In one of the most anticipated rituals in geek culture, the BBC today announced who will be taking over the role of the Doctor in its long-running science fiction franchise Doctor Who, and it was a shocker. The 13th Doctor is Jodie Whittaker, a 35 year-old English actress best known for her role on BBC’s Broadchurch (which also features former Doctor David Tennant). Whittaker will be the first woman in the title role since the series kicked off in 1963.
Image via BBC
BBC revealed the news in a dramatic video-clip that aired following the Wimbleton Men’s Finals on Sunday. Whittaker will make her first appearance as the Doctor during the Christmas Special airing December 25, 2017.
Fan excitement was immediate. Much of the fandom around Doctor Who is comprised of women, and many have been vocally advocating for an actress to step into the title role for years. Since the series was revived and updated in 2005, five men – Christopher Ecclestone, David Tennant, Matt Smith, John Hurt and Peter Capaldi (the outgoing 12th Doctor – have played the part originated by William Hartnell in 1963. With the success of strong female protagonists in science fiction/superhero franchises like Wonder Woman and Mad Max: Fury Road, many felt it was about time to put a woman’s face on the iconic Doctor.
Whittaker said that it was “overwhelming, as a feminist,” to become the next Doctor. She moves over from the BBC drama Broadchurch along with showrunner Chris Chibnall, who is taking over Doctor Who from longtime writer/producer Steven Moffat next season.
Doctor Who is an iconic series for several generations of science fiction fans, featuring the adventures of a time-travelling alien known only as the Doctor, usually accompanied by a companion. The team fights menaces like the Daleks (“Exterminate!”) and Cybermen in escapades that traverse the expanse of time and space.
Over the decades, Doctor Who evolved from a low-budget (if high-concept) kids show to a sophisticated, if often silly, action drama. The glue that held the concept together across different eras, creative approaches, and thirteen iterations of the main character is the Doctor’s wry but commanding personality. Actors ranging from Hartnett to Tom Baker to Capaldi, have interpreted the Doctor in different ways, accommodated by the series plot device that the alien Doctor periodically “regenerates” into a new persona when at the brink of death.
It has always been theoretically possible for the Doctor to regenerate into a woman. The character’s longtime adversary The Master recently switched from a historically male role to a woman (“Missy,” short for The Mistress), played by Michelle Gomez since 2014, although Gomez announced she was leaving the role at the end of the current season. However, despite much speculation over the years, Whittaker will be the one making history.