Actress Jodie Whittaker tells us about settling in to Doctor Who, getting to grips (or not) with modern technology, and her first impressions of the new Audi A1
It’s a grey and blustery day in March. There’s a knock at the door. Standing outside is Jodie Whittaker – a ball of energy clutching a reusable glass coffee cup. Her familiar face breaks into a smile and she greets everyone warmly in her broad Yorkshire accent. Moments later, she’s slipped on a leather jacket and is ready to roll. Today, she’s getting up close with the new A1 Sportback. But first, some questions…
You first encountered aliens in 2011’s Attack The Block – did you ever think then that you’d be playing the most famous alien on British television? They were terrifying aliens and I wasn’t as equipped back then as the Doctor is – more petrified and hiding in a police van! I really thought that was my one chance at science fiction and that I’d go back to crying every week in a TV drama, so having the opportunity to play the Doctor… it’s just amazing.
The Globe and Mail-
Jodie recently had an interview with Canadian press The Globe and Mail. Sadly I cannot embed the video but you can view it here and you can view the stunning photoshoot she done as well. Enjoy
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Jodie Whittaker is the first woman to take on the role of the Doctor in the British television staple Doctor Who, a pivot in the historically male casting that’s 55 years in the making. But we don’t talk about that much when the newly minted Time Lord visits Bustle HQ during her whirlwind NYC press tour. While it’s an admittedly huge step for the franchise to finally hand the TARDIS over to a woman, there’s so much more to celebrate and analyze about the new season (which kicked off Oct. 7 and airs every Sunday on BBC America) and its new star.
But if you’re a little confused by the terms “Time Lord” and “TARDIS” or unsure how exactly to jump in to a series that aired its first episode back in 1963, know that Doctor Who’s rich history is based on reinvention: the arrival of a new Doctor always starts a new chapter in the series, which makes for easier entry. The idea of presenting a fresh start was heartening to Whittaker, who was new to the fandom when she decided to throw her hat in for the part.
“I’m a new Whovian, and I’m new to this whole world,” she says. Thankfully, being a die-hard fan is not a prerequisite for joining the cast. The show’s eponymous character literally regenerates every season, meaning each new version of the character — Whittaker is officially No. 13 — is unique in personality and appearance while retaining the same memories. “Doctor Who celebrates change and inclusivity and regeneration, and that has to be for all,” she says. “It can’t just be for people that know it.”
It’s a little surprising that, unlike several past Doctor actors, Whittaker didn’t grow up following the show and idolizing the time-traveling alien who picks up strays and shows them the universe. Because despite a schedule packed with appearances — including premiering her first episode in front of 5,000 people at New York Comic-Con — she’s all friendly energy and excitement on this Friday morning, much like her incarnation of the character. And, also like the Doctor, Whittaker immediately makes herself at home. The first thing she does when she steps into our studio is make a beeline to the computer’s Spotify to pull up some music for the shoot (it’s electronic artist Pete Tong, whom she raves about between the photographer’s flashes).
I think to limit it to a sci-fi genre in its label does it a disservice because it’s its own genre, in a way.
After five decades,Doctor Who has its first female Doctor. What took so long?
On a July afternoon last year, non-timey-wimey clocks across the universe stood still for a moment, upon the news that a 30-something lass from West Yorkshire would replace a sexagenarian Scottish chap in the long running British sci-fi series Doctor Who. The actress, of course, is Jodie Whittaker, whose prominence in British culture has been established for well over a decade thanks to her roles in Black Mirror, Attack the Block, and Broadchurch. But the character? That’s a little more complicated.
For the first time in the franchise’s five decades of Time Lord shenanigans, the role of the Doctor — traveler of both time and space, noted hater of creatures that yell “exterminate!” — is only now being played by a woman, despite the mythology of the series having frequently established that the Doctor can be any gender or race. As for why it’s taken so long, you can gander a guess, but Whittaker’s romp of a Doctor Who debut was filled with just about everything a Whovian could ask for, right down to a crash-through-the-literal-glass-ceiling entrance and a strong candidate for most terrifying monster in Doctor Who’s modern era. Three new companions have joined her in the TARDIS, too, for maximum mischief.
Unsurprisingly, Whittaker has answered question after question about her gender since the casting announcement, which is usually some iteration of, “How does it feel?”(It feels great, thanks for asking.) But ahead of her Doctor Who debut, Whittaker spoke to Vulture about the nuances of how a female Doctor will actually shape the show, in addition to the media’s role in sensationalizing her ascension to the role. She also discussed the surprising film character that influenced her Doctor, which Who-adjacent character she’d most like to share the screen with, and the importance of chic trousers. This woman knows her trousers!
How shrouded in secrecy was your audition process? Did new showrunner Chris Chibnall tell you from the very beginning that he wanted you for the role?
