While Whittaker made massive headlines by becoming the first woman to play the Doctor, her approach to the role remains the same as the previous performers in the part. “I have two hearts; there are really no rules,” she said during a press conference early on Thursday. To her, the character, at its hearts, remains unchanged.
“The thing about this role is that gender is irrelevant … and that’s incredibly liberating,” she said. “I’ve never approached a role from How would a woman do this?, and playing the Doctor means playing an alien — all those rules are irrelevant.”
After checking with Chibnall if she could reveal one more detail, she added, “sometimes within episodes, people’s responses are different because they’re speaking to a woman. And that’s why this [season] will be so layered — because of those reactions.”
Later at the panel, she was asked if there was a single defining element of her Doctor.
“To me, the Doctor is a pillar of hope striving for brightness and inclusion,” she responded, a theme that Chibnall picked up on.
“Hope is Jodie’s Doctor,” he added. “She’s still the character you loved. It’s important she’s a pacifist and that she has a sense of humor. But she’s a pillar of hope. We need that in these times.”
One idea repeated by Whittaker, her fellow actors, and the producers is that the arrival of a new Doctor means the show is once again fresh and accessible to those unfamiliar with the program. “You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of Doctor Who to enjoy it,” Whittaker said.
Chibnall, a life-long fan of the program, added, “There will be little things [fans will] recognize, but what we want to see is where the show goes next.”
“We have 10 standalone stories, and lots of new characters for you to fall in love with,” he added. “My big message to you is that this year is the perfect jumping-on point for that person in your life who’s never seen Doctor Who. Set them down for Jodie’s first episode and say, ‘See!?’”
While season 11 is still a few weeks from completing production, Chibnall declared, rather emphatically, that the Thirteenth Doctor has not encountered any of her old adversaries like the Master, Daleks, Cybermen, or Zarbi. His revelation shouldn’t suggest she won’t meet old foes, however, as the producer added a “yet” to his comment. But he also added that he has not considered which enemies might return or even when they might.
“There’s a lot of new things: new world, new characters, lots of new guest characters, new camera angles,” he added.
“Much better catering,” joked Strevens.
Over the years, the people who travel with the Doctor have been known as assistants and, more formally, companions. But with season 11, Yasmin (Gill), Ryan (Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) will be referred to as “friends,” a change in the nomenclature that Chibnall felt was due.
“It’s just an organic progression,” he said.
Of course, the change is not a hard rule and, as Whittaker added, “I still call them companions.”
According to Gill, Yasmin is a 19-year-old from Sheffield who “enjoys her job, but she thinks she can do a little more, and she gets a little bit more.” Once she begins traveling with the Doctor, she is “in awe” of the regenerated Time Lord.
Cole joked that, much like acting on Doctor Who, Ryan “goes with the flow” once he meets the Doctor.
With a new Doctor, new producers, and new friends, it is only fitting that the Doctor get a new screwdriver.
“There’s a very specific way the Doctor comes by this sonic screwdriver,” Chibnall said. “It’s made from some interesting components.”
During the panel, Whittaker revealed the screwdriver for the first time. Designed by Arwel Wyn Jones, the new sonic is organic, ergonomic, and after thousands of years, it finally has the red settings.
“It’s a privilege to have been asked to redesign the iconic Sonic Screwdriver for the Thirteenth Doctor and a new generation of audiences,” said Jones. “I can’t wait for people to see how the Doctor acquires it.”
When asked whether or not the new season will lead into the traditional Doctor Who Christmas special, Chibnall said, “Well, we are making 11 episodes … and yet it’s a 10-episode series.”
The episode order is a big change for the series, which started as a 13-episode order (plus the Christmas Special) when it returned in 2004. In the last few years, the order reduced to 12 (plus the special) with season 11 clocking in at a seemingly brief 10. But Chibnall’s allusion to 11 episodes stands as solid confirmation that the Doctor will be home for Christmas.
Doctor Who will air on BBC America in the U.S. this fall.
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