Question of the week: what do you think of Jodie Whittaker being cast as the 13th Doctor Who?

The end of the programme or the dawn of a new era?

Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who

Unless you’re some kind of ‘sports fan’ (whatever they are) then the big news of yesterday was that actress Jodie Whittaker joins a long line of actors with awkwardly spelt names to become the 13th/14th official TV Doctor Who.

She’s already done an interview with the BBC web site, if you want to find out more about her, the casting process and important things like whether she’s picked out a costume yet.

As with plenty of other actors before her (eg Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Matt Smith), she’s not a household name – she’s probably best known from Broadchurch, which coincidentally was created by incoming Doctor Who showrunner (cf Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Rusty’s Second Coming and Casanova). She’s been in a lot more than that, obviously:

Jodie Whittaker graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2005 with a gold medal in Acting. Since then she has worked continually in Film, Television and Theatre. Her TV credits include the critically acclaimed ITV drama Broadchurch (for which she was nominated for ‘Best Actress’ for the RTS Television Awards), Emmy award-winning Black Mirror, Sky 1’s The Smoke, BBC’s Cranford, in which she starred opposite Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton, The Night Watch (BBC), The Accused (BBC), and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (BBC).

Jodie has recently finished shooting Journeyman written and directed by Paddy Considine as well as the lead in the new BBC drama series ‘Trust Me’. Her other film credits include Venus, (which earned her nominations for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the ‘British Independent Film Awards’, ‘Best British Newcomer’ at the ‘Critic’s Circle Awards’ and ‘Best Actress in a Motion Picture’ at the ‘Satellite Awards’), Attack the Block, One Day, Black Sea, Good Vibrations, St.Trinian’s, Get Santa and most recently Adult Life Skills which she Executive Produced as well as starred in which received a number of BIFA nominations.

Jodie made her professional theatrical debut at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in The Storm. Other theatre credits include playing the title role in Antigone at the Royal National Theatre, Bash at the Trafalgar Studios, Awake and Sing and Enemies at the Almeida, both directed by the then Artistic Director, Michael Attenborough.

Don’t you forget about me

Indeed, I actually saw her at that (somewhat ropey) National Theatre production of Antigone and completely forgot she had played Antigone until someone reminded me about it on Twitter – so you might have seen her in something, too, and just forgotten about it as well.

Here she is with that Christopher Eccleston in said production (fan fic – engage!):

As you might expect with the casting of a woman in a previously male role, reaction has been… mixed.

Jodie Whittaker good?

On the one hand, it’s made a lot of people happy, particularly women and probably a few trans people, too. Which is nice, obviously. It’s good to make people happy, particularly people who deserve better representation on screen.

Jodie Whittaker bad?

Of course, being the left, there’s a few people complaining that it’s not pure enough and it’s just another posh white person (clearly people who’ve never heard Whittaker actually speak), when it would have been really radical to have a black woman or an obviously muslim man. Clearly, it’s all a sign of how intolerant and bigoted the BBC really is to have cast Whittaker – it’s probably never even heard of intersectionality.

Jodie Whittaker still bad?

On the other end of the political spectrum, we have all manner of (mainly) men, some of them Ian Levine complaining that Doctor Who has been destroyed, this is political correctness gone mad, that you shouldn’t fancy the Doctor (clearly people who have forgotten David Tennant and the power of Sitting Tennant), etc. Despite the fact we’re talking about a time-traveller who can change age, accent, hair colour, height et al at will, and who comes from a race that Steven Moffat has spent the best part of five years establishing as being capable of switching sex and/or gender.

Whittaker in the middle

Most of the extreme arguments are, of course, nonsense. In the middle, though, there are arguments for both sides that aren’t totally dismiss-able.

Jodie Whittaker bad?

On the anti-side, there’s the idea that the Doctor is one of the few peaceful, intellectual, heroic role-models for boys and that casting Whittaker removes said role-model. Of course, that relies on the idea that boys can’t identify with women and that they have, until now, been identifying with the Doctor, who is actually, when you think about it, a bit of a dick.

Jodie Whittaker good?

On the plus-side is the flip-side of that argument – now girls have a similar role-model – as well as the fact it garners good publicity, Whittaker is a deserving actress and that it’s very much of the zeitgeist, now that Star Wars and, of course, Wonder Woman are showing the power and appeal of creating stories around heroines.

