Doctor Who: We’ve had 50 years of the same thing - isn't it time for a black actor to step into the tardis?

It’s time for a change, and the sad truth is that we seem to be decades behind our American counterparts when it comes to television casting

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Doctor Who rumour mill went into overdrive on Saturday, following the announcement of Matt Smith’s departure come Christmas.

While thousands of Whovians went into mourning, many more started to speculate who would be Smith’s replacement as the Time Lord.

The same old questions were thrown up yet again. Will the Doctor be female? Will the Doctor be black? Both? Will it confuse the younger members of the audience, sending them reeling through the time space vortex?

The answer to the last question is no. If children can get their heads around complex story arcs that leave some adults bemused, then seeing the Doctor regenerate into a woman or someone of a different race is nothing special. The suggestion that an actor has to be white and male to play the Doctor is as absurd as suggesting that only a Caucasian male is allowed to be Prime Minister.

The whole argument smacks of racism and misogyny, giving the impression that there are many fans out there with a myopic view and limited imagination. The truth is that it’s time for a change - whether it is race or gender. We’ve had 50 years of the same thing. Even the creator of Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry had more vision with his series, which featured black, Asian and female characters – heck, there was even a Russian crew member on the Enterprise, and this was at the height of the Cold War. Talk about radical thinking.

Considering that Star Trek aired in 1966, three years after Doctor Who, the show excelled in its diverse casting from the start. It even featured a controversial interracial kiss, a biggie considering America’s shameful history of segregation and racial tensions. Even though Britain does not have the same poor record on race relations, it was an American who managed to produce a television programme that saw beyond race and gender lines. If Star Trek can feature a black captain and a female character, then why is Doctor Who still stuck in the past?

Last week the show was accused of being racist by a group of academics, who said that the lack of ethnic minority characters showed the limited scope of Doctor Who’s creators. While we finally saw black companions in the form of Mickey Smith played by Noel Clarke and Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones, we are still waiting for a black Time Lord.

Unfortunately, this argument goes beyond Doctor Who, and in my opinion it is something inherent within the British television industry. Just flick through the channels, how many black or ethnic minority characters do you see in lead roles? The sad truth is that we seem to be decades behind our American counterparts when it comes to television casting. Only last year Homeland star David Harewood lambasted the UK television industry for its lack of roles for black and ethnic minority actors. He even said that Idris Elba went to America because of the greater opportunities there. After his turn as drug dealer Stringer Bell, Elba came back to the UK a huge star and ended up as the lead in Luther. British television is still has a long way to go.

While some die-hard fans may see a female Doctor as a step too far, a black Time Lord may be more palatable for them. Chiwetel Ejiofor is emerging as the frontrunner, with a 7/1 chance of becoming incarnation number 12, according to bookmakers. He would certainly make a fine Time Lord. While he can exude warmth there is a dark side to him, as seen in The Shadow Line and Serenity. It would also be a departure from the slapstick eccentricity of Smith’s portrayal of the character. Each Doctor needs to be different enough from their predecessor to create a distinction between the incarnations in order to revitalise the series for a new generation. 

If the show is truly colour blind when it comes to characters, then the role should go to a either a black or a female actor because Doctor Who is always about change. Lead writer Steven Moffat said that in the 50th year of Doctor Who, we should be looking ahead, not back. He’s right - it is about moving forward and keeping the show fresh. Whatever the outcome over the coming weeks and months, I’m hoping for something new.