Skip to main content

Edinburgh #4: And then Matt Smith left “Doctor Who”...

Matt Smith as the Doctor (2010-2013)

Over the last 48 hours, I might have given the impression that my Edinburgh Fringe show, “Who Are You Supposed To Be” is all about Doctor Who. It isn’t.

It’s a romantic comedy about fans, fandom, obsession, pop culture trivia, anxiety and "Doctor Who". It just happens the hook at the start is an amusing discussion between a woman and a man at a science fiction convention about whether or not a woman could or should play the role of The Doctor.

As I’ve learned over the past two days, the discussion of a woman playing the role of a thousand-year-old alien with two hearts who travels across time and space reaches back about thirty years to when Tom Baker left the role. He wished luck to whichever man or woman took over.

I’m not really sure how seriously that comment was taken at the time. Personally, I’m a pretty late bloomer when it comes to “Doctor Who”, but the notion of the character changing genders is fascinating to me. Even though, really, since he changes his entire form every few years – soon for the 12th time in 50 years – it’s not that he’s really changing who he is any more than he has before. We just perceive it that way. Us humans, we’re so limited.

I remember the rabid and constant discussions of who should take the role when David Tennant announced he was leaving. I’m not sure I took the idea of a woman in the role that seriously, mostly because I didn’t expect it would ever happen. I’m still pretty much unconvinced it will happen now.

The strongest discussions I remember from the last regeneration speculation was whether the BBC would try something new and cast a Person of Colour. Whether it be a black man or someone from East Asia or South Asia. Fans discussed whether the show would go against type and cast a non-white man.

Equally, people argued that maybe they should cast older, since everyone felt like Tennant was too young, even though Peter Davison was younger when he was in the role – after taking over from Tom Baker. In the end, Matt Smith became the youngest of them all. So even if the BBC stay conservative and cast a twelfth white guy, if he’s over 50, it’ll be almost daring.

Almost.

Some of my play is about gender identity – what we expect from men and women and the roles they play. Ash, the main female character, is dressed as the Doctor. She loves dressing up as fictional men and women, but she’s the Doctor when she meets Gene. Gene doesn’t know what to do. He jokes with her a little – why isn’t she dressed as a female character from the show? Doesn’t she know, the Doctor isn’t a woman?

Inadvertently, “Who Are You Supposed To Be?” became a comedy about meeting people with similar interests who approach that same object of affection from an opposite point-of-view – and a play about casting the role with a female actor.

Then Matt Smith announced he was leaving the show. By the end of the year.

My first thought was, “Yay, lots more interest in the show! And about casting! And about casting a woman!”

And my second thought was, “What if they casting a woman? What if the BBC destroys the entire premise of my show?”

My Sunday afternoon planning a simple marketing campaign that rode the coattails of the 50th Anniversary celebrations became something more like a battle plan. What if? Can we? How about if we? Jesus, do I have to re-write the whole thing?

In the end, I figured out an angle to take – and I sent out a bunch of press releases tying the show directly into the speculation about who would be cast. But the frenzy over a woman in the role took off without anyone needing to say anything. The mere suggestion lit up the forums. And Twitter. And Facebook. And...

The play was more relevant than ever. Some fans have vowed never to watch the show again if a woman plays the role. Some are highly skeptical. Some would give her a chance, but... Some worried about confusing the children. Some wanted to defend tradition. Some wanted to defend men.

Some of the posters at Gallifrey Base almost word-for-word quoted the character of Gene from “Who Are You Supposed To Be?” Because I’ve heard all the arguments before. And they are all happening again.

I’ve written about writing for women before. I’ve written about why sometimes it’s better for a character to be a woman. How it can make a dramatic situation more dramatic. Or more interesting. And I love the idea of gender-blind casting new scripts and old characters.

But the reason I love the idea of the Doctor as a woman is because... why not? The character changes all the time anyway. Some of his changes in personality over the years have been vastly different from one incarnation to the next. Sometimes changing the gender of the character makes a story vastly different. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing the pronouns.

Men and women aren’t that different, I don’t think. And a thousand-year-old alien with two hearts who travels across time and space is about as different from you and me as you can get, but we can still empathise with him. Are we that worried that if he was a she that we might not empathise with the Doctor in the same way?

And isn’t that reason enough to give the whole notion of a female Doctor a try? To see what new things the character can explore within herself and within us, as well?

