It was love at first sight.  Friday morning at Gallifrey One 2010, and I met one squirrelyTONKS, who had dressed up as the Fifth Doctor.  But not just any Fifth Doctor: the Fifth Doctor if he were a woman.  Recognizable as the costume Peter Davison wore from 1981 to 1984, but with the frock coat cut to come in a bit more at the waist, and the trousers replaced by a cute little Catholic-schoolgirl-style skirt worn over red knee-highs (Davison wore red socks with his costume, though they were rarely seen).  Instead of a Panama hat with a red hatband, she had a red headband tied into a bow.
 
(n.b. All names are LiveJournal handles unless otherwise specified.)


Young blonde woman in a Fifth Doctor variant costume.
squirrelyTONKS as femme Five; photo by flickr user emilyooo (l-r) HorizonChaser (not on LJ) as guy Eleven; squirellyTONKS as femme Five. Photo by me.

Awesome costume at G1: so far, so good.  But then I saw another femme Doctor.  And another.  And not just regular Doctor outfits with skirts instead of pants–fully-formed variants.  Check out mertondingle‘s femme!Six, another standout costume:

Young woman in a variant Sixth Doctor costume that has been re-imagined as an 18th century ballgown. She is carrying a brightly colored parasol and has a wig of blonde sausage curls.
mertondingle as femme Six. Photo by flickr user streamunder

 

Look how well all the individual parts of Colin Baker’s costume have been translated to an 18th-century noblewoman’s gown: fabric, curly blonde hair, multicolored parasol, everything.  Admire the match between the legendary ‘tude of the Sixth Doctor and a pre-Revolutionary noblewoman’s self-image.  She knows herself to be 1) awesome,  and 2) dressed in the very height of fashion, and she doesn’t care what you think.

The female Sixth Doctor cosplayer described above faces the camera. To her left is a woman wearing a deep green velvet surcoat over a ruffled blouse: a variant Third Doctor costume.
mertondingle as femme Six; 1ucifer as femme Three. Photo by flickr user streamunder

 

On her right is 1ucifer as femme Three.  You can’t see it very well, but she has a beautiful velvet surcoat on over a ruffly top.  Like Jon Pertwee’s costume, but different.

What was going on here?   I felt as if barriers I’d never noticed had fallen away, and suddenly I had all these ideas bubbling up, striking sparks off other ideas, and so on.  The Second Doctor is usually described as a Cosmic Hobo, but if he were instead a Cosmic Flapper

 

A young woman wearing a flapper-style dress with an applique'd bow tie and an off-the-shoulder fuzzy coat, much like the Second Doctor.
black_rider as flapper!femme!Two. Photo by unknown.

 

Same idea, but a different spin on it: instead of a masculine form of rebellion, a feminine form.  How about a Fourth Doctor with lots of chunky necklaces standing in for the iconic scarf?  Fourth Doctor weirdness with a twist of Seventies boho chic!  I wanted to drive home and get started right then.

Why was I so fascinated? I should explain that I am, on the face of it, one of the less likely people to be harboring these kinds of daydreams.  The day I was allowed to pick out my own clothes was the day I stopped wearing skirts.  I never wear makeup, and don’t know how to walk in heels because I never learned.  Nor do I think that the Doctor should regenerate into a woman: not only because there’s no precedent for it in the show[1], but also because it implies that the Whoniverse has a dearth of kickass female characters, which isn’t true.

It’s not just me finding myself in flights of sartorial fancy, either.  Here’s time_testudinem on the subject:

 

I have no reason why that I can articulate, but I watched my very first sixth doctor episode a few weeks ago, and I was struck by this instant obsession to redo that costume with heels and a mini-skirt. I have never done any sci-fi costuming before, never been to a con, and have NO idea why I want to do that so badly, or where I will even wear it.

 

So clearly this is touching some kind of need in people… but a need for what, exactly?  What is it about the notion of the Sixth Doctor as a woman in pumps and a mini-skirt that is so compelling that it’s inspired her to take up costuming?

Like most good ideas, it looks obvious in retrospect, and you wonder why it took fandom so long.  And–again like most good ideas–femme Doctors didn’t spring from the void.  The antecedents are all there, if you look for them.  The show itself had one prototype: Lalla Ward as Romana II wears what’s arguably a femme version of the Doctor’s outfit, in “Destiny of the Daleks”:

 A still from the 1979 serial

 

 

One artist at Comic Con 2007 was selling sketches of the Fifth and Tenth Doctors [2] as women.

