The BBC has made it official: Jodie Whittaker will be the 13th actor to play the lead role in ‘Doctor Who’ full-time. She’ll take over the TARDIS from Peter Capaldi this December, when everyone’s favorite Time Lord from Gallifrey finally undergoes his much-delayed regeneration.
Whittaker, the first woman to play the Doctor in the show’s 54-year history, has already spent three seasons working with incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall (plus former Doctor David Tennant) on Chibnall’s moody murder-mystery show Broadchurch. And that’s not the only reason she’s perfect for the role.
A seasoned movie and TV performer with the haunted, otherworldly look of a renegade Time Lord, Whittaker is no stranger to science fiction. You may remember her from the Black Mirror episode ‘The Entire History of You,’ or from the alien invasion movie Attack the Block alongside John Boyega of The Force Awakens fame.
Whittaker was a surprise last-minute addition to the list of names at the top of betting lists. British bookies slashed her odds from 25-1 to 6-4 on Saturday. That put her level with the male actor most widely tipped for the role, Kris Marshall.
Evidently, BBC insiders had placed a sudden flurry of bets.
Current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, while not directly involved in the decision, has been preparing the ground for a female Doctor for some time. Even before he ran the show, he wrote a sketch for Comic Relief that showed the Doctor regenerating into a woman (in that case, Joanna Lumley).
In 2011, a script he commissioned from Neil Gaiman, “The Doctor’s Wife,” contained the first reference to a deceased Time Lord (“the Corsair”) changing gender.
Then in the 50th anniversary special in 2013, Moffat wrote a retroactive scene of the 8th Doctor (Paul McGann) regenerating, in which McGann was told he could become “man or woman” depending on his needs.
Since then, we’ve seen a Time Lord general regenerate from a white man into a black woman after being shot by the Doctor, while the Doctor’s Time Lord frenemy The Master (previously played by John Simm) become Missy (Michelle Gomez) in Season 9.
“Is the future all female?” Simm’s sneering Master asked in the Season 10 finale earlier this month, after time-travel shenanigans led to him meeting himself as Missy for the first time. “We can only hope,” replied the Doctor earnestly.
And if you’re an old school Who fan who needs a more specific in-universe reason for why the Doctor would become a woman now, after so many all-male regenerations? Well, try this theory on for size: in the post-2005 iteration of the show, the Doctor has frequently taken on some aspect of the last companion he saw before his regeneration.
The War Doctor (John Hurt) had a pleasant chat with Clara Oswald, who has a north-west English accent, right before he regenerated into Christopher Eccleston, the first Doctor with a north-west English accent. Likewise, Eccleston was talking to broad cockney speaker Rose before he turned into the cockney-accented Tennant. And Tennant’s successor Matt Smith saw a vision of his Scottish companion Amy Pond before turning into a Scot, Peter Capaldi.
As for Capaldi? Well, his attitude towards the Master/Missy certainly softened in his/her female incarnation. But also there’s this: Bill Potts, the show’s first openly gay companion, made an unusually open-ended statement at the end of the Season 10 finale that has gone otherwise unexplained.
“You know I’m usually all about women?” Bill reminded the Doctor, who didn’t need reminding.
That statement, perhaps, has triggered the Doctor into realizing he’s all about women too they have formed the vast majority of his platonic companions, after all so much that he wants to become one.
Now it’s on to the Christmas episode, where we already know the first Doctor (played by William Hartnell in 1963 and David Bradley now) will reappear in the last episode written by Moffat.
No doubt the original regeneration will be on hand to reassure change-fearing fans that the show will go on as before, exploring all of time and space, no matter what gender he or she chooses to be.