Doctor who? Jodie Whittaker becomes first female to play iconic time traveller

The new Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker.

The new Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker.

British actress Jodie Whittaker has been named as the thirteenth Doctor Who.

The announcement will both delight and stun fans as the iconic time traveller has, for the last five decades at least, been male.

Whittaker now takes up the mantle of a character who has become a fixture in British culture and global science fiction fandom.

She replaces actor Peter Capaldi, who has been in the role since 2013.

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Whittaker will perhaps be best known to Kiwi audiences from Broadchurch, where she played grieving mum Beth Latimer for the show's three seasons.

On Doctor Who she'll be reunited with Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall, who is taking over from Steven Moffat as the showrunner of Doctor Who.

Whittaker, 35, trained at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2005. Since then she has had numerous roles on stage, television and film, including sci-fi film Attack the Block and an acclaimed episode of Black Mirror. She starred opposite Peter O'Toole in one of his final roles in Venus.

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Whittaker is from West Yorkshire in England, and is married to American actor Christian Contreras. They have one child together.

The change of actor within the Doctor Who narrative was a plot conceit established in the 1960s when the actor who originated the character, William Hartnell, became ill and was unable to continue working on the series.

Known as "regeneration", it saw him stagger into his London police box time machine, the Tardis, and collapse. When the shimmering light subsided, actor Patrick Troughton was in his place.

Though the character of The Doctor has always regenerated into a new face, he has until now retained his gender.

In the last decade, however, there has been persistent speculation that a future incarnation of The Doctor might be female.

That notion was etched into the show's narrative when the role of The Doctor's recurring nemesis, The Master, another "Time Lord", was re-cast with Michelle Gomez.

That move effectively changing the character from The Master to her new name, "Missy", and established that a change of gender during regeneration was possible.

Like The Doctor, The Master had been previously played by men, notably the brilliant Roger Delgado, the somewhat more Bond villain-esque Anthony Ainley and, more recently, by John Simm.

Whittaker's predecessor, Peter Capaldi, announced his plan to step down in January, 2017; the upcoming Christmas episode, The Doctors, will be his last.

Capaldi made his debut in the series, briefly, in the program's 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, which was broadcast in 2013; he later made his formal debut in the Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor.

For the duration of his tenure as The Doctor he had three companions: Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas).

Despite the perception that, like James Bond, the role of The Doctor is one which has been inhabited in history by only a handful of actors, there are in truth almost too many to count.

There are the official incarnations of The Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.

Then there was John Hurt's War Doctor (a between Tennant-and-Smith Doctor), Adrian Gibb's The Watcher (a pre-Davison regeneration Doctor), Michael Jayston's Valeyard (an evil future Doctor) and two actors who have subbed for re-appearances of Hartnell's Doctor since Hartnell's death, Richard Hurndall and David Bradley.

On stage, in The Seven Keys to Doomsday and stage adaptations of serials such as Evil of the Daleks and The Daleks Masterplan, he was played by Trevor Martin, Michael Sagar and Nick Scovell.

And on film, in two 1960s-era features, Dr Who and the Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD, the role of Doctor Who - in this iteration a human scientist and not a Time Lord - was played by the legendary Peter Cushing.

To that pile of bodies we can still add Richard E. Grant, who played The Doctor in the webisode Scream of the Shalka. And, with a little affection, the multiple regenerations of The Doctor featured in the BBC charity broadcast Curse of the Fatal Death, including Rowan Atkinson, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and, finally, Joanna Lumley.

Wait, Patsy Stone was the first female Doctor Who?

Not quite, as Curse of the Fatal Death was not strictly in the Doctor Who canon, but it was certainly the first indicator that a Time Lord could, in regenerating, change gender as well.

Except for two breaks, between 1989 and 1996 and 1996 and 2005, the BBC series has been in production since 1963.

Doctor Who screens on Prime. 

- Sydney Morning Herald with Stuff


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