He was allowed to tell me, because we had a friendship that began with my Broadchurch days. He said, Don’t say anything, and I wasn’t gonna. From my own paranoia I wasn’t saying anything! When he talked about it during our initial meeting, it was a complete curveball because we were just chatting as friends. I said, knowing that he already signed on as the [Doctor Who] showrunner, Can I please play a baddie? Write me a role as a baddie with a lot off prosthetics! And he was like, Well, we’re actually auditioning women right now and that’s why I wanted to talk to you. It’s going to be a woman. It’s a part I hoped I would be right for, but I wasn’t guaranteed to get it by any means. Every other person on the list was a woman. And since I was with a friend, I could ask more openly about what it was going to entail.
What did it entail?
I was familiar with the show, but also not, if that makes sense. I’d seen a few episodes, but hadn’t followed a particular Doctor or watched a full season in total. Did I need to go home and watch every single episode? No. Chris said, Come in with fresh eyes. I’m going to write some scenes for the audition and I want you to approach it like you would anything. I was nervous because I felt like you had to “be” the Doctor, whatever that meant. Not knowing was a bit fearful. When I read it, I realized how incredibly engaging and inclusive it was. You get everything you need from the scenes. It was self-explanatory. I didn’t need to watch 100 previous episodes to learn that.
Did the sci-fi jargon come easily? It did, especially with a character who has such strong character traits there for you to adapt and evolve. I didn’t know how funny it was going to be. I thought it would just be really fucking hard, but I had an ace time. You know what wasn’t easy? How long the audition was. I couldn’t even get a friend to self-tape me because they didn’t know they were auditioning. The whole thing was complicated, but rightly so, because the ambition of the reveal was incredible. I found the secret-keeping easy in certain respects, because I knew my life was going to change when it came out. But I found it hard for such daft things, like, a friend was planning a girls’ weekend, blah blah blah, and I knew I had to be [filming] in Wales. I had to pretend to be unemployed! What are you doing at the moment? Nothing. I also gave some really crap reasons for turning down other auditions. So when the reveal happened, it was like a massive weight lifted.
What was actually in your audition pages? I’m not allowed to tell you that. But it was four or five scenes, and they all covered different energy. It was in-depth as you could imagine. The grown-ups needed to be sure of me. I don’t know which other women were on the list, but you can be sure they were the formidable group.
When you were announced as the Doctor last summer, a lot of articles tried stirring the pot with headlines about a backlash, but I didn’t see that much vitriol on social media. Do you think the media was complicit in making a big fuss out of your casting, when, in fact, the overwhelming consensus was positive?
My limited perspective comes from the U.K. and its media. Not social media, because I’m not on it, so all of that went over my head. Sure, there were concerns or strange interpretations from fans. I think the negative responses were relatively small. Of course, when any Doctor changes — David [Tennant] to Matt [Smith], Matt to Peter [Capaldi], Peter to me — there’s an inevitable loss of the familiar. The suggestion that I’ve “ruined the show” or have “gone against the show” are coming from people who aren’t necessarily Whovians. If they understood the world, they know that Matt and David aren’t aliens. Peter isn’t an alien! Their gender is as irrelevant as mine as. As a political moment, or as a moment as a woman in the industry, it is relevant. But within the world of Doctor Who, it really isn’t.
It’s hard because for some people, Peter was their only Doctor. They haven’t lived through a regeneration before. It’s like you’re letting go of something. But the wonderful thing about the show is a celebration of change and evolution. There’s no point in making changes if you’re not going to do new things. I think the biggest misconception right now is that a woman has “ruined” the show.
That reminds me of one of your lines in the season premiere, which is something like, “I haven’t bought women’s clothes in a long time.” It suggests that the Doctor has been a woman before, but we just haven’t seen it on-screen.
Yeah, and there are a lot of things that reference what the show has done before — you’ll have to wait and see. The Doctor has three friends in the TARDIS now, even though it’s been traditional in the modern era to be one or two. Chris gets asked why he wants to “break form” in that way, and he’s like, Uh no, going back, that was always how it was on the show.
Chris has also spoken about why he decided to eschew past villains, characters, and planets in favor of world-building from scratch this season. Why was it important to start totally anew? He’s been a Whovian since he was a kid. He’s been probably bubbling up these ideas for his entire career! It’s certainly not denying any of the worlds or monsters, but for him, it was really about going in a new direction and finding places in history we could go to. The interesting thing about being a woman is — although it’s irrelevant as the Doctor — it makes for interesting storytelling when it affects the time period you’re in, or the moment you’re in, or the interactions you have. It’s not the Doctor’s response, it’s other people’s response. And as a woman, that’s often the thing: We’re not surprised we can achieve things as women, it’s often other people who are.
I had the same thought after watching the premiere. Modern-day Britain is one thing, but what if the Doctor materializes in the European Dark Ages?
Exactly. What Chris wanted to do, particularly in the cast and in the story, is reflect the world we live in today. Very often, we’re only seeing stories being told through the white male gaze. That’s what Doctor Who always celebrated. The backlash is always the thing that gets focused on, but really, it’s so small. And also, for a true fan, they know it’s not warranted.
