Doc­tor­Who re­boot

Jodie steps into the Time Lord’s shoes

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - This Week -

Two days be­fore we meet in Lon­don, the new Doc­tor Who gave a talk about her favourite films. Jodie Whit­taker looked out at the au­di­ence and there in the front row was a young fan dressed as the Doc­tor.

Not Peter Ca­paldi’s but­toned and booted rock star ver­sion, nor any of his 11 pre­de­ces­sors, but her Doc­tor, the new­comer who will ma­te­ri­alise on our screens this month af­ter a tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse granted on Christ­mas Day. The fan was a boy, and Jodie ob­vi­ously

isn’t and never was.

“I am asked an aw­ful lot about girls look­ing up to me as the first fe­male Doc­tor,” she tells, “but just as im­por­tant is boys look­ing up to women.”

It’s over a year af­ter the an­nounce­ment Jodie would suc­ceed Peter on the pop­u­lar sci-fi se­ries (set to screen this month on TVNZ 2 and On De­mand).

Although Jodie is a pri­vate per­son, she is still rel­ish­ing the fuss. “It’s one of them jobs, isn’t it? You have to en­joy ev­ery mo­ment of it or you’re in the wrong field. I mean, it’ll be nice when be­ing the first woman do­ing some­thing like this isn’t such a mo­ment, but it is also ex­cit­ing to know that it won’t have the same im­pact in the fu­ture.

“I’m just an­other ac­tor play­ing the Doc­tor and the Doc­tor is an alien, so I’m just as qual­i­fied as any­one else to play that role – which is woe­fully un­qual­i­fied.”

She has only one heart, we point out – the time trav­eller from Gal­lifrey has two.

“I do only have one heart. I’m just hu­man and bor­ing. Of course, I’m a woman too and peo­ple re­spond to the char­ac­ter in some sce­nar­ios as a woman. There may be cer­tain times where it has an ef­fect, but I was asked once, ‘Are you play­ing it as a woman?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, my God!’ I can’t ever imag­ine David [Ten­nant] an­swer­ing the ques­tion, ‘Are you play­ing the Doc­tor as a man?’”

Jodie, the woman who will be the 13th Doc­tor, is 36 and best known as the be­reaved mother of the mur­dered teen on Broad­church, in which David – the 10th Doc­tor – was a de­tec­tive.

Land­ing the part

Wear­ing black jeans and a Con­verse T-shirt as she talks to Woman’s Day, she has mid-length blonde hair, vis­i­bly dark roots and a York­shire ac­cent in which she talks 19 to the dozen – a long way

from the cur­mud­geonly Vic­to­rian Doc­tor played by Wil­liam Hart­nell when the show launched in 1963.

As Jodie says, it was the ob­vi­ous place for the show to go. But per­haps it was not so ev­i­dent over that first cof­fee she had in 2017 with Chris Chib­nall – the writer of five Doc­tor Who episodes who had the pre­vi­ous year been an­nounced as the show’s new head hon­cho.

Back in 2013, he had cast Jodie as Beth La­timer in Broad­church and they had just fin­ished the pub­lic­ity round for its third sea­son. Now, he told her, he was can­celling all other projects to fo­cus on tele­vi­sion’s long­est-run­ning science-fic­tion se­ries.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Jodie, born in 1982, grew up in a world with­out Doc­tor Who – the BBC can­celled the show in 1989. It was re­vived for a sin­gle TV film when she was 14, but it flopped.

By the time the Doc­tor’s space­ship, the Tardis, made its suc­cess­ful reap­pear­ance on our screens in 2005, Jodie was 23, per­form­ing at Shake­speare’s Globe and about to re­ceive nom­i­na­tions as cinema’s new­comer of the year for her role in Venus along­side Peter O’Toole.

Her first con­nec­tion with the show came in 2010, when she was re­jected for a cameo in Matt Smith’s open­ing episode as the 11th Doc­tor.

It may have been with some ca­su­al­ness, then, that in the café where Jodie as­sumed they were just catch­ing up, she joked to Chris, “Can I come? Can I be an alien? Can I play a bad­die?” He replied, “It’s funny you bring it up be­cause I ac­tu­ally wanted d to talk about whether you would con­sider au­di­tion­ing for the Doc­tor.”

It seemed a ter­ri­bly good idea. The part was not hers, how­ever. The of­fer was to au­di­tion as one of an all-fe­male short­list.