*

“Who Are You Supposed To Be?” runs from August 14 to August 26, 2013 at C Venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. Tickets on sale now.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My Favourite Theatre of 2019

This year I saw some amazing theatre in Melbourne, as always, and I was lucky enough to visit London for the first time, where I saw some wonderful West End theatre and some really inventive off-West End and independent theatre.
The thing about the theatre in London is that is really seems to be working toward the ideal of diverse casting, even if behind-the-scenes (writers, directors) are still male-dominated. And it’s not just in reinventions of shows like Death of a Salesman, which was a mostly black cast; a lot of shows I saw there were female-focused with racially diverse casts.
That said, I did see a show that was ostensibly about race, which was all white.
I saw some shows again this year, which were as great as when I originally saw them, but they have been on previous year-end lists, so sorry to Hamilton, Muriel’s Wedding and Cock – you’re not on my list again this year.
The lists are in alphabetical order and links in titles to review where available.
TOP TEN 

All About Eve –…

You are far away: Agent Cooper and his troubling return to Twin Peaks

“What year is this?” Dale Cooper asks in the final scene of Twin Peaks: The Return, the last of many unanswered questions left as the 18-part feature film concluded a week ago.
It’s far from the first time we’ve seen someone who looks like Dale Cooper lost for answers over recent months. But it might be the first time we have definitive proof that he’s in over his head.
Mr C, Dale Cooper’s doppelganger, who was first seen in the original series’ finale back in 1991, returned to the town of Twin Peaks with a goal in mind. Mr C was flexible, though. He had to be; he’d set so many things in motion over twenty-five years, if he’d remained fixated, he would never have come as far as he did.
Dougie, Dale Cooper’s tulpa – created by and from Mr C, wandered aimlessly through life, but slowly made every life he touched better. Plans change and Dougie changed with them. Slowly but surely, Dougie pieced together Cooper’s past life and became richer for it.
Agent Cooper, the third part of this T…

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Garry Starr Conquers Troy

Last year, Garry Starr explored every genre of theatre in order to try to save it. Now that he’s saved theatre, he wants to make sure actors out there know how to be the best skilled actor (or, skactor) they can be. Garry has written a book called “An Actor Pretends” about the history of pretendism.
Chapter by chapter, Garry’s vast knowledge of being a triple threat is explored on stage in front of our very eyes. He explains how to audition for a director when you’re waiting on them in a restaurant. He tells us how to act when we inevitably move to Hollywood and get botox and we can’t move our face. And then there’s his unconventional method for learning lines by osmosis.
Rubber-faced actor and comedian Damien Warren-Smith is so damn charismatic that he’ll have you on his side within minutes – and have some of you up on stage as part of Team Garry, if you dare. If you don’t want to participate, don’t sit in the front row like I did; though my moment in the spotlight only consisted of…

A Thing Isn’t Beautiful Because It Lasts: Avengers in the AGE OF ULTRON

The latest film in the Marvel Universe series feels like nothing so much as a season finale. And since Joss Whedon was once the master of creating season finales that were both emotionally satisfying and thematically resonant, it’s good to have him in charge for the second Avengers movie, Age of Ultron.
I’d like to compare it to the epic scope of Buffy’s “The Gift” but it feels more like Angel, if anything. Things change, the world moves on – and the best you can do is keep fighting. And embrace change.
Tony Stark has always been flawed, but by the third film in his own trilogy, he seemed to have found an emotional peace. But with that peace comes the idea that he can use his technology – his faith in machines being his tragic flaw – to create a replacement for the Avengers. He births an army of robots to calm the populace and fight alien foes.
Robert Downey Jnr’s Stark is such a towering figure in the Marvel Universe films – and to make him partly the villain of this new film is a s…

REVIEW: Disinhibition by Christopher Bryant

Flick, known on Instagram as Flick.Eats, and George, known on Tumblr as Boyance, are social media influencers. Flick.Eats posts FODMAP recipes and Boyance is living his best gay life online, but both are lies – constructions of the kind of personalities that get likes and shares and re-blogs. When Microsoft releases a new artificial intelligence bot onto Twitter – Tay, whose followers are #TaysTeam – the world of fake online personas gets trickier to navigate.
Who are Flick and George, really? Do they even know anymore?
Disinhibition plunges the audience right into the internet, the opening scene a perfect recreation of a Twitter interaction: someone posts a photo of their cute dog, lots of other users retweet it and someone @s the original poster, telling them their dog is prettier than they are. All social niceties are gone; people will say anything to each other online.
Presented by Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) and directed with a sure hand and clear intent by Artistic …

REVIEW: Solaris by David Greig (based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem)

Arriving on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, Kris Kelvin (Leeanna Walsman) is confronted by beings who are almost human, while digging through the digital archives of Dr Gibarian (Hugo Weaving), who recently died. She must try to understand what these creatures are and what other mysteries lie on the planet below, under the roiling oceans that cover its surface.