It’s one thing to have an anonymous Twitterbot spew stupid, misogynistic stuff about your casting, but when a former Doctor Peter Davison says he has doubts because it’s a “loss of a role model for boys,” does that give you pause?
I feel for him, because I feel he was misinterpreted. I don’t think it was a true reflection of what he was trying to say. Regardless of what was said, the mythology of “boys can only look up to boys” whereas “women are expected to look up to men,” it was never a question that our role models are men. But men have looked up to women their entire lives. Mothers, aunts, bosses — there are many versions of female heroes within our lives that are regardless of gender.
If someone actually came up to you and said, “I’m not watching the show anymore because the Doctor is a woman,”how would you respond? I suppose I’d say, I think you have some internal issues that need addressing. I wonder if their mothers would be proud of that comment. [Laughs.] Some people are capable of change, but it isn’t worth engaging with, necessarily.
Let’s talk about your grand entrance! What were the conversations like surrounding that scene, especially in regards to the revelation of the Doctor discovering her new gender?
It was the second day on-set that I got to actually say all of those lines and do all of that jumping. I was like, Are you fucking kidding me? Jumping? You bastards! That hero speech is when I remember who I am. When I’m like, I thought my legs used to be longer!, it was a joy to play around with. It’s a nod to the fans, but if you haven’t seen the show before it’s okay, because it adds to the mystery of the character. Watching it back, it’s the most extraordinary entrance I’ve ever had to do.
In the premiere, the Stenza warrior mockingly tells the Doctor that she has a “tiny mind.” I didn’t necessarily think it was a gender-specific slight, but it did make me wonder: Will the Doctor’s new gender affect the way she’s treated by her adversaries?
It definitely comes from things like history. I can’t speak to specifics, but there are moments when you venture into the past when relationships would be different. Like you said, we’re potentially going to times when women weren’t able to have a voice. The “tiny mind” thing was definitely character-to-character, not men-to-women. I don’t think gender played a role in the warrior’s motivation.
Are there motivations in future episodes when gender becomes more prevalent? They do. There are times when we potentially go into history where gender is referenced, sometimes through others characters, too. But it’s irrelevant with the Doctor. The Doctor is the Doctor. The character isn’t lost because it’s in a female form. Maybe sometimes other people’s reactions are different because it’s a woman and not a man, but that’s as far as it goes.
I noticed is that all five modern era Doctors are completely inactive on social media— Once you join the show, that’s a route you don’t want to take. [Laughs.]
Why is that? You give a lot of yourself over, because you become so well-known in the far corners in the world. I need stuff to be kept private. I wouldn’t have necessarily shut down my Twitter feed, but I never joined in the first place. For some people, social media suits them. It doesn’t suit me. There’s no reason to do it. You got bots that aren’t even human trolling people. I’m going to stick with text messages for now.
Were you involved in creating the Doctor’s new costume? It’s so snazzy!
The costume designer this season was the same who I worked with on Broadchurch, and we sat and discussed it a lot before the announcement. I came to the meeting with loads of different images, many of which I sent to Chris during the audition process. I loved this image, that coat, this earring, and other photos that I loved what they represented. Basically, I bullied Chris into giving me the job. [Laughs.] But these references made a great mood board for the costume. The use of color was very important to me, because I love color. Even though in today’s society, I’ve started to just wear black. There’s this social thing of not standing out too much or not wanting to be attention-seeking. It’s very human. What I love about the Doctor is that those rules don’t apply. I wanted that to be represented with what I wear, however small or subtle it was.
The use of color is inspired by this social and charity club called House of Saint Barnabas. I was there one day with a member, and I was like, This wallpaper color! This is it! We found a material that matched it. I love the use of the blue. I wanted the coat to represent where the Doctor came from. The lining is dark blue like space, and the world the Doctor is coming into, which is a dawn sky — a light cannonball of color. The lining of the cuffs, the seams, the stitching, every single item has meaning. And, of course, my costume has pockets. Can you imagine not having pockets?
For a brief moment in the charity shop, I thought we were going to witness Doctor Who’s first-ever makeover scene.
Everything in that costume would be at a charity shop! It fits, in a way that it shouldn’t work, but it does. It could fit a boy. But mainly, I can move in it and I’m not restricted. I can put it on in five minutes. I don’t get the point of latex.
I’m so amused that Peter found out you were the next Doctor because your trouser dimensions were sent to his tailor.
Oh God, we had a good laugh about that. I had to wear a version of his costume — I’m in his same jacket, actually, but I had to get new trousers. He’s slim, but it was still massive on me. When I started to go in for my fittings, I had to hide in the back corner so nobody would notice me.
Outside of Doctor Who, were there any pop-culture influences that helped shape your performance?
