Doctor Jodie and the Whovians

It’s been an interesting week as a life-long Doctor Who fan.  The show started the year I was born (the week JFK was assassinated, in fact) and I have stuck with it throughout its audience peaks and troughs.  The announcement on Sunday of the casting of a new Doctor kept me preoccupied all weekend.

Hands up, I was one of those Whovians hoping they’d cast a female lead, the show was in need of a refresh again.  And what casting!  Not only a woman, but one of my all-time favourite actresses too.  They manages to get Jodie Whittaker, for goodness sake!!!  Perfect.  How did they manage that?!?  I am one happy Whovian this week.

Ah yes, then there’s been the audience and press reaction to all this… a dimension to be expected, alas, and something intriguing the psychologist in me more than anything else.  Casting a female lead has brought out the very best and the very worst in fans and journalists, the show’s end consumers if you like.  Personally, I feel the change in gender – established in Who mythology long ago – can only be a positive thing.  As many commentators have observed, little girls in the playground can now be the Doctor, not the assistant, and this may well also have a positive impact on encouraging interest in science too – again, one of the intended aims of Doctor Who way back at its inception in 1963.  I shall for the sake of this post ignore the negative comments, some of which have been quite offensive, except to say that the misogynists threatening to boycott the show are welcome to do so.  I’m sure a whole new generation of fans will be only too willing to take their place.

And really, that’s the whole point of all this…  It’s about ratings.  It’s about increasing audience share.  It’s about boosting merchandise sales.  However we look at the past few days, this has been if nothing else very clever marketing on the part of the BBC.  The level of interest and press coverage has been huge.  The two-minute “reveal” video previewed on BBC1 on Sunday, ironically after the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon, has to date been viewed well over nine million times from the BBC’s Facebook page alone – that’s double the average TV audience figures for actual broadcast episodes over this past year!  Sales of DVDs and downloads of TV series and movies starring Jodie  have also shown a marked increase according to retailers. And let us not forget other aspects of the timing of the announcement here…  It comes in the same week that the Advertising Standards Authority announced new guidelines on the portrayal of gender roles in the media and, of course, there’s that small matter of the parallel reveal of BBC salaries and its apparent gender disparity – at least our new Doctor now knows how much Peter Capaldi was being paid, if nothing else.  Negotiate a good deal, Jodie!

They say no publicity is bad publicity and I’ve no doubt that this will definitely prove the case here.  The level of attention shows no sign of waining. Traffic through the main social media channels remains unprecedented in Doctor Who terms and, this very evening, the BBC cleverly issued a formal response to the complaints they have apparently received.  I say “cleverly” because it really just recycles quotes from the production team on Sunday about the benefits of this casting decision for the future of the programme.  Even those nude pictures in the tabloids were kind of predictable – didn’t we have some similar coverage when David Tennant’s casting was announced?  He went on to become the most successful Doctor since the show’s reboot.

What will the outcome be?  Well, we have to wait a full year for the first full Jodie Whittaker season to air, time enough to build audience anticipation (and subsequent viewing figures) in a way that worked so well for past castings such as Peter Davison, Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston.  Tease the audience with something new and exciting, then make them wait – a lovely marketing ploy!   The knock-on merchandise sales are potentially huge too, a female Doctor opens up so many new marketing opportunities from clothing (still have my Tom Baker scarf) to children’s toys (doll sales peaked with David Tennant, of course, being bought largely by adults).  So, from a BBC point of view, they are on to a sure-fire winner here.  Well done, Auntie.

And as a fan…?  I’m on to a winner too, me thinks.  A great show refreshed in a wonderfully innovative way – and (did I mention this earlier?) it stars Jodie Whittaker, folks!  Wow!!!   Who could ask for more…   As the Fourth Doctor once said in his debut story, “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes”


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