A couple of days ago, Peter Capaldi announced he'd be leaving Doctor Who after the next season. Honestly, not a surprising announcement as there's going to be a new showrunner and its likely for the best that he get to write “his” Doctor rather than inheriting someone else's creation. I'll miss Capaldi, I think he's one of the best actors to take the role, but there's always a thrill to seeing what a new actor brings to the character.
And, of course, there's the now-traditional speculation. Could the next Doctor be a woman? A person of colour? Anything other than a white British man?
It could happen. Odds aren't great but I can't help but feel its more likely now than its ever been.
True, this is a debate (especially on the gender side) that has been going on longer than I've been alive. I'm pretty sure the first time someone proposed a female Doctor was John Nathan-Turner back when Tom Baker was leaving in 1981. It was, typically of JNT, just a publicity grabbing exercise to keep the series in the public imagination but its come up in some form or another pretty much every time the role has come up for casting since.
What's different now? Well, the series has been actively experimenting with the idea for a couple of years now. If they do this it won't be a completely out of left field idea sprung on the audience but something that works within the accepted rules of the series.
We have the references to the Corsair in The Doctor's Wife having both male and female incarnations. We have Missy, a female incarnation of the Master, the most prominent Time Lord in the series besides the Doctor. We have the General in Hell Bent regenerating not only from male to female on screen, not only changing ethnicity at the same time but concretely establishing that the incarnation we see die was the only time they'd been a man.
Missy is the big one. Missy is proof that a major character can change gender in this series and still work. She is the Master (and you will... etcetera, etcetera,.) and that's pretty much accepted. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly some fans who don't accept it and I've seen some fantastically bizarre conspiracy theories about how she's not the Master but for your casual viewer Michelle Gomez is playing the same character as John Simm did. By and large, the gender switch hasn't been an issue. There's a Time Lord obsessively stalking the Doctor and throwing insanely elaborate death traps at him. Man or woman, that's clearly the Master.
So there's really no reason not to do that with the Doctor. Okay, there will definitely be more backlash to changing the main character. The Sun and The Daily Mail will lose their shit about the BBC having a “transgender agenda”, though I doubt they'll phrase it even that politely, but by and large I'd expect it to get over with the audience relatively quickly.
Still, odds are we'll get another white British man and if we do I'll give the guy the benefit of the doubt. It would just be nice, though, to have a change after fifty four years.