The au­di­tions were tough “and rightly so”. Jodie was called back, but since she was film­ing in Glas­gow, she had to record the ex­tra scenes on her iPhone in her rented flat. “When I

found out I had the job, I burst into tears. It’s a big deal and I re­spond like that. I can cry with joy and with sad­ness. I can get re­ally over­whelmed.”

To ac­cept the job of the Doc­tor is to swear an oath of si­lence. Jodie could tell no-one, apart from her agent and her im­me­di­ate fam­ily, although she kept the news from her father be­cause he is such a blab­ber­mouth.


Her first task, again con­ducted in se­crecy, was to work on what she would wear, as each Doc­tor is de­fined partly by their garb. Jodie met the cos­tume de­signer, who scru­ti­nised the im­ages she had bom­barded Chris with.

“There were just hun­dreds. Well, not hun­dreds, but 20 or 30 pic­tures that I sent. One of them was a woman in cropped trousers, braces and boots, and a black and white T-shirt. She had kind of messy hair that wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar length – it wasn’t short and it wasn’t long.”

The new Doc­tor’s look is largely an ex­trap­o­la­tion from that. Ev­ery de­tail, ap­par­ently, has a mean­ing that will be re­vealed. So a skirt was out of the ques­tion? “There’d be no rea­son be­cause it’s not prac­ti­cal to run about in. Why would you wear a skirt or a dress? Why be cold?”

Jodie’s cast­ing was made pub­lic in a short teaser on BBC One af­ter the Wim­ble­don men’s fi­nal last year. We saw the Doc­tor walk­ing through a for­est wear­ing a long coat over a hoodie.

When she re­moved her hood, re­ac­tions from view­ers were un­sur­pris­ingly mixed. Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May was in favour. Colin Baker, the sixth Doc­tor, said, “Well, I never. The BBC re­ally did do the right thing.” A few fans swore never to watch again, while the fifth Doc­tor, Peter Dav­i­son, ar­gued that boys had lost a role model.

The teaser, how­ever, gave us no clue as to who her Doc­tor ac­tu­ally was. The day af­ter the shoot, Jodie was at the BBC to film her re­gen­er­a­tion scene for the Christ­mas episode. It was also Chris’ first day.

“For us on set, it was re­ally emo­tional be­cause he’s a huge Who­vian and these were the first steps – this was him see­ing

what he’d writ­ten on screen and I was mak­ing my very first ap­pear­ance as the Doc­tor.

“I had a mo­ment – I was in some­body else’s Tardis, in some­body else’s cos­tume and I was about to take over from 12 peo­ple.”

Pic­tures of Jodie’s cos­tume were re­leased in No­vem­ber, but her scene in the Christ­mas spe­cial showed her shot in Peter’s out­fit. The scant 60 sec­onds that fol­lowed at least con­tained one clue – when she spoke, say­ing, “Aw, bril­liant!” it was in a broad York­shire ac­cent.

“In the au­di­tion process, I al­ways ask, ‘What ac­cent do you want me to au­di­tion in?’ and Chris said, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, ‘I want you to use your own voice.’ It wasn’t, ‘I want a north­ern ac­cent.’ It was just, ‘Use your own voice.’”

Per­sonal touch

The way Jodie sounds is how they speak in Skel­man­thorpe, the vil­lage 14km south­east of Hud­der­s­field, where she was brought up and where her role was such big news that the butcher built a Tardis out­side his shop. Lo­cals call the vil­lage “Shat”, an ab­bre­vi­a­tion of “Shat­ter­ers”, a name they were known as in the early days of rail­way con­struc­tion for their job of shat­ter­ing rocks. When a taxi picks her up at the sta­tion, the cab­bie al­ways asks if she’s “a Shat lass”.

Her father ran a win­dow busi­ness and her mother is a nurse. She went to the lo­cal Shel­ley Col­lege and ar­rived at the Guild­hall School of Mu­sic and Drama hugely de­fen­sive about her ed­u­ca­tion.

“I had a right chip on my shoul­der. Par­tic­u­larly about Shake­speare be­cause, at 20, never hav­ing read it, I was just like, ‘It’s ter­ri­fy­ing.’”

Now, though, could Jodie play Ham­let? “I’d be more in­ter­ested in Mac­beth be­cause I’m not cere­bral. I move from here [she points to her stom­ach], not from there [tap­ping her head].”

