Now that the dust has started to settle on the news that Matt Smith will be the new Doctor Who, I have to ask: Am I the only one who feels a little... well, cheated?
It's not an age thing, I should point out. Although, yes, 26 seems a little young to me to be a Doctor, that's entirely a thought probably based more in my own bitterness at realizing that I'm eight years older than a timelord and feeling as if all of my life's achievements pale in comparison to singlehandedly saving the universe on a weekly basis or traveling around all time and space in a blue police box; Peter Davison was only three years older when he got the role back in 1981, and I didn't have any problem with his age, after all. It's also not a comment on whether or not Smith will be any good in the role; I can't think of that many things he's done that I've seen, so I don't have any real opinion one way or another.
No, my problem with the choice is this: He's a white male.
I shouldn't be surprised, of course; the Doctor has, since his creation, always been a white male. Ten actors have played him previously "in canon" (Peter Cushing and the all the stars of the Children In Need special being ignored), and each one of them has been distinctly caucasian and possessing of a penis (Well, to the best of my knowledge). But this was the regeneration where we were led to believe that anything was possible and that things could change. This was the regeneration where names like Patterson Joseph and Chiwetel Ejiofor were not only raised as possibilities but named by the BBC themselves as frontrunners for the role, with the Corporation also happily teasing that it was also very possible that a woman might be taking over the Tardis this time around.
Put it down, perhaps, to naivety and post-Obama optimism, but there was a buzz and excitement about the idea of the new Doctor being something other than the establishment figure that we'd been used to all these years. For my part, it wasn't any kind of affirmative action or "political correctness gone wild" (Hello to our Daily Mail readers) that made me eager to see Joseph in the role; it was the statement that such a choice would have represented. The Doctor is everyone, it would have said, and for everyone, and this particular Doctor is something you've not necessarily seen before. Even if he was a man, he wouldn't necessarily have been The Man, if you know what I mean.
Instead, we have Matt Smith, whose age is apparently controversial, but about whom, everything else seems... well, pretty conventional. And perhaps that's the point. Maybe the BBC didn't want to bring too much upset to their flagship family program, especially with the change in producers and showrunners, and worried that moving too far away from the familiar would make viewers leave the show in concern that it's not the same show they've loved for the last X number of years. If so, it's a shame, and - I think - a miscalculation; I really doubt that audiences would have had any problem with a black Doctor, or a female Doctor (or, for that matter, a black female Doctor, for anyone who wants to write fanfic that Martha Jones is actually a future Doctor herself); despite a stereotype and tradition for stuffiness, Britain is a strongly multicultural environment, and even if it wasn't, characters like Martha, or the admittedly-annoying Mickey, or even Captain Jack Harkness, had been quietly pushing the envelope on Who since its revival. Even if the BBC wasn't ready for a different kind of Doctor, the audience, I believe, was.
I'm almost left wondering, does this choice send the opposite message? Is there an accidental, implied "It's okay to be a companion if you're not white and male, but you'll never be the star of the show?" in selecting Smith over Joseph or someone else? The BBC was ready to tease the potential for a bold new era for the Doctor, after all, so they must have been aware of the messages that such a choice would have been sending. Does shying away from a non-white male lead after raising such hopes make the BBC look worse than just being a PR cocktease? Does it make them look racist, or afraid?
None of this is meant to suggest that Smith won't be a great Doctor. He certainly has a great team of people behind him, and I highly doubt that his selection was made without a lot of thought, auditions and back-and-forth; it's just that it feels like we were offered something more, for a brief second, and I'm still hung up on what might have been.