that all human women are x and all human men of the alpha variety are y, if he did regenerate as physically female (or non-binary) that wouldn’t necessarily mean she would be x. Or y. The Doctor is always alpha due to its power – the personality, however, is ever changing.

  8. Barry · June 4, 2013

    I’ve been a long term viewer of Doctor Who (and Star Trek actually – I hated Khanberbatch).

    I also don’t want a female Doctor. The problem is that if you dare say that the usual tedious Islington-ites will come out and say you are sexist. I don’t feel I am. In fact, I much prefer women to men generally in life. Perhaps it is the red blood! But the Doctor has always been a male hero figure for me, ever since I was a young child and first started to watch the show at the tail end of Tom Baker’s years. The character was unquestionably and undoubtedly a male action hero. For those saying the character is just about his brain, they ought to go back to the Pertwee years and have a look at all the kung fu kicks, gunshots and chase scenes.

    Another boyhood hero of mine was Christopher Reeve’s Superman. They tried to copy the success of those films with a Supergirl effort, but it was a flop and for me, as a viewer, just didn’t hold the same interest. The character was basically Superman in a skirt, but as a young male I just couldn’t look to her as a role model in the same way, nor associate with her as much (although that probably wasn’t helped by the fact that at 8 years old I thought girls were an alien species). For me it is the same with the Doctor. I has associated the character with his male gender identity and the dynamic it presented with those around him. The Doctor is trhe lead of the show and making him female is the same as making James Bond female. Part of the reason I associate with the character will be removed just as it would if Bond were cast as a woman.

    I accept that in the context of the Doctor Who world the regeneration of a male Time Lord into female is possible. I accept that we live in a world where we need more female role models. But Doctor Who is not one of them. I have no problem with a male ethnic minority actor taking the role. as skin colour is just that, colour. The male gender traits would still be there. But, for me, becoming female is just one reinvention too far. If you’re going to do that then you might as well redesign the outside of the TARDIS to look like an iPad.

    If the Doctor becomes female than this long term fan will switch off because the show will become too different – and feeling that way does not a sexist make.

    • JRS · December 19, 2013

      Supergirl didn’t work because it was a poor film, not because the concept itself didn’t work. Supergirl’s been around forever in the comics, and let’s not forget Wonder Woman. And Buffy proves that kung-fu isn’t just for boys.

      What Supergirl proves is that you can have a super-powered girl just like Superman, but that it doesn’t need to BE Superman. You see, they didn’t try to over-write it and say that Superman had changed his gender. It was a new character, so it was fine.

      Similarly, just as the Doctor and Superman are male characters, Buffy is a female character and should remain so. Not just because we need more strong female iconic characters (we do) but because she IS an iconic character and to change her gender would damage her identity. So it would be with the Doctor.

      You want a show with a quirky, brainy, brave female character who can go anywhere in time and space? No problem — you’ve already got one. Her name is Romana and her spin-off is long overdue.

  9. ohthisbloodypc · June 4, 2013

    it would work if Dr Who was a genial, kind man, but he had a fearsome alpha woman protecting him. She wold be Dr Who’s Receptionist. “Have you got an appointment, Mr Cyberman?”
    “The Doctor doesn’t do house calls any more, Mr Dalek. You’ll have to find someone to help you with the stairs.”

  10. ohthisbloodypc · June 4, 2013

    Why not compromise and make the Doctor a genial kind man, and his receptionist an alpha woman?

  11. Samuel L. Ramsden · June 4, 2013

    There is a strange contradiction about sexual equality. It’s not really about the two sexes being equal. There are some people who think that if you are a feminist, or at the least, do not wish to appear to be a sexist, then you must never hold up a man, or at least a kind of dominant man, as superior to any woman or even to a man who doesn’t fit the traditional masculine stereotype. These same people however have no problem with waving women around as superior in every way, even sometimes based on very tenuous, even circumstantial evidence. There is an ideological agenda at work that brooks no dissent, no matter how well reasoned, no matter the source. It is anathema to this identity, contradictory as it is, that they want everyone to be as enlightened as they are.

    I consider myself an equal opportunities sort of chap, in that I don’t think that sexuality or sex or any other arbitrary thing we have no control over should be allowed to define us, but at the same time as an empiricist and someone of a philosophical and scientific bent I am aware that being a man or a woman comes with different kinds of natural… well… susceptibilities. Different stimuli affect you differently because of genetic imperatives. Human beings are still animals, with in-built prejudices on a level that defies conscious reasoning. So some things do not match up in quite the same way, even in someone possessed of the most enlightened mind (and I have to maintain a certain cynicism of absolutely anyone who claims to have one of these).

    I thought this was very well reasoned, very well written, and damned if it isn’t refreshing. I commend you, for writing this. I understand why some of the comments you get are what they are, but I think it was very brave, and actually, perhaps the most enlightened commentary on this topic I’ve read for some time. You do not betray your feminist ideals, and you don’t pander to them. Fascinating.

  12. Terrible mistake. It will completely alienate its fans and ruin the franchise; the core fan base is male. Its difficult enough to pick a good male actor that the fans will love.

    If the BBC want to create a female super-hero, why not make a spin off show? Although interestingly, when they did this before; when they made the spin off show “Torchwood”, they did not even choose a female lead then either. Wonder why?

    The only people who want a female doctor are people who dont watch the show. Listen to the fans.

    • Barry · June 4, 2013

      Actually, it’s worth noting that they span off Sarah Jane Smith into her own TV show for kids and it was very successful. There is no reason to not use the medium to created an alpha female character and make it a success. It really is more down to the actual character of the Doctor and whether a female incarnation would be enough of a game changer, and I, myself, think it would be and would be reason enough for me not to be overly interested in that era of the show.

  13. What an incredibly stupid post. My God.

  14. Neil Dodds (@neildodds) · June 4, 2013

    Sorry Louise but I’m weeping with laughter at “edited: not Colin Baker ffs, posting late at night” – I read it before you edited and wondered what you were going on about. You’re spot on about Avon though!

  15. Billy Gannon · June 5, 2013

    “Tom Baker [edited: not Colin Baker ffs, posting late at night) was somebody whom you never quite understood; he was mysterious; he knew far more than you did; he gave the sense of being extraordinarily strong, and born from darkness, and of having battled impossible terrors. That was why Dr. Who was so frightening; and I would love to see the BBC cast an actor who could take viewers back to that sense of power.”

    Why can’t this person be a woman? These characteristics are not inherently male.

  16. Pingback: There’s Nothing ‘Only’ About Being a Girl. | Bob Average
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