The Thirteenth Doctor is here and her name is Jodie Whittaker! Whittaker was announced to the world as the next Doctor this past Sunday, to the great shock of the beloved show’s fan base. She will be the first woman Doctor in the show’s fifty-year history, a historic casting decision made by Chris Chibnall, “Doctor Who’s” next show runner, known most recently for his hit mystery series, “Broadchurch.” Many fans were delighted by the decision, while others have decided to turn their backs on the show forever, but tuning out of “Doctor Who” now would be a tragic mistake. With Whittaker and Chibnall at the helm, the future of the show has never looked brighter.
“Doctor Who” is a show reliant on and incorporative of change. Every few seasons the Doctor will be mortally wounded and forced to regenerate, rebooting their physical form in a spasm of yellow light, and assuming a new body with unique personality traits. The show subsequently regenerates itself, ingeniously refreshing its cast and often bringing in new writers. The show is once again making room for fresh blood, with Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, set to change this Christmas, and Steven Moffat stepping down as head show runner.
Though the show has changed Doctors many times, the position of show runner has remained more consistent, with Russell T. Davies at the helm from 2005 to 2011, before passing the torch to Moffat in 2012. As Davies left, so did the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, and “Doctor Who” became almost an entirely new show, bringing in Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, and along with him a new cast of characters, set designs and writers. The upcoming season will be only the second time in the new series’ history that the show has changed the show runner and the Doctor simultaneously.
Fans and critics should be excited for such a shift. As the Sixth Doctor himself remarks post-regeneration, “Change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon!” Moffat has run “Doctor Who” for six seasons now, and was not always well received by audiences and critics. While extremely clever in some instances, Moffat has a tendency to write overly complicated, self-congratulatory and indulgent narratives, as well as produce frustratingly flat women characters. “Doctor Who” is ready for a reboot.
Anyone who’s watched “Broadchurch” should be excited for Chibnall to take the wheel. “Broadchurch” is a beautiful and haunting series about the murder of Daniel Latimer, an eleven-year old child in a small coastal town. The series stars Tennant and Olivia Coleman as newly introduced and bickering detectives attempting to solve the case in a town which has never weathered a murder investigation before.
“Broadchurch” expertly builds tension episode to episode, taking the audience down a winding and twisting road into the dark and towards truth. The show sets itself apart from other procedurals by slowing down and zooming in on the grief of its supporting cast. The boy’s mother, father and older sister, all of whom must learn how to survive in an unimaginable situation, are given ample and important time in the story. Whittaker, now the Thirteenth Doctor, plays Beth Latimer, Daniel’s mother.
Whittaker is quite simply phenomenal. In “Broadchurch,” she brilliantly holds herself as a woman who is trying her hardest not to break into a million pieces. Though she is burdened by impossible emotional strain, she holds a determined strength in her eyes. She is a survivor, and her character’s journey through grief and the many other conflicts which come along with the murder investigation are clearly shown in Whittaker’s subtle mannerisms and entirely real delivery. Whittaker makes Beth one of the best, well-realized characters in “Broadchurch.”
Just imagine what she can do on “Doctor Who!” Though the sci-fi series is much less serious than “Broadchurch,” the character of the Doctor is strong in very similar ways, grieving many and haunted by much, but trying to do good regardless because, as Twelve explains, “It’s just kind.” Whittaker is more than capable of traversing the diverse emotional territory “Doctor Who” operates in, and likely to bring very fresh energy and ideas to the show.
So why all the hate? Well, she’s a woman, and everyone knows how well men heavily invested in cult sci-fi and fantasy tend to handle the inclusion of women into “their” shows. Remember when they re-made “Ghostbusters” and grown men threw tantrums? “Doctor Who” is facing similarly childish backlash.
I’m calling the criticism childish because the objection stems entirely from Whittaker’s gender, and ignores the history of “Doctor Who.” Canonically, Time Lords can change between genders. The Master, the Doctor’s villainous rival, was most recently a woman, played wonderfully by Michelle Gomez. Audiences have heard such shifts referenced multiple times, and even seen them happen, so the objection to having a woman Doctor is not out of loyalty to the show, but out of anger at the prospect of a woman protagonist. Whether they’re Capaldi or Tennant, Smith or Whittaker, all of the Doctors are the same being with the same soul.
The Thirteenth Doctor is, at her core, still going to be the same character as the Twelfth Doctor, she’s just changed her appearance like all her previous regenerations. Really, if Time Lords are always faced with the possibility of shifting gender on a regeneration, the fact that the Doctor has been a man thirteen times before this (counting John Hurt’s War Doctor) is more bizarre than her being a woman now. “Fans” who say they’re leaving “Doctor Who” because of Whittaker are being absurd and sexist, and the show will likely be better off without them. But they should really stick around and give Thirteen a chance, there are some really exciting possibilities in store.
Having the Doctor regenerate into a woman opens up a lot of interesting doors for the series’ formula. Is she going to have a man or a woman as a companion? I personally hope Pearl Mackie will reprise her role as Bill Potts for series ten, both because I love Bill and having two women in the TARDIS would be really cool.
A male companion would also be very new, and would subvert the traditional dynamic within the TARDIS by allowing the woman to be more powerful and knowledgeable of the typical duo. Maybe the show will assemble another TARDIS team, with multiple people accompanying the Doctor on her adventures. How will the shows occasional romances go now? Will Thirteen be interested in men now that she’s a woman, or will she still be as attracted to women as she has been in her past masculine forms? Perhaps the Doctor’s sexuality, too, is more fluid than previously thought.
My only worry surrounding Thirteen is the possibility that the writers will spend less time on exposing the Doctor’s many flaws out of a need to unnecessarily prove Whittaker is an excellent choice for the Doctor, but considering the depth of Chibnall’s women characters I’ve seen before, I trust him to continue to explore the full range of the Doctor’s character, regardless of their gender. Chibnall’s writing has been mature and thoughtful in the past, and I hope he continues to challenge viewers in “Doctor Who” by bringing in new ideas and conflicts, whilst still working to make the show fun. I believe he’s more than up to the challenge.
Capaldi, on record as being one of my favorite Doctors, will be sorely missed, but there’s far more to look forward to in the Chibnall/Whittaker era than there is to decry. Chibnall and Whittaker are bound to freshen up the show and give “Doctor Who” new dimension. The show is long running and vast, but there is still so much new territory to explore and boundaries to break.
The universe is enormous and diverse and the TARDIS is a gateway to everything, everywhere, at every time, so if you decide you want to skip out on the Doctor just because she’s a woman now, perhaps you shouldn’t have been traveling with her in the first place. The Thirteenth Doctor arrives this Christmas, so make sure to be there when she takes off. You don’t want to get stuck in the past.