Jodie Whittaker on becoming the first woman to take on the most iconic role in British television.
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who debut doesn’t air until October, but the incumbent Doctor has already faced one of her biggest challenges yet – addressing 6000 die-hard Whovians at San Diego Comic Con. As she sits down with NME to discuss taking on the most iconic role in British television, she admits that the Stateside address was one of the first times that the show’s global impact truly hit home.
“It was my Wembley moment”, she recalls of walking out onto Comic Con’s revered Hall H to meet the Who faithful. “You can’t really see, but when they turned the lights up it was extraordinary.
“There’s six thousand people cheering and some have even got my costume on despite never seeing me in the role. It was like nothing I’ve experienced before.”
The moment came almost a year to the day that she was unveiled as the first woman to play the Doctor, after months of fevered speculation.
In a brief clip that confirmed Whittaker’s arrival, a mysterious hooded figure walks towards the TARDIS, before she’s seen for the first time. It instantly sparked a massive global reaction, with one viral video capturing the heartwarming moment that a young female fan excitedly screams “THE NEW DOCTOR IS A GIRL!” as Whittaker’s face arrives.
For Whittaker, it’s the kind of brilliantly raw reaction that proves precisely why her new-look Doctor Who still matters in 2018.
“That was brilliant, her reaction was so honest and reflects how Doctor Who will be important for so many girls – they don’t have to be the sidekick to their heroes any more”, she admits of her historical role.
“But it’s also massively important in getting young lads to look up their mum and their sisters – it’s telling them that there’s nothing wrong with looking up to a woman.”
“Doctor Who will be important for so many girls – they don’t have to be the sidekick to their heroes any more”
Amid the positivity of a new and exciting chapter for the Whoniverse, Whittaker also faced a small minority of vocal dissenters who were unwilling to accept that, yes, a fictional alien is in fact capable of changing gender at will. But did it bother her at all?
“It’s not that I don’t care, but why try and be for everyone? It’d be exhausting”, says Whittaker.
“You’d be destined to fail. I think that if you are passionate about something, work really hard and respect what’s gone on before and hope to bring something new to this iconic role, then you can’t do more than that.
“It won’t necessarily be for some people and it’s just not realistic to think you’ll be a piece of gold for everyone.”
For the 36-year-old Yorkshire woman, the moment of realisation that the Doctor could be a woman came as she met up with new showrunner Chris Chibnall, having previously worked alongside him during her acclaimed performance as Beth Latimer on ITV’s Broadchurch.
After initially believing that they were meeting as friends to toast Chibnall taking over from Steven Moffatt, she soon realised that he had much bigger plans in mind.
“We were just chatting and I said, ‘Are you looking forward to moving to Wales? Please can I be a baddie?’”, she explains.
“The conversation quickly turned a very strange corner to when he suddenly said, ‘Would you consider auditioning for the Doctor?’”
“For me, at that moment, it was before anyone else had any notion that it could be a woman and I was immediately excited but also ‘Oh! It can be a woman.’
“He knew he wanted to cast a woman and I was lucky to have had that previous relationship with him because I think if he had only seen my other work he might not think I was necessarily right for the part. But he’d written it and been around all the time so he knew that I had a playfulness and a passion and energy that could be right for this doctor.”
“What’s it like working with Bradley Walsh? Well, he’s just a massive dickhead!”
Although Whittaker will be the leading face behind a new-look Who, she’ll be joined by three new companions. Former Hollyoaks actress Mandip Gill will play Yasmin Khan and Tosin Cole will play Ryan Sinclair, and in perhaps the most unexpected twist of all, teatime TV staple Bradley Walsh will play Graham O’Brien – after none other than Ray Winstone convinced him to return to acting.
So what’s it been like working with the man who became an unlikely Instagram sensation after filming elaborate music covers on his way to the show’s set in Wales?
“Well, he’s just a massive dickhead!”, Whittaker jokes, before bursting out in laughter.
“He’s absolutely hilarious, but there’s so many moments where Brad would say something and he’s reduced the three of us to tears. Mandip and Tosin are also hilarious and it worked so well because we clicked into each other’s humour. The best thing is that all of us have a sense of humour, so we can take the piss out of each other. We are very lucky to be in those job and you never can be too serious if you’ve got Bradders around – he’s an absolute tit.”
“It helps because you knew what you were going to get – he’s a TV show host so you see his personality but you just hope that it isn’t all souped up for TV and in real life he’s a grumpy old git”, she adds.
“Thankfully he’s not, he’s like a child. He’s the youngest and most immature person I’ve ever been around, yet he was still the grown up among us four.
“I adore them all, they’ve done some great work and I’m so excited for the world to meet them – they’re extraordinary.”
She also points to the diversity of her three companions – who are all of different ages and from three very different backgrounds.
“When you look at your social circle, that should be reflected on the TV screen”, she stresses.
“It shouldn’t be explained, but it’s not always the case – and the show reflects the society of today, that we’ve lived in before and potentially could live in. And the society of other worlds. That is Dr Who in its entirety and relevant to the series we’re making.”
Although full of praise for her co-stars, Whittaker becomes tactically tight-lipped as I probe about some of the rumours surrounding the new series.
Will Doctor Who be tackling civil rights in a rumoured storyline involving Rosa Parks? I’m met with a curt “no comment.”
It’s the same response as I ask about a self-confirmed appearance from Alan Cumming – who will reportedly play King James I in an episode that focuses on witchcraft.
What she does confirm is that the new series will be “epic and cinematic”, while offering a non-specific hint at the qualities that will define her doctor.
“This doctor is energetic and filled with child-like wonder. Very hopeful, and very determined”
“I would say that this doctor is energetic and filled with child-like wonder. Very hopeful, and very determined”, she claims.
“And I think it has all the elements of everything you love about the doctor. The mercurial approach, but it is also a freedom to bring my instinct to it.”
As time runs out, I finish by asking about Chris Chibnall’s admission that the new series will be an entry point for both old fans who want to return to the show, and those who have never watched it before.
Does she agree?
“YES! I have come at this as a new Whovian. I do not have a back catalogue of encyclopaedic knowledge to enter this world, but I’ve entered into it and I feel immersed and included and already full of knowledge just from this one series”, Whittaker explains.
“It’s an hour’s adventure every week that has a beginning, middle and end and with a story that spans the whole series. If you want entertainment, truth, funniness and fear then it’s the show for you. It’s for everyone from your eight-year-old to your 88-year-old nan who can watch it all together. I just can’t wait for everyone to see it.”
Doctor Who returns on October 7.