Jodie Whittaker bad?

Back on the anti-side, there’s also the argument that Whittaker might not be a good choice and that if she fails, it’ll ensure that the BBC won’t choose a woman again and that better, black, muslim actresses won’t get a chance at the top role.

Or that she might be great, but she’s got Chris “Torchwood and CountrycideChibnall writing for her and so is doomed from the outset.

Jodie Whittaker good?

More positively, if Ian Levine doesn’t like it, surely it must be a good idea.

What do you think?

But what do you think? Pleased? Displeased? Good choice? Bad choice? Think the whole show is going to get cancelled or do you now actually some sort of optimism for the forthcoming Chibnall era?

Answers as always in the comments below, on your own blog or even on TMINE’s shiny new Facebook page

  • Brian Clegg

    I really don’t care if the part is played by a man, woman or dog (actually, I’d really like a dog – some of the best actors on TV are dogs. Certainly the best actor in Midsomer Murders is the Barnabys’ dog) – the show will thrive or fail on its scripts. I wish they could get closer to the storylines of good quality written science fiction, rather than the usual last minute magic getout approach.

    • Certainly, Stevie’s ‘noodling’ has been a bit of a problem and has stopped it from being as appealing to kids. DW could do worse than have Chibbers simply turning the show into a sci-fi procedural, with the Doctor saving the day each week through a bit of thinking and forensics

  • aylwardreed

    I think the only possible negative is that she’s middle class, beautiful and white but to be honest that’s probably splitting hairs as she’s a good actress and deserves the part. Think I’m just still disappointed it wasn’t Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

    That aside she’s a good actress and it was time for a woman(those people saying it should be a man are just wrong) so it’s a good choice.

    But as you’ve said, her success will probably be largely influenced by whether the scripts are any good which, Erm……. TBC

    Also, why is no one mentioning Attack the Block?! Great film and she’s actually fighting aliens in it!

    • I think most people who had heard of PWB wanted her for the part, perhaps because she ties into some collective memory of Tom Baker. I think she’s probably doing the Han Solo reshoots in autumn so that would have ruled her out, simply in terms of production scheduling, but maybe in a few years time, hey?

      I should probably watch Attack the Block, shouldn’t I? It’s that Joe from Adam and Joe directing, isn’t it?

      • JustStark

        I think most people who had heard of PWB wanted her for the part

        I didn’t, but that’s because the one episode of Fleabag I saw was so awful it tainted everyone involved, everyone related to them, and everyone anyone related to them had ever met.

        It’s that Joe from Adam and Joe directing, isn’t it?

        Yes, but don’t — as I did — go in thinking this means you’re in for some Shaun of the Dead-style parody/deconstruction crashing a quintessentially American genre into the unlikely setting of a London council estate, and using that to comment cleverly on the underpinnings of the genre. What you get is a totally straight small-town-under-seige-from-toothed-aliens film, that just happens to be set in a L.c.e..

        It’s not bad, per se, in fact it’s quite a good small-town-etc, it just has no ambitions to be anything above and beyond that.

        I mean, at least it’s not Storage 24. Dear me, Storage 24.

        • aylwardreed

          Wow, I think I’ve just met my polar opposite in you sir.
          I would say exactly the opposite on those points, especially Fleabag which I honestly think is one of best TV things Britain has done for over a decade.

          As for PWB Rob, I also think the second series of Fleabag, which she’s supposedly writing now would conflict. As would the spy series Killing Eve that she’s also writing, starring, catering etc

        • Was Fleabag really so bad? I watched a trailer and it seemed a bit like Miranda meets Peep Show. Lots of people I know seem to think it’s great, too

          • JustStark

            It had a couple of funny gags (like the guy who comes into the café and pulls out a massive number of extension cords and adaptors to charge all of his electronics).

            But mainly it seems to think that just wallowing in filth and degradation Is inherently funny. I disrespectfully disagree.

          • bob

            I didn’t like the first episode either and decided not to continue watching. It was basically that I couldn’t relate to the main character in any shape or form. And I agree- it wasn’t particularly funny unless things that are disgusting are funny…

          • Robin Parker

            definitely worth sticking with and so much more than Miranda-meets-Peep-Show once the complete story comes together. She has described it as “tragedy disguised as comedy” and it certainly doesn’t shy away from going to some dark places (in a dramatic, rather than ‘black comedy’, kind of way). What impresses about it most is that it is entirely its own thing and seems to have come out the way she wanted it without interference.

