5 June 2016

Could the Doctor be played by a black actor?

Why not? It seems an odd question in some respects, far less significant than if the character were to be played by a woman. That, while still plausible, would involve some re calibration of the series whereas a black actor would in theory be no more odd that someone with curly hair or someone who was only 27. There’s been quite a fuss this week following Steven Moffat’s revelation that the part of the Doctor was offered to a black actor at some point, believed to be at the start of his era when Matt Smith was eventually cast. The hitherto unknown news was coupled- in an interview with DWM- with the additional information that only non- white actors were auditioned for the role of Bill, the newest companion. This kind of thing always stirs up a mixture of opinions with some fans reacting with horror, other with nonchalance. Digital Spy have since run through which actors they think may have been offered the role which, oddly (or not) consists of the best known British black actors. One name shouts out (and he would certainly be shouting) in the form of Paterson Joseph whom some people have been linking to the role for years.  

According to interviews at the time, Steven Moffat wanted an older Doctor and Matt Smith wowed everyone with his audition hence was cast against expectations. Was this after Paterson Joseph or whoever it was had turned the role down? If this is true it suggests an interesting fluidity of ideas; they started out wanting an older black actor and ended up with a very young white actor. While media and some fans do get concerned about skin colour, I’d say a much more important consideration is the actor’s ability to be a convincing Doctor. Some of the actors listed as possible black Doctors would be no more suitable than the cavalcade of white actors whose names have been associated with the role in the past. Us fans all have theories of course as to who the next Doctor might be; thankfully the process ignores us.
The Doctor needs to be a little wayward, eccentric even but these traits can become tedious or annoying if constantly replayed. You don’t want the Doctor to be a conventional hero but you also don’t want him to be an irritating person either. There needs to be a warmth, a fierce intellect, a caring quality and more. I can’t as it goes imagine Paterson Joseph being able to convey that. Even Peter Capaldi’s first season saw him being too harsh and abrasive- even though some of that was made more comical by Clara’s reaction- but last year he calmed down. This was definitely a change for the better. You do want to like the Doctor, that is key.
This sort of speculation is currently dogging all major franchises in one way or another. Could the next James Bond be black? Or a woman (Jane Bond?). Should Captain America be gay? It all smells a little of both a lack of confidence in the strength of the established character and the comparative refusal of both the film and tv world to create a wider diversity of heroes. Instead of changing James Bond into a woman, why not create a female spy? Instead of a black or female Doctor, why not create a new fantasy show with a female or black star? Much better than turning an established one into a gimmicky politically correct vehicle.

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