Like the Malthouse’s other current production, Wake in Fright, David Grieg’s new play is based on a novel that has also previously been a film. In fact, Stanislaw Lem’s book has been adapted into two films, several operas and a play or two before this. It’s no surprise that it would inspire great filmmakers and playwrights to bring their own versions to life; alien entities, memory and lost loved ones are all rich elements with which to explore the themes of loneliness and otherness.
Designer Hyemi Shin creates a cool, minimalist environment that’s efficiently modular; its swiftly moving doors and sliding panels e…

REVIEW: Muriel’s Wedding – The Musical by P.J. Hogan, Music & Lyrics by Kate-Miller Heidke & Keir Nuttall

Muriel Heslop’s life in the Queensland town of Porpoise Spit is one humiliation after another. She didn’t finish high school, she didn’t come out of secretarial school with any marketable skills and the friends she has don’t treat her very well. In the age of social media, nothing she does gets any likes.

To escape from her friends and family, she disappears into her bedroom and listens to ABBA songs and dreams of the perfect white wedding, proof – in her mind – that she has achieved greatness.
Based on the 1994 film by P.J. Hogan, the stage musical version, which premiered in Sydney in 2017, has been reworked a little since its premiere season and has just opened in Melbourne.
I have fond memories of the original film starring Toni Colette and Rachel Griffiths in their break-out roles of Muriel and Rhonda. Underneath the joyous ABBA songs and the upbeat ending, though, Muriel’s Wedding is quite a sad film; Muriel may suffer from some kind of depression and her mother, Betty, has been…

REVIEW: Control by Keziah Warner – Red Stitch

The crew of a space ship, dressed in bold primary colours, rock from left to right in front of us, as they try to keep control of their craft. The group is racially diverse but it’s the white guy, a larrakin Aussie from Melbourne, who boldly steps forward to save the day. “It’s something I have to do.”

Keziah Warner’s Control, a science fiction triptych, begins with a scene of broad comedy, a nod to Star Trek and then jumps back in time to see how this crew ended up in such a dramatic situation. Starting a story in media res can be a pretty tired trope, but here Keziah uses it as a dramaturgical sleight-of-hand; this story is much more complicated than it first appears to be.
A pregnant woman, a puppeteer, a singer and a detective have been hand-picked to be on this space ship, leave Earth and strive to survive in “Fifteen Minutes on Mars” – a Big Brother-type reality show that is manoeuvring this ensemble toward interstellar cabin fever.
Twenty years later, in a library that promises…

REVIEW: Mr Burns – A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn

How well do remember the episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob gets out of jail and tries to murder Bart? If you needed to tell the story, could you? Do you remember any of the jokes or set-pieces? How about the film references contained within?


In the first act of Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play, a group of survivors in a post-Apocalyptic America gather together around a fire, trying to remember the details of “Cape Feare”, the second episode of the fifth season of The Simpsons, which first aired in 1993 and has been replayed thousands of times since.
The grid is offline, nuclear power-plants have melted down, and in the weeks and months after this world-wide disaster, people are telling stories to pass the time and to connect with each other. This is and isn’t people telling ghost stories around a fire; the details are important, and this TV show is haunting them.
Telling stories and passing them on is a recurring trope in fiction about the end of the world. Beyond survival, pe…

My Favourite Theatre of 2018

It’s that time of year again, when I look back over everything I saw on stage and put together a list of my favourite shows. I saw over 100 shows this year, mostly in Melbourne and a small number on one visit to Sydney.

I will link to reviews if I wrote one.
TOP TEN (alphabetical order)
The Almighty Sometimes – Griffin Theatre, Sydney
Kendall Feaver’s extraordinary debut play is about Anna, dealing with mood disorders and medication and the complicated relationship she has with the treatments and her mother. Superb cast and beautifully directed by Lee Lewis
Blackie Blackie Brown – Malthouse Theatre
Nakkiah Lui’s work is always amazing but this production, directed by Declan Green, was another step up for her – the satire sharper and bleaker and more hilarious than ever before.
Blasted – Malthouse Theatre
Sarah Kane’s debut play from 1990s London is a tricky beast tackling difficult subjects but Anne-Louise Sarks nailed it with a superb production.
The Bleeding Tree – Arts Centre Melbourne