Jewish Creator Of ‘Doctor Who’ Suggested Female Star — In 1986

Who, exactly, is Doctor Who?

It’s simple, really: An apparently immortal alien who can time travel, likes to get into trouble, get out of it with the use of his sonic screwdriver (don’t ask), and, ideally, fight for the rights and wellbeing of the oppressed along the way. Oh, yes, and every time the Doctor ages, is wounded, or is otherwise confronted with mortality, he simply acquires a new physical appearance, and personality to match.

Come December, for the first time, “he” will become a “she.”

The Doctor’s 13th incarnation will be played the actress Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to take on the role, who will replace Peter Capaldi at the end of the show’s 2017 Christmas special.

For many of the show’s fans, it’s about time.

But according to the show’s creator, Sydney Newman, it was time nearly 30 years ago.

Newman, the Canadian-born son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, took charge of the BBC’s drama department in 1962. The first episode of “Doctor Who,” which he created to fill an under-utilized Saturday afternoon slot, aired the following year.

The show captured the United Kingdom’s imagination, but by the 1980s had lost its steam. As The Telegraph reported in 2010, Newman declared that the only way to revitalize it was to give it a female lead.

Why? The show, he thought, could be better crafted for younger audiences. “Don’t you agree that this is considerably more worthy of the BBC than Doctor Who’s presently largely socially valueless, escapist schlock!,” he appealed.

(Yes, schlock.)

“At a later stage Doctor Who should be metamorphosed into a woman,” Newman advised.

He made his petition to Michael Grade, who at the time ran the channel BBC One. But his idea fell on deaf ears, and the show’s original series ended in 1989. Its reboot debuted in 2005.

Newman had one other piece of advice for Grade, on the idea of a woman playing the Doctor: Her character should not resemble “a flashy, Hollywood Wonder Women [sic] because this kind of heroine with no flaws is a bore.”

No word on whether the modern BBC will take his advice, but if they do, it’s safe to say Whittaker won’t be eliciting comparisons to star-of-the-moment Gal Gadot. But maybe — just maybe — one day the two will meet. We wonder if the space-time continuum could bear the excitement.


Talya Zax

Talya Zax

Talya Zax is the Forward’s deputy culture editor. Contact her at or on Twitter, @TalyaZax.

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Jewish Creator Of ‘Doctor Who’ Suggested Female Star — In 1986

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