“It’s a perfect job for any actor because even though there’s the 12 previous shoes that you’re filling, you’re able creatively to make it your own,” says Jodie Whittaker, as the 13th Doctor Who and first woman to play the Time Lord prepares to hit the stage in her Comic-Con debut this morning. “So, I think rather than feeling the pressure of that, I feel the excitement of that,” she adds of her role and the new era for the BBC America series.
The Comic-Con inauguration of the 13th Doctor comes just less than a year after Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat took to the stage in Hall H to say farewell as the 12th Doctor and series showrunner, respectively. Capaldi announced his departure from the Tardis in January 2017, with Whittaker, the Broadchurch alum, being announced to the public July 17 last year, mere days before Comic-Con kicked off.
Since then, with new showrunner Chris Chibnall installed, details have been few and far between on the upcoming season. Filming in Wales since last October, a Christmas Special glimpse, a photo or two here, a new costume, a new logo, the unveiling of a trio of new companions and a World Cup Final promo last week have been the most we’ve seen of the fall-debuting season of the series that launched in 1963. That is likely to change today when Whittaker, Chibnall, co-stars Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill, and EP Matt Strevens walk out to thousands of fans in the huge Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center.
Before the roar of that crowd, Whittaker and Chibnall chatted with me about the new Doctor, the new season, talking to past Doctors, new monsters, and the potential return of some classic Who enemies. The duo also discuss the significance of the first female Doctor Who and the opportunities it presents them, the show and the fans.
DEADLINE: Comic-Con and Doctor Who have been strongly linked now for several years and several incarnations of the Time Lord. What does it mean to you to be showcasing the new Doctor, the trio of new companions and a new-ish creative team here on opening day in Hall H?
CHIBNALL: The show’s always had a great relationship with Comic-Con, but for us, we’ve been making the show in secret, very deliberately in secret, since October last year. This is like our coming-out party this week. It’s the first time we’ve done a panel together as a cast and production team, Jodie’s first appearance at Comic-Con, and it’s a great time as we start to bring the show into the world. It’s massive for Doctor Who and us.
DEADLINE: Jodie, besides this being your first Comic-Con, you are the first female Doctor Who. What is the significance of that for you?
WHITTAKER: Oh, it’s huge, really. I mean, your whole mind-set is programmed from being a kid that to play the Doctor, you have to be a man, and if you’re a girl you can be, could be a companion. So as an actor, for those rules to be thrown out the window at this kind of perfect time is really exciting.
WHITTAKER: Because for the first time, the Doctor regenerates, but regenerates in this completely brand new way, which is really liberating. For me, now approaching the part it’s really liberating because there’s no rules for me in this way. Also, it’s a perfect job for any actor because even though there’s the 12 previous shoes that you’re filling, you’re able creatively to make it your own. So, I think rather than feeling the pressure of that, I feel the excitement of that.
DEADLINE: Was the heritage of the show an advantage?
WHITTAKER: Well, no season of Doctor Who is like the previous in many ways and neither is a new Doctor, so coming at it with fresh eyes was helpful in so many ways because nobody knows the character before born into this new body. I just wanted to, I suppose, use my newness in myself to be able to bring that energy to the show. Then also, you know, there’s so many references. You’re never going to have a Doctor Who series without references to things that have gone before. So, I obviously have done enough research to know what I’m talking about.
DEADLINE: Clearly, you know the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, from your mutual work on Broadchurch. Did you discuss the role and the show with him or other of your Gallifreyan predecessors?
WHITTAKER: (Laughs) I’ve known David for years, but at first, I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone because I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that I got the job. So, it was the only the weekend before it was officially announced that I was able to speak to, very briefly, Peter, Matt Smith and David.
DEADLINE: Did they have any words of Time Lord wisdom?
WHITTAKER: I think the thing that was the overriding message was that you are going to have the time of your life. Also, that this is like no other job, and it’s completely unique for every single person who plays the part.
DEADLINE: Speaking of playing the part, Chris, the two of you obviously worked together on Broadchurch and you have penned a number of Who episodes in the past. But what is it like working with Jodie on Doctor Who?