One of my favorite images is of Doc Brown in Back to the Future. He’s got a red shirt on with the white coat and glasses. And the hair! There’s chaos and there’s clarity. A childlike wonder and energy in a grown-up. Being a huge fan of the film, I adore that character. When I went in chatting with the premiere’s director, I was like, I really love the way Doc Brown bounces around the set. He’s never still, I want that freedom! I know it’s TV and I know it’s really quick, but I begged to not let him restrict me to static shots. I needed to move. This character has to be physically expressed from me. It’s movement, not just cerebral. If it’s articulated through my fingers or toes, I can do it. My memory of Doc Brown and what it evoked from my memory as a child was a great starting point for me. He’s still my favorite Doctor! Oh God, Whovians will kill me for that answer. [Laughs.]
Which returning characters would you like to act alongside, should Chris include some old favorites in a future episode? I’d love to work with Billie Piper. Rose was a brilliant character. I love what she brought to that role — it was engaging and strong and vulnerable and dynamic. I’d like to meet Rose. And River Song! There’s load of brilliant creatures and monsters, too. Can you imagine me meeting my first Dalek?
How do you think Doctor Who fits into the grander scheme of “superhero” culture? Do you consider the Doctor to be a superhero? Doctor Who is about hope and adventure. Whether you think you’re a fan of sci-fi or not, you’ll fall for one of those themes. The Doctor’s a hero for everyone in a way that I really adore, because the people in the cast look like they live next door to you. They’re not these extraordinary gorgeous, god-like figures. It’s not a typical superhero that has an unattainable beauty. It’s a hero for everyone because they look like everyone. If you’re going to have this beautiful vocabulary or extraordinary explanations, why make it so only two people understand it? You might as well not make it at all.
USA TODAY-British actress Jodie Whittaker was hardly a familiar face, at least not until recently.
“Being recognized on the street was maybe (like), ‘Oh I think I know who that is,’ or being kind of looked at in a quizzical fashion, ‘Did we go to school together?’” Whittaker says.
But after the BBC anointed her as the first woman ever to step into the iconic lead role on “Doctor Who” in July 2017, that all changed.
“It’s strange to have someone know exactly who you are and at what point they’re going to be seeing you play this role,” she says, just two days before her first full episode as the Doctor in BBC America’s season premiere (1:45 p.m. EDT/10:45 a.m. PDT, and 8 EDT/PDT).
Jodie Whittaker stars as the newest “Doctor Who” in the BBC’s storied franchise — and the first woman doctor. Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY
“It’s a wonderful thing, but (it) can be quite overwhelming at times to know that no matter how many Doctors there will be, I’ll still be one. It’s a job for life in a way that no other is.”
Despite all the trappings, baggage and pressure that comes with the role, Whittaker is remarkably chill about her big debut.
“I wanted to approach it like I approached any job,” she says. “I think this is one of the first times I’ve been able to bring what is my in-between-scenes personality, which is a very different thing. I talk a lot and I jump from subject to subject and I love the physical energy required of this role, and it bleeds into life.”
She added that playing the Doctor can help actors discover things about themselves. “You can find yourself playing the Doctor,” she says.
Whittaker and new “Doctor Who” head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall caught up with USA TODAY to talk inclusion, monsters and whether the Doctor can actually remember that she’s a woman.
Jodie Whittaker in action as the Doctor on “Doctor Who.” BBC Studios 2018
Question: Your casting meant a lot to me. How has it been over the last year hearing from fans? Is it overwhelming?
Jodie Whittaker: It’s been incredibly exciting knowing we’ve got a huge fan base before we’ve put in an ounce of work. It’s all over the world, and the response being mostly euphoric was excellent. … And now, being able to share all this hard work with all the fans and potentially new fans, it’s a long time coming and we’re really, really excited by it.
Q: The casting was announced just a few months before the #MeToo movement kicked off. Does the new era we’re living in change your perception of the significance of the role?
Whittaker: During the year it felt as if this was a timely moment. … The thing about it is it goes with the package, it starts a conversation.
Jodie Whittaker visits USA TODAY’s New York Bureau. Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY
Q: The Doctor often travels to the past. How will you deal with the her going to historically sexist eras? Will that change how the Doctor is perceived as she travels?
Chris Chibnall: Yes, we will go into historical eras. When we get to the third episode you’ll see us in–
Whittaker: You’re not allowed to say that!
Chibnall: I can’t remember what I’m allowed to say at this point! … When we go into history we will be obviously dramatizing the appropriate reactions to the Doctor in that time, so it’s not going to be ignored.
Whittaker: No it’s not. … There’s a conversation around it, as (there) should be. (But) the gender quickly becomes irrelevant, because the Doctor is the Doctor. But what is great is other people’s or other worlds’ reactions to that, reminders that it would be relevant at certain moments. But it certainly isn’t every scene. It’s not for me and you walking through life, so it certainly shouldn’t be for the Doctor.
Chibnall: If this doesn’t sound a strange response to that, it’s also a great opportunity for unexpected humor. How the Doctor reacts to people reacting to her differently when she’s in historical periods. … Often the Doctor forgets that she’s a woman. So there are points where people are responding to her and she goes, “Oh, OK. I’ve got to get used to that.”
