Though The Doctor's physical appearance has been everything from grandfatherly to clownish to brooding, there's one factor that has remained the same. The Doctor has always been is a he.
A white he.
But soon that may change. On June 1, 2013, Matt Smith, the 30-year-old actor currently portraying The Doctor as a floppy haired, bow-tie wearing, happy-go-lucky guy with a bitter streak and underlying fear of loneliness, announced via a press release that he will be leaving "Doctor Who," and that The Doctor will regenerate in this year's Christmas episode, when the Twelfth Doctor will be revealed.
It makes sense for Smith's departure to come at the end of this year, after the airing of the 50th anniversary episode that will reunite many past Doctors and their companions. While Smith has been beloved by Whovians, there was hardly a fan outcry at the news of his departure -- the fandom is accustomed to the ever-changing cast and nature of the show. Instead, fans skipped to their predictions as to whose face will appear when Eleven regenerates into Twelve.
The thing that is so unique about The Doctor is that there are no set guidelines or descriptions of what The Doctor must look like. The character is a physical tabula rasa -- instead of a specific-looking type of actor, the person in the role of The Doctor must have an understanding of the character's timeline and intrinsic personality, but also must bring something to The Doctor that hasn't been seen before.
And this time, it seems that the world is not just ready for a different kind of Doctor, it may demand one.
Then there are others who have been clamoring for an end to the white-washing of "Doctor Who," and it seems as if fans are equally divided between wanting to see a woman in the role, and wanting to see a man of a different ethnicity. To that end, Idris Elba ("Luther," "The Wire") has been a popular prediction among fans, as has Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Children of Men"). However, some are pointing to Rupert Grint (also a "Harry Potter" alum) as a natural choice that would be a nice counterpoint to Eleven's regeneration when he said, "I'm still not ginger," a line that became controversial because the audience couldn't decide if it was supposed to be disappointment or relief that The Doctor was expressing.
What is perhaps most intriguing about the fan predictions of who might be Twelve is that there are actors of all different genders, ethnicities, and ages being cited as the person fans would like to see as The Doctor. If there's another lead character of a show with that much physical flexibility, I don't know it. Certainly James Bond, another iconic British character whose 50 years on the big screen have been divided among different actors taking the role, could never be afforded this range of possibility in terms of how he's represented.
At the end of the day, the gender-neutral, multicultural casting possibilities provide "Doctor Who" with a burdensome luxury -- the gift of choice. Actors of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, genders and levels of name recognition can audition for the role of The Doctor, and the casting team can consider every worthy candidate without fear that the perfect actor might not be right, physically, for the part. So here's hoping that the casting team embraces the fact that there are no limits or constraints when it comes to The Doctor. Except for, of course, the fact that The Doctor is British.
That's the one thing that simply cannot change.