CHIBNALL: Actually Dominic, that was the brilliant thing about it, really. Having known Jodie and worked with her previously, I know that she is limitless as a performer and is incredibly funny and full of energy, which something that many people haven’t had a chance to see. Often, and some of this is my fault, she’s been crying in shows for years on British television.
So, now, I think what’s been brilliant is knowing how amazing she is as an actress, is to try and give her as much variety, and as much range, and as many challenges as possible to reveal her range and skills. Because the part of the Doctor can go anywhere and should go anywhere. So, in terms of us working together again, that’s been the joy of it on a show that, I think we can all agree, is pretty much the polar opposite of Broadchurch.
DEADLINE: Jodie, not just in terms of gender but generationally, you are a different Doctor than say Peter was. In that context, do you approach this with a clean slate point of view or as a continuation of the greater narrative that Doctor Who has built up over the decades?
WHITTAKER: It’s not so much of a clean slate because you take what’s gone before, and you honor it. But to make it your own season, and for me, to make it my own Doctor, I want to take those elements that’ve gone before in a new direction without losing any of the rich history of show.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
WHITTAKER: Well, the way we’ve been operating is that if you’ve been a fan of this show for the last 20 years or 50 years, then this will absolutely carry on your passion, and engagement, and excitement. But if you’re brand new to it, that’s OK too. You don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge to come into this with fresh eyes, and that’s of any age or gender. I think that’s what’s been exciting for me, because I didn’t come at this as a Whovian, and this is a show that’s inclusive rather exclusive and that’s great.
DEADLINE: In terms of inclusive, you guys are bringing a lot of people to your coming-out party — literally more than 6,000 at Hall H. Jodie what’s that like for you after, as Chris said, months of working away in Wales, buried in the show?
WHITTAKER: I keep getting from people who’ve been before that it’s going to be amazing. Then a few others ask, are you OK? Are you scared? I mean, the main thing is that I’m so excited to see the young people taking it on board. Particularly because I’m excited about the costume, the new look of the Doctor, and the boys and girls wearing that and seeing that. I think I’ll have a tendency when I look out to revert back to my previous career of crying (laughs). So, yeah, so I’m excited, but I think when someone mentioned how six and a half thousand people will be there, I think I’ve not really anticipated that. So that’ll be interesting.
DEADLINE: Chris, “interesting” must be one of many terms that come to mind in relation to your relatively new gig as showrunner on Doctor Who. How has it been for you and what were some of the challenges you didn’t expect?
CHIBNALL: Look, it’s a totally joyous job to come into and the best job I’ve ever had in my life, but also, as Jodie has said, it’s the most demanding, as well. The biggest thing is the variety in Doctor Who, Dominic. As you know, we’re doing 10 stand-alone stories. Every week, we’re in a different world with the different characters and the new monsters. You are really making a new movie every week. You know, the only thing that stays constant is the Doctor and her friends. And so that’s the big challenge.
It’s also the big delight, as well. I got a lot of good advice from both my predecessors, Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies. So, I was well informed, and they told me about, all the pitfalls. But I think the thing I didn’t anticipate is how much fun it was actually going to be. It’s really hard work, but we have all just had the most incredible fun making the show this year, and I think and hope that’s going to come across on screen.
DEADLINE: You said “new monsters” but are we going to see in this upcoming season some of the classic villains like the Daleks and the Cyberman? Will the Master / Missy be back in some form or another?
CHIBNALL: You’ll just have to wait and see — I can’t give you all our secrets, can I? I wouldn’t want to tell you all my stories yet. But seriously, I think the biggest thing for us, as Jodie says, is these are new stories. There are lots of new monsters but there’s no barrier to entry this year, if you’re 8 years old and you’ve never seen it before, if you’re 88 and you’ve heard about it and never tried it, and if you’re 58 and you love it more than anything. I want everybody to be very, very included in the series. So, a lot of new adventures, a lot of new settings, lots of new characters to fall in love with, and lots of new monsters, you’ll see.