The announcement was made in a brief video broadcast on television and then posted online by BBC and BBC America featuring a hooded figure walking through a forest. The figure approaches the TARDIS, the lead character’s time- and space-traveling ship that appears on the outside to be a blue police call box. Upon approaching the TARDIS, the figure opens its hand and the key to the ship appears.
The mysterious figure then throws back her hood to reveal her face, with Whittaker showing the hint of a smile as she gazes at the camera.
As one might expect, the announcement generated a significant amount of excitement and polarizing reactions from fans.
Although it is well established at this point in the series that the lead character — a member of an alien race known as the Time Lords who can regenerate into new bodies when they sustain life-threatening injuries — can shift between male and female forms, some fans took issue with the decision to cast a female lead in the series. The Doctor (as he is called throughout the series, as his real name is unknown) has traditionally been portrayed by a male actor in each of his iterations since the show’s premiere in 1963.
Whittaker will make her debut in the series’ upcoming Christmas Special, replacing actor Peter Capaldi in the role. Capaldi will make his exit during that episode, which is titled (appropriately enough) “The Doctors.”
Whittaker is best known for her featured roles in the BBC series Broadchurch and the 2011 sci-fi film Attack the Block. She shares the former program in common with former Doctor Who star David Tennant, who also played a starring role on Broadchurch. Whittaker is a two-time nominee for the British Independent Film Awards and will be the first female lead in the show’s history.
Many longtime fans of the series have been clamoring for a female lead since the show was relaunched in 2005 after a 10-year hiatus and it was confirmed that members of The Doctor’s race could indeed regenerate into female bodies. The latest season’s finale, which aired July 1, hinted at the possibility of a female regeneration in The Doctor’s future.
Along with Whittaker joining the series in the lead role, Doctor Who will also welcome a new showrunner. Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall will replace the previous showrunner Steven Moffat as the head writer and executive producer on the series with the new season.
“I’m beyond excited to begin this epic journey — with Chris and with every Whovian on this planet,” Whittaker said in a statement. “It’s more than an honor 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.”
Whittaker follows in the footsteps of Capaldi, Matt Smith, Tennant, and Christopher Eccleston (as well as John Hurt, who briefly played a version of the character) in playing The Doctor during its modern relaunch.
“After months of lists, conversations, auditions, recalls, and a lot of secret-keeping, we’re excited to welcome Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor,” Chibnall said in a statement released by the BBC. “I always knew I wanted the 13th 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.”
The upcoming Christmas Special will be the next episode of Doctor Who.
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