Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the 13th Doctor sent shockwaves through the world of geek culture when announced. It’s a bold but exciting move by the BBC, regenerating a male role into a female one, a decision 54 years in the making. But now is the time – both for the show and its licensed merchandise.
Even with the Doctor changing genders, I don’t think it necessitates a fundamental overhaul of how Doctor Who is merchandised. The show has always had strong, fan-favourite female characters – from Sarah Jane Smith to Bill Potts – and at Forbidden Planet, we’ve seen significant growth in sales of female character-focused products over recent years, across apparel, toys, giftware, traditional publishing and comic books.
It’s a myth to think that sci-fi /fantasy/superhero brands are dominated by male consumers. Female fans have always made up considerable portions of the overall demographic – and recently, there has been a surge in female characters being pushed to the forefront to meet fan demands for equal representation.
Take the phenomenal success of Wonder Woman merchandise. Over 2017, products featuring her have performed exceptionally well, spiking around the release of the movie, with sales on our apparel and giftware lines up by over 300 per cent. Similarly, when the anarchic anti-heroine Harley Quinn was introduced to mainstream audiences in DC/Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad, sales of merchandise focused around her went through the roof. But is that surprising, when 46 per cent of comic book readers are women and girls?
From Q4 2015 onwards, Star Wars’ new protagonist Rey was one of the most asked for toys around the launch of The Force Awakens – but because the brand’s DNA has been historically (and incorrectly) codified as typically male, great product opportunities were missed out on. Even when ‘gender-bent’ casting announcements are met with backlash (as was the case with 2016’s all-female Ghostbusters reboot), FP’s retail rollout programme still found strong sales from fans new and old alike.
Defining properties as solely ‘boy’/’girl’ leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy where key demographics are ignored: if brands don’t service all aspects of their consumer base, the IP will eventually stagnate. Casting like Jodie Whittaker should be seen as evolution, not alienation at retail. Doctor Who’s big change is a brave, exciting new direction that will hopefully capture new fans while cementing the existing – as, undoubtedly, the show’s heroic brand values will remain the same with a man or a woman in the lead role.