Doctor Who season 11 has only just begun, but it's already clear that brand new star Jodie Whittaker is primed to be a great Doctor. Whittaker was announced as the thirteenth and first female Doctor back in July 2017, taking over from Peter Capaldi. There's not just a new Doctor in the house, though; Doctor Who also has a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, taking over from Steven Moffat. It really is a new era for Doctor Who, which had been suffering from poor writing, lackluster episodes, and declining ratings.
Of course, announcing that a woman was taking over a role that has always been played by white males was bound to cause some controversy, but it also caused plenty of positive buzz. Indeed, Whittaker's debut pulled in over 8.2 million viewers in the U.K.; 40% of the audience share, and a figure that will rise still further on-demand figures are accounted for.
The response to Whittaker's Doctor Who performance has been overwhelmingly positive. In some ways that's not a surprise; she's a gifted actor who always turns in a strong performance. In particular, her turn as the grieving mother, Beth Latimer, in Broadchurch (written by Chibnall), was highly praised. But Doctor Who is a very different beast; Whittaker needed to establish her own presence while still portraying a character that's familiar to multiple generations - and she did it.
Overall, Whittaker pushed the more humorous side of the Doctor, the quirky, child-like nature that had been lost in recent seasons. In that regard, she played the role much like Tennant; fast-talking, wide eyes and a big smile. But Whittaker easily made the role her own, with a kindness and compassion that built upon the empathetic side of the Doctor that Capaldi teased out during his run. The simple fact that the Doctor stuck around for a funeral will have been a point of note for many, and she also showed genuine interest when she asked Graham more about his marriage to Grace. Moments like these played off well against the wit and humor Whittaker so often displayed.
Fun would be the one adjective that sums up this new Doctor's first episode. From asking if they could use the lights and sirens in the police car to trawling through every item of clothing in the Goodwill shop to find the perfect outfit, comic relief was pushed to the forefront and it worked well. Whittaker seems to have a natural gift for this kind of light comedy, although hopefully that won't be at the expense of seeing the darker side of the Doctor throughout season 11. Doctor Who works best when we're made aware that this is an alien character interacting with people from our world, and her interactions with her new companions - or friends as they're now known - were great for this.
"I'm calling you Yaz, cause we're friends now," she declared, beaming brightly at the young police officer she'd met just moments before. Her interactions with all three - Yaz, Ryan, and Graham - were all different and each of those inter-connected relationships, including the four of them as a team, will be interesting to watch develop. In particular, the way the Doctor speaks to Bradley Walsh's Graham as if she were a class teacher and he was a very talkative student, is already a highlight.
Whittaker more than deserves the praise she's getting from fans and critics alike, as does Chibnall for delivering a very promising opener to Doctor Who season 11. Overall, Whittaker was entirely invigorating and enthralling to watch. Her energy, exuberance, and dazzling smile were all refreshing and very welcome. She seems to have taken the good points from the Doctors who came before her, jumbled them up, added her own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and delivered a Doctor who - regardless of the gender of the actor playing the role - is, quite simply, the Doctor.
Doctor Who season 11 continues every Sunday on BBC America.