As long-term readers may recall, I'm a lifelong Doctor Who fan. I'm basically a fan of what has become known as the 'classic series' (ie. the period between 1963 and 1989), but I've watched and enjoyed the revived series since 2005, and I was particularly pleased when Steven Moffat used the 50th anniversary in 2013 to create a 'narrative bridge' between the classic series and the new, making the two seem more like an integrated whole (in spite of the very obvious differences of format and style).
What people may not be aware of is that talk of casting a woman as the Doctor goes all the way back to the days of the classic series, and in particular to a press conference in 1980 when Tom Baker announced his resignation and mischievously wished his successor well, "whoever he or she may be". The tabloids initially took that seriously as a possible hint that radical change was on the way, and ever since then there has been fevered speculation about a female Doctor whenever a vacancy has occurred. Somewhere I must still have a copy of Doctor Who Magazine from early 1987, just after the excellent Colin Baker was idiotically sacked from the role for no discernible reason, containing an impassioned plea from a young reader that the Doctor must remain male. "I'm not a sexist," he wrote, "but a female Doctor is as ridiculous as a male Miss Marple".
That eerily echoes the much-mocked arguments of the sceptics three decades on. But is it so obviously wrong? If the well-remunerated Derek Thompson was ever to finally stop playing Charlie in Casualty (which, yes, is still running after thirty-one years!) and if the BBC were to recast the role, nobody would think it was remotely odd if only male actors were considered. Doctor Who's status as a make-it-up-as-you-go-on sci-fi show means that the same rules need not apply, but nevertheless I think there's at least an arguable case that, until very recently, the 'fact' that Time Lords retain the same gender throughout their life-spans had been clearly woven into the programme's 'lore' over a very, very long period, creating certain fixed expectations among viewers. The Doctor has had thirteen incarnations so far and they've all been male. Borusa had four and they were all male. Romana remained female when she regenerated (and she also 'tried on' several female appearances before settling on her second incarnation). The Master was of course always male until she suddenly wasn't a couple of years ago...and it's arguably only the acceptance and success of that innovation that made Jodie Whittaker's casting possible.
I think she's a good choice, and a new departure like this could be a shot in the arm for a long-running series which is always battling against the danger of becoming stale. It's liberating that Doctor Who has the opportunity to do this when, say, the James Bond franchise doesn't, but in a sense that's the nub of the matter. The only reason why changing the lead character's gender isn't self-evidently a strange thing to do is that Doctor Who is such an unusual series. And that's why I've been so troubled by the extreme and intolerant reaction to the minority (and it is only a minority) of long-term fans of the show who are struggling to accept a woman Doctor. Although I don't personally agree with those fans, neither do I think it's inherently daft for them to choose, if they wish, to say "we think the Doctor is a male character, just like Ken Barlow is a male character". Instead of it simply being accepted that this is based on nurtured ideas about who a specific much-loved character that they've grown up with should be, they're all simplistically dismissed as Neanderthal sexists who are resisting proper female representation on television. Maybe a few of them do deserve that characterisation, but believe me, if someone with an American accent was ever cast as the Doctor, the controversy over female anatomy would pale into utter insignificance. And would that mean Doctor Who fans are anti-American? No, of course it wouldn't.
I've tried gently making the point to a few feminists on Twitter that much of the negative reaction is Doctor Who-specific and not a rejection of on-screen gender equality, but to very little avail. A couple of hours ago, I got a highly abusive response ("f***ing clueless") when I pointed out that "the Doctor isn't an MP, she's a fictional character". Extraordinarily, the same person then angrily declared that "I'm done justifying myself to men. Help the cause or get out of our f***ing way." I just think all this dogmatic shoutiness is terribly, terribly sad, and it's little wonder a dialogue of the deaf has developed as a result of it. You're not going to gain much sympathy for your cause by effectively telling someone that their favourite TV programme has become no more than a box to be ticked on an ideological checklist. It would be far more constructive to say (as Jodie Whittaker has done herself) that "I know this is new, but don't be scared of something new, it'll be fun". And if you took that less confrontational approach, you might also be pleasantly surprised to find that the person you're talking to isn't the monster you assumed they are, and is actually extremely positive about female lead characters in other series.
If you're aiming for greater diversity, I think it's generally best not to do it in an artificial way. For example, when the BBC were belatedly trying to address the absence of major network dramas filmed in Scotland, they should have created a new series that organically belonged here, rather than awkwardly transplanting Waterloo Road to Inverclyde. By the same token, if more female lead characters are required, they should in general be devised from scratch, rather than lazily saying "oh let's bring Arthur Daley back and make him a woman". With Doctor Who it can work - but it wouldn't go amiss for us to acknowledge the obvious point that this is the exotic exception, not the rule. And once you do acknowledge that, you can perhaps begin to empathise with the people who resent the fact that their own favourite series is the designated exception. You don't have to agree with someone to empathise with them.