Doctor Who has introduced new Doctor Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill. Appearing at SDCC 2018, the cast and executive producers previewed what to expect.
The new series of Doctor Who is highly anticipated for many reasons.
Obviously, we are all very excited to see Broadchurch actress Jodie Whittaker take the wheel as the first ever female Doctor — a move new showrunner Chris Chibnall calls “long overdue” for the franchise. But Whittaker’s Doctor is far from the only new introduction to the TARDIS… that is, if there even is a TARDIS.
At San Diego Comic-Con 2018, new cast members Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill, along with showrunner Chibnall and Matt Strevens, sat down to answer press questions and participated in a giant panel in Hall H, where they premiered the new trailer, introduced Whittaker’s “witty and energetic” Doctor, and talked about the significance of Doctor Who being an inclusive show.
Meet the 13th Doctor
Jodie Whittaker is the 13th Doctor to grace our screens, and she is the first ever female actor to take on the role.
In the press room, Chibnall calls this casting decision “possibly overdue,” and says he considers it a “no-brainer” that Whittaker should get the role.
Whittaker herself points out that for her, it wasn’t about approaching the role ‘as a woman,’ because of course that is how she approaches all her roles. “Gender is irrelevant. I’m playing an alien!” she says.
However, even if the Doctor herself will feel new-yet-familiar, one thing season 11 will explore is how this female Doctor navigates in the world.
Says Whittaker, “what you do notice is that sometimes within episodes, other people’s response is different, because they’re speaking to a woman. And that’s why this role will continue to be layered and fascinating to play.”
Whittaker’s Doctor is first and foremost described as “energetic” and “witty,” with Whittaker saying that she can never sit still. Cole describes her as “young, bubbly and funny,” Gill calls her “humorous, witty and energetic,” Chibnall says “really flippin’ awesome,” and Strevens calls her “effervescent and kick-ass.”
Above all, Whittaker says, she is “a pillar of hope, striving for brightness and inclusion.” Chibnall seconds this, adding that a pillar of hope is exactly what we need at this time.
An inclusive time and space
When asked what her message would be to young boys watching this season of Doctor Who, Whittaker says, “That it’s okay to look up to women.”
“Heroes don’t have to tick the same boxes,” says Whittaker. “It’ll be really exciting when women aren’t treated as a genre.” Hopefully, she adds, we won’t still be having these conversations in 2020.
“It’s 2018!” adds Cole. “Everyone deserves to work.”
Behind the camera, this inclusivity is also prioritized. This year of Doctor Who features the first writer(s) of color, and there are two women and three men coming in as guest writers this season. They’ve also got two female and two male directors working on season 11, and all the editors apart from one is female.
On top of this, they also talk about Doctor Who being an ‘academy’ for a diverse community of people who want to go into the entertainment industry, “creating training opportunities” across the board.
“It should be the most inclusive show on TV,” concludes Chibnall.
The Doctor’s friends
One curious thing about the Doctor’s new Companions, Cole and Gill and the non-attending Bradley Walsh, is that they’re not often referred to as Companions. Rather, these are the Doctor’s ‘friends.’
In the trailer that premiered at SDCC, the Doctor even asks them, “won’t you be my best friends?” This all indicates a more reciprocal, mutual relationship than the more old-fashioned descriptors ‘assistants’ and ‘companions.’
Speaking about her character Yasmin, Mandip Gill says that she is “a 19-year-old from Sheffield. She enjoys her job, but she thinks she can do a little bit more, so she asks a little bit more and she gets a little bit more. And she’s whisped on this amazing adventure with these people that then become her family.”
On Yasmin’ relationship with the Doctor, Gill says Yasmin is, “in absolute awe of the Doctor. She always believes what the Doctor is saying as truth, she kind of always questions what she’s doing, but she always goes along with it.”
She also teases the “beautiful relationships” between the three friends. “The dynamic between these three characters is beautiful, and it develops nicely over these 10 episodes. We all bring something completely different,” says Gill.
As for Ryan, Tosin Cole says that he is a “boisterous” person who “goes with the flow.” Ryan gets “caught in a crazy situation” when he accompanies the Doctor, whom he “challenges.” He sometimes gets it right, but “often gets it wrong.”
Everyone will have “big emotional journeys” to go on, says Strevens, and the relationship between the four characters is ultimately grounded in “emotional truths.”
Where in the world is the TARDIS?
One thing the entire Doctor Who team is very tight-lipped about is the TARDIS. After all, it exploded when the Doctor regenerated – Whittaker describes it as a “rejection” – and we don’t technically even know that she’ll even have one.
An all-new ‘Who’
One thing that is heavily emphasized both in the press room and main panel is the commitment to ‘newness.’
“New faces, new worlds, new times,” says the Doctor in the trailer, and this seems to indeed be the spirit in which season 11 has been created.
(Almost) everything is new, from the cast to the monsters to the places and times to which the characters travel.
When asked if we can expect any callbacks or tie-ins to previous seasons, Chibnall frankly says, “not really.” In fact, with only two episodes left to shoot, they haven’t even seen any Daleks (yet).
This is a new Doctor, a new showrunner, and a new age for Doctor Who, and while there will be easter eggs for fans to spot, don’t expect the 13th Doctor to take too many trips down memory lane.
Even the sonic screwdriver is new! There is apparently a great story about how she gets her hands on it, with Whittaker teasing that she comes by it “a very specific way.”
— Selina Wilken @ SDCC (@SelinaWilken) July 19, 2018
But while fans have certainly noticed the shiny new look and feel, don’t worry about Doctor Who losing its authentic touch.
It has been a priority for them to make sure nothing feels too digital, taking their lead from creators like J.J. Abrams who mix special and practical effects.
Chibnall describes this new era as “a concentrated hit of everything [the fans] love about the show.” It has been made to appeal both to fans and to those who have never seen Doctor Who before – and the hope from Chibnall is that those newcomers will consider it “the greatest idea television has ever had.”
While the characters all have “huge” arcs, according to Whittaker, each episode is also a standalone adventure that audiences can tune in and out of.
Will there be a Christmas Special?
In so many words, SDCC 2018 seems to confirm that there will indeed be a Christmas Special this year.
While the team wouldn’t confirm or deny, they did empathetically point out that they’ve filmed 11 episodes, but the season is of course only 10 episodes long.