More: Jodie Whittaker is glorious as the first female Doctor in full ‘Doctor Who’ trailer
It’s been awhile since the Doctor has had three companions (played by Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh). Why did you make that call?
Chibnall: Well I always wanted a gang of people in the TARDIS, I love that, and also what’s interesting to me in the show is how you explore different personalities, different relationships, different (emotions) across the course of a series. … And I just felt like the show hadn’t done that for a long time. Plus it’s sort of going back to the very, very, very original DNA of ‘Doctor Who,’ which had three (companions) in the TARDIS, and I wondered what would be like if you applied that to 2018.
I knew that I wanted it to be a really diverse group, I wanted it to be as inclusive of everybody in the world as possible. I want every viewer to feel like they’ve got access points and somebody they can relate to or somebody like them or somebody they know. And I think I wanted a good age range as well. You just start to put it together a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.
This season we’re getting all new monsters for the Doctor to face, as opposed to other seasons that have brought back classic villains like the Daleks. Why is that?
Chibnall: One of the great joys of “Doctor Who” is new monsters. There is a whole universe out there of creatures and villains and monsters that we haven’t seen yet. I wanted Jodie’s Doctor, and the generation of viewers who will watch and the generation of viewers who will join with Jodie and this gang, to have their own monsters with some surprises in there. And (I wanted) the antagonists in every story to resonate with the world now, the world we live in now in small ways or big ways. And I wanted to show the range of what we could do, really. I also think it keeps up mystery. Lots of “Doctor Who” storytelling is about what is the monster and what do they want and what are they doing and how do we stop them, and this felt like a really good time to do it.
Not to say we won’t do it in the future, because I am as big a fan of the show as anyone. So it’s really tempting to go, “Ooh let’s go and bring back the Kraals,” or something, but there’s also new things to explore. (It’s) the biggest toy box in television.
What part of being the Doctor that you were most excited about?
Whittaker: The freedom of expression. With the Doctor, there’s no etiquette constraints, there’s no social expectations because she’s an outsider continually, but (someone) who is always passionately learning and never abusing her hindsight to judge.
The New York Times–
SAN DIEGO — When Jodie Whittaker got the news some months ago that she had been cast as the protagonist of “Doctor Who,” the long-running BBC series, she went through a range of overwhelmed reactions. She cried; she caught her breath; she excitedly squeezed the knee of a colleague sitting next to her.
To be told that she would inherit the role of the Doctor, a time-traveling, space-faring adventurer who is perhaps one of the most recognizable heroes in science fiction, Ms. Whittaker said, “wasn’t part of my mind-set as an actress, that it was possible.”
For Ms. Whittaker, 36, who until now was best known for her work on the British crime drama “Broadchurch,” the casting decision was life-altering, as it would be for any performer — a guarantee that, when it was announced to the public, she would become instantly familiar to a global audience of millions.
In her case, however, there is an added, inescapable distinction: In the 55-year history of “Doctor Who,” during which 12 other actors have officially portrayed the Doctor, Ms. Whittaker is the first woman.
As Ms. Whittaker and her colleagues prepare for their first season of “Doctor Who” to make its BBC America debut on Oct. 7, they are still calibrating how they talk about it. They want to celebrate the show’s inclusivity without chiding the wider genre for a historical lack of representation, and highlight how they have made the series more contemporary and more diverse — behind the camera as well as in front of it — while emphasizing that its fundamental principles haven’t changed.
This is no easy feat for “Doctor Who,” which is accustomed to a certain scrutiny when it replaces its lead actor every few years. The series is also a prominent entertainment property in a field where efforts to diversify are often attacked by a vocal subset of fans.
Despite these challenges, Ms. Whittaker said it was a role she could hardly resist. “There’s no other job like it,” she said. “And I certainly can’t be typecast as it.”
One Sunday in July, Ms. Whittaker was eating breakfast at a hotel here, having made her first visit as a V.I.P. to Comic-Con International the preceding week. This morning, she was daydreaming about returning to the convention center and gawking at other celebrities attending, but, she said: “I’m not allowed. I would need about eight security people.”
A London-based actor who was raised in West Yorkshire, Ms. Whittaker gained early attention for her roles in films like “Venus” (2006), opposite Peter O’Toole, and “Attack the Block” (2011), with John Boyega, before her breakthrough playing the mourning mother of a murder victim in three seasons of “Broadchurch.”
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That proved crucial when Steven Moffat, who had been the showrunner of “Doctor Who” since 2009, decided to leave the series, and the BBC turned to Chris Chibnall, the creator of “Broadchurch,” as his possible successor.
As he considered the opportunity, Mr. Chibnall recalled: “I made a list of pros and cons, and there were 10 cons and one pro — it’s ‘Doctor Who.’ And the moment I start thinking, oh, we could do that story and have those characters, the show started talking to me.”
Mr. Chibnall, who had previously written several “Doctor Who” episodes, said he wanted his incarnation of the series to be “incredibly emotional,” with “stories that resonate with the world we’re living in now, and I wanted it to be the most accessible, inclusive, diverse season of ‘Doctor Who’ that the show has ever done.”
