Jo Martin has broken boundaries as she was revealed to be the first black actor to take on the time travellers’ role in Doctor Who. As she delivered the line, “Hello, I’m the doctor,” there was an almost immediate outpouring of shock and joy from fans which ultimately overshadowed any absurd cries about the show being “too PC.” It is ironic that there was any negative response elicited whatsoever, given that this is a show that since being first aired in 1963 has renounced hate and pushed a message of peace and social justice.
Doctor Who has been a staple in my life and the lives of many others who grew up watching it, all too often from behind the safety our sofas. However, despite the love many have for the show, it has arguably been set in its ways with a procession of white male leads, a sign of the times it was first made in. Jodie Whittaker made history as the first female doctor and Jo Martin has also changed the show forever as she became the first non-white actor to take on the iconic mantel of the Doctor.
Representation in Doctor Who has generally been good; by nature, the Doctor is someone who stands up for those being persecuted or excluded, and there is always a strong sense of justice surrounding their journey. However, there is always room to improve. The introduction of black companions like Martha Jones, Bill Potts and now Ryan Sinclair has helped to further diversify the main line-up, but as companions they remain secondary characters to the white lead of the Doctor, a trope that is all too common in shows today. Jo Martin’s Doctor has changed that. She is the Doctor, the main protagonist, and she is now a role model to people of colour who can see themselves represented as the leading character on the show. This is a reminder to the rest of the industry that representation matters. A whole new generation of children will have someone like them that they can look up to on one of TV’s most popular, iconic, and long running shows.
It is not only Jo Martin that has been making history this season. The Doctor’s nemesis, Sacha Dhawan, is another person of colour who has earned themselves a central role in the classic sci-fi epic. Dhawan’s ‘Master’ appears to be a return to a more malevolent side of the character which was lost in previous seasons. The fact such an iconic character is being played by a British Indian for the first time is monumental, and from what we have seen so far, he seems more than capable of doing this role justice.
Since Martin’s first appearance, fans were left with a number of questions, ramping up the excitement for later instalments of the time traveller’s journey. It isn’t clear how Martin’s Doctor fits into the Doctor Who timeline just yet, but one thing is certain- this marks a positive shift in popular British television and a major step forward for diversity in arts more generally.
Image: Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons