THERE’S A NEW DOCTOR WHO – AND FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE SHOW’S HISTORY, SHE’S FEMALE. “I FELT THE WORLD WAS READY,” NEW SHOWRUNNER CHRIS CHIBNALL TELLS RICHARD EDWARDS
The Thirteenth Doctor is finally here! We board the TARDIS alongside showrunner Chris Chibnall and new companions Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole.
Wednesday 18 July 2018. It’s the day before san diego Comic-Con gets properly underway, and excitement levels for the next day’s Doctor Who’s hall h panel are strong enough to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. a few of the fan faithful have camped out overnight to make sure they’re first in line for new doctor Jodie Whittaker’s first appearance in front of the 6,500-strong hall h audience, while the long hooded coat and subtly striped jumper of the thirteenth doctor’s already-iconic outfit have become an instant cosplay hit around town.
there’s always buzz about the arrival of a new doctor, of course, but this time it’s magnified. because even on a show whose time-hopping, regenerating format makes sure messing with the formula is as important to its dna as having two hearts, there’s something tantalisingly, groundbreakingly different this time round – and it’s not just that the new doctor has a yorkshire accent. the new face of the doctor is – like the Master’s during Peter Capaldi’s run – female.
“I felt the show was ready, I felt the audience was ready, I felt the world was ready,” new showrunner Chris Chibnall, a veteran of Torchwood, Law & Order UK and Broadchurch, tells SFX. “It was a really straightforward decision, and once I knew Peter was leaving, that was it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. then it was the shortest discussion you could possibly have with the bbC. It was like, ‘I think we should do this,’ and they said, ‘yep, great, on you go!’”
Joining Chibnall for our chat – in the picturesque surroundings of san diego’s Coronado hotel, once the location for movie classic
Some Like It Hot – are tosin Cole and Mandip Gill who, along with bradley Walsh, will form the doctor’s new triumvirate of companions (or “friends”, to use the new terminology).
so with the new series imminent and the production team finally ready to speak (the levels of secrecy around the show this year have approached abrams/nolan proportions) it’s time to talk about the Chibnall era. “no, no, no, let’s not call it that,” Chibnall laughs loudly. “let’s just call it Doctor Who…”
WHATEVER WE’RE GOING TO CALL IT, THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR’S TENURE BEGAN AT CHRISTMAS WITH THE REGENERATION SCENE. DID THAT FEEL LIKE THE MOST DAUNTING TWO MINUTES OF TV YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN?
CHIBNALL that was the easiest two minutes I’ve ever written because steven [Moffat] had to write the 58 minutes before it. It was great because I sort of knew how I wanted to bring Jodie’s doctor in, with a wham, bang, smash and blowing things up – so that was fun.
YOU LEFT JODIE WHITTAKER’S DOCTOR TUMBLING THROUGH THE SKY, WITH THE TARDIS GETTING A RATHER FIERY INTERNAL MAKEOVER...
CHIBNALL the TARDIS exploded! did you not see, it exploded! Who knows if it’s even in the series? [laughs]
SO WITH A NEW SHOWRUNNER, NEW DOCTOR, NEW COMPANIONS AND, WHO KNOWS, MAYBE A NEW TARDIS, DO YOU LOOK AT THIS AS A BLANK SLATE?
CHIBNALL It’s a continuation, in the way that all Doctor Who is. obviously SFX readers are going to know if you go from “the War Games” into “spearhead from space” or even from “logopolis” to “Castrovalva”, those are big changes, but it’s also exactly the same show. you’re honouring everything that’s come before, and you’re thinking about what Doctor
There are big changes, but it’s the same show. it’s not about wiping away the past
Who is going to be like for the next few years, while understanding in our hearts what we all love about the show. It’s not about wiping away the past, it’s about building upwards.
IS YOUR MISSION TO ATTRACT NEWCOMERS TO THE SHOW OR TO KEEP THE EXISTING FANS HAPPY?
CHIBNALL the balancing act is to do both. I think any new doctor is a great opportunity for new viewers to come in. this year, very deliberately, we’re doing 10 standalone stories, so it’s very much a jumping-on point. there’s no barrier to entry, there’s very little mythology this year – it’s all about the adventure of Doctor Who and showing the range of stories that it can do. but also if you’re a Doctor Who fan, I think the series demonstrates all the things you love about the show.
Jodie came in and was incredibly doctory. she was fresh and new, and lovable
WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN CASTING THE NEW DOCTOR? ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SOMEONE WHO FITS YOUR VISION, OR DO YOU FIT YOUR VISION AROUND THE ACTOR?
CHIBNALL I think that’s a really interesting question. from my experience of doing it once, you’re just looking for the doctor and I think you don’t know what that is until you see it. then you go, “oh my god, there’s the doctor!” and that’s what happened with Jodie.
obviously I know Jodie well from having worked with her [on Broadchurch], but I wrote three audition scenes for everyone who auditioned, and she came in and just blew us away. she was incredibly doctory, and at the same time she was incredibly fresh and new and funny and alive, and lovable.
because we were so blown away – and also because we didn’t want there to be any sense of bias in terms of my having worked with her – we gave her another two scenes to do after that, so I think she’s read more than any Doctor Who auditionee has ever had to. she was brilliant.
I’d known what type of doctor I was looking for, but the best thing about auditioning actors
is when people like these guys [gesturing to Gill and Cole] and Jodie come in, you have a sense of what it is [you want] and they show you it’s more than just that. With tosin and Mandip and brad [Walsh] and Jodie, the possibilities are just boundless.
TOSIN AND MANDIP, HOW FAMILIAR WERE YOU WITH DOCTOR WHO BEFORE YOU SIGNED UP FOR THE SERIES?
COLE obviously I knew about the show, but I’d only watched like two episodes in my life – I didn’t really know much about it. so not really much of a Whovian.
GILL yeah, the same. Clearly I knew what it is, and I’d seen a fair few episodes because I’ve watched it when friends are in it, or when I’ve been to the gym and it’s on netflix.
but I also don’t think it was required of us to have known what went on. our characters ask a lot of questions, so you have that level of discovery, when you don’t really know what’s going on and you ask what her sonic screwdriver does. It kind of worked in our favour really to not know what’s going on – when I looked confused, that was real!
DID CHRIS GIVE YOU ANY EPISODES TO WATCH AS HOMEWORK?
COLE In the audition process, they asked if I was familiar with the show. I was like, ‘no, not really,’ and they were like, “Cool, no problem,” because that’s what they kind of wanted, a fresh slate. If you watched everything, you might be trying to replicate what someone else did four or five seasons ago, whereas Chris wanted you to just come in, be yourself, be fresh and add a new flavour to the show.
GILL there was a big conversation about truth and stuff, and just reading what was on the paper. If I’d watched loads of stuff I feel I would have gone in that direction. It was all there in front of you, so you didn’t really need to do research.
CHIBNALL I think it would be a terrible note to give an actor coming into a show, to say, “Go and watch the past 53 years!” because what you want is the things that these guys bring. the other stuff is there, but it has no impact on their characters in the show whatsoever.
DURING STEVEN MOFFAT’S RUN ON THE SHOW, AMY AND CLARA WERE EFFECTIVELY “CHOSEN ONE” CHARACTERS ENTANGLED WITH THE DOCTOR’S PAST OR FUTURE. ARE YOUR CHARACTERS LIKE THAT, OR WILL THEY BE MORE NORMAL, DOWN-TO-EARTH TYPES LIKE ROSE TYLER?
COLE there’s no destinies, no entanglement, it’s just that something happens and then our characters get drawn in and we go down this road. really we go with the flow.
GILL I’d say they’re very ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and I think that’s why people will be able to relate to them, because you’ll be able to see yourselves in the characters, and I think that’s why it will work. I think that’s why a lot of people have an in into the show, because they’d be able to relate to either of our characters, or brad’s character as well.
DESPITE BEING BIGGER ON THE INSIDE, THE TARDIS OFTEN FELT CROWDED WHEN THERE WERE THREE COMPANIONS IN THE PETER DAVISON ERA. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BREAK WITH RECENT TRADITION BY HAVING THREE FRIENDS IN THE TARDIS THIS YEAR?
