Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor, the legendary timelord of the TV series Doctor Who. He’s also, at 55, white, and male, a risky selection made at a time when the Anglo-American entertainment electorate’s craving for an image that is reflective of the ever-diverse mainstream industrial society. In other words, a black or female Doctor would have been more welcome than Mr. Capaldi, and (believe it or not) less controversial.
And in case you aren’t convinced of that, consider the news that a black actor was first offered the role, and turned it down. So, it would seem Peter Capaldi was a kind of “safety valve” of sorts.
I thought it was going to be David Harewood:
And you’re saying “A black actor turned down the role?” According to Neil Gaiman the answer is yes, and he revealed this on his Tumblr blog on Sunday, August 4th, and in response to a question. Here’s the exchange:
snuffles44 asked: Thank you very much for your explanation of why you think it was not time for a female doctor (though I respectfully disagree). What about someone of another race than white playing the doctor? As someone who understands casting/storytelling, do you think there will ever be a non-white doctor?
Neil Gaiman: Of course. (I thought I’d said that I was disappointed that it didn’t happen this time, and that there are some amazing actors out there. I was rather disappointed that Paterson Joseph didn’t get it last time, although I’ve loved Matt’s Eleven.) And yes, I have no doubt there will be. (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.
The point is, many people who some others might think would never voice such a view, have said it’s time for a non-white male Doctor. And while the great actress Helen Mirren and the actor John Barrowman have said the next Doctor should have been female, and Gaiman says it’s not time for that, but for someone black, the overall point is, the winds of change pointed in the direction of a non-white doctor.
And yet, we have Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor.
All of this must certainly be of concern to the next Doctor to step into the Tardis, but if that’s the case, he’s not letting it show. When he was selected on Sunday, August 4th (my birthday), Mr. Capaldi said “It is so wonderful not to keep this secret anymore. For a while I couldn’t even tell my daughter.” Still, a steady diet of media content on “Doctor Who and Diversity” will, at some point, drive Peter Capaldi to drink.
Just consider Jennifer Finley Boylan’s rather lengthy piece in Tuesday New York Times called, er, “Doctor Who and Diversity:” YOU could hear the sighs of disappointment spreading across the nerd-universe on Sunday when the BBC announced, with much fanfare, that the Scottish actor Peter Capaldi would be the new star of “Doctor Who.”
Or how about Ted B. Kissell in The Atlantic: “And yet, not taking a bolder leap in the casting and switching up the gender and/or race of the Doctor feels like a missed opportunity….But instead, another white guy. The structural sexism of the show remains intact. As this will be the first-ever real-time regeneration since I’ve become a fan, it’s a bit of a letdown.”
Or how about the legion of reports on Gaiman’s blogging that a black actor turned down the Doctor role, and with a report that the unnamed thespian who did so was Idris Alba?
All of this points to a major, and welcome, sea-change in popular culture. It’s a powerful recognition of the existence of black and female nerds, as well as an equally intense yell that we get on with exhibiting that in our cultural icons.
It’s also a powerful example that maybe, just maybe, and I will say it is, that racism is becoming compartmentalized as some weird behavioral tick generally associated with lower class behavior and mental illness.
In the World of Doctor Who, such a type of being would have their own planet, language, and rules, all of them something The Doctor would find to be openly distasteful and worthy of ridicule.
Thankfully, the World’s coming to agree.