Are BBC Exec’s Female Doctor Who Comments Just Trolling?

Just in time for the launch of the new series, the female Doctor question has been opened up again, this time in comments by BBC TV drama chief Danny Cohen.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival on Thursday, Cohen was asked whether there could ever be a woman in the role. “I hope so,” said the man who oversees the Beeb’s drama output.

What are we to make of this? It’s all about the context, of course, and it’s easy to over-state the significance of what may well have been a fairly throwaway moment in the course of a wide-ranging discussion. Against that, Cohen must have been well aware that, coming from someone in his position, a comment like this would be sure to be picked up and reported.

Is Cohen guilty of a bit of self-publicity here? It’s no secret that the BBC has had more than its share of troubles in recent years with accusations of sexism. Was he perhaps hoping to gain some brownie points for his gender equality credentials? Maybe I’m in a good mood cos it’s the weekend but I’m inclined to think not, to be honest. He was asked a straight question and he gave a straight answer, and if it’s his honest opinion that there should be a female Doctor then fair enough.

Was he looking to gain press attention for his appearance at the festival? It could be argued that, in the week when the show’s new star is about to make his debut, it’s less than helpful for the drama department head to get drawn into this. It would have been easy enough to bat the question away with something along the lines of “we’re very happy with the Doctor we have, thanks very much and, crises threatening the very existence of the universe aside, there can only be one Doctor at a time.” But it’s also worth mentioning that in the same discussion Cohen gave Peter Capaldi a ringing endorsement, saying he “is going to be an astonishingly good Doctor.”

Steven Moffat has had a lot of practice dealing with this question and his response, whatever your personal views on the woman Doctor issue, is surely the right one. Essentially it’s about casting the right person for the role and “when that person is a woman, that’s the day it will happen.”

“You don’t cast for any other reason than for passion and for aesthetics. It’s not a political decision, it’s an aesthetic decision and will always be,” said Moffat, speaking at this year’s Hay Festival.

What do you think? Should Cohen have kept his opinion to himself? Or was he right to give voice to his view?


Jonathan has followed the Doctor's adventures since the late Pertwee era, and he isn't about to stop now. A charity worker from Hull, he enjoys following Hull City's fortunes, listening to Bruce Springsteen and collecting all manner of Doctor Who ephemera. He blogs about Doctor Who merchandise at

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