When it became clear that Peter Capaldi, who became the Doctor in 2013, was also leaving the show, Mr. Chibnall said he had one further stipulation: “I was seeking a female Doctor. I was really clear.”
Though actors like Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Tilda Swinton had been mentioned as candidates for the role in the past, these rumors never yielded substantive results. A change was long overdue, Mr. Chibnall said, for a character with the ability to shape-shift and regenerate in new forms.
Ms. Whittaker, who he believed could handle the character’s emotional complexity and antic humor, was among his top choices. “The precision of what she does is extraordinary, and her instincts are just so right,” Mr. Chibnall said of Ms. Whittaker, adding that she is “incredibly funny.”
Ms. Whittaker grew up on beloved 1980s genre films like “Back to the Future,” “The Goonies” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” never discouraged that there were so few female protagonists to identify with.
But when it came to “Doctor Who,” she said, “The thought that you — that I — could be in it never crossed my mind.” When Mr. Chibnall asked her to consider auditioning for him, Ms. Whittaker said, “I was like, ‘Can I play a monster with loads of prosthetics?’”
(After Mr. Chibnall explained that he wanted her to try out for the starring role, Ms. Whittaker said she answered, “If I don’t get it, can I still play a monster?”)
Following an audition process in which other women were also considered — Mr. Chibnall has not said who they were — the BBC revealed the selection of Ms. Whittaker in a commercial shown after the Wimbledon men’s final in July 2017.
Mr. Chibnall said he expected that it would take some time for the “Doctor Who” fan base to embrace this choice. “I thought it would take people a year,” he said. “We were like: ‘O.K., helmets on. Hunker down.’”
In fact, the announcement of Ms. Whittaker was hailed quickly and widely, but not universally. A disparaging hashtag, #NotMyDoctor, circulated on Twitter and Instagram, and the BBC received complaints from viewers, prompting the broadcaster to issue a statement that affirmed that “The Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey, and it has been established in the show that Time Lords can switch gender,” adding that Ms. Whittaker “is destined to be an utterly iconic Doctor.”
Peter Davison, who played the Doctor in the early 1980s, said at a 2017 Comic-Con appearance that he felt “a bit sad” at “the loss of a role model for boys,” while Colin Baker, his heir to the role, said those remarks were “absolute rubbish,” adding, “You don’t have to be of a gender of someone to be a role model.”
Ms. Whittaker said she had largely been spared the brunt of this debate because she is not on social media. If an online critic has a premature assessment of her, she said: “It’s not a fact — it’s an opinion. I have no issue with someone having a different opinion from me. I don’t necessarily want to have my last meal with them.”
But if people are claiming that she doesn’t deserve the role or was given it only because she is a woman, “I know I got the role on the merits,” Ms. Whittaker said more sternly. “I didn’t get handed it. I don’t play a gender.”
David Tennant, who was one of Ms. Whittaker’s co-stars on “Broadchurch” and who played the Doctor from 2005 to 2010, said that a certain amount of backlash was to be expected from “Doctor Who” fans.
Viewers form attachments to “their version” of the Doctor, Mr. Tennant said, “the one that they first knew, and there’s always a resistance when their lead actor changes.”
But sure enough, they come to embrace other actors, too: “People who have loved a Doctor before and feel like they can never fall in love again do so with alarming promiscuity,” he said. “It’s unfortunate if that gets made into a gender issue. That’s people just not seeing the woods for the trees.”
Ms. Whittaker said that if some portion of the “Doctor Who” audience was disappointed by the departure of Mr. Capaldi, her predecessor, that reflected well on the series.
Recalling her experience filming the scene in which Mr. Capaldi transforms into her, she said: “I’m in Peter’s costume. I’m literally in his shoes. If someone is devastated at the loss of him, that’s brilliant, because it just means the show is loved. If the fact that I’m a woman is an issue, that’s their issue. I can’t even begin to debate that.”
Throughout “Doctor Who,” its newest recruits say they feel invigorated by the changes taking place there and are ready to carry the show into its next era.
Stylist Magazine-Jodie Whittaker’s star turn as the first female Doctor Who is the most hotly anticipated television event of the year. The 13th Time Lord tells Stylist how she reinvented a British icon.
Here are a few of the things women were once told they would never do: 1. Work after marriage. (Bans on married women in the workplace were once common practice; Lloyds Bank didn’t abolish theirs until 1949.) 2. Go into space. (In the early Sixties, astronauts had to be military test pilots, a career not available to women.) 3. Play football. (Until 1971, the Football League declared the game “unsuitable for the female body”.) 4. Be Doctor Who. Thankfully, women have proved the doubters wrong on every count.
