Dear young people,
You might hear a lot of ugly things today, and in the next few days. From adults, mainly. The people we expect you to listen to at home, at school, when you need advice. The people who are meant to guide you towards a better understanding of the world.
Here are some of things I’ve heard people saying:
Time travel is only for men.
Adventures are only for men.
I won’t watch a show with a girl lead.
If you’ve always been a boy, you can’t suddenly discover you’re a girl after all.
You’re spoiling it, being here. You’re taking something from us, by being here. This is ours, not yours.
And I think – I hope – for some of you this might be the very first time you hear anything like those. I think – I hope – that you all know that girls and women are quite as able to be extraordinary, in fiction and in life, and their stories are for everyone.
So I think it might be pretty upsetting, to suddenly learn that the adult world thinks like that; perhaps even the people you love most.
I’m upset too.
If you’re excited about the news and don’t know how to talk to people who think, for some reason, they get to tell you not to be…
Here are some things about the show:
- Time Lords used to have only 12 regenerations, but that’s now been reset, so all the old rules about it from the history of the show don’t apply any more.
- The Master became Missy, and was every bit as brilliant and scary and strange.
- Those are from the more recent years of the series. Fans of the TV show from the start might remind you that the Doctor has never been able to choose how he looks when he regenerates; it’s usually a bit of a shock. But Romana, a Time Lady who travelled with the Fourth Doctor for a while, was able to try out some regenerations before picking one she liked. I like to think he phoned her up and asked how she did it.
- About that ‘Time Lady’ thing: I’ve always imagined Romana called herself that for the lols. Gallifrey’s gone. I think Thirteen can call herself whatever she likes.
Here are some things about real life:
- Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in June 1963 – 5 months before Doctor Who first appeared on screen. Here’s a list of all women astronauts.
- The first science fiction novel* was written by a woman: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, published in 1818. (She’s quite a good friend of the Eighth Doctor.)
- The Doctor is a scientist, and a time-traveller, so she’d be well aware of the immense contributions women have made to her field, from Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who discovered pulsars) to Rosalind Franklin (whose X-ray work was key to the discovery of DNA). Here are some more pioneering scientists from history.
- You don’t owe anyone your time or your feelings.
If you’re excited and other people aren’t, talking about it might help them see a different point of view. It might also help them realise that casual chat about a TV show doesn’t always feel casual; that saying ‘girls don’t belong here’ says something much bigger and darker about how they view the world than just a TV show. But remember, you’re not obliged to argue with people who disagree.
Above all, please remember this:
Those things people are saying, that I quoted above? The adult world doesn’t think like that. Not all of it. Those are loud voices. They get attention. But they don’t rule. I promise you that there is a chorus of other voices (of all genders and all ages) rising up with a song of joy at this news, to herald the thing at the core of our beloved show: we’re going on a new adventure. Hold her hand, and run.
* People like to argue about what ‘science fiction’ means, so they might disagree with this. There are a lot of earlier texts that touch on scientific issues, but Frankenstein is generally recognised as the first in the genre we know today. It was completely groundbreaking at the time, and she started writing it when she was only 18.