Color us pleasantly surprised:
There was good reason to suspect we might finally get an actress in the lead part, since Doctor Who is changing showrunners (and lead actors) as it transitions into a new period in the franchise’s history. There have been calls for a woman or person of color to take over the lead role for some time now. Possibly because of changing times and possibly because producer Steven Moffat had a tendency to write women characters in somewhat problematic ways, these calls have become much more intense of late. It was by no means a guarantee that they’d go this route, but there was a potential, like never before in the show’s history, for a major backlash from the viewing audience if another white man got the role. We felt like the BBC and new producer Chris Chibnall would be foolish NOT to pick an “unconventional” (for lack of a better term) choice at this point. It’s not the woman part that surprises us necessarily, it’s the choice of Jodie Whittaker.
Our main exposure to her work is in Broadchurch and Black Mirror. She stood out to us in both roles because there was a very unfussy, direct, modern-British way about her that was very appealing. The previous three actors to play this role (Peter Capaldi, Matt Smith and David Tennant) all have a tendency to be grandiose in their performances. We can’t claim to know exactly what approach Whittaker will take in the role, but if it’s anything like the other roles we’ve seen her in, the blunt directness and no-nonsense acting style will be incredibly refreshing.
In the press release, the BBC included a short Q&A with Whittaker:
1. What does it feel like to be the Thirteenth Doctor?
It’s very nerve-racking, as it’s been so secret!
2. Why did you want the role?
To be asked to play the ultimate character, to get to play pretend in the truest form: this is why I wanted to be an actor in the first place. To be able to play someone who is literally reinvented on screen, with all the freedoms that brings – what an unbelievable opportunity. And added to that, to be the first woman in that role.
3. Has it been hard to keep the secret?
Yes. Very hard! I’ve told a lot of lies! I’ve embroiled myself in a whole world of lies which is going to come back at me when this is announced!
4. Who was the first person you told when you got the role?
My husband. Because I was allowed to!
5. Did you have a codename and if so what was it?
In my home, and with my agent, it was The Clooney. Because to me and my husband, George is an iconic guy. And we thought, what’s a really famous iconic name? It was just fitting.
6. What does it feel like to be the first woman Doctor?
It feels completely overwhelming; as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be. It feels incredible.
7. What do you want to tell the fans?
I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.
8. What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about becoming part of a family I didn’t even know existed. I was born in 1982 – it’s been around longer than me, and it’s a family I couldn’t ever have dreamed I’d be part of.
9. How did Chris sell you the part?
We had a strange chat earlier this year where he tricked me into thinking we were talking about Broadchurch. And I started to quiz him about his new job in Wales, and asked him if I could be a baddie! And he quickly diverted the conversation to suggest I should consider auditioning to be the 13th Clooney.
It was the most incredible chat because I asked every question under the sun, and I said I’d take a few weeks to decide whether I was going to audition. He got a phone call within 24 hours. He would’ve got a phone call sooner, but my husband was away and there was a time difference!
10. Did he persuade you?
No. There was no persuasion needed. If you need to be persuaded to do this part, you’re not right for this part, and the part isn’t right for you. I also think, for anyone taking this on, you have to want to fight for it, which I certainly had to do. I know there will have been some phenomenal actors who threw their hats in the ring.
11. What are you going to wear?
I don’t know yet.
12. Is that your costume in the filmed sequence which introduced you as the new Doctor?
13. Have any of the other Doctors given you advice?
Well they can’t because they haven’t known until now, but I’m certainly expecting a couple of calls – I’ve got a couple of mates in there. I’m mates with a companion [Arthur Darvill], I’m mates with a trio of Doctors. I know Matt Smith, Chris Eccleston and obviously David Tennant. Oh! And let’s throw in David Bradley! Four Doctors! So I’m hoping I get some calls of advice.
Kind of disappointed that her costume isn’t going to be the hoodie and overcoat in the promo video, because again, there’s something charmingly and refreshingly no-nonsense about it. Regardless of what her final costume will be, we hope they consider giving it that same street-level feel to it.
Regardless of how she’s dressed, this is wonderful news, as far as we’re concerned. We outlined many of the reasons why this series is in trouble when we reviewed the season finale. Suffice it to say, this casting, both because it’s a woman and because it’s this particular woman, tends to answer a lot of our critiques. We’re really excited to see where they take this.
[Photo Credit: BBC/BBC America – Still: BBC America, Tom and Lorenzo – Video Credit: BBC America via YouTube.com]