It hasn't been a wonderful January for fans of the long-running British cult series Doctor Who. We learned this week that the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, will be leaving the series at the end of season ten (which begins this April), and this news comes only days after the passing of John Hurt, who played the War Doctor in Doctor Who's 50th anniversary special. It's not all doom and gloom, however. Capaldi's exit doesn't have the same impact that a departing lead would have on any other show, as the Doctor regularly regenerates into a new form.
Capaldi himself is the twelfth actor to take on the Doctor role (thirteenth, counting the War Doctor), and took over from Matt Smith on Doctor Who in 2013. As a result, his announcement has been met with speculation, rather than shock - much of which focuses on the possibility of seeing a more diverse casting choice for the Doctor's next regeneration. Today, we're going to be discussing one such casting possibility that fits that criteria: Peggy Carter herself, Hayley Atwell.
Diversity In Doctor Who
Since the show first aired in 1963, every version of the Doctor has been a white male. These have ranged in age from the youthful Matt Smith to the much more elderly-uncle figures of the earlier seasons, and have come with various costume and personality changes, but many fans have been less than impressed with the similarity of the Doctors over the years. The rebooted Doctor Who has been careful to include more diversity in other characters, but the Doctor himself has remained stubbornly male. The companions are usually female (although some men have made it into the mix) and have not always been white, while the show also features a broad range of alien figures who are often used to tackle topics of prejudice and inclusivity.
In recent years, many fans have been vocal about the desire for greater diversity in the show, leading to many of the stars and creative talents involved discussing the possibility. Showrunner Steven Moffat has said many times that he sees the show as "rather female", and that he would not discount the possibility of a female Doctor in the future. Current Doctor Capaldi has said that he doesn't see the role as limited to male actors, as has fellow Doctor Who star Karen Gillan. Moffat has also noted the positive fan response to his decision to gender-swap another character in the show: the Master. Another Time Lord (and a far less benevolent one), the Master has long been a frenemy of the Doctor, and was played for the first time by a woman (Michelle Gomez) in 2014. This was a huge step for the show, and proved that Time Lords could regenerate into another gender. It seems a logical next step for the show to do something different with the 13th doctor, and finally give this iconic sci-fi series a female lead.
Agent Carter To Doctor Who
If the series does decide to go for a female Doctor in season eleven, we're looking pointedly in the direction of Marvel star Hayley Atwell. The British actress shot to fame as Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, a role that eventually led to her own spin-off series, Marvel's Agent Carter. Agent Carter was cancelled after two seasons, to the disappointment of its huge fan base, and Atwell went on to work on Conviction, which was cancelled after only a single season. Although we would have loved to see Atwell find success with the show, this leaves her in need of a new project - and what better than Doctor Who?
Atwell has everything that we are looking for in a new Doctor. She's British, which is something of a requirement (it's easier to envision a female Doctor than an American one, for most fans!), and she's very used to dealing with a major role in a huge franchise, thanks to Marvel. Her role as Agent Carter also proved her ability to work with a sci-fi/fantasy role, and to get physical with a part. Peggy Carter is not afraid to do things her own way, or to get her hands dirty; and while the doctor isn't as violent as Peggy has been, he certainly does his fair share of physical adventuring. She's got a genius for comedy, which is a vital part of the show, and she's mature enough and experienced enough to handle a character as complicated as the Doctor. She's also much younger than Capaldi - and we've seen from past Doctors that the current fandom seems to connect more with younger regenerations. Although longtime fans loved Capaldi's take on the character, there is no denying that some viewers did find him less appealing than the more boyishly charming Smith and David Tennant.
In addition to all of this, Atwell herself has said that she would like to take on the role. In a Twitter Q&A, the actress said "I'd like to BE Doctor Who", setting the fandom alight when it happened in 2015. At the time, she was busy with Agent Carter, but now that she's looking for a new project, we would be surprised if she doesn't throw her hat in the ring with the BBC. Having a longtime fan join the franchise is always a good thing, as it means that the new star is approaching the role with an in-depth understanding of who, exactly, the Doctor really is.
Who Else Is In The Running?
Of course, there are plenty of names being tossed around right now as potential thirteenth doctors. Many fans are calling for a woman, others are asking that the Doctor remain male, but not white, and still others aren't looking for that much of a shake up at all. Ben Whishaw, best known as Q in the James Bond franchise, has been given the top odds by bookmakers William Hill, and he certainly fits the traditional Doctor mould. Capaldi himself is hoping for a female Doctor, and has suggested Harry Potter actress Frances De La Tour, who played Madame Maxime in the franchise.
Other names that have been suggested include Billie Piper, who was the original companion for the rebooted series, and who left Doctor Who in 2008. She has since had two cameo reappearances, one in 2010 and one in 2013, and while it's not impossible for her to return, it would certainly be the most complicated option for a thirteenth regeneration. Various British comedians have been mentioned by fans, including Olivia Colman, who also worked with David Tennant on Broadchurch, Richard Ayoade and Chris O'Dowd from The IT Crowd, and Paterson Joseph, a Peep Show alum who has already appeared on Doctor Who in the past. Finally, Harry Potter star Rupert Grint has been suggested, another Brit with franchise, fantasy and comedy experience. Grint would also be the first red-haired Doctor, which would be an opportunity to reference the moment where Smith took over from Tennant and exclaimed "I'm still not ginger!"
Capaldi's Last Hurrah
Of course, all of this is just speculation at the moment, and we still have a full season to go before we bid a fond farewell to Peter Capaldi. Many feel that this incredible actor wasn't given the chance to really reach his full potential in the role, and we're hoping that season ten will be his best season yet. Season ten also sees long-time showrunner Moffat leave the series, to be replaced by Chris Chibnall - who is already part of the Doctor Who family. He worked with the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) on the hit series Broadchurch, and who has already worked on Doctor Who's spin-off series Torchwood. This means big changes ahead for the show, and may mean that he will want to start his first season as showrunner with a bang, and an unexpected casting choice.
We are looking forward to seeing who will be taking over the TARDIS controls, but in the meantime, we'll be enjoying the final twelve episodes with Capaldi at the 'wheel' of that famous blue box on Doctor Who.
Who would you like to see play the thirteenth Doctor? Check out some of our other suggestions, and comment to let us know!
- Doctor Who release date: Nov 19, 2018