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Doctor Who Fans React to Showrunner’s Controversial Costume Comments

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Doctor Who fans are furious over David Tennant’s new clothes.

The Doctor Who Centenary Special “The Power of the Doctor” originally aired on Oct. 23 on both BBC One and BBC America. The feature-length special depicted Jodie Whittaker’s final adventure inside the TARDIS as the 13th Doctor and ended with her regenerating into her 14th incarnation, played by David Tennant, who previously portrayed the 10th Doctor. The final scene of the Centenary Special proved to be a major talking point among Doctor Who fans, not just for the surprise return of Tennant as the titular Time Lord, but also because his clothes changed along with his body post-regeneration — a detail that hasn’t been seen since the conclusion of the 1966 serial “The Tenth Planet.”

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Historically, the concept of regeneration came about as a way of recasting the lead role originated by William Hartnell due to the actor’s declining health. Since the idea reportedly wasn’t solidified at the time, Hartnell was replaced by Patrick Troughton at the end of “The Tenth Planet,” undergoing the first on-screen regeneration that also affected his clothes. For subsequent iterations of the character, only the actor changed but continued to wear their predecessor’s costume until their version of the Doctor decided on a new wardrobe. This has been the standard until the 13th incarnation of the Doctor. With the 14th Doctor experiencing a wardrobe change with his regeneration, fans began to speculate on the in-story reasons, though returning showrunner Russell T Davies offered an unexpected explanation.

Russell T Davies Explains the 14th Doctor’s Costume Change

In Doctor Who Magazine #584, Davies shared new information about what fans can expect in the upcoming 60th Anniversary specials, which will also see the return of fan-favorite companion Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate. The 2023 specials will also formally introduce Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th Doctor and his companion, Rose, played by Yasmin Finney. Davies additionally shared insight on his decision to have the 14th Doctor change clothes with his regeneration.

“I was very certain that I didn’t want David to appear in Jodie’s costume,” Davies stated. “I think the notion of men dressing in ‘women’s clothes,’ the notion of drag, is very delicate. I’m a huge fan of that culture and the dignity of that, it’s a truly valuable thing. But it has to be done with immense thought and respect.” Davies further elaborated on his thoughts by conveying that a straight man wearing Jodie’s costume “can look like mockery,” noting that Tennant is “a great big six-foot Scotsman.” Davies also expressed concern about how Tennant in Whittaker’s costume could be printed in some newspapers in ways that could lend to sarcastic and critical commentary about gender.

“We could have the Doctor dressed as a knight, or dressed as God, or dressed as William Hartnell, and the only photo they’d print would be of David in what they considered to be women’s clothes,” Davies continued. “Then it becomes weaponized — as a mockery of feminine traits, a mockery of drag, of that culture. So that was never going to happen.” With Tennant portraying a new incarnation of the Doctor for the 60th Anniversary specials, Davies knew that the clothes would regenerate with the Time Lord’s body and nothing was going to change his mind.

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Though Davies’ comments are centered on how the media could easily twist an image of Tennant in Whittaker’s costume in ways that are harmful to both women and the LGBTQIA community, Doctor Who fans believe his comments send an equally troubling message. Some of the criticism against Davies’ comments include the invalidation of male cosplayers who dress as the 13th Doctor and the fact that Whittaker’s costume is gender-neutral. One fan noted that Davies appears to be protecting a cisgender heterosexual man from the transmisogyny trans women experience daily, with another fan questioning the logic of pandering to bigots as opposed to catering to fans who understand the nature of the show.

In addition to the criticisms against Davies’ comments, fans have also posted a video of Whittaker confirming that her costume is not about dressing as a girl or a boy, but about dressing as The Doctor. To further validate Whittaker’s point, fans of varying gender began posting photos of themselves cosplaying as the 13th Doctor, using the hashtag #ThirteenForEveryone.

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While it’s still possible there’s an in-universe reason for the costume change in the 60th Anniversary specials, for now, Davies is remaining tight-lipped about those details. As such, fans are left with the behind-the-scenes explanation for the new attire, and the implications they have for the franchise going forward.

Doctor Who will return for a series of three 60th Anniversary Specials in November 2023.

Source: Doctor Who Magazine and Twitter

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