We need a Tardis full of interesting female characters - with rich interior lives

The response to the announcement that the Doctor would yet again be played by a straight, white man is just about settling down.

It was clear, from the day it was announced, that clearing airtime in order to unveil the new lead for a different, long-running and much-beloved television programme was a dodgy idea and watching it an exercise in extreme silliness. Even so, millions of us (just under seven at the peak moment of revelation) tuned in to watch Doctor Who Live: the Next Doctor on BBC1, and lo, it was revealed. Our new Doctor, behemoth of the Saturday tea-time slot and great British institution, was to be another straight, white male – this time of Scottish ancestry – Peter Capaldi. Let joy be unconfined!

Capaldi’s most recent appearance on TV was as Randall Brown, the whip-smart, obsessive-compulsive head of news in the much-missed BBC2 period drama The Hour. And, of course, everyone over a certain age will recognise him from his brash and convincing performance as the spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It (as well as its big-screen sibling, In the Loop).

The Doctor’s adventures are repeated and relived every season – but with scripts that explore his personality and showcase the complex humanity of his companions, Capaldi will make a fine lead for the show, as charismatic and twinkly as Tom Baker (who, by way of repeats on Nigerian television, was my first Doctor), as coldly alien as David Tennant could occasionally be, and as raw as Christopher Eccleston.

Following the lacklustre final outings of Eleven (Matt Smith), I can only look forward to Twelve’s adventures. I have no doubt that Capaldi will shine. I wish him the best.

And yet. While I wouldn’t censure the appointment of Capaldi himself, I can’t help but be disappointed. Prepare to groan and shake your head, but why not give a woman the job? The conditions were perfect – a resurgent feminist movement, and a female audience very much engaged in the fan and pop-culture spaces.

It was largely the “female internet” that took issue with what commenters saw as a weak character in Clara. We are recognising our power in being fans who shout back, and new opportunities to influence content in a tangible way.

In a year when Orange Is the New Black and Elementary both feature trans actors playing trans characters – and when one of the biggest shows on the planet was created by a black woman, is based on the life of a black woman and stars the first black female lead on US prime time in almost 40 years (Scandal, Shonda Rhimes, Judy Smith and Kerry Washington, respectively) – a female doctor felt tantalisingly within our reach.

On Twitter I mentioned how, like with the recent debate about women on British banknotes, I didn’t realise I cared that much until I did. The prospect of a female doctor (or a non-white man, for that matter), once awakened in certain quarters of the fandom, was not easy to budge. Even Helen Mirren said she felt it was time for the Doctor to be black, a woman, and gay.

The whole lead-up made the news of Capaldi’s new job (technically no longer a secret, as bookmakers had stopped taking bets on him long before the announcement) all the more disappointing – however pleased we were to note that, of all the many straight, white men the role could have gone to, it went to such a remarkable one. When I read that Steven Moffat, who writes the show, had said, “I didn’t feel enough people wanted [a female Doctor],” I wondered where he had done his polling. This felt very much like a missed opportunity.

The internet has regrouped, though, and now come our indignant requests. Tumblr’s servers are groaning under the weight of posts such as “What Moffat must do with River Song and Clara in the next season” and “Doctor Who’s sexism problem – and how Moffat can solve it”. Twitter isn’t far behind. It’s fair to say that Moffat rules swaths of Tumblr simply by being the pointman on both Doctor Who and Sherlock (due back on BBC1 this year). Now that he’s disappointed a good proportion of fans by not giving us a female Doctor, we hope he’ll fill the Tardis with interesting female characters every week – women with rich interior lives, written to the full, and not just existing to “save” the Doctor, or swoon upon him. 

Jenna-Louise Coleman in the last series of Doctor Who. Photograph: BBC Pictures.

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

This article first appeared in the 12 August 2013 issue of the New Statesman, What if JFK had lived?

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.