After playing the role for almost four years, Scottish actor Peter Capaldi is handing over the keys to the Tardis and regenerating. If this was any other television programme, then the star quitting the show would surely spell disaster. But for Doctor Who; it’s business as usual.
In a tense and emotional finale to the series 10, Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor lost his companions, faced down an army of Cybermen, and met two incarnations of his arch nemesis: the Master. The episode ended with Capaldi, mortally wounded, stumbling out of the Tardis into an arctic landscape, bathed in a familiar orange glow.
If you’re as big of a nerd as I am, then you probably noticed a lot of allusions to The Tenth Planet, William Hartnell’s last episode as the original Doctor, which triggered the first regeneration in Doctor Who’s history. Back in 1966, when our favourite Time Lord keeled over and died, then changed into actor Patrick Troughton in an explosion of light, it was a pretty seismic shock to audiences watching at some. But now, some 51 years later, is the fourteenth regeneration capable of a twist as mind-blowing? In a word: hell yes it is.
Most of us will be pretty sorry to see Capaldi go (even those people who still just want David Tennant to come back) but as the Doctor himself once said: “life depends on change and renewal,” and the BBC have just announced a very big change.
On Sunday July 16, after the Wimbledon Men’s Final, BBC Wales announced that the Doctor won’t just be changing his face; he’ll be changing his gender as well! It’s official: Jodie Whittaker is the first actress to play the role, and the Doctor is going to become a Time Lady. Needless to say, this announcement has been met with widespread debate.
Jodie Whittaker will take the reigns from Peter Capaldi, who will depart at Christmas following the conclusion of a special episode alongside David Bradley. Chris Chibnall, the new show runner (and creator of hit crime drama Broadchurch) who’s taking over from Steven Moffat, stated: “After months of lists, conversations, auditions, recalls, and a lot of secret-keeping, we’re excited to welcome Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.”
“I always knew I wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be a woman and we’re thrilled to have secured our number-one choice. Her audition for The Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role. The Thirteenth Doctor is on her way.”
Whittaker herself stated: “I’m beyond excited to begin this epic journey – with Chris and with every Whovian on this planet. It’s more than an honour to play the Doctor. It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can’t wait.”
Peter Capaldi added: “Anyone who has seen Jodie Whittaker’s work will know that she is a wonderful actress of great individuality and charm. She has above all the huge heart to play this most special part. She’s going to be a fantastic Doctor.”
However, the decision to cast a female lead has been contentious among the fandom, with some people praising the choice while others criticise it.
However, the decision to cast a female Doctor is not at all without precedent. We’ve already seen two Time Lords change their genders on the show (the Master and the General in the series 9 finale “Hell Bent”) and writer Neil Gaiman hinted that Time Lords could change genders in the series six episode The Doctor’s Wife.
Furthermore, in the 1980s, Sydney Newman, (who created the show back in 1963 alongside producer Verity Lambert), urged BBC controller Michael Grade to change the Doctor’s sex in order to boost flagging ratings. In the memo Newman stated “At a later stage Doctor Who should be metamorphosed into a woman. This requires some considerable thought – mainly because I want to avoid a flashy, Hollywood Wonder Women because this kind of heroine with no flaws is a bore.”
We’ll have to wait until Christmas to see how Whittaker takes to the job, but as a lifelong fan I’m personally very excited. At any rate, she still has plenty of time to read the sonic screwdriver’s manual.