Time, gentle­men, please – meet the new Doc­tor

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Law­son

At 4.26pm, shortly af­ter Roger Fed­erer be­came the only man to have won eight Wim­ble­don sin­gles ti­tles, the BBC in­ter­rupted its ten­nis cov­er­age to an­nounce an even more au­da­cious first: the cast­ing of Jodie Whit­taker as the first woman to play the cen­tral char­ac­ter in Doc­tor Who.

Whit­taker, 35, be­comes the 13th per­former to por­tray the in­ter­ga­lac­tic troubleshooter. She had long fig­ured in spec­u­la­tion and bet­ting be­cause of a be­lief that Chris Chib­nall – the new head writer and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the hit BBC1 show – might pre­fer a per­former with whom he had worked. Whit­taker filled the piv­otal role of Beth La­timer, mother of a mur­dered child, in all three se­ries of Chib­nall’s hit ITV crime drama Broad­church.

When Pe­ter Ca­paldi an­nounced in Jan­uary that he was re­tir­ing as the Doc­tor, a con­sen­sus rapidly built that it was time to break the glass gal­axy. Those call­ing for the char­ac­ter’s lat­est re­gen­er­a­tion to in­volve a change of sex as well as ac­tor in­cluded Bil­lie Piper, who played an as­sis­tant to the ninth and 10th doc­tors, Christo­pher Ec­cle­ston and David Ten­nant.

Piper sug­gested a 13th bloke at the helm of the Tardis would be a “snub”, a view sup­ported by the Labour MP Har­riet Har­man, and other high-pro­file women. Al­though Chib­nall in­sisted that pun­ditry would have no im­pact on his de­ci­sion, he and the BBC seem to have con­cluded that the logic to­wards equal­ity had be­come ir­re­sistible.

Yet this sig­nif­i­cant piece of TV news was bro­ken rather cu­ri­ously. Four years ago, the cast­ing of Ca­paldi was re­vealed in a pre-sched­uled stand­alone spe­cial pro­gramme. The lat­est un­veil­ing was more ca­sual and unan­chored, fol­low­ing the match be­tween Fed­erer and Marin Čilić at Wim­ble­don which, given the po­ten­tial length of a men’s five-set­ter, meant any time from 4pm to 7pm.

Ten­nant was in the royal box for the fi­nal, giv­ing his lat­est suc­ces­sor a hint of the sort of so­cial priv­i­leges play­ing the part can bring.

In the event, Čilić strug­gled with a foot in­jury, twice re­quir­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion on court. “Not much the doc­tor can do for him,” com­mis­er­ated Sue Barker, in what may have been an at­tempt to make the BBC’s strange jux­ta­po­si­tion of sport and fan­tasy tele­vi­sion seem neater.

Once Fed­erer had shown his tro­phy to the crowds, Barker de­clared that view­ers would now find out the iden­tity of the lat­est two-hearted time-trav­eller from the planet of Gal­lifrey.

On film, a fig­ure, face ob­scured by a hooded cloak, walked through wood-

land to­wards the blue po­lice box in which the Doc­tor trav­els. A fem­i­ninelook­ing hand hold­ing the Tardis key then flicked back the hood to re­veal Whit­taker.

This brief teaser film co­in­cided with the drop­ping of a press re­lease, in which Chib­nall said: “Af­ter months of lists, con­ver­sa­tions, au­di­tions, re­calls, and a lot of se­cret-keep­ing, we’re ex­cited to wel­come Jodie Whit­taker. 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.”

Whit­taker said: “I’m be­yond ex­cited to be­gin this epic jour­ney – with Chris and with ev­ery Who­vian on this planet.”

The se­ries, which was first shown in 1963, has of­ten ex­plored al­ter­na­tive uni­verses, and many will sus­pect that – in any par­al­lel world in which the BBC had an­nounced a man to fol­low Ca­paldi – the show would be in se­ri­ous trou­ble, its rat­ings hav­ing re­cently fallen to around half of the 10 mil­lion or so who tuned in when Rus­sell T Davies re­launched and re­pop­u­larised the fran­chise in 2005.

But the choice of Whit­taker cre­ates a fresh buzz around the se­ries, the fem­i­ni­sa­tion of the char­ac­ter of­fer­ing ex­cit­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties. In opt­ing for a pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tor, Chib­nall has also fol­lowed the ex­am­ple of Davies, whose two doc­tors, Ec­cle­ston and Ten­nant, were both for­mer col­leagues.

The rev­e­la­tion was good news for the Mail on Sun­day, which had floated Whit­taker’s cast­ing on yes­ter­day’s front page, but tricky for BBC2’s News­night, which had seemed to heav­ily sug­gest in a re­cent item that the new Doc­tor would in fact be Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the Bafta-win­ning star of the sit­com Fleabag.

The prob­lem with at­tempts to pre­dict suc­ces­sors to the role is that gam­blers and fans tend to work on the ba­sis that ev­ery mem­ber of Eq­uity who is avail­able would ac­cept.

In re­al­ity, the pro­duc­ers are pick­ing from a much slim­mer list of per­form­ers who would con­sider the role ca­reer­ad­vanc­ing and are avail­able to spend most of the year film­ing in Cardiff.

Sev­eral of those sug­gested in the press and lu­cra­tively backed at book­mak­ers were, in re­al­ity, never within reach: Waller-Bridge has movie and TV com­mit­ments and has gen­er­ally writ­ten her own ma­te­rial. Olivia Col­man, also reg­u­larly named be­cause of her own Broad­church con­nec­tions with Chib­nall, is about to open in a play at the Na­tional The­atre in Lon­don.

It may still be, though, that Col­man and Waller-Bridge will turn up in cameo roles in Doc­tor Who as vil­lains or other sup­port­ing per­son­nel. Chib­nall has also hinted at pos­si­ble big changes in the shape and tone of the show.

His first cru­cial de­ci­sion, how­ever, prom­ises well. Whit­taker’s work – she’s due to be seen soon in a BBC1 med­i­cal thriller, Trust Me, that will now at­tract ex­tra at­ten­tion – has shown an abil­ity to play tragedy, com­edy, warmth and mys­tery, all of which will be use­ful in this role. It re­mains to be seen whether Bri­tain still has a fe­male prime min­is­ter when Whit­taker makes her de­but on Christ­mas Day, but the first woman in this other key UK po­si­tion has the po­ten­tial to be pop­u­lar in a way May can only dream of.

The BBC re­leased the first pic­tures of the new Doc­tor, Jodie Whit­taker, yes­ter­day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.