Beware, sweeties, here there be SPOILERS. (Not really, but better safe than sorry, yeah?) I'm going full Whovian this week to discuss some exciting news that has been revealed.
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TRANSCRIPT OF “WE CAN ALL BE TIME LORDS”
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This is Bad Attitudes.
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Hello friends and strangers! Welcome to another episode of Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast about Disability. I’m your host, Laura.
Get in losers, we’re going time-traveling! Allons-y!
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As always, I want to remind you that disability is not a monolith. My experience as a disabled person is going to be different from the experiences of other disabled people. I am one voice for the disabled community but I am not the only voice.
Have you seen the news? David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning for the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary special in 2023!
If you’re not a Whovian, this probably means NOTHING to you, but, trust me, IT’S BIG NEWS in the Who-niverse. Arguably the best Doctor-companion pairing in modern Who — the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble — is coming back to the show. In addition, veteran actor Bernard Cribbins, who plays Donna’s adorable grandfather, Wilf, is also returning! I think people were more excited to learn Wilf is returning than the Doctor and Donna. And people are STOKED about the Doctor and Donna.
But here’s the part that got me really excited. Obviously, photos and videos are leaking all over the internet from the set showing Tennant, Tate, and Cribbins. In a particular video I saw on Twitter (which I will link to IF I can find it again), Tennant as the Doctor is pushing Cribbins in his wheelchair into the TARDIS. You might think this isn’t a big deal. I mean, Cribbins is in his nineties after all. But this isn’t David Tennant idly wheeling Bernard Cribbins into a set. This is the DOCTOR wheeling WILFRED into the TARDIS, in a highly-recognizable Doctor-Who RUN moment.
And when the Doctor says RUN, he means it.
WHY is this is so exciting? Because, y’all. It means the TARDIS is wheelchair accessible.
Now, I’ve always assumed the TARDIS is wheelchair accessible. It’s a time-traveling space ship belonging to an advanced civilization. Why wouldn’t it be wheelchair accessible? But seeing visual confirmation is HUGE.
Imagine the possibilities this could open up for future companions on Doctor Who. Might we finally see a physically disabled companion with a mobility device? Who preferably isn’t left behind on the TARDIS while the rest of the team runs off to do all the exciting stuff.
Obviously, I can envision it. You can envision it. But can the writers envision it? Can Russell T. Davies envision it? Maybe, but will the fanbase let it happen?
Generally speaking, the Doctor Who fan community is great. But I have witnessed a whole lot of toxic man-babies waving their flags within it. When Jodie Whitaker was announced as the 13th Doctor, these toxic spawn lost their shit. “A woman can’t be the Doctor! The Doctor is a man!” Let me call you a wah-mbulance. Unfortunately, Jodie’s tenure was not bolstered by the lackluster writing and storytelling of Chris Chibnall. Which means that, for those seasons, a whole lot of people put the blame on Jodie being a woman for the show not being the pinnacle it is known for being.
I’m not familiar with Ncuti Gatwa, who has been announced as the 14th Doctor, but I was disappointed that they didn’t continue with a female Doctor. I feel like there was a little bit of capitulating to the toxic fans by going back to a male Doctor, but I guess at least he’s Black. We’ve been listening to the misogynistic fans, now we can listen to the racist ones! Yay!
One of the companion characters during Jodie Whitaker’s run as the Doctor, Ryan played by Tosin Cole, had dyspraxia, which is the reason I don’t have high hopes for a disabled companion. Dyspraxia is a neurological condition where the messages between the brain and the muscles are interrupted. In Ryan’s case, this affected his ability to ride a bike or climb a ladder, but in terms of the show, it was rarely discussed other than a few token mentions. But even that was too much for some people.
Apparently, having a character with a disability that is barely mentioned and seems to have no effect on his ability to participate in the action is quote, “too PC.” I bet that if you eliminated the moments when Ryan’s dyspraxia is explicitly mentioned, most viewers wouldn’t even know Ryan had dyspraxia. But even so, it was too much realism for some people. No, really. I heard people say that they watched Doctor Who for escapism and Ryan’s dyspraxia made that difficult.
Mentioning a real life condition made it too difficult for you to find escapism in a show about a time-traveling, space-traveling, shape-shifting alien with two hearts? Sure, that makes sense.
Never mind that people who actually have dyspraxia were coming forward, speaking about how happy it made them to feel represented, considering dyspraxia is a condition few are aware of. Nope, too real.
So, of course, I can already imagine the pushback against a visibly disabled companion. No one believing that a disabled companion would be anything but a hindrance to the Doctor. A disabled companion being unable to keep up when the Doctor says run. A disabled companion being an albatross around the Doctor’s neck.
Or, imagine this. A blind companion whose other senses are so heightened that they can hear or sense things the Doctor misses. A Deaf companion whose visual observation skills mean they can pick out the tiniest, mystery-solving details. A wheelchair-using companion who everyone — including the audience — underestimates, except for the Doctor.
Because the Doctor never underestimates anyone. In 900 years of time and space, the Doctor has never met anyone who wasn’t important. So why wouldn’t the Doctor expect as much of a disabled person as he would of someone who isn’t disabled? Why wouldn’t the Doctor assume that a disabled person is just as capable, just as competent, just as qualified as anyone else? The Doctor (as played by Peter Capaldi) didn’t notice whether Clara was young or old; why would he suddenly be hyper-aware of a disability?
Would it be challenging to include disabled characters — played by disabled actors, I feel I must clarify — in a show like Doctor Who? Of course it would! But when you sign up to run a show like Doctor Who, a show that has a massive history and a massive following, aren’t you signing up for a challenge? Isn’t that what you’re looking for? Wouldn’t it require creating thinking? Yeah, but I really hope that any Doctor Who showrunner is a master of creative thinking. Wouldn’t the logistics be incredibly complicated? Sure, but wouldn’t it be worth it to tell an amazing story?
Imagine the stories they could tell that haven’t been told. Some of the complaints I’ve heard about the modern era of Doctor Who is that it retells too many old stories instead of creating something new. Here is the perfect opportunity to create something new!
Having disabled characters on Doctor Who isn’t without precedent. Just off the top of my head, I can think of an episode during Peter Capaldi’s tenure that featured a Deaf character and her interpreter. So it can be done. I’m just asking for it to be done on a broader scale. A whole season (or multiple seasons) instead of just one episode.
Doctor Who isn’t a stranger to integrating non-traditional characters to its storylines. It has tackled race, misogony, homophobia, sexual identity and much more in its nearly 60-year run. Why not expand that to include disabled characters? And use disabilities and conditions as more than a plot device.
So, is anyone else as excited to see what this special is going to entail? I can’t wait to find out, but I try to avoid too much speculation so I can be as surprised as possible when the special actually airs. Considering the special probably won’t air until fall 2023, I’ve got a lot of avoiding to do.
If you’re interested in learning more about disability and other marginalized groups, I’d like to suggest the podcast out_cast. Out_cast is a podcast about being multiply marginalized, specifically about queerness, disability, neurodivergence, mental health, and sometimes other stuff. That’s out underscore cast, available wherever you listen to podcasts. Let me know if you listen and tell me what you think.
Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one.
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