Just as quickly as the rumors appeared, they have been quelled. If you woke up this morning excited about a future in which Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a woman, could become the first female “Doctor Who” lead, you barely made it to lunch before you were told ― time and time again ― that your dreams are nothing but hot, gossip-addled garbage.
Waller-Bridge’s odds of shattering an otherwise impenetrable sci-fi glass ceiling shot up after the “Fleabag” star and future “Star Wars” spinoff actor clumsily dodged a question lobbed at many a British actor: “Are you the next Doctor Who?” Riley Chow asked on Gold Derby’s YouTube channel this week.
“I am ... not ... allowed to say anything about that, one way or the other,” Waller-Bridge replied, after a few moments of awkward laughter. “It’d be cool,” she added, before another pause. “But I’m doing other stuff,” she concluded, unconvincingly.
That extended “erm” was interpreted by eager fans as an affirmation of what some have been speculating.
Waller-Bridge, an actor with both comedic and dramatic chops, is a spectacular contender for the 13th Doctor, and bookies across the internet, used to betting on a tight-lipped show that “regenerates” its main character with a revolving door of dude actors, agreed. Not only would Waller-Bridge make history as the first woman Doctor ― and, (Time) Lord, it’s about time we got one ― her perfectly dark brand of humor is ideal for a show that’s lost a bit of its charm in a ratings slump.
Alas, killjoys were ready on the sidelines, prepared to debunk a rumor we so desperately want to believe. “Phoebe Waller-Bridge probably isn’t the next Doctor Who,” Twitter proclaimed.
The Season 10 finale of “Doctor Who” has come and gone, as has Peter Capaldi’s tenure as its leading man, so it’s only natural that next-season speculation is reaching a fever pitch. Viewers will have to wait until the Christmas Special before they can set their eyes upon the new Doctor, though the BBC will likely announce his or her arrival beforehand. Until then, we only have gossip. And that gossip has swarmed primarily around Waller-Bridge (a very busy actor who’s already denied the possibility once) and an unsurprising male choice, Kris Marshall.
Other names in the running include a bevy of men: Ben Whishaw (“Skyfall,” “Spectre”), Richard Ayoade (“The IT Crowd”), James Norton (“Happy Valley”), David Harewood (“Homeland”), Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”). And then there are the luminous female choices: Michaela Coel (“Chewing Gum”), Olivia Colman (“Broadchurch”), Maxine Peake (“Shameless”), Natalie Dormer (“Game of Thrones”) and Tilda F**king Swinton.
While we can probably rule out that last one, either Coel, Colman, Peake or Dormer would be stunning as Capaldi’s successor, the foremost’s casting signifying not only the first woman to become the Doctor, but the first person of color to do so, too. Personally, as a loyal “Doctor Who” fan who’s slept on a few of Capaldi’s episodes, I’d pledge myself to the franchise for eternity if it were only to to cast its addiction to white, male actors aside and finally give the fan girls a chance to see themselves in the storied series.
In an interview with HuffPost, Pearl Mackie, the actor currently playing Bill, the first openly gay companion on “Doctor Who,” reiterated the importance of representation on TV:
For me, if even a couple of kids can look at Bill on “Doctor Who” and think, hey, she looks like me, maybe that means there’s more room for me in the world of acting or the world of television or the world of fighting aliens, then that’s a good thing, you know? I think it is important to see people that look like you and to show that there is a place for you in the world. That you do exist and that you are important.
Now’s the time to hold “Doctor Who” accountable. Because if all the winking and nodding about a possible female regeneration in the Season 10 finale was for nought, the BBC will have some fed-up fans to deal with.