‘Turns out the Doctor is not white this time!’ said no one ever. At least, not until now.
Jo Martin is revealed to be one of the many incarnations of the Doctor from Doctor Who, the beloved British sci-fi television show. The British actress previously starred in the BBC One sitcom The Crouches as Natalie Crouch, as well as the neurosurgeon Max McGerry from Holby City, the established medical drama. Now, she makes her debut as Ruth, who is later revealed to be a past incarnation of the whimsical Time Lord in the recent Doctor Who episode ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’.
This is a big deal because Martin is the first-ever BAME actress to play the Doctor, a role which had been predominantly occupied by white men. Albeit being a fairly progressive, liberal show, with the pansexual Captain Jack Harkness (a veteran character played by John Barrowman) and its strong, opposing stance on discrimination on any grounds shown in Peter Capaldi’s Doctor punching a snobbish racist in ‘Thin Ice’, the series’ racial representation had not been especially remarkable. Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) were the only people of colour out of the nine companions to the Doctor before Chris Chibnall took over as showrunner, and this is only counting the New Who revamp which started in 2005 as all principal companions in the original run from 1963 to 1989 are white.
However, the representation of the main cast started to take a turn for the better when Mandip Gill (playing Yasmin Khan) and Tosin Cole (playing Ryan Sinclair), a Punjabi woman and a Black man got cast as two of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor’s companions in 2018. That’s right, the Doctor regenerated into a woman in the show’s eleventh series. The decision of casting Jodie Whittaker in particular, a white woman as the iconic hero who had retained his Y chromosome for a total of twelfth incarnations received mixed, but mostly positive reactions. There have been some disgruntled voices about its political correctness and arbitrariness but most fans and actors who had been involved in the series voiced their congratulations, excitement and support for Whittaker, whom they called a talented, capable actress.
”Before Martin, BAME companions only served as support characters to the white lead.”
Nevertheless, The Doctor, the titular lead, remained white, and the show is seemingly aware of the fact. After all, Yasmin and Ryan, being Punjabi and Black respectively, had to hide when a police officer came to inspect their motel room while the Doctor and her white companion, Graham Sinclair (Bradley Walsh) only had to act like a couple when they went back to 1955 Alabama, America in ‘Rosa’. This is why everyone is rejoicing the casting of Martin as a black incarnation of the Doctor. Once again, the status quo is challenged. Before Martin, BAME companions only served as support characters to the white lead. Now, a black woman is the principal star. Black Doctor Who fans express their gratitude and elation on Twitter to show-runner Chris Chibnall for casting someone that looks like them as their favourite childhood hero.
In ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’, Martin’s Doctor introduces herself in the most classic Doctor Who way. ‘You’re probably a bit confused right now,’ she says, dressed in a psychedelic shirt and tardis-blue coat, ‘Let me take it from the top: Hello, I’m the Doctor.’ With the way she masterfully navigates her own tardis and wittily rebuts her enemies, there is no more convincing needed. Jo Martin is the Doctor. Showrunner Chris Chibnall confirms that her character is 100% canon and that there is no trickery or a parallel universe to be unveiled in the following episodes; Martin gets the end credit which every Doctor receives. Her character does not act in any stereotypical, hysterical way nor is she used as a mere token black character. On the other hand, there are no deliberate whoops at the fact that she is a woman of colour nor any forced dialogue or speech from her emphasising her race. While her blackness is a part of her identity, it is not the trait that defines her entire character. The Doctor is courageous, knowledgeable, tactful, eccentric and righteous; Martin’s portrayal is all of those things and her blackness shows that black kids, black girls and black women could be all of those things as well.
Seeing its trend of casting more diverse talents, Doctor Who is definitely heading in the right direction of representation. It broke the status quo when Whittaker was cast as a female Doctor and it seems, with Martin a fresh, black incarnation of the time-travelling alien, this is only the beginning of a new era. A whole new era of actors and actresses from all different social groups being able to positively represent their race, gender, etc. in television. Jo Martin being the first-ever BAME Doctor Who has caused waves within the franchise and might have already started ripples in British television with the heartening responses of its audiences to these forward-thinking changes. We anticipate what is to come for Doctor Who and television in the future.
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