Skip to main content

Race & Gender: The Doctor Who Casting That Might Have Been

The World Doesn't End Because the Doctor Dances

The Doctor Who casting reveal this past Sunday drew 6.2 million viewers on BBC One alone but the result wasn’t quite as shocking as many had expected considering the fanfare. While star Jenna Coleman said the 50th anniversary celebration is “quite a transformation episode and it very much changes the direction of where the show is going in quite a big way,” she never said anything about the 12th Doctor being much of a departure. But post-announcement, we heard a few things about the possibilities (or lack thereof) for a different actor to take on the famous role and are now lamenting the might-have-beens. 

Recommended Videos

Firstly, I think Peter Capaldi is a wonderful actor and I’m looking forward to seeing his take on the Doctor. That said, a few things I read over the last 24 hours have made me frustrated.

Showrunner Steven Moffat said of the choice, “Yes. The list went ‘Peter Capaldi’. It was a very short list.” This led many to believe no other actors were even considered for the part whether they were men, women, or someone of a different race. However, creator Neil Gaiman was answering questions on his tumblr on the casting news which might suggest differently.

“I have no doubt there will be,” he wrote of an actor of a different race playing the Doctor one day. “I know one black actor who was already offered the part of the Doctor, and who turned it down. Just as there will be a female Doctor.” Although Gaiman didn’t specify whether or not the actor turned down the role offered for the 12th or 11th he added , “I was told in confidence by the actor in question, you won’t get an answer [on who it was].”

Speaking of a woman taking on the role, Gaiman also put in his two cents from a writer’s point of view:

Do I think it’s time to cast a woman as the Doctor? Not yet. Not quite. And lord, if and when they ever do that, I want them to keep it the biggest secret in the world until we see it happen on our screens during the regeneration.


If I were show-running (I’m not) I wouldn’t cast a woman as the Doctor yet, and it would absolutely be on my list of things to do in the following regeneration. (I was the one who wrote the line about the Corsair changing gender on regeneration, in “The Doctor’s Wife” after all, and made it canon that Time Lords can absolutely change gender when they regenerate.)

Some of that is stuff I’d find hard to articulate, mostly having to do with what kind of Doctor you follow Matt Smith’s Doctor with: someone harder and much older and more dangerous and, yes, male feels right to me, as a storyteller. Where you go after that, ah, that’s a whole new game…

He later added a bit more saying, “I’d rather see a female Doctor as a reaction to whatever Peter Capaldi is, than as a reaction to Matt’s creation.” So from what it sounds like, Gaiman thinks it would make more sense to break the mold for the character once it’s time to break the mold in the story, ie Doctor #13.

But after Capaldi was announced for 12, Moffat did interviews with press in which they asked him about a female Doctor. He said:

“It’s absolutely narratively possible [that the Doctor could be a woman] and when it’s the right decision, maybe we’ll do it,” Moffat told Digital Spy and other press.

“It didn’t feel right to me, right now. I didn’t feel enough people wanted it.”

The showrunner claimed that many female Who fans were opposed to casting a woman in the role.

“Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women,” he insisted. “[They were] saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman!'”

Now, let’s not get too wrapped up in his comment about not enough people wanting it. At least in the “of course we wanted it, LOOK AT TUMBLR!” sort of way. The more interesting thing I take away from that comment is that Moffat would even consider the notion of making a creative change on his series just because the fans wanted it. Because that would never happen and any writer would tell you the same. Once you start making story changes solely to please the fans, you’re lost. As Marvel writer Dan Slott recently wrote on Twitter, “Nobody watching Romeo & Juliet WANTS them to die. It’s not about what the audience ‘wants,’ it’s about if they’re invested in the tale.”

But the part of Moffat’s statement about women being against having the Doctor be a woman might make a few of you here chuckle. Although many fans (men or women, and even myself) didn’t want a female Doctor for 12, some of those fans didn’t want one simply because they were horrified at how Moffat would write such a character, not that they didn’t want one full-stop.

While many may have been hoping for a larger change for Doctor Who, here’s to great stories we’ll remember for the 50th and Season 8.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]


Jill Pantozzi
Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue: