Jodie Whittaker On Being The First Female Doctor Who, And Why She Won’t Be The Last
"It's 2018 and we shouldn't be surprised that sometimes our heroes are women."
There’s one thing immediately apparent when watching the first episode of the new Doctor Who season — Jodie Whittaker is having the best time playing The Doctor.
The highly anticipated and ridiculously controversial 11th season of Doctor Who has landed, and it’s great. The new first episode is Doctor Who at its best — without giving anything away, it’s full of high energy and running and explosions, it’s got aliens, it’s got cool sci-fi things that buzz and whir, it’s got a bunch of British people. It’s about people trying their darndest. It really seems like they’ve done a great job of creating a show that’s accessible to new viewers AND that will be enjoyable for the loyal fans.
But by far the dominant conversation has been about the fresh, brand new 13th Doctor. There’s a lot of reasons for this: a new incarnation of a Doctor is a big thing! It’s basically an opportunity to give the show a soft reboot, it’s a farewell to beloved old characters and a chance to say hello to a whole new cast.
But while there’s always a lot of scrutiny about the new casting, the 13th Doctor has trumped them all, because she is *clutches pearls* a woman. The new Doctor is played by the incredible Jodie Whittaker, who you might remember from her devastating role on crime-drama Broadchurch (where she played opposite the 10th Doctor, David Tennant), or even from the cool sci-fi film Attack the Block.
Whittaker’s Doctor is compelling and charismatic — you can already tell how much love and respect for the role she has. But perhaps more important is how much fun she is having with it.
So, we chatted with Jodie Whittaker, the 13th Doctor herself about the new role, about the fandom, and all things Doctor Who.
We Are Not Alien
Naturally, the first female incarnation of The Doctor has angered wild pissbabies everywhere, and generated a lot of debate and discussion.
Jodie Whittaker has gone on record already saying that she finds the negative response “ridiculous”, as its high time for a woman Doctor. I asked her what the response has been like for her.
“Yeah, it’s exciting I think, people who love the show love it because it’s a celebration of inclusivity, a celebration of change, of regeneration, of embracing this wonderful alien and I think most people realise that me being a woman doesn’t make me unqualified — I think maybe being human makes me unqualified. That’s the major thing, not the female bit”, she tells me.
Dr. Who was a triumph. A brilliant reinvention in so many ways and Jodie Whittaker is superb.
[p.s. You no like it? Keep it to yourself, please. I’m feeling joyful and not after cold water. Ta.]
— Chris Addison (@mrchrisaddison) October 7, 2018
“And I think that the gender of The Doctor will become immediately irrelevant, but when it is relevant is when maybe this point in history that being a woman has a different connotation than maybe present day. I don’t feel like my gender is something I think about until it is referred to by someone else… You know this not a goal break for the show, this is absolutely within the rules and the law of this extraordinary series.”
I ask her if the groundbreaking nature of the change — the first female incarnation of The Doctor on TV — was part of her attraction to the role.
“I just think there’s no decision, if you are in a meeting with an incredible writer like Chris Chibnall, who you know is show runner of this extraordinary show, and the conversation you’re having is ‘would you audition for The Doctor?’, as an actor I think there’d be a very long list of pros and a very short list of cons. We didn’t have that kind of decision making for me. It was very much, I want to be able to do this and I want to be able to show you I can do it. I think, it’s a really important moment because its 2018 and we shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes our heroes are women.”
It's a rather lovely thing that for my son, in his early childhood, the Doctor will have always been a woman. #DoctorWho
— Catherynne Valente (@catvalente) October 8, 2018
“We are half of the population, we are not alien. No, I think to celebrate it is wonderful and that’s the time but it’ll be fantastic when there’s thirteen female Doctors as well, in this long ongoing line that will carry on and evolve and change. And why recast if you don’t want to continually have a new perspective?”
I just watched "The Woman Who Fell To Earth."
That was definitely the Doctor. Not that I had any real doubts. But it's wonderful to see how much of the Doctor she is.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) October 8, 2018
On Being Full Of Hope
Previous actors who have portrayed The Doctor have often been super fans themselves — there’s such a wealth of lore and history and heritage attached to the role, so I wanted to discover if Jodie Whittaker came onboard with that kind of relationship too.
“Well, my relationship with it is I’m now a very new Whovian. See, I wasn’t brought up in a house that watched it, but obviously being British, Doctor Who is a part of your vocabulary without even realising it. But then becoming an actor and having friends in it and working with people on it and in it, or had been in it and been a part of it, it becomes a very familiar world. But, I certainly wasn’t coming at it from a Whovian standpoint, so it’s been exciting for me to kind of be welcomed in and realising why there’s so much love for it out there, because it’s absolutely incredible, and I think it’s been a really exciting journey and one that I’m really glad is not over yet.”
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) October 7, 2018
As for her research for the role, Whittaker says that Chris Chibnall did most of the work for her.
“So for me, once I knew I was auditioning and then playing the role, it was much more helpful to immerse myself in the actual literature that was everywhere, and obviously with the internet and things. But also all that hard work is done because, Chris Chibnall the show runner is such an incredible writer that it’s all there on the page and you don’t need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge to watch the show. And certainly with this, this is made for fans, but its also made for people who haven’t yet encountered this show, and we want to share that with them.”
The first episode of a new Doctor is often some of the best in the entire show — the newborn Doctor is less sure of themselves, recovering from dying and being reborn, usually clothed in the burnt and tattered clothes of their previous incarnation. They’re off kilter, walking on baby legs as they discover the new aspects of themselves. I ask Whittaker to help me understand how her Doctor will be different, by asking if she could distill her Doctor to just one dominant trait, boil her down to one aspect what it would be.
“Full of hope” she says immediately.
— Sydney Musslewhite (@smussle) October 8, 2018
Doctor Who will be available on ABC iView on Mondays at 5.45am AEDT, from October 8, immediately after the UK broadcast. It will screen on the ABC on Monday nights at 5.55pm.
Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.