This article includes very mild spoilers for Broadchurch.
Jodie Whittaker is the 13th Doctor. This Christmas, for the first time in over 50 years of Doctor Who, the Time Lord will become a Time Lady, and arguably, it’s about time. There are those who will have been waiting for this for a very long time, and those who are (let’s charitably say) trepidatious about the casting decision, but anyone who’s familiar with Whittaker’s work should be thrilled.
She will first appear in this year’s Christmas special, when Peter Capaldi regenerates, and will make her full-time debut in next year’s series. She’s worked with new executive producer Chris Chibnall before, playing grieving mother Beth Latimer in all three seasons of his ITV crime drama Broadchurch.
Across his small-town crime saga, Chibnall kept coming back to the Latimer family, even after the first season resolved the mystery of who killed their son Danny. Throughout that, Whittaker more than rose to the occasion of playing a character who goes through terrible trauma and then, by the final season, moves past her experiences determined to help other people, becoming a support worker for abused women. When the series was finished and Chibnall was moving on to Wales, the incoming showrunner invited her to audition of the role of the Doctor.
“I always knew I wanted the 13th Doctor to be a woman and we’re thrilled to have secured our number one choice,” Chibnall said in the BBC press release. “Her audition for the Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role.”
That strength and warmth is evident not only in Broadchurch, which is probably her most seen work up until now, but in many of her previous roles. We had no idea what she was headed for when we named her amongst last year’s most underappreciated performances for her turn in Rachel Tunnard’s Adult Life Skills, but if you’re in any doubt as to her ability to play a more quirky character.
In the film (which is currently streaming free for Amazon Prime subscribers if you need to catch up), she plays Anna, an eccentric soul who’s pushing 30 and still living in her mother’s shed, wallowing in arrested development after a past trauma. Anna spends her days faffing about in nostalgia and making films about spacemen on a doomed mission to the sun, with her own smiley-faced thumbs playing the starring roles.
It’s a work of quirky authenticity in which Whittaker is truly outstanding. Space travel in a shed aside, she even takes a young companion in that film, in the shape of a cowboy-obsessed orphan called Clint, who brings her out of her shell a bit. Don’t forget, she’s also had experience of fighting off aliens, alongside John Boyega in Joe Cornish’s tower block alien invasion flick Attack The Block.
We can’t point to any one role that we’d describe as ‘Doctor-ish’, but the traits that make up a good Doctor are all there to see in her past roles. But what should be most exciting about this casting (except for how she’s the first woman, or the first Doctor from Yorkshire!) is the potential that she represents.
It’s already been confirmed that her outfit in the reveal clip, mirroring Capaldi’s hoody and big coat combo, won’t be her final costume, but there are many other questions to be answered. Will she stay blonde? Her natural colour is darker – maybe she’ll even go ginger! Perhaps most importantly to us northerners, will she keep her natural, fast-talking Yorkshire accent, as she did in Adult Life Skills? She affected a West Country accent for Beth and a London accent for Attack The Block, and has even played American in the short-lived US drama The Assets.
But more importantly, while we know she’s got the acting chops for the part, we don’t know how she’s going to play it. Granted, it’s hard to know how any actor is going to play a 2,000 year old alien, so we’re once again at that point of anticipation that no show other than Who gets to enjoy. That’s always exciting, but now, just like the transition from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi, we’ve got someone who is 180 degrees different to her predecessor, who played it so brilliantly. With the behind-the-scenes changes too, it really feels like we’re on the precipice of a new era.
Even better, Whittaker clearly knows it, and is ready to grab it with both hands. Despite coming out of nowhere this weekend in the bookies’ reckoning, some eagle-eyed online fans floated the possibility of her taking the role a little earlier, after finding an interview she gave back in February, to promote the final series of Broadchurch.
“The roles I want to play often are the guys, I just want to play that energy, just like the character in Stranger Things called Eleven – I want to play that,” she told the Telegraph. “All those people, their age is irrelevant, their sex is irrelevant, their accent. It’s just about storytelling and it’s not restricted to what we think you can play.”
For all of the quibbles about Time Lords changing gender, there’s no character in all of fiction for whom it’s as easy, story-wise, to affect this kind of change in their stride. In recent years, the Corsair, the General and the Master have all introduced gender changes through regeneration and while there was no obligation in the introduction of those characters, they’ve cleared the way for the Doctor to follow suit.
But if you can have Jodie Whittaker play the Doctor, you should get Jodie Whittaker to play the Doctor, so they have. She’s a marvellous talent and whether she’s ginger, Northern or travels around space and time with her own thumb as her companion, we can’t wait to see how she plays it.