There’s a lot unprecedented about Doctor Who‘s latest regeneration, where outgoing Time Lord Jodie Whittaker, the series’ first female Doctor, transformed into returning star David Tennant’s 14th Doctor. But one particular tweak was done because… well, frankly some people suck.
Every regeneration we’ve seen on Doctor Who up to this point has concluded with the new face of the Doctor still wandering around in the costume of their predecessor for a bit—it’s a traditional aspect of the handover, a reminder of the era that came before as a new one begins. “The Power of the Doctor,” however, did something very different for its unprecedented regeneration marking the return of David Tennant as an entirely new incarnation of the Doctor, rather than a return of his identity as the 10th Doctor. As Jodie Whittaker’s Time Lord burned with transformative energy, so did her outfit, replacing it with the costume to be worn by Tennant in next year’s trio of 60th anniversary specials.
On the one hand, this potentially comes across as dismissive of Whittaker’s tenure, so quickly erased that even this visual tradition couldn’t be given to her time as the Doctor for the sake of the shock and awe of one of the most popular actors to hold the role returning. But, speaking in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, returning showrunner Russell T Davies defended the decision as not just protective of Whittaker herself, but the fact that Doctor Who is made on island of miserable people who have not exactly been friendly to the idea of gender identity and drag performance lately.
“I was very certain that I didn’t want David to appear in Jodie’s costume. I think the notion of men dressing in ‘women’s clothes’, the notion of drag, is very delicate. I’m a huge fan of that culture and the dignity of that, it’s truly a valuable thing, but it has to be done with immense thought and respect,” Davies—an openly and unabashedly queer man—told DWM. “With respect to Jodie and her Doctor, I think it can look like mockery when a straight man wears her clothes. To put a great big six-foot Scotsman into them looks like we’re taking the mickey.”
Davies was in particularly mindful of the reaction from the British press, which is notedly dominated by bigoted, transphobic rhetoric—but it’s also fair to say the decision was likely also made in part with Doctor Who‘s growing international audience as it expands to Disney+ next year, especially in markets like the US, where right wing bigots have made drag performers a target in anti-LGBTQ culture war movements this year. “If [the press] can play with gender in a sarcastic or critical way, they will,” Davies continued. “We could have the Doctor dressed as a knight, or dressed as God, or dressed as William Hartnell, and the only photo they’d print would be of David in what they considered to be women’s clothes.”
It’s a shame that such narrow-minded cruelty has robbed Doctor Who of this traditional handover, but at least Davies is willing to shield fans who could’ve been targeted or triggered by seeing the show mired in bigoted “controversy” if they’d gone through with it.
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