Unless you spent this past weekend under a particularly remote rock, you’ll have heard by now that the person replacing Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who‘s titular Time Lord is none other than Jodie Whittaker (Attack The Block). However you look at this casting choice, there’s no doubt that it marks a historic moment in the world of television. The Doctor is one of the most iconic characters on the small screen and the role now being officially thrown open to both genders is a landmark for equality in TV.
The role of The Doctor has been played by male actors since the 1960s, with thirteen men taking residence in the TARDIS in that period, but with gender equality continuing to move forward in society, the prospect of a female Doctor has long been a matter of “when” not “if”. This became even more likely in recent times with The Master regenerating into a woman, a Time Lord General doing the same on-screen and the season 10 finale heavily hinting that the Doctor’s future didn’t contain a Y chromosome. The possibility of Time Lords switching genders during regeneration is officially part of Doctor Who‘s canon.
Nevertheless, there has – perhaps unsurprisingly – been some backlash against the decision to cast a woman in the role. Some believe that The Doctor is an inherently male character, and others claim that the producers at the BBC are simply bowing to social pressure. Generally, however, the backlash has been pretty understated compared to other controversial gender swaps. The atmosphere among fans is one of excitement and intrigue – something that the series badly needs.
It’s no secret that Doctor Who, one of the BBC’s flagship shows, has seen a ratings slump in recent years, with just 4.6 million UK viewers tuning in to watch the season 10 premiere live compared to the 6.8 million live viewers who watched Capaldi’s season 8 debut. The general consensus is that this was due to problems with the writing, rather than Capaldi’s portrayal, but the end result is the same: less hype for Doctor Who, and fewer people watching the show. However, with Steven Moffat stepping down as showrunner and veteran series writer Chris Chibnall taking his place, Whittaker’s Doctor could potentially see the series returned to its former glory.
A New Dynamic
Apart from the identity of the actress who’ll be playing her, very little is known about the Thirteenth Doctor and the BBC even confirmed that the outfit Jodie Whittaker wears in the reveal video won’t be her attire come season 11. As such, the new regeneration’s character and personality is a complete mystery, but the fact that the Thirteenth Doctor will be the first female incarnation could mean that fans will see a different dynamic in the TARDIS.
Although each actor to play The Doctor has put their own spin on the role, several key traits such as occasional social awkwardness and a disdain for needless violence have remained throughout. Anyone who has seen Broadchurch can attest to Whittaker’s acting ability, so those afraid that the new Doctor will be unrecognizable from previous regenerations can rest easy; there are sure to be plenty of nods to previous incarnations, and some character traits will be carried over from the Capaldi era.
Yet there is also an inescapable sense of new possibilities surrounding the Thirteenth Doctor. As the first woman in the role, Whittaker’s Doctor is the most unpredictable version of the character for a long time and there’s a strong chance that she’ll bring many new quirks and shades to the Time Lord. Most previous Doctors have fitted, generally speaking, into the mold of either an unassuming clown, an affable and charming young man, or a standoffish old-timer. Whether Whittaker’s Doctor fits into one of these archetypes or not, it’ll be a very different experience.
The relationship between the Doctor and their companion will also be completely fresh. There’s no news yet on whether the new companion will be played by a male or female (or indeed one of each) but either way, there will be an entirely new dynamic between the central characters, perhaps helping to freshen up a show that has been reinventing itself for over fifty years.
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