Fans of the British cult hit “Doctor Who” got an unexpected reveal on Sunday night, when the latest incarnation of the title character was revealed as Ruth Clayton, played by black actress Jo Martin.
Martin plays the first black Doctor Who in the decades since the show’s first iteration premiered, and delivers the double whammy of also being a woman. Doctor Who is a time traveler who changes personas each season and has only been played by one other woman.
The show’s 12th season introduced Martin’s character in a scene alongside the current Doctor Who — played by Jodie Whittaker — on Sunday’s episode. It remains unclear when Clayton will become the new Doctor.
Fans reacted to the announcement from the official “Doctor Who” Twitter account with excitement.
When Whittaker’s casting was announced as the first female Doctor Who — after 12 men — swaths of fans decried the casting choice on the basis of gender.
Sunday’s reveal seems to have garnered less outrage.
Is science fiction finally getting more diverse?
To that question, Tom Hunter, director of the United Kingdom’s Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature, says yes.
“Does science fiction need to keep on getting more diverse? Again, I think yes,” he says.
“In terms of ‘Doctor Who’ specifically, here we have a hugely popular character that epitomizes the best of the science fiction imagination,” Hunter says. “A character that can go anywhere in time and in space, and who contains within themselves the ability to reiterate into new facets of that character. The potential for diverse storytelling here, in every sense of that word, is one of the most potent that currently exists within the science fiction genre.”
Some experts say that assumptions about race and gender about science fiction, as well as its fan base, are distorted.
“Science fiction is definitely not white men,” Manu Saadia, author of “Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek,” says. “Nor is it only for white men. ‘Star Trek’ early fans in the ’70s were mostly women and queer folks.”
“There is actually a movement toward much more diversity and representation in sci-fi, not just on TV, but a lot of new people have come up who write sci-fi for a living. And a lot of people who were marginalized are being rediscovered,” Saadia says. “Octavia Butler for instance, who for a very long time was a very marginal figure in the canon of science fiction and is not recognized for the master that she was.”
In 2017, when CBS released “Star Trek: Discovery,” featuring Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green, reactions online invoked phrases like “white genocide” to protest the casting of two women of color as leads.
“It’s easy to [listen to those people], because they’re very vocal and they’re on the Internet and controversial takes usually get more exposure, but it seems like there’s been a lot of progress in sci-fi itself for the past 30 years,” Saadia says. “People who are waging war or screaming about this or that have ulterior motives that have nothing to do with sci-fi or literature or the art. It’s a very vocal minority.”
The burgeoning reality, he says, is simple.
“Sci-fi is diverse, just like the world we live in. Deal with it.”