Doctor Who’s Jo Martin Reflects on the Power of Being a Black, Female Doctor

Doctor Who’s Jo Martin Reflects on the Power of Being a Black, Female Doctor
The Doctor, talking to the Doctor, about the importance of being The Doctor. Y'know, just Doctor Who things. (Screenshot: BBC)

The last season of Doctor Who flipped the titular Time Lord’s script, upending the 13th Doctor as she learned shocking truths about her homeworld, her entire species, and above all, herself. But one of those shocks — the existence of a renegade past-self beyond any of the incarnations she knew about — has a lot more story to tell.

Speaking to the Radio Times for International Women’s Day, Jo Martin reflected on not just her joy as a sci-fi fan to be such a hugely important part of a show from her childhood, but the power she felt in embodying a space in it as a Black, middle-aged female actress getting to be the starring role.

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“I just thought…number one, the tokenism thing will happen, where you go, ‘Well, we’ll have one female Doctor, just to keep us all happy, and the little ladies will quieten down, and we can go back to our real Doctor Who male figure,’” Martin said. “So part of me felt like, ‘She might be the only one for a long while, because they’ll feel like that’s enough for us.’ That happens with a lot of black actors. They’ve given it to one, and that’s enough. You can all run along now. It’s all done and dusted.”

“So to bring another woman on? I was just like, ‘What are the odds that it’s going to be me?’ A black woman? A black middle-aged woman? Which is also pretty key.”

Writing herself for Radio Times’ own collection of comments from female Doctor Who stars for IWD, Martin noted that her presence in the show, in front of the camera, was just one important step among many. “Doctor Who is a lovely fandom to be a part of. I’m really proud of how they’ve taken me on as a Black, middle-aged woman. We’re not supposed to fit into this genre. We don’t exist, you know? But we do now, baby,” the actress wrote. “On a day like today, it makes me think of how far we’ve come. It also makes me wonder, how much longer do we have to wait to get even further? Because the process has been a long one. And in terms of the Black female directors and female writers, they’re not getting the same opportunities as the white males are getting. But when you look at people like [I May Destroy You’s] Michaela Coel, I’m filled with joy, you know?”

But also, appropriate for someone playing the Doctor, Martin looked forward to the future — in the hopes that she was not just a one-off aside, and that there’ll be more of her Doctor’s story to tell. “I think there’s so much more story. What they set up opens up a world that we’ve not fully explored with Doctor Who yet,” the actress added. “And you don’t want to waste that costume. You know what I mean? That costume–it’s a real waste of a costume because it’s so swaggy, as they say. So I think that costume needs to get worn again by me.”