Jodie Whittaker regenerates Dr Who for a new age
- Credit: Archant
Jodie Whittaker is taking the legendary science fiction series Dr Who into exciting new territory. Arts editor Andrew Clarke believes that the time is right for a female Doctor to give the programme a new sense of purpose.
And so the long wait is over...at the weekend we learned the identity of the actor who is to play the new Doctor Who when Peter Capaldi steps down from the role at Christmas, ending months of speculation.
If the identity of the actor was a surprise then the sex was not. Broadchurch star Jodie Whittaker was announced as the latest actor about to enter the Tardis and portray the errant Time Lord from Gallifrey in a brief teaser trailer screened just after Roger Federer’s record-breaking Wimbledon final on Sunday.
There had been so much high-profile debate over whether the new Doctor should be a woman that casting a man would have seemed not only like an anti-climax but also a betrayal of trust.
So, on Sunday night, as Jodie Whittaker walked through the sunlit forest glade and removed her hood, the sound you heard was not the Tardis materialising but a glass ceiling shattering.
This should not have been a surprise but the announcement has provoked a startling amount of reaction from fans and the general public alike – much of it highly polarised.
Although it is difficult to judge from Twitter feeds and below-the-line comments on online news stories, Whittaker’s appointment seems to have been welcomed by two thirds of the viewing public with the remaining third being either nervous or absolutely opposed to a woman playing the role.
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One criticism repeated many times has been: “The Doctor has always been a Time Lord not a Time Lady. He can’t be a woman.” But, evidence in the series itself would suggest otherwise.
Current showrunner Steven Moffat experimented with the notion that Time Lords could change sex when long-standing bad guy The Master regenerated into Missy, played with delicious zeal by Michelle Gomez.
The Doctor himself has explained to mystified companions in both the classic series and the 21st century programme that during the regeneration process every cell in his body is renewed which not only changes his appearance but his personality as well. If this is the case then it stands to reason that this process would, on occasion, change his sex as well.
This represents a momentous change of direction for this legendary British science fiction programme and comes just as the series is in need of a boost of fresh energy. Prior to this current series, the Doctor’s adventures had become overly complicated with Steven Moffat becoming caught up with giving each season an over-arching storyline which had become increasingly confusing and convoluted.
The programme had been rested for 18 months and has returned with sharper one and two-part stories and has provided Peter Capaldi’s irascible Time Lord his best set of stories yet.
At the end of the day Doctor Who stands or falls on the quality of its storytelling. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the series never had a lot of money to splash around on special effects but it always invested heavily on good writing and good actors. They made the most of their limited resources and harnessed our imagination to send us scurrying behind the sofa. Suspense and not really seeing the threat hiding in the shadows is always more effective than putting a monster in the spotlight. Jodie Whittaker will be a fantastic Doctor because she is a great actress. She has that necessary quirky personality to bring out the other-worldliness that is so important in the role. She will also be joining a growing pantheon of female action heroes who think before they leap.
At the moment Gal Gadot is ruling the nation’s cinemas in a superior reworking the DC comic book heroine Wonder Woman while Daisy Ridley continues to strut her stuff as the lead character Rey in the current Star Wars saga while Felicity Jones dominated the storyline of last year’s Star Wars spin-off movie Rogue One.
Meanwhile epic TV series Game of Thrones is stuffed full of powerful female characters who drive the narrative forward – everyone from Lena Headey’s villainous Cersei Lannister, Maisie Williams’ youthful assassin Anya Stark to Emilia Clarke’s dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen – not forgetting Natalie Dormer and Diana Rigg’s Machiavellian aunt and niece act as Margery and Olenna Tyrell.
But, female heroes are nothing new, Sigourney Weaver set the cinema alight as the first true female action hero Ellen Ripley in the Alien series while Angelina Jolie has tackled a series of empowering roles as agents, treasure hunters and assassins in films as diverse as Tomb Raider, Wanted, Salt and Mr & Mrs Smith.
It’s great that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor will provide young women with an inspiring role model she should provide an exciting new start for the timeless Time Lord.