Boys – including grown-up ones – need to realise the importance of being able to look up to women like Jodie Whittaker as Dr Who and the Scotland women’s national football team, writes Aidan Smith.
What a hoot. Armando Iannucci pinged out a daft tweet about Donald Trump the other day and before he knew it Scotland’s comedy impresario seemed to have the next big satirical movie on his hands. “Film pitch,” it read. “Trump drugged and moved to a replica White House, where he carries on thinking he’s governing.” Actors rushed to say they wanted in on the flick and by the next day eight studios were jostling for position to make it.
I’d love to see that movie, but no more than I’d love to see the episodes of Doctor Who inspired by the meltdown over the Time Lord regenerating into a woman. They were collected by the writer Aaron Gillies from the below-the-line website comments by readers of the newspaper which does moral outrage and marmalade-dropping best (you can probably guess which one). Gillies stuck them onto the whooshy Doctor Who opening credits and it’s a shame there isn’t a decent parody sketch show around right now which could have fun with “Time travel is for men and men only”, “Political correctness shouldn’t exist in space”, “The BBC is trying to brainwash your children” and – best of all – “Nobody wants a Tardis full of bras”.
You wonder whether the haters – all those disappointed men who’ve been devotees of Doctor Who for aeons – will be true to their threat of turning off their TVs next month when Jodie Whittaker blasts off as the 13th incarnation of the time traveller.
And you wonder how they’re feeling generally right now. Scotland’s woman footballers qualified for the World Cup shortly before the men’s team were thrashed by Belgium. One of the most male gigs in showbusiness, the breakfast show on the BBC’s most popular radio station, is a three-way, all-female contest. Also on the Beeb, a new politics programme is launched and there’s not a single man in a suit anywhere. And from Bodyguard to the new Robert the Bruce film Outlaw King, it’s the male actors who’re being objectified in scenes of gratuitous nudity.
Why, in the 55-year, galaxy-galloping history of Doctor Who, were we not diverted back to Earth and shown what 2018AD might look like? Probably because no one would have believed it. Doctor Who had somehow persuaded us that sink plungers and egg whisks constituted the ultimate in terror – the Daleks – but as an impression of the near future and the reconfigurement of the sex wars, this would have been too far-fetched.
Teaser clips for Whittaker’s Doctor have begun to appear. She gazes up into a magnificent domed roof where an equally magnificent chandelier pulses then shatters into a million pieces. The chandelier, it has to be said, resembles a giant breast. There is no giant brassiere suspended from the ceiling to minimise the devastation. “Whoopsy,” says Whittaker and the caption at the end of the promo reads: “It’s about time.” It’s about time for Doctor Who again and it’s about time “he” was a woman.
It’s about time that in football the floodlights were shone on the women who have battled scepticism, ridicule and – just as harmful – indifference for so long. My father – no sexist – once pointed out to his young son that girls invariably kicked the ball straight-legged, “like a Woodentop”. That was a different age – Jon Pertwee was Doctor Who, mansplaining the world and others beyond it to simpering female assistants, and the pregnant man ads presented an horrific vision of the end of civilisation for the male of the species. But I’m sure if Dad was with me watching my son come up against girls in school games he’d be impressed by their skill – and by the power of the shooting in the Hibernian-Celtic match I watched the other week, my first-ever women’s game I’m slightly embarrassed to admit.
It was probably around the time of the pregnant man that the self-mythologising cult of the breakfast show began. Initially the show was on Radio 1 and when the “Station of the Nation” moved among its people during the Roadshow tours of seaside towns, another horrific vision presented itself: the prattling (male) potentate clad in satin bomber-jacket and skimpy shorts, whipping up the crowd to Nuremberg levels of adulation with such searing profundities as “Quack, quack, oops”.
Chris Evans, as far as I know, has never behaved like this on Radio 2, to where the prestige of the breakfast show long ago transferred, but he’s a big figure with a massive listenership who’s just announced he’s quitting the network and Sara Cox, Zoe Ball and Jo Whiley are all contenders for the slot. One of them will get it and they pretty much have to, given the gobsmacking pay gap that has existed between men and women at the Beeb, which shouldn’t be allowed to take the gloss off the successful candidate’s elevation.
And so, bringing up the rear: rears. The Scottish actor Richard “Bodyguard” Madden has flashed his backside and Chris Pine goes even further in Netflix’s upcoming Outlaw King, with Variety’s critic calling the scene contrived “in the middle of a bloody, muddy Scottish battle epic”. Now, we know that two front bottoms don’t make a right, but regarding nudity actresses have had to ask themselves “Is it essential to the plot?” for years.
This, then, is the sociocultural landscape awaiting the first female Doctor Who. “It’ll be nice when being the first woman doing something like this isn’t such a moment,” says Whittaker, which suggests she hopes to be followed by a few more.
Some men will already be diving behind the sofas but she adds: “I am asked an awful lot about girls looking up to me as the first female Doctor Who. But just as important is boys looking up to women.” That applies to grown-up boys as well.