She grad­u­ated in 2005, and em­barked on a ca­reer that has spanned theatre, film and tele­vi­sion. In 2008, she mar­ried US ac­tor Chris­tian Con­tr­eras, who she had met at drama school. They had a daugh­ter three years ago but have never re­vealed her name.

On her big­gest role yet as Doc­tor Who, Jodie says, “There are mo­ments of an­guish, but I feel that the way I en­ter into the role is with my eyes open and the lights on. You’re five years old and you’re in a dark cave, and the light goes on and you see ev­ery colour, tex­ture, shape ... How ex­cit­ing that would be!

“I wanted it to be like a light go­ing on when the Doc­tor is re­gen­er­ated and comes back, blown away by the beauty of ev­ery­thing and see­ing it in things where it isn’t al­ways ob­vi­ous. Know­ing when to be scared but us­ing that fear to push your­self, not re­strict your­self.”

What about ro­mance on board the Tardis?

Jodie will be joined on her voy­ages by three new com­pan­ions – or “friends”, as the show now prefers. Two are

Hol­lyoaks alumni Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill, and the third is for­mer Coro­na­tion Street star Bradley Walsh, host of quiz show The Chase.

I as­sume the age gaps will pre­clude the sex­ual ten­sion that gen­er­ated heat around David’s Doc­tor and Bil­lie Piper’s Rose Tyler. “We are a friend­ship group this sea­son,” Jodie says firmly.

Beyond that, be­cause of

the vow of si­lence, she can re­veal very lit­tle about the nine months she spent film­ing her first sea­son in Wales, ex­cept that it was the most fun she has ever had on set and also the hard­est. At the sea­son’s wrap party, Jodie gave a lit­tle speech and at­tempted some of it in Welsh. She gives the strong im­pres­sion she thinks she failed at very lit­tle else on set.

When Chris is asked why Jodie won the part, he re­mem­bers her au­di­tion­ing for Broad­church and how she just rang true. But get­ting to know her, he dis­cov­ered she was not only a “great trage­dian” but also “a great co­me­dian”.

“We haven’t seen this and some of that is my fault be­cause for five years, she’s been griev­ing on Broad­church. But you’ve met her. She’s lively. She’s funny. She’s a force of na­ture, the most en­ter­tain­ing per­son in the room. As soon as the take ends, she’s mess­ing about and hav­ing a laugh.”

Props star

Af­ter her first au­di­tion, Chris’ great­est fear was “con­fir­ma­tion bias” – that he was see­ing what he wanted to see from his friend. So he gave Jodie ex­tra scenes to film.

“Did she tell you she con­structed her own props? There was one scene that was the ar­che­typal Doc­tor de­fus­ing a bomb that’s about to go off. I thought, ‘I know she can do emo­tion. I know she can do the hu­mour and the en­ergy. Can she do the techno-bab­ble?’ She made a prop for her­self. When the scene came back to us on video, she had a box with wires com­ing out of it. She re­ally fought for this part.”

When she got it, the BBC drama head gave her The Talk – how once you are the Doc­tor, you are al­ways the Doc­tor and “all the ter­ri­ble things” that could mean. Jodie then turned to the so­ci­ety of sur­viv­ing ex-Doc­tors, of which hap­pily there are still nine. Only the first three – Wil­liam, Pa­trick Troughton and Jon Per­twee – have per­ma­nently de­ma­te­ri­alised. It be­gan with a phone call to Peter, David and Doc­tor num­ber nine, Christo­pher Ec­cle­ston. “Each of them gave her dif­fer­ent pieces of ad­vice,” ex­plains Chris. “But I know that all of them said they wouldn’t change it. They wouldn’t swap it for the world.”

Jodie and her time­trav­el­ling com­pan­ions (from left) Bradley, Mandip and Tosin. Be­low right: Lucky num­ber 13! Jodie at a photo call with 12 looka­likes.

All aboard! The gang are all smiles at the pre­miere screen­ing of Sea­son 11.

Above: Jodie sheds a lit­tle light on her new role. Right: As Beth in Broad­church with (from left) Char­lotte Beau­mont, Andrew Buchan, David and Olivia Col­man.

Jodie with her hus­band of 10 years, Chris­tian, who she met at drama school in Lon­don.

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