This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, it’s the 11th, thanks to the wonderful mechanism Doctor Who’s creators built into the very fabric of the show: the Time Lord could regenerate into a new body. Same character (mostly), new actor — and it was all part of the story. It’s a brilliant little conceit. The Doctor could be anyone.
When David Tennant left Doctor Who back in 2010, there was a brief flurry of speculation that, for the first time in the show’s now-50 year history, the Doctor would be played by, perhaps, a woman. Or even an actor of color. Names like Helen Mirren (who, really, never would’ve done it) and Paterson Joseph (he was on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere miniseries for the BBC years ago) were bandied about. The robust Who fandom seemed ready for a change, but executive producer Steven Moffat settled on Smith, a perfectly endearing white bloke in his mid-20s with great hair and an outstanding chin.
So, who’s next in line for Who? Once again, people are wondering if, say, Chiwetel Ejiofor will get the nod, a classically trained Brit of African ancestry. Or if there’s an actress like Indira Varma, who could to step up and into the TARDIS.
Personally, I don’t think so. Tradition has an awfully strong gravitational pull at the BBC, and I don’t quite see it happening. What’s more, I don’t think it should.
I don’t say that because I agree with that sentiment that what is always should be. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have suggested a few years ago that, perhaps, Spider-Man didn’t need to be a white guy either. (I’ve still got the capital H hate mail to prove it.) But since then, I’ve done some thinking, and spoken with other writers like David Brothers, and come around to the opinion that instead of Chiwetel Ejiofor as the last of the Time Lords, I’d rather see him play a new character — one that he can own outright, one that will prove as popular and enduring as the Doctor.
Because I’m a comic book guy, I bring this back to the creator-owned argument: Why spend years of your life writing Wolverine or Batman when you can create The Walking Dead? Why not give the world something new instead of rehashing something old? Yes, that sort of success happens once in a generation, but as that old chestnut goes, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Without the new, we’ll all just be trapped in a never-ending cycle of franchises and reboots and … oh god, it’s already coming true.
I know that Doctor Who is the pop-cultural equivalent of the green blazer at the Masters: It’s an honor for any British actor to try it on for a spell. Just as every comics nerd grows up wanting to write the X-Men.
But I feel like the key to unlocking Hollywood’s enduring problems with race and sex is not to recast institutional characters with diverse actors but, instead, to invest the hard work in building new franchises around those same diverse actors.
As giddy as I can get anticipating the awesomeness that Idris Elba would bring to James Bond, I’d much rather get more Luther and more Pacific Rim. I would rather he cancel more apocalypses than order anything shaken, not stirred.