And, poking around on the Internet, I found some fanart from the 1980s:

 

Pencil sketch by Stephanie Linz, dated 1985. It shows a woman with shoulder-length light-colored hair wearing the Fifth Doctor's coat and sweater, but with a skirt instead of pants.
Early femme Five, by Stephanie Linz

So the Doctor as a woman isn’t exactly a new idea, and feminine versions of the Doctor’s distinctive outfits aren’t either, but cosplaying them seems to be.  The first actual femme Doctor appears to date only from about 2006[3]: costumer britgeekgrrl‘s Femme!Ten mixed Ten’s put-together look with a sort of Victorian/steampunk influence. 

 

Joanna Mead wears a Victorian-inspired ankle-length skirt and matching over-the-bust bodice, both in pinstriped brown velveteen, as she looks haughtily at the viewer. She is wearing a white mens' dress shirt under the bodice; the collar and blue necktie are visible above the bodice. She is wearing a brown bolero jacket of the same color, material, and lapel cut of David Tennant's coat. In her right hand is a sonic screwdriver toy.
britgeekgrrl as femme 10; photo by stevericks

 You can’t see it very well, but the dress is made of pinstriped fabric and looks exactly like the stuff used in David Tennant‘s suit except for being made of velveteen, and is basically the coolest thing ever.

 

I asked about the femme!Doctor phenom-in-the-making at the Chicks Dig Time Lords panel, and everyone agreed that it was one of the more interesting cosplay trends to watch, though no one could agree on What It Meant. 

They thought it might tie into another odd crossplay[4] development over the last five-ish years: Torchwood characters Ianto Jones and Captain Jack Harkness are almost always cosplayed by women.  It’s become such a cliché that one wag on the #gally twitterstream expressed shock at seeing a male Ianto cosplayer.  Panelists and audience thought that women liked Captain Jack’s self-confidence and swagger and wanted to adopt that.  Me, I’m not so sure.  It doesn’t explain the popularity of crossplaying Ianto, who is a rather reserved character; and it doesn’t address why women should only be choosing now, nearly fifty years into the show’s history, to play femme Doctors.

 

So here’s what I think. I think it’s a rejection of the notion that female fans are honorary guys, who’ve been allowed into the fandom clubhouse on condition of renouncing everything “girly”.

 

First, a quick trip to the past.

Back when I was a sprout, girls mostly didn’t aspire to geekdom.  I remember asking the librarian which way to the science fiction, and getting a look that said: well, times had changed, and she supposed girls were reading that stuff as well as boys nowadays, but she didn’t have to like it.  It was, in retrospect, rather as if I’d asked to see the porn.  I never got into superhero comics because no one in my circle of friends read them.  (Indeed, what with Dick Tracy and the first Batman movie being targeted to adults, I somehow formulated the notion that comics were not for kids.)  It was high school before I set foot in a comics shop, and, after a couple of bad experiences (nothing you could put your finger on, just a vibe of unwelcomeness), well after college before I bought any comics.

Nor did geekdom aspire to have girls.  I am delighted and amazed at the number of books that have come out, in the last fifteen-ish years, that have heroines: strong, complicated women who are the heroes of the story and not auxiliary characters that things happen to.  But back then, it was all boys.  The interesting thing to me now is how accepting I was of it.  If you’d asked me when I was nine, I’d have said that I didn’t mind that science fiction (and science more generally) was “for boys”, that I was used to mentally replacing instances of “boys” with “boys and girls”.  And I was, I really was used to it, and I really didn’t mind.  But that didn’t mean it had no effect on me.  I still spent middle school and part of high school thinking I was bad at math and science, all evidence to the contrary, though where I picked up that meme I have no idea.

My point here is that it used to be that the best a geek girl could aspire to was becoming an honorary guy.  Guys, I discovered, don’t mind granting honorary guy status to the occasional geeky girl, and they really will treat her like one of the guys.[5]  It was when I became an honorary guy (courtesy of a circle of geeks who played Magic: The Gathering during lunch) that I made the most progress towards geekhood.  Every week, they’d introduce me to something else that I’d love.  D&D! Hitchhiker’s Guide! Anime! Lord of the Rings!  And lo, it was great.  Finally, I was in the clubhouse, and it was wonderful.

