The Implications of a Female Doctor

Posted: September 10, 2010 in Braak
Tags: , ,

When talk in the Geekly circles swings around to “who would make a good Doctor?”, inevitably the question of “why not a woman?” comes up.

It’s a good question, and an interesting one.  There is nothing in the TV series that specifically precludes it; I know that nerds say stuff like, “The Doctor said he was a father!” or “the Doctor has always been male!”  but that’s just dumb old conservative fanboyish misogyny.

There’s no reason for it, except that it’s unfamiliar, and fans of things don’t like it when the things they like change.

So, whatever, I don’t care; it’s not like it’s going to happen, anyway.  But I was thinking about this idea, and about the implications that it had for Gallifreyan society.  (I was thinking about this because I am a HUGE FUCKING NERD.)

Time Lords periodically regenerate and, let’s say for the sake of argument, that they sometimes switch genders.  It happens, we’ll say, sort of randomly or unexpectedly or, at least, uncontrollably.

Now, let’s remember that the Time Lords actually generally communicate via telepathy, and when the Doctor speaks “English”, he’s not really speaking English, he’s speaking his weird psychic Time Lord language, and the TARDIS is moderating the language into something apprehensible to the less-sophisticated human mind.  It is not unreasonable, then, to presuppose that the natural Time Lord language is itself more complex than we’re led to believe from just watching the show.

What interests me is the idea that there are actually three sets of pronouns in the natural Gallifreyan language, used to refer in different ways to a person’s sexual configuration.  There’s the sex-that-you-appear-to-be, the sex-that-you-usually-are, and the sex-that-you-prefer.

At any given time, there’s no reason to assume that any of these three conditions are necessarily the same.  You could prefer to be male, but happen to be female this time, though you usually happen to be male.  You might usually happen to be female, be coincidentally female this time, but actually prefer female.  Whatever, there are a lot of combinations, and because Time Lords are telepathic, their language is semantically very dense, meaning its no additional trouble for them to communicate all of this information when they speak to each other.

Probably, they LIKE thinking about things in complicated ways, so the idea of sex and gender as a complex interplay between preference and coincidence would be appealing to them.

Three sets of genders, and let’s assume that there’s actually four — no, let’s figure five pronouns in each set:  male, female, ambi or multi, asexual (sapient) and asexual (insapient).  So, you wouldn’t use the same pronoun for a sexless table that you would use to describe a sexless person, because Gallifreyan society recognizes that an individual that is sexless has, or had, the capacity to have a sexual identifier and, for whatever reason, is not using it — while a table never had the capacity in the first place.

This yields fifteen different pronouns in regular use in Gallifreyan language, and it suggests the possibility that the language is actually divided into three modes of address when you’re talking to another person:  you’ve got a formal-personal mode, the way that you’d address a stranger, or someone you hardly know (you’d use the sex-as-you-appear pronoun set for that person); you’d have a the formal-ceremonial mode, which is the way that you’re addressed in civic or official capacities, like when the government sends you a letter, or someone is speaking on behalf of Gallifrey (this is sex-as-you-usually-are, because the state has little interest in your preferences); and you’d have the familiar mode, which is what you use when you know someone well (sex-as-you-prefer, obviously).

None of this would come up if you were speaking English to someone, though, and even if you were moderating communication telepathically between a Time Lord and an English-speaker, it might not come up, just because we don’t have a mechanism to differentiate between those modes of speech.  We’re just not used to thinking that way, as a general rule, so the shades of meaning between the style of language that Time Lords use would be lost on us.

This also suggests that the Time Lords would have a much more complicated idea of sexuality, gender, and gender relations; it’s furthermore leading me to some ideas I have about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but I’m too tired to think about it now.

  1. Also, we have at least one historic case of a Time Lord regenerating into a body double for someone else — someone they met and admired.

    There can be only one conclusion. Bring Mary Tamm back as the Doctor!

  2. Lisa says:

    ^^ Great idea: why can’t the Doctor regenerate into the image of one of his former companions? I’d like to see Donna Noble as the Doctor!

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