‘Broadchurch’ actress first female to play title role
Superstitious folk generally regard 13 as an unlucky number, but it certainly is being kind to Jodie Whittaker.
The English actress makes history this week as the Thirteenth Doctor, the first female incarnation of the titular Time Lord in the sci-fi cult hit “Doctor Who.’’ The current reboot of a show that is a British TV institution opens Season 11 Sunday, Oct. 7, on BBC America, which will air the premiere that afternoon in a simulcast with the British primetime season launch, the time for which remained unconfimed at press time. BBC America then will replay the same episode that night, in its new Sunday time period.
Whovians actually got their first glimpse of Whittaker in the role at the end of the 2017 Christmas special, which climaxed as the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) regenerated into Whittaker’s form. The Doctor’s new female embodiment was so unexpected that the character’s spaceship, the TARDIS, refused to recognize her, ultimately hurling Whittaker’s Doctor out of the flying craft.
Which brings us to the title of the Season 11 premiere: “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,’’ which finds the shaken Doctor, disoriented and unable to remember her name, dropping from the night sky into South Yorkshire, England. Luckily, she soon makes the acquaintance of three locals who are destined to become her new companions: Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh), Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill).
Whittaker’s debut in this iconic role coincides with the arrival of a new “Doctor Who’’ showrunner, Chris Chibnall, who previously had worked with the actress in the acclaimed murder mystery “Broadchurch.’’ He also brings with him a new team of writers who are said to have extensive knowledge and personal fondness for “Doctor Who’’ and its lore.
News that the Thirteenth Doctor would be female somewhat predictably sparked some fanboy outrage at first (variations on “They’re killing my childhood!’’ mostly), but the warm reception Whittaker and her colleagues received at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con suggests most in the audience are willing to give the new Doctor the benefit of the doubt, for now.
Actually, according to most reports, the gender of the character won’t be a significant recurring plot point of Season 11 storylines, which makes sense, given that the Doctor’s new companions know her only in this latest form. “Doctor Who’’ also already has featured another Time Lord – Missy, played by guest star Michelle Gomez – who has taken both male and female form. There are no plans for any romantic interaction between the Doctor and her companions.
Season 11 will be slightly shorter than earlier batches – 10 episodes, as opposed to the usual 13 – but there will also be a Christmas episode, as always. In another wrinkle, each episode will be self-contained, with no multipart story arcs.