Doctor Who is an alien being of an entirely fictional construct, but for some reason some people (read: internalised misogynists) get rather protective over who they think should play the role. But, my friends, I’m happy to announce that yesterday, the BBC made a game-changing move and announced the casting of former Broadchurch actress Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor.
Thanks to its prime-time reboot at the hands of Russell T. Davies twelve years ago, Doctor Who has become, more than ever, a national institution. Its newest incarnation, spearheaded by Peter Capaldi, has consistently been let down by poor creative choices both in terms of narrative (for all her good points, Jenna Coleman’s Clara was little more than a walking plot point) and the Doctor himself (whoever let the 58 year old Capaldi step out in a hoodie and sunglasses playing an electric guitar should, quite frankly, be exterminated) as show runner Steven Moffat seemingly struggled to keep up the show’s consistency at the expense of his ego (did you know he wrote Sherlock and is so clever can shove a plot twist in whenever he wants? Did you????).
It’s no surprise, then, that ratings have fallen steadily for the past few years – ratings of the latest series averaged out at around 4-5 million, in comparison back in its heyday with Tennant, the show was consistently pulling in audience of 9 million every Saturday night. So, basically, Doctor Who needs a shot in the arm. It needs – no offence to Capaldi here, who under different creative management could have truly been a doctor for the ages – some new blood. And Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor ever since the show premiered 54 years ago, is exactly what the show needs.
Is this because she is the first female Doctor? Well, no. Her being the first is great, and the time for a female Doctor was always going to come, but Whittaker herself has proved herself to be an actress capable of great emotional depth with a great resonance and believability to her performances that was often missing from the sci-fi razzle dazzle and newspeak that often peppered, and hampered, Moffat’s Doctors. As Beth Latimer in Broadchurch, she played the role of a young, un-fulfilled mother to a murdered child with heartbreaking conviction. Her confrontation scene with Olivia Colman in the show’s second season is a greta two-hander and a powerful demonstration of Whittaker’s talents.
It’s also a great sign that Broadchurch’s own creator, Chris Chibnall, will become the show’s de facto show runner when Whittaker assumes the role next year. As the scribe behind the biggest – and, to many, best – British crime drama of the past decade, Chibnall proved he was able to construct large, labyrinthine plots peppered with red herrings and cliffhangers, but also develop nuanced and three-dimensional characters without sacrificing plot development. This, in particular, is what Moffat seems to have struggled most with throughout his tenure at Who; his plots – massive, gargantuan sized things – often took priority over the show’s characters, most notably the Doctor’s companion. Hopefully, Chibnall will combine Moffat’s sense of spectacle with his own introspective moments. Because, after all, Doctor Who is really about anything but the adventures of a time-travelling, 900-year old alien, it’s a story about humanity; our spirit, our determination to survive and our capacity to love and be loved in return. Even throughout all of time and space.
The role of the Doctor, much like James Bond or the Pope, has always been somewhat of a poisoned chalice. As soon as you assume the role, people are already waiting to see who your replacement will be and how long you can manage to stick it out for. The most popular modern Who, David Tennant, managed 4 years. Back in the day, Tom Baker stuck on for seven. Peter Capaldi is leaving after three so-so years at the helm, and he’s leaving Whittaker a TARDIS and a show that’s in a shoddier state than when he found it. If nothing else – if Whittaker’s first season of Doctor Who is as lazy and un-inspired as the one its just come before – then the casting of the first female Doctor hopefully represents the shattering of a very high glass ceiling in terms of the kind of roles we get to see women (strong, talented, dynamite women) portray on screen. It is one of those moments in television that feels like it will have a real resonance throughout the decades to come. A woman is now the face of beloved, global brand and, with everything crossed for her, the sky is not just limit – it’s all of time and space.
Words by George Griffiths