On 25 December 2017, Jodie Whittaker became the first female Doctor to step into the Tardis since the show started in 1963. Regardless of whether you’re a fully-fledged Whovian or have never seen the show (doubtful – it has 110 million viewers worldwide), you’ll likely understand the gravity of this casting. This is a show with the kind of fans who consider themselves a ‘family’, who have strong opinions on who their Doctor should be and who really shout about them. It’s a show rooted in tradition in many ways, as innately British as Marmite, builder’s tea and Only Fools And Horses. But it’s also a show that captures children young enough for the hero’s gender to significantly impact how they view the world. Casting a woman was a bold and important move.
It’s a significance that the 36-year-old actor understands. “What an extraordinary thing [to be the first female Doctor],” she exclaims. “Let it be a moment in history, but let it move forward to the extent that it never gets talked about… that’d be ace.” Despite the drama around the announcement, the reaction has been largely positive, helped not least by how loved Whittaker is following her brilliant performance as Beth Latimer in Broadchurch. Today she’s fizzing with excitement at the “honour” of the role and the diverse cast of ‘friends’ – characters who are replacing the Doctor’s traditional companion.
During our interview she talks (in a broad Huddersfield accent) of “luck” frequently – somewhat ironic given she’s the 13th Timelord, a traditionally unlucky number. The luck that saw her cast in Venus, alongside Peter O’Toole during her final year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2005. Her luck at working on Broadchurch with Chris Chibnall, who went on to be the executive producer of Doctor Who. How lucky she is to have avoided sexual assault throughout her career (more of which later).
I don’t think anything about her success is down to luck. I have never met anyone with so much energy, who is so unapologetic about what she wants and how hard she works to get it. She’s full of chat, and interested in every topic from wine to feminism, but guarded when anything remotely personal is hinted at. She brings her mum along to our shoot but has never revealed the name of her three-year-old daughter with her American actor husband Christian Contreras. Even if I wanted to cross the line, I wouldn’t. She’s strong, this northerner who grew up with her parents and brother in Skelmanthorpe, West Yorkshire. I can’t think of a better person to play a modern hero.
Tell me about the audition process for Doctor Who.
It was gruelling in the sense of it being a long process, and hard because of how secretive it was. I found out I had got the part in the third audition and I just burst into tears.
What’s most appealing about the character to you?
There are no rules. You’re an alien but you’re in a human body, so you can physically be anything. And that’s the thing about this character – it fizzes out to every part of your body in a way I’ve never experienced. You’re moving – either mentally or physically – constantly, so the energy that’s required gives you this massive adrenaline rush. I wanted to play this Doctor like a light going on in a cave for the first time, and the wonder that you find because every encounter is new: the friends, the worlds, the monsters – everything is new.
Which of the previous Doctors did you speak to about the role?
I was lucky in that I got to speak to David [Tennant, who starred alongside her in Broadchurch], Peter [Capaldi, the 12th Doctor] and Matt [Smith, the 11th Doctor] before I was announced. The [feedback] that was unanimous was that it will be like nothing you have done before and nothing you will do again. That is extraordinary and overwhelming.
How did you deal with the fan reaction?
There have been compilations of people’s reactions to the reveal, which are bizarre to watch. We live in a very unique time, people upload every moment to the internet so you can see the excitement and, in some instances, the fear people have. But when you see those videos, from all different ages of all different people from all different worlds about a show – and I hadn’t even done it yet – that’s ace because, if they’re accepting me into their family, what we want to do is make that family bigger.
The significance of Doctor Who being a woman is huge. How important does it feel?
It’s a moment that’s incredibly important, but also slightly depressing that it’s 2018. I want to enjoy it. I mean what a thing, for the rest of my life, for that to be me. But this has got to be the end of it being a big surprise. This is hopefully a moment that leads to us realising that we can have female heroes. Gravity [the Oscar-winning film starring Sandra Bullock] made millions and millions of dollars; Wonder Woman made millions and millions of dollars. We should look up to characters regardless of their gender. And I’m playing an alien after all! Let’s not limit ourselves to only looking up to people who look like us. That’s the future we want. And to realise that having different points of view in a situation is interesting and exciting, not terrifying. And mine isn’t that different. I sometimes feel like being a woman is like talking about being an alien.
Do you realise the impact this will have on children who are bombarded with very gendered toys and TV programmes from an early age?
I can’t even begin to talk about [my anger at] that. Every single part of the day can be difficult if you really look at the subliminal messages that are passed through in kids’ TV. When we were at school I remember who I was being taught about and it wasn’t women.
How important was negotiating equal pay to Peter Capaldi, the most recent Doctor?
It didn’t need to be demanded. This is not the show that would have the moment of revelation that I wasn’t paid the same. I was never going to accept less, I am equal to everyone else and have never thought of myself as anything other than that. I don’t enjoy being thought of as less than for doing the same job, no woman does. But in this particular job I didn’t need to demand it because it was already in place.
But it’s great that you’re talking about what was previously a taboo subject.
That’s new, isn’t it? We have to acknowledge that when something’s talked about, and passionately so, it’s got to be heard. And that’s what excites me about this time that the united voice is finally being listened to. We will look back on this time and be really proud of the united voice and what it can accomplish.
How much have the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements changed the industry?
