The long-running BBC series Doctor Who recently completed its first season with Jodie Whittaker as the titular Doctor. Writer Sara Lynn Michener says that having a female Doctor came as a welcome change of pace.
“This formula of always having female companions, and always having male Doctors, it just made me think of Doctor Who in a certain way that wasn’t very flattering,” Michener says in Episode 343 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It felt less real, because if this alien does in fact have the ability to regenerate in all of these bodies, why are we still seeing this very standard, very heteronormative pairing constantly?”
Science fiction author Rajan Khanna also enjoyed Whittaker’s performance, and found that this season of Doctor Who was the first one he was able to watch with his girlfriend.
“She’s tried to get into it previously, and just bounced off of it,” he says. “And this season I was like, ‘I’m going to watch Doctor Who. It’s the new female Doctor. Would you like to watch it with me?’ And she said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot.’ And she watched the whole season with me, and was really into it.”
This season also features a more diverse cast of heroes, which Khanna says makes the show more accessible to a broad international audience. “If it’s accessible to more people, as Hollywood is starting to see, that means they can make more money and get more viewers,” he says. “So I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
Not everyone appreciates the new direction, with episodes such as “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” drawing particular ire for being “too preachy.” But science fiction author Matthew Kressel enjoyed those episodes, and is looking forward to many more like them.
“If you don’t want to watch the show, fine,” he says. “We’ll continue to watch. To me, ‘Rosa’ and ‘Demons of the Punjab’ were really powerful episodes that dealt with real things that happened—and in some ways continue to happen.”
Listen to the complete interview with Sara Lynn Michener, Rajan Khanna, and Matthew Kressel in Episode 343 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Matthew Kressel on the episode “The Tsuranga Conundrum”:
“One of the things in that episode that I thought was really wonderful, and just kind of a symbol for the season as a whole, is there’s a scene where they’re looking at the ship’s stardrive—I forget what century they’re in, like the 30th century or something—and [the Doctor] says, ‘This is this century’s iPhone. This is the super-advanced technology miniaturized into this thing.’ And she’s just looking at it with such awe, and she’s like, ‘This is what humanity can do when they put their minds to it.’ And I was like, ‘Yes. This is why I love the show.’ They just stop and point out really hopeful things like that. I just got chills when I watched that.”
Rajan Khanna on “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab”:
“I’m of Indian descent, so [‘Demons of the Punjab’] had a personal quality for me. The story of the country splitting is one that relates directly to my family, and my grandparents, and I’ve heard about it since I was little, so to see it dramatized was really interesting. With this and with ‘Rosa,’ those were the episodes where I was like, ‘Oh god, how are they going to handle this?’ I thought that they could have had a bad mis-step, and yet I thought both of them handled the subject matter really well. I think it helps that there was a black writer on ‘Rosa’ and a South Asian writer on ‘Demons of the Punjab.’ I think that’s an important thing that isn’t done as often as it should be.”
Sara Lynn Michener on social justice:
“I think in general people have forgotten, when they get upset about social justice in TV and cinema, that most of fiction is about the good guys defeating the bad guys, and that’s not going to go away anytime soon, and that’s exactly what social justice is about, so it works really well in fiction to deal with the battles of good and evil in the modern day. The thing about social justice is these are not really new fights, they’re just new for certain people who haven’t been paying attention before. When you look at the ‘Rosa’ episode, there should be nothing controversial about talking about the politics of 1955 Alabama. This is definitely something we should have progressed past at this point.”
Sara Lynn Michener on review bombing:
“I really am upset that Rotten Tomatoes has not fixed this issue yet, because this has been ongoing since at least the all-female Ghostbusters reboot. It’s been going on for several years. First of all, audience ratings should not even be collected until the thing comes out, whatever it is. I don’t understand why they haven’t made very simple changes that would prevent these kinds of campaigns from going on—and that’s what these are. These are not honest opinions. There have been stories about how far-right groups have little underground conversations among themselves, where they literally create fake accounts and rate things before they have even come out.”