The next time the Doctor graces our screens —television, computers or otherwise— he’ll look quite different from what we’ve been accustomed to for the past decades. He will no longer be, by our human standards, a man. But of course, that’s only one of the many incentives that will drive thousands and millions of fans back to the adventures of the time traveling alien who stole a TARDIS and ran away. Doctor Who series 11 promises big changes, big challenges, but, mostly, it promises a whole new side to the Doctor that we are more than ready to see. At least, that’s what they promised us when we caught up with the cast and crew of the new era of Doctor Who at San Diego Comic Con. But, what exactly can we expect from this new era?
“What I can tell you about this season is it’s funny, scary, emotional, exciting, full of action and adventure, cinematic, epic, it’s got amazing actors, it’s got loads of brilliant guest actors coming across the series,” promises Chris Chibnall, newly appointed Showrunner after Steven Moffat’s departure. “I hope it’s as inclusive, accessible, entertaining a version of Doctor Who as we could possibly make.”
Diversity seems to be the biggest point of interest this season. Not only is the new Doctor played by an actress, but her companions really portray the diversity of modern-day UK. “We should be the most inclusive show on television. The whole concept of Doctor Who is, anybody can go anywhere and do anything. We want it to look like that, on screen, off as well.”
It’s a diversity the new team fought for onscreen, but one that will also be evident in the writer’s room this year. Series producer Matt Strevens assures that diversity isn’t just for show, and that, in order to make a show as varied and inclusive as possible, diversity has to be accomplished from within the gestation of the different stories. “We have the first writers of color, and two female writers and three male writers in the guest writers slot. We have as well two female directors across the series. Chris and I made sure we are as diverse behind the camera as in front.”
The growing presence of female writers, directors, and actors seems to tie in with one of the most disputed and —tragically— polemic decisions that series 11 brought with it. News spread that Whittaker was going to take over as the show’s lead, and the fandom burst to flames with both praise and criticism. For Chibnall, the decision to cast a female Doctor “felt really simple and obvious. The world was ready, Jodie was ready, the audience was ready and the fans were ready.”
Jodie Whittaker, who we’ve already seen in full costume and in the first snippets of what series 11 has in store for us, says taking on the role is a challenge, but not necessarily because of the gender implications. “I think actually being the first woman to play the Doctor is incredibly liberating. With this role anyway, and ask any of the previous doctors, the rules are out of the window because the most wonderful thing is you regenerate so you can bring everything you, everything from previous, you can make it your own and stay loyal to it, and casting a woman doesn’t change that.”
It’s something that, according to Chibnall, has not changed the way they approach writing the Doctor’s thirteenth incarnation. “The Doctor is that person who can walk into the room and through force of personality, force of being amazing can solve a problem, defuse the problem, make everybody happy and get out alive. […] I’m not sure that’s a gender related issue, certainly not for the way we’re writing it.”
Because, as many fans and critics have pointed out over the months following Whittaker’s casting news, the Doctor has never been a man or a woman. He’s simply been an alien with the most terrible instinct to run into trouble. So, in essence, Whittaker approaches the role just as Matt Smith or David Tennant did after their previous incarnations. Nothing changes.
“I supposed my energy, my approach to this is coming from a very instinctive place, which feels genderless to me, because it’s never been necessarily ingrained to me that that’s a specific way a woman behaves and a specific way a man behaves. The best thing about the Doctor is I’m not playing either, I’m an alien. So, there’s really no rules,” Whittaker explains.
One thing is for sure, the secrecy surrounding the new season is as tight as it ever was. Chibnall wasn’t willing to explain whether the Doctor would get a new TARDIS or not —or what its interior would look like— but he did say that the audience would get to see new monsters we’ve never met before. Everything is new, and thus, they see this new season as a way to entice people who haven’t seen the show before to give it a chance. After all, a new Doctor is always the perfect excuse to get into the fantastic world of the Doctor.
But, beyond all of that, what’s the one thing the audience has to take away from this new season? What’s the one hope they all have about Thirteen’s new adventures? Jodie Whittaker’s stance on it is clear.
“That it’s okay to look up to women,” she says, “and that it’s exciting and not to be feared.”
Doctor Who returns this Fall on BBC and BBC America.