Who should be the first female Doctor?

With Doctor Who celebrating its 50th birthday in 2013, isn't it about time to make him a her? There are rumours – denied by the BBC – that Matt Smith is departing the role after this year, so now is the perfect time to give the Time Lord a little gender reassignment. (It's also about time the producers got a few women on the writing staff, too, but that's another story.) So with this in mind, we put  on our thinking fezzes and pondered the question of who to cast as the first female Doctor ...

Jenna-Louise Coleman

Yes, she's currently the Doctor's companion, Clara, but what a lovely twist it would be if the Doctor regenerated into his fellow traveller. She's already died a couple of times and come back, so it could fit quite well into the storyline. And we already know what a terrific actor Coleman is. If the Who producers decide to make such a drastic change, then going with someone who is already a part of the show will make the transition somewhat easier.

Joanna Lumley

She's already played the Doctor – briefly, and beautifully – in the classic Comic Relief sketch Curse of Fatal Death (embedded below). Lumley would be a popular choice. She's certainly got the acting chops, and would bring a tremendous amount of goodwill with her, thanks to her history with The Avengers and Absolutely Fabulous. And with those teeth, she could bite the head off a Cyberman.

Olivia Colman

She has a scatty edginess to her that she brings to her characters, and she’s good at twitchy anxiety, too. These are great qualities for the Doctor to have, as he thrives on nervous energy. Yet Colman also has great depths of emotion going on in her eyes. She can convey a whole scene in one flickering look. She also does empathy incredibly well – as the cop in Broadchurch right now she’s on a knife edge between professionalism and being friends with the bereaved and she’s playing that sense of emotional loyalty, another important Doctor quality, over duty with great finesse.

female doctor who embed

Lesley Sharp

Sharp long ago proved herself as one of Britain’s great character actors. She’s built her career playing strong women who won’t take any nonsense, motherly but unflappable in a crisis and even when things are going to pot she conveys a sense of stillness at the heart of a maelstrom. Her list of roles is both long and impressive and she has worked with the cream of UK talent on both sides of the camera but somehow, although she’s had many a leading part, she’s still not seen as a major star. Who could be her crowning glory.

Maxine Peake

Another actor of great versatility. There’s a brittleness to her but she also has great comic ability – remember her as Twinkle in Dinnerladies or Tracey Temple in Confessions of a Diary Secretary? Behind the apparent fragility is a steel interior and she can do witty too. Signing Peake for the greatest sci-fi role ever would catapult a true star into the role rather than an unknown having stardom thrust upon them. We can but hope.

Tina Fey

Hey, who says the Doctor has to be a Brit? James Bond was once an Aussie, so why shouldn't the Doc be American? And Fey would be sublime in the role – she could make the character a little angsty and unsure of herself, a la 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, but the Doctor would still be the massive geek that we know and love.

A few other names to throw in the hat, including some of the usual suspects, came from a quick email-around to the rest of the Screenjabber crew: Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Tilda Swinton, Diana Rigg, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jenny Agutter, Dawn French and Emma Thompson. Any one of them would be perfect in the driving seat of the Tardis.

the first 11 doctors embed

But if Matt Smith does get replaced by a man (which he more than likely will) then let’s hope they get bold and sign up ... Jeremy Piven. As said above, there’s no reason the Doctor can’t be an American. And Piven has just wowed  the UK as Harry Selfridge – that big, brash, loudmouthed, Yankee showman with a can-do attitude, a man who won’t let anything stand in his way. And as bombastic, foul-mouthed Hollywood agent Ari Gold, Piven was easily the best thing in Entourage. Dress him up in a top hat and tails and he’d totally rock as our favourite two-hearted crazy alien.

The Other 11 Doctors

Louise Bolotin is Screenjabber’s TV critic. She has a penchant for quality drama and quirky documentaries, slums it with EastEnders and pities people who watch reality TV, which might be why she never writes about The X Factor.

Stuart O'Connor

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