Let me start this post with something that I don’t often have the occasion to say: I am not a fan of Dr. Who. This isn’t because I dislike it, I just… never got into it. I have zero feelings at all toward the show, but a slight bit of repulsion from some of the more over-the-top fans. (Often, the loudest fans of something are the worst.) That said, given my ample history of interest in the whole culture war, I find the latest story… absolutely boring.
First of all, allow me to address the adult people: Dr. Who is an alien being who transforms all the time. If this time around the Doctor wants to become a female-looking alien, I’m not sure where in the canon that has been outlawed. Again, this is based off of my limited knowledge. But I cannot see how, in the realm of a show where there is a time traveling alien who changes appearances every few years, this is in any way out of bounds. Just food for thought.
This isn’t the first time I’ve come across fiction with a gender-swap in it. One of my favorite fantasy books — and, in fact, the first one I read — was Elminster: Making of a Mage. During the course of his making, Elminster finds himself… viewing the world a bit differently. I doubt very seriously that all those years ago, Ed Greenwood wrote those chapters to stick his thumb in the eyes of anyone opposed to trans-people, or with any other political motivation. It fits, there’s a reason for it, etc etc. This is a story where people can cast spells.
Of course, the main story from all this is the faux controversy, mostly pushed by a bunch of trolls on both sides of the issue. I don’t for a second believe that the average Dr. Who fan is going to screech and moan about a “girl Doctor”; hell, I bet there’s plenty of fan-fiction out there about it, and I bet I don’t want to read a word of it. People write gender-swap stories on the internet all day, all night, so that they can accomplish…. well, whatever fan-fiction plot they need a gender swap for.
I also don’t believe that everyone who is upset about this is some sort of basement dwelling perma-virgin (at least, any more than the basic Dr. Who fan; insert rimshot here). Some people genuinely don’t like feeling like characters they have deep seated investments in are being mucked with, especially if they perceive that it is out of a place of pure politics. Not much I’ve seen so far indicates that it isn’t political: even the actress said some things along the lines of “as a feminist.”
Look, some very bad actors have made some really offensive edits to fandoms using those words. “As a feminist…” doesn’t often end well for fans of established franchises. You might want to take the word “feminist” back from the wolves that are currently hectoring people out of jobs over innocent comments and misunderstandings.
You can disagree with this decision without being a mouth-breathing Cro-Mag shrieking because GIRLS are in his entertainment. There is a pretty decent tradition of women characters in the science fiction/fantasy world. Sure, a lot of people write damsel in distress type stories — including several prominent female authors — but that’s because people write what they like. There are a great deal of strong female characters out there, and fans of Dr. Who likely enjoy venues with more well known female characters. (Just off the top of my head: the Battlestar Galactica reboot, most post-TOS Star Trek, Star Wars, et cetera.)
I think a lot of the negative reaction is a knee-jerk to the constant forced change people feel at every corner. There are a lot of fans who are getting quite anxious about people screwing with the entertainment they like. Especially when, for so many years, that entertainment was for them and them alone — and they took abuse for liking it. I think that is one of the major areas people overlook when fans of “nerdy” entertainment lash out over people intruding and taking it away from them.
One of my biggest gripes about “nerd/geek culture” has been the mainstreaming of it, and the mainstreaming of the “I’m so unique for liking this” feeling that surrounded it for the longest time. A lot of people don’t understand, or never had to deal with, the abuse that came with being nerdy/geeky. They didn’t get dismissed, they didn’t hear constantly about how their hobbies are for nerds, or get called names based on their (usually self-induced) lack of sexual success. And then for someone to come in, attach themselves to these properties, change them, and then wail about how they’re taking abuse… it is going to fall on deaf ears.
People who weren’t tagged as such never saw how, “oh, video games are for losers.” Or, “[insert show/movie] is for losers.” “Only losers read fantasy/comic books/sci-fi.” Outside of the safe-spaces of fandom there were a lot of assholes. Not everyone, of course — and not everyone who liked that sort of stuff faced this sort of abuse. But it damn sure existed, and it has molded a lot of fans into reacting angrily to this sort of bullshit, especially when people start lashing out at fans for liking their entertainment as it is.
So no, as a non-fan, I don’t see a logical problem in the transformation. But I do see a great huge problem with how the fans who don’t like it, or are even a bit hesitant to embrace it, are being treated and talked about. This is not how you win hearts and minds; this is how you end up with Gamergate.