          • JustStark

            She has described it as “tragedy disguised as comedy”

            It’s not very well disguised then.

          • Maybe I’ll give it another go then!

  • Craig Grannell

    My only concern with this is we have a repeat of Ghostbusters, in that enough toy-throwing happens that the very notion of it being tried again in future is nixed. My hope is that Doctor Who with Whittaker is at the very least good, and opens the door for _anything_ to happen with the Doctor in future regenerations. Black? Sure. Asian? Fine. A 12-year-old with a 2000-year-old mind? Go for it. It would be horrible for Whittaker to be an anomaly if the show survives long-term.

    Mind you, I’ve been saying for ages that the one shake-up the show really needs is a truly powerful script editor. Even with Moffat’s run, there was some perfectly decent writing in almost every episode, but too many ideas were half-baked or partially incoherent. It often felt rushed and unfinished – too easy to pick apart. A good script editor who can work across the entire run, and has the power to edit a lot could change that. Fat chance, I suspect, of that happening.

    • aylwardreed

      Great point on the script editor. Agreed x1000.

      • It’s Chris Chibnall, though. I mean the horrors of Torchwood and the whatevers of Broadchurch to one side, have we all so quickly forgotten Camelot?

      • Robin Parker

        they’re unlikely to go for two females in a row, so a non-white actor seems likely for the successor.

        agreed on script editor. to write half a series and be a showrunner leaves little time to fine-tune scripts. The series has by its nature always been inconsistent but its more important these days with more continuity of storyline – the leaps in quality between episodes could definitely ironed out.

        • “they’re unlikely to go for two females in a row, so a non-white actor seems likely for the successor.”

          I’m not so sure. It’s quite hard to go “Look at how groundbreaking we are. We’ve cast a woman!” and then the next moment to switch back and go “Man again! Sorry, it’s not that conventional after all.” Maybe an asian woman?

          I think they’d need to go for a couple of women in a row before being comfortably able to switch back to men again

          • Robin Parker

            But that’s why I think they’d go with a BAME male next and another female not too long after.

            Anyway who cares for neo? That’s presumably 3-4 years away at least! Biggest challenge is getting the writing good enough. We’ve hopefully avoided some of the more puerile aspects SM would have found it hard to resist including – but can CC up his game?

  • Mark Carroll

    I suspect I’m largely in agreement with some others here.

    I don’t know Jodie Whittaker but at first glance she comes across well and her background suggests that she is a most able actor. I don’t think it will be difficult to adapt to a female Doctor, it’d be one of the more plausible aspects of the show, and given how human women vary and that the Doctor isn’t even human there is plenty of room for playing the role in all manner of ways.

    With very few exceptions my problems with Doctor Who have never been the casting. I’m with others in praying for some decent scripts, especially as Brian seems to be envisioning. We’ve brushed closer at times in the latest season; we’ll see. It’s the screenplays that will make or break the series.

  • bob

    I would have naturally been upset if the announcement had not been a woman in the sense that the show laid it on quite thick in the last episode. Had a man been cast, I would have felt cheated.

    But I find myself strangely ambivalent overall because I only really care about the stories. This I seem to share with the other commenters that have already posted.

    The traits I love to the Doctor are nothing to do with gender and the stories could be for any gender too. I am not even sure if this opens up any new story-telling to be honest as I look back at the stories told and I see stories about women as well as stories about men (and robots).

    I do hope that it brings new viewers to the show though as it has dwindled quite unfairly despite Capaldi being brilliant in the role and paired with two amazing companions.

    • I think the fact that Stevie has been going continuity happy and making everything intellectual, rather than keeping it as family fun is part of the problem. I imagine part of Chibnall’s remit will be to make the show fun again, rather than to make it ‘clever’. Ed Sheeran cameo anyone?

      • Mark Carroll

        I like the continuity while it remains either incidental or apt. I don’t think it’s been enough forefront to too badly be a reason for episodes not being great.

        Now you have me thinking back to how the classic show balanced fun with scary (as opposed to risibly not-scary). The second and fourth doctors seemed good at injecting some wit. And then there’s the difference between entertainingly scary and just depressingly miserable.