Even Back in Tom Baker’s Day, We Knew Time Lords Changed Gender

17 July 2017


I’m going pop a toe – tentatively – in to the hottest debate that is going on at the moment. I want to be flippant about its importance but I am going to resist. Yet the new Doctor is a woman and the internet is smoking (whatever gender the internet may be!).

I’m old(ish).  I can just about remember Troughton first time round. The Doctor was always a man. However, rumours always did abound that new Doctors (post Tom Baker at least) might be a woman. In the new era of Doctor Who we have seen two time lords regenerate in to a different gender (if you are a fan, you know this – if you are a casual viewer, take my word for it).

So much for ‘New Who’.  Yet even in the classic era, there were indications that time lords could change gender when they regenerate.  My point in case is the scene above, where Tom Baker’s Doctor (I was a fan before the numbering system began so forgive me if I forget the shorthand) couldn’t quite see how he could possibly refer to his new companion by her full name, especially in emergencies.

Back in the day fans used to tape record the shows and listen to them time and time and wibbly wobbly time again.  I followed suit and that’s why a line from 1978’s The Ribos Operation came to mind when I heard the news that Jodie Whittaker was taking over the helm of the Tardis.  (I know: my family did not have a VCR in 1978 – how poor-quality and incompatible of format could we have been?).

The Doctor advised that instead of Romanadvoratrelundar he could call this new person in the Tardis ( the one deemed most suitable to help in in the quest for the six pieces of the Key to Time) Romana for short. It was either that or the distinctively masculine four-letter name Fred.  Romana immediately opted for Fred. Now, Romana had obviously done her homework on the Doctor before meeting him and would probably have picked up, from the ‘files’, the nuances of late twentieth-century gender-based naming systems in the English language.

She was that clever, right? As any Gallifreyan knows, gender-based regeneration is an irrelevance where the universe is concerned.

In my opinion, Romana would have picked up the fact that on the Doctor's favourite planet Fred was a name reserved mostly for men.  Furthermore, as a diminutive this alternative name was not exactly the most flattering insinuation of the Doctor's opinion of her current status aboard the Tardis. Yes, we do have the female form of Fred but the way that the Doctor spat out this alternative does seem to me to indicate he meant the male form of the word.  It's there we might not always be able to separate cannon from the time in which it was written...  Yet what could be going through the heads of both time lords at this time can only be guessed at.

In other words, I thoroughly and utterly believe that this was the first time that the fact that time lords can change gender was implicitly mentioned in the show.

My tongue is, of course, firmly placed in my cheek.  However…

Just a thought – what if the gender of the Time Lords is cyclical?  The glimpses we have had throughout the years, with male time lords massively outweighing the female in terms of number may not be a gender imbalance but simply the beginning of a shift from a patriarchy to a matriarchy – part of the natural cycle of things on Gallifrey?

As a final by the by, having loved the show for all of my 52 years on the planet I will undoubtedly do so for the rest of my time on Sol 3.  Although I loved Colin Baker's tweet, re-wording his own first words as the Doctor, I will leave you with words from my all-time favourite Doctor Who character (that's probably counting the Doctors too, if truth be told).  Go, Sarah Jane.

"The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it's a world, or a relationship... Everything has its time. And everything ends."



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