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The first major panel of 2018’s San Diego Comic-Con featured one of nerd-dom’s most famous figures: Doctor Who, a character who will look quite different than ever before when the series returns in the fall. That’s when Jodie Whittaker will begin her adventures on BBC America’s Doctor Who as the first-ever female Doctor.
While Whittaker was introduced in the annual Christmas special in 2017 as Peter Capaldi said goodbye to the role, fans in the San Diego Convention Center’s Hall H saw the first new footage of the actress as the Thirteenth Doctor — and met her new companions.
Despite one leak, the Wales set of the series has been on lockdown and very little information is known about the upcoming season. New showrunner Chris Chibnall explained why that is, telling fans that he is hoping to preserve a live, communal viewing experience.
“I think there’s a lot of new things this year. There’s new worlds, there’s new characters, there’s lots of new guest characters. New dialogue, new camera angles,” he said. “It’s really so that we can get it to you guys and everyone else in the world at the same time all polished. … I really love television when it’s a communal experience … I want you guys to all be talking about it at the same time, and we have things you’re not going to want to be spoiled for.”
The trailer featured very brief shots of Whittaker and her new companions — played by Bradley Walsh as Graham, Tosin Cole as Ryan and Mandip Gill as Yasmin — and a voiceover from the new Time Lord herself. “All of this is new to me,” she said. “New faces, new worlds, new times. So if I asked really, really nicely, would you be my new best friends?”
Whittaker also revealed that she was able to speak to her Broadchurch co-star (and Tenth Doctor) David Tennant the day before her announcement (facilitated by Chibnall, who worked with both on Broadchurch). Chibnall had told Tennant the new Doctor would be calling, but Tennant was shocked when Whittaker’s name popped up on his phone screen.
Said Whittaker, “All I remember him saying — and I was lucky to speak to Matt [Smith] and Peter [Capaldi] — all I remember is, ‘This is the most amazing thing that can happen to you and there’s only a few of us who know how it feels.'”
Since the character regenerates every few years, the announcement of the next U.K. actor to play the famous role generates rampant speculation and media buzz. Whittaker made her debut on Christmas Day of 2017 as Capaldi’s Time Lord regenerated. The last shot of the episode featured Whittaker falling to earth as the interior of the TARDIS burned and took off without her.
Whittaker is the first woman to play the role. The long-running series began in 1963, and its most recent run of Doctors began with Christopher Eccleston in 2005, followed by Tennant, Smith and Capaldi.
As for the fact that the Doctor is now a woman, Whittaker said that gender is irrelevant to the character, since it is an alien after all.
“I’ve never approached a role thinking, ‘How would a woman do this?’ I’ve just approached it from my perspective. The wonderful thing about the Doctor is I’m playing an alien, so all those details are irrelevant,” she said. That said, it does affect how other people interact with her. “Sometimes within episodes other people’s response is different because they’re speaking to a woman, and that’s interesting. And that’s why this role will continue to be layered and fascinating to play.”
Season 11 of Doctor Who will open with a feature-length episode, followed by nine 50-minute installments in the fall on BBC America.
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