Jodie Whittaker is coming to the end of her time as the Doctor. Original image by BBC Studios/James Pardon/Matt Burlem
Jodie Whittaker is leaving Doctor Who. After an eventful five years – for Whittaker, for Doctor Who, and for the wider world – she is stepping away from the Tardis. That makes this an exit interview. And Whittaker is running late.
“I’m doing fine. I just need to keep a better diary,” she says. “One of the best things about doing Doctor Who was that I knew where I had to be every day. I knew I’d be in every scene, every single day, all the time, for a whole year. So I never had to write anything down. Now I’m on maternity leave, I’m a lady of leisure in absolute chaos.”
Doctor Who is so many things to so many people. But when Whittaker first found out she would be taking over from