Hailed by the BBC as the most diverse series yet, Doctor Who is back on our screens this autumn - for the first time in its 55-year history with an actress in the titular role. Doctor Who has featured dozens of women over the years: usually as the Doctor’s companions, typically beautiful young women who ranged in characterisation from damsels in distress to ferociously determined doctors.
In recent years, the Doctor’s cunning arch nemesis The Master has been re-conceived as Missy. Missy was played by Michelle Gomez, and this character paved the way for Jodie Whittaker’s casting. Jodie Whittaker has proven sci-fi credentials from cult film Attack the Block, won critical acclaim appearing in drama Broadchurch, and even appeared in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. The Yorkshire native has embraced her role with excitement and aplomb.
In addition to a new Doctor, audiences are eager to assess the newly appointed showrunner after Steven Moffat’s departure: Chris Chibnall has spoken about the importance of the BBC show employing a diverse writer’s team, which it has notoriously failed to do in the past - over the next few months we will be watching the first Doctor Who episodes penned by people of colour. Doctor Who has fared reasonably better with onscreen diversity, especially during Russell T Davies’ tenure as showrunner and his inclusion of LGBT characters.
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor puzzles her new companions (though this iteration prefers to call them her friends), as is tradition for the inventive, compassionate, protective alien with two pulses. When Bradley Walsh’s character cries “Why is she chasing after another alien?!” you can’t help but smile. The episode puts Sheffield in the spotlight, with beautifully reinvented visuals reinforcing reports that Chris Chibnall wants Doctor Who to compete with Netflix Original series.
Opening with a scene focusing on a teenager vlogging, the episode effortlessly nails the atmosphere of modern sci-fi ranging from a mysterious train journey to menacing alien designs reminiscent of Star Trek and Stranger Things. It also introduces viewers to a delightful cast of new characters, including Bradley Walsh as the grateful Graham O’Brien, Tosin Cole as the determined Ryan Sinclair, and Mandip Gill as the outspoken, capable Yasmin Khan.
Each actor tasked with the role of the Doctor has added their own idiosyncrasies - for Matt Smith’s Doctor it was a fondness for fish fingers and custard - and, understandably, their own particular approach to this peculiar hero. Jodie Whittaker’s version calls herself “just a traveller”, unfailingly confident that she will figure out a plan just in time to save lives, and stresses the importance of obeying rules - even if the game itself is twisted. This Doctor finds her new outfit in a Sheffield charity shop, quite a contrast from her predecessors who borrowed from hospitals or browsed the grand wardrobe inside the TARDIS.
This premiere episode embraces Doctor Who’s core ethos - that each and every human life is important, a message more crucial than ever in our current political climate. Full of surprisingly emotionally affective performances and a storyline straightforward enough for new viewers, this is one to watch.