CHIBNALL I think it’s very hard comparing the current iteration with the show in the ’80s because they’re different running times, different structures… there’s not much you can necessarily apply from there to here because television is so different, the pace of television is so different – it’s not quite a direct comparison. also, the format of the show in 1963 was a doctor and three companions, so we’re not breaking or changing anything.
but I think that one of the reasons behind it was I’m very keen – as the show has always been – for it to be big, popular, mainstream, inclusive and that every viewer who wants to join the show has got an access point, a character they can feel is relatable for them. and I think emotionally and across the series, you get that variety of emotional dynamics – they’ve all got individual journeys across the series, and you’ve got the fun of the different team-ups.
ASIDE FROM YOU, CHRIS, IT’S AN ENTIRELY NEW GROUP OF WRITERS ON THE SHOW
THIS YEAR. WHAT WERE YOU LOOKING FOR IN YOUR TEAM?
[Since our interview with Chibnall and the Doctor Who cast at Comic Con, the BBC has announced that the team will consist of Noughts & Crosses author and former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Skins writer Ed Hime, Murdered By My Father scripter Vinay Patel, Wentworth’s originating writer Pete McTighe, and The Life And Adventures Of Nick Nickleby’s Joy Wilkinson.]
CHIBNALL I was looking for… great writers! [laughs]. It was the next generation of writers for Doctor Who in terms of people who can come in and own the show, and having writers from diverse backgrounds was really important to me, as well. ultimately with writers it’s like actors – you read their work and you respond to their work. all of them absolutely adore the show, all of them have been banging down the door to get an opportunity, so it’s just people who had stories to tell and understood what we wanted to do with this iteration of the show.
PRESUMABLY WHEN THEY STARTED WRITING THEY HAD NO IDEA THAT JODIE WOULD BE THE NEW DOCTOR?
CHIBNALL no, they didn’t. a lot of drafts of scripts have got “he” in. the writers didn’t know – nobody knew – until that reveal video went out [during Wimbledon last year].
WHEN YOU BRIEF THEM, DO YOU ASK THEM TO FORGET ABOUT THE DOCTOR’S GENDER IN THEIR WRITING?
CHIBNALL yes, it’s very hard for me to think of a decision that the doctor has taken in 55 years that is a gender-based decision or action. I’d really struggle to think of one.
DOES THE DOCTOR BEING A WOMAN BECOME A FACTOR IF SHE’S VISITING LESS ENLIGHTENED PERIODS IN EARTH HISTORY?
CHIBNALL yeah, I think particularly in the historicals – if we’re doing historicals, which I’m sure we are – obviously that then affects what happens to all these characters when you go into certain periods of history.
YOU’VE GOT A DOCTOR WITH A YORKSHIRE ACCENT, YAZ IS FROM SHEFFIELD, AND THERE’S BEEN SHOOTING IN YORKSHIRE. ARE YOU GETTING AWAY FROM THE TRADITIONAL LONDON AND CARDIFF BASES?
CHIBNALL We’ve been all over the place, actually. I think you’ll see more of a northern bias to Doctor Who this year, definitely. and about time!
AS A LONGSTANDING FAN OF THE SHOW, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE PLAYING IN A GIANT DOCTOR WHO TOYBOX?
CHIBNALL I’ve talked to russell [t davies] and steven [Moffat] about this, and it’s funny – you don’t write it as a fan. you park your fan. It’s a useful bit of knowledge, so in a sense you’ve been an apprentice gathering knowledge that you never thought was going to be useful professionally, and then you can think, actually there’s a thing there or there’s a line there or whatever.
but as a writer and an executive producer it’s the biggest toybox, because the format of the show is so phenomenal that you’re going from that place to that place to that time period [clicks fingers]. the show does everything. It’s got to be funny, it’s got to be dramatic, it’s got to have emotions, it’s got to have amazing characters, it’s got to have monsters, and it’s got to grab everybody from five to 105. It’s delightful – and yes, there are moments, like Mandip was saying, where you go, “We made a sonic screwdriver, that’s really awesome!” there’s lovely little things along the way.”
Doctor Who returns to BBC One this autumn. In the next SFX, on sale 10 October, we speak to the new Time Lord herself, Jodie Whittaker!
The doctor’s new friends are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances
Hollyoaks star Tosin Cole plays Ryan, one of the new Who team.
Jodie’s Doctor with Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole.
Mandip Gill plays Yaz. We love her cool look already.
They kept trying to tell her not to cut the red wire.
Bradley Walsh plays the Doctor’s third new friend, Graham.
The new season features the most diverse Doctor Who cast to date.