Time for Change: a charity view of Dr Who’s sex change


New Dr Who actress Jodie Whittaker

Charlotte Bray, fundraiser and Dr Who fan, believes there's much charities can learn from the time lord's sex change

Charlotte Bray's photo

9th January 2018 by Charlotte Bray 0 Comments

For Doctor Who fans 2017 will be remembered for one of the biggest announcements in the show’s history: a (gasp) female Doctor.

Don’t worry non-fans. This won’t be a 500 word essay on Jodie Whittaker’s entry into the Who-niverse. It doesn’t need a "may contain robots" reader warning. 

However, as we start the blank page of another year, I wanted to share reflections from the Christmas episode and how they might apply to the charity sector.

Charlotte Bray

Charlotte Bray

1 Managing change: some people don’t like it

As someone who works on major capital appeals, this is no surprise. Change can bring strong reactions. Jodie’s casting was no exception. People get used to ways of doing and seeing. Expectations were challenged. Patterns were rearranged.

Many were delighted that a long-running series could still surprise and excite. The world needs more female heroes. Jodie will bring another dimension to the show’s much-loved central character. But, for all who were excited, there were those who reacted with criticism, confusion and aggression.

2 Meeting negative reactions with understanding and compassion

There was a lot of anger and abuse, from both sides, about (let’s face it) a fictional character. It can be tempting to dismiss views that seem unreasonable. Worse still, we can meet aggression with aggression.

While I found the negativity frustrating, I tried to remember where these strong reactions were coming from. For many, a favourite TV series is a security blanket; a safe place where exciting things happen, but within an acceptable format. Some things, like the TARDIS (and the Doctor’s gender, apparently,) were solid rocks for some. Moving them was scary.

We could just dismiss those lost fans and welcome the new ones gained. But Stephen Moffat’s approach with the Christmas special was gentler. It didn’t ignore the naysayers, or fling insults. The theme of peace was reiterated in a reference to the World War One Christmas day armistice.

For a story that was the final bow of producer and cast, I expected whistles, bells, monsters and explosions. I thought there would be scenes of extended peril on a Universal scale. Not so. It was a quiet bow and goodbye to the past, making way for a short, dramatic first appearance by Jodie W. Out with the tired and old, in with the exciting and new.

3 Keeping our strengths and letting go of outdated concepts

Doctor Who for the uninitiated: Time Lords like the Doctor regenerate to aid longevity. For TV purposes, this means the show continues even if the main actor moves on (or is pushed).

The Christmas special featured both the outgoing (Peter Capaldi) Doctor and his first persona (in the 60s: William Hartnell, in the 2010s: David Bradley off-of Broadchurch and Game of Thrones). Both Drs were facing and resisting regeneration: change. By the end of the story, both were ready to embrace it.

The story was set in the past, meaning some characters expressed outdated views. The episode dealt with these subtly, making it clear they were no longer appropriate before regenerating the Dr into a woman – the final nail in the coffin for outdated values.

The new Dr, whoever she may be, will still be a hero to look up to. The character has varied so much: young/old, warmly affectionate/coldly calculating, difficult to like/instantly accessible. But throughout, the Dr has always had traits that are admirable, like courage, intelligence and a sense of justice. These remain, but with a new perspective.

4 Embrace the blank page

I’ve been a fundraiser for over a decade and a Dr Who fan much longer. It can be easy to get set in my ways.

We stick to some fundraising approaches like a toffee on your trousers which you’ve sat on by accident. When people suggest change, we react strongly. It’s important to reflect on what still works and to consider what might benefit from a refresh.

This new year my favourite TV show has changed one of the most significant elements of its central character. In turn, as I reflect on goals and aspirations for 2018, I want to keep what is strong, kind and good, but recognise what might be outdated and in need of a change.

And if we meet with resistance, let’s match it with understanding and kindness.

Charlotte Bray is fundraising manager at the Scottish Seabird Centre