Does the Doctor have to be a male role model?

Most arguments against a female Doctor, of course, can be dismissed as a product of the reactionary, small-c-conservative mindset of fans who are long since stuck in their ways, and refuse to contemplate changes to the shape-shifting character they hold dear. Others, in turn, can be acknowledged for what they are – simple sexism and misogyny – and ignored in turn. Some arguments contend and make it clear that it’s simply a matter of personal opinion, and there’s not really much response that can be made there.

There’s only really one argument that is, if not convincing, worthy of some genuine contemplation: that the Doctor should be preserved as a male role model, being one of the most prominent fictional heroes who isn’t reliant on violence and aggression, but instead is a template for teaching curiosity and compassion to children.

It’s an understandable stance to take; obviously, children’s media is important, and it’s important to have role models in that media. There is something important in having a character who subverts more traditional norms of masculinity – a character who uses his brain rather than his fists. The argument goes that the Doctor is largely unique in this regard, and in turn that’s why the character should continue to be depicted as a man – because he’s the only man in fiction who is like that.

And yet.

The most obvious retort to this argument is “what about the companion?” – while a female Doctor doesn’t necessitate a male companion, it certainly implies it. In that vein, then, what’s to say that a male companion couldn’t similarly espouse ideals of compassion, bravery and curiosity, acting as a role model in a similar fashion? No one would argue that the companion hasn’t been a role model for young girls over the past decade; in turn, there’s little to suggest that a male companion couldn’t fulfil a similar role.

It’s also worth noting that, while the Doctor is special for being this type of role model, he’s not entirely unique in that regard. Children’s books are full of such characters – Klaus Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragons, or Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Cast the net further, and you might come across characters like Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, and Merlin. Most superheroes, albeit at times surrounded by explosions, are often motivated entirely by compassion and the desire to help others – and it’s not as though there aren’t plenty of explosions in Doctor Who anyway.

At the end of the day, then, the idea that the Doctor has to be preserved as a male role model starts to fall flat. It’s certainly an admirable suggestion, and an idea that does make a degree of sense; however, when it comes down to it, there’s little that answers why this particular character is the only one who can act as a non-violent male role model. After all, there are others out there, and there’s room in Doctor Who for plenty more.

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