But it came at the price of being an honorary guy.  Their clubhouse, not yours.  Their rules.  Honorary guys must keep to the rules of guydom, and one of the first rules of guydom is to disavow and abjure all things girly.  Cute is an epithet.  Anime is okay, as is Beavis & Butthead, but the Disney Afternoon (Gummi Bears/DuckTales/Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers/Tale Spin: staples of my childhood) is most definitely not.  Superhero comics yes, Disney comics[6] no.  If you’d asked me when I was fifteen, I’d have said I didn’t mind, that I was used to it, and I just kept my yap shut about the stuff I liked that they didn’t.  But today, I wonder about the after effects of this kind of cultural programming: I was an honorary guy until I was twenty-two, for heaven’s sake.  (Computer science major in college.)  I didn’t buy anything pink until last year–no reason, I just didn’t like pink.  I thought.  Forswearing all things feminine just because they were feminine… well, wasn’t that kind of sexist?  I called myself a feminist, but aspired to masculinity because I thought it was better, in some vaguely-defined but hugely important way?  Screw that.  But the prohibition against anything not masculine was deeply ingrained in me, practically a reflex.

I continue to work on this, as I age and get crabbier and more idiosyncratic. (This is one of the few benefits of being 30+: you don’t care nearly as much what other people think of you.)  I’m an odd sort of woman, I guess.  I still don’t wear makeup; I don’t like the way it feels on me. But I am a woman, and I like bright colors and cute things and going “Squeee!”  I renounce my honorary guy-ness and choose instead to be a geeky woman, which will mean whatever I want it to mean.  My clubhouse, too; and I reject the idea that guys are its gatekeepers.

 

So here’s what I think femme Doctors mean:

 

  • It means that women are taking our fandoms and remaking them in our own image.
  • It means that “honorary guy” won’t be the gold standard to which we aspire.
  • It means that we’re not asking that we be let into the clubhouse: we’re stating flat out that the clubhouse is ours too, and anyone who doesn’t like it can pound sand.
  • It means that we can be fully feminine and fully geeky.
  • It means that we are envisioning ourselves as the lead characters.
  • It means, IMHO, a quiet quantum leap for female fans.

 

Young woman wearing mid-calf length Victorian gown in burgundy, somewhat ruched up at the bottom to expose a lacy petticoat. She wears burgundy lace-up boots, a white lace jabot, and is knitting an enormous burgundy scarf that is looped around her neck. She is smiling at the viewer, has curly brown hair, and is wearing a dainty burgundy hat.
penwiper337 as Season 18!femme!Four. Unknown photographer. .

 

Two young women in similar, but distinct, Fifth Doctor variant costumes. They are facing the viewer. The one on the left has a blouse with a red ruffle sewn on, in imitation of the red chevron knitted into Peter Davison's sweater, and is wearing an ankle-length striped skirt. On her left (viewer's right) is a woman wearing a sweater and a much shorter (mid-thigh length) striped skirt.
faience and mrsdrdavison (l-r) as a pair of femme Fives. Unknown photographer.
L-r unknown femme Five, squirellyTONKS as femme Five. Photo by flickr user bio_grrl.

Notice how different the femme Five costume on the left feels from squirellyTONKS’–a sort of 1950s vibe, I think.

 

(l-r) jazzynightowl as femme Ten, iko as femme Eleven, Eleyna (no LJ) as femme Ten

 

 

Special thanks to the crowd at the dw_cosplay LJ community, for pictures and commentary.

[1] Doctor Who has shown us several regenerated Time Lords (the Doctor, the Master, Lord President Borusa, arguably Rassilon) plus one regenerated Time Lady (Romana).  In every case, they kept their genders on regeneration.
[2] Five and Ten seem to draw the most attention.  They are also the most conventionally handsome Doctors.  Either their regular features translate well to a more feminine appearance, or else people just respond to Teh Cute.
[3] That I know of.  If anyone out there knows of a femme Doctor predating 2006, I’d love to hear about it.
[4] “crossplay” = cosplaying as someone of the opposite gender
[5] So far as I could tell.  They certainly didn’t stint on the dirty jokes or armpit noises when I was around, anyway.
[6] I used to love the Donald Duck comics, which I got in omnibus form, in French.  I only discovered a few years ago that they were American, reprints of Carl Barks‘ stuff from midcentury.  And other people love them too, so there! Vindication!