A warm welcome to Jodie Whittaker to the TARDIS console. Some time in 2018, the show will accept the first woman to play the iconic role. When we push aside the debate about gender – because it has clearly divided everyone – Doctor Who is about change. For 54 years it has remained true to itself while undergoing a lot of change. There are things that fans will not negotiate though.
I’m sure Jodie Whittaker doesn’t need lessons in acting from a non-actor, and I’m sure she already knows what I’m about to list here. As a fiction writer who loves to create interesting characters, these are the elements I identify as being key to the character of The Doctor where age, gender, skin colour and sexuality simply do not matter.
Humour (Dark) and Lots of It
The Doctor is, despite his dark and haunted nature with the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders, incredibly funny. He has always had some great one liners and witty retorts to almost certain death. This is sometimes a coping mechanism; sometimes it’s there to put people at ease. Sometimes it’s daft, sometimes it’s borderline gallows humour. Where humour is concerned, the script will only get the actor so far; the power of humour is often in the delivery, timing and tone.
Carrying off a funny, sometimes angry, sometimes emotionally repressed, full of hurt, frustrated, confused and a multitude of other thoughts and feelings that exist inside The Doctor’s head needs the embodiment of the idea of a timeless hero. Despite the face and body changes, each actor needs to carry the weight of 2,000 years of his life. I never thought somebody add young as Matt Smith could do it but he did. Whittaker is about the same age now that David Tennant was when he became The Doctor and he managed it rather well.
He’s seen things nobody should see, done things most people would not or could not do. There is pain, suffering and resilience. The Doctor puts himself in the way of danger repeatedly but not without self doubt, pain and a sense of loss. He has lost so much and knows that whenever he meets somebody new, they will eventually outgrow him. As Donna once said, “sometimes you need somebody to stop you going too far.” The Doctor is a mass of internalised pain, the pain of having lived for 13 generations and knowing there is another 11 to go. This pain needs to simmer beneath the surface because it makes The Doctor who s/he is.
Contrasting the pain is the fact that The Doctor is, basically, a big kid. Silliness and self-deprecation are vital strands in the complexity of The Doctor’s personality, always have been and always should be – even if Colin Baker didn’t quite pull it off during his brief stint. Whittaker simply must nail this aspect early on – ideally within her first few minutes. We need to see her inner child and a bit of goofiness. The ability to laugh at herself too. The Doctor’s daftness appeals to children, but it also contrasts with the dark and haunted side of the character’s personality.
There we go. These essential four attributes are the reason why I still feel that Paterson Joseph would make a fine incarnation of The Doctor. I’m not going to start banging on about it and I’m sure that in 3-4 years when Jodie Whittaker has decided it’s time to move on, I will once again let my hopes point towards him.