I have never experienced any sexual assault. Full stop. When I was first asked about this I would say, “I’m really lucky”, and that depresses the sh*t out of me that I consider myself lucky, but I do. I’m one of the lucky ones that it didn’t happen to. In hindsight, have I experienced sexism? I can’t think of any incidences, but I do think about what I have been programmed to accept as normal. What has changed is that everyone – men and women – will be intolerant to things that could have been swept under the carpet before.
Now, if somebody says that something has happened, there is no way they can be talked out of sharing that with someone higher. Now, it’s time for us all to contribute like it was time for us all to listen. All these brave people have put themselves out there and we’ve got to respect that and honour it.
The pressure for this role is immense, what’s your coping mechanism for stress?
I love wine. With my accent, if I’m in a restaurant, they often give the wine list to someone else and I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no!” I might not sound like a wine connoisseur but I know my wine. My choice depends on what I’m eating. To me it’s got to be paired with food and if it’s pre-food it’ll always be a white or a rosé. I’m really passionate about it. A wine shop is like a book shop for me, I get completely immersed. So, at the end of a very long day, I will always reward myself with a couple of glasses of wine.
You spend huge chunks of your life on set. How important is home to you?
You get used to making wherever you are a mini home. I over-pack so that there is far too much stuff of mine everywhere, I put stuff on walls to make it feel like my own space. Work is hard in the sense of long hours, but I’m not a nurse in A&E. I get coffee brought to me, somebody gets my lunch, I’ve got friends who make me laugh all day, and I play pretend. This job is so extreme, you can sit for hours waiting for something to be set up.
In that time, you’ve fired off a million WhatsApps, you’ve looked at #braddersbangerz on Instagram [videos of Whittaker’s co-star Bradley Walsh singing in the back of his car], you’ve rung your mate who gets annoyed because, “I can’t answer at 3.15pm on a Tuesday because I’ve got a proper job”, and then suddenly it’s like, “Go, go, go!” and you’ve got to be immediately on it. The main difficulty is realising that, when you get home, people aren’t there to get you sh*t.
How did your childhood in Yorkshire shape you?
I was brought up in a very playful household. I have an older brother and was brought up no different to him. We both did cricket training, we both did football training, we both did squash training. I was unintentionally brought up gender neutral by Mum and Dad. I also had the p*ss ripped out of me, there were absolutely no barriers there so you had to have a sense of humour.
Also, I was encouraged to be off in my own world. We lived in the countryside, I could go off and play and I was allowed to watch films that didn’t always have the right rating for my age, because they knew I was passionate about it. They didn’t laden me with an importance of academia because I’m not academic. For them, as long as I tried, as long as I asked questions, as long as I wasn’t a bully, they were happy.
They thought being able to play on a team and play out with a group of mates was as important as being studious, which was progressive without them realising it. I found most classes confusing except for PE and drama and I realised I had a big enough ego to need to be good at something. My careers advisor said: “Only one in 10 actors make it so you probably won’t.” I was so lucky I went home to parents who said: “If you put all your efforts into your back-up plan, you’ll never do the first.”
You’ve talked about luck a lot.
But it is luck. There’s a drive in me but there’s a drive in a million phenomenally talented artists, musicians, actors. There is also the right place and the right time and Venus [her first film] was my right place, right time. It could have cast the year before I graduated, or three years after I’d left when I’d given up acting because I hadn’t had a job. I was given that very golden ticket. I can take credit for the fact that I did a really good performance, but I didn’t cast myself, I wasn’t my agent who signed me and put me up for it. So, I defy anyone to suggest that there aren’t moments for them that were pure luck.
Your husband is also an actor…
I’m lucky that I get to go home and talk to someone who is in the industry, but that is about as much as you’ll get.
What’s your next ambition?
Now I have put a little chink in my ceiling I feel like the possibilities are endless. I would love to be in a Western. Shows like Godless and Westworld are extraordinary, I love those ensemble casts where every role is meaty and rich. Doctor Who is a huge box ticked for me, but would I want this to be the only time I tick a box? No.
What inspires you?
When people speak up for what they believe in. There have been times when I’ve shied away from having a voice because of fear of how it would be received, so I take inspiration from the people who do speak out.
Gillian Anderson tweeted, “Yes! #breakthemould #13thDoctor”, when you were revealed as the next Doctor. Do you feel any affinity with actors, like Anderson, who have changed the landscape of the sci-fi genre?
I don’t feel an affinity; I look up to them. It’s such a myth about actors – particularly with women – that we don’t get on, that we’re competitive. All I’ve ever felt throughout my entire career is love and support from my sisterhood. If I didn’t get a role I would obviously be personally gutted but delighted to see someone else do it. A perfect example of that is when I auditioned for The Seagull at The Royal Court and I lost out to Carey Mulligan. I went to see it and I thought, ‘That’s why I didn’t get it.’ For most actors it’s just exciting when we see really good shows. And, when those shows have mixed gender and ethnicity, it’s even more exciting. Hopefully that will just become normal.