Gillian Anderson promo photoThe Telegraph reported this week that Gillian Anderson is being cast as the Doctor’s old adversary, the Rani, opposite Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor in the 2010 return of Doctor Who. A general wave of positive feedback came in reply to the possibility, as the Rani is one of the last major original-series Who villains who has yet to make an appearance in the new series. Gillian Anderson seems well suited to the role, and will possibly arouse some further interest in the United States, where she is well-known in sci-fi circles for her role as Dana Scully in Chris Carter’s The X-Files.

There is a bit of a vacuum in the quality sci-fi market in the US right now, with Heroes an incompetent mess and Battlestar Galactica finished its run. Caprica will certainly assuage some who are craving further adventures of the Adama family, but while I haven’t had a chance to watch the pilot for Caprica myself yet, the general impression I get is that it’s more of a BSG universe-set political and legal drama. It means there is still a large hole in the kind of intelligent yet exciting space opera that every sci-fi fan relishes.

Doctor Who is positioned in such a way that it could really take advantage of this vacuum. As I’ve said many times before, there isn’t much on TV that is the equal of Doctor Who anymore; uniquely cross-generational in its appeal, brilliantly written and acted, engaging and funny, smart and powerfully emotional; it straddles the drama, comedy, horror, historical and science fiction genres with equal aplomb. With the casting of an American star with major appeal among sci-fi culture, let’s hope the producers of the series are indicating an awareness that American sci-fi fans still unaware of Who‘s existence are hungry for SF of this calibre.

While his performance as the Doctor has yet to be witnessed, there is every reason to be optimistic based on the praises of the writers, and Matt Smith certainly has a look which, combined with the soft horror aspects of the series, could inspire the hordes of Robert Pattinson-obsessed Twilight fans in the US to take an interest. Young female interest in David Tennant is much of what has propelled Doctor Who into its wild success in the UK, and its effect can’t really be underestimated in initially bringing a female market to smart sci-fi like Who, which will then get them hooked for many other reasons.

On a more speculative note, I can’t help but hope a story involving the Rani might feature a reappearance of my favourite Who character after our one, brief glimpse of a hand with red-laquered nails picking up a ring…