“Aw, brilliant!”: the words we’ve waited 55 years to hear.
Well, ok, I’m not 55. I mean “we,” as in the Doctor Who fandom… well, not all of them. I mean “we” female Doctor Who fans – although honestly, even I didn’t know I was waiting to hear those words.
I’d just sort of accepted that our hero, the Doctor, the symbol of all that is fantastic and charming and clever in the universe, was a man. Just like I accepted that the Ghostbusters were men, and Indiana Jones, and Luke Skywalker, and Marty McFly.
I loved Leia, of course, and all the various badass women who explored along with Indy. Even Janine, who was very cool in her own way. But the real deal, the one with the power and charisma and the screen time – that was a man.
And then I saw the all-female Ghostbusters and had a revelation. Great Scott! I could be the one with the blaster?! Fast forward to the Force Awakens, and suddenly it’s MY audience stand-in who is Force-grabbing the light saber.
Still, the fandom at the center of my heart, Doctor Who, remained male-centric. It seemed like the one at the helm of the TARDIS would always be a man, exploring the world in a way that was sometimes weird, sometimes inspiring, but always male.
Until, that is, Jodie Whittaker. We had had rumblings of the possibility since Missy/the Master changed into a woman, but we didn’t know for sure until July 16, 2017, when we first saw her with the key to the TARDIS. And lo, did female fandom rejoice – and lo, did a few irritating naysayers naysay. But really I don’t give a fig about them.
We saw her Doctor in an episode for the first time during the Christmas special, when our beloved Peter Capaldi regenerated. After a few moments of disorientation, Jodie Whittaker’s doctor sees her reflection in a control panel and says, with excitement and fascination: “Aw, brilliant!”
It recalls David Tennant’s doctor’s uttering of the same phrase, said with a real thrill at the possibilties of what he’s seeing.
And so too did we female fans echo her words, with eyes wide, as a woman took control of the TARDIS (well, before it exploded. But that’s ok, it always comes back). It’s brilliant that we get to see ourselves in her, but it’s also brilliant that we get to see the universe explored in ways that are feminine. We will get to see what it means when a Time Lord wrestles with issues in ways that ring true to women. She (and we!) will get to be awesome sometimes, mistaken sometimes, growing sometimes, flawed sometimes.
We don’t know what that will mean yet, but that’s alright – it’s a new perspective and one that desperately needs to be shared.
Kudos to Doctor Who for taking this step for all of us. We fans deeply appreciate it – as we appreciate last season’s decision to include the wonderful companion Bill, who was deeply interested and interesting and also black and gay.
When it feels like our reality is ossifying into old, cruel patterns of discrimination and injustice, it gives us hope to know that our fandom universe can be full of beautiful, diverse potential.
“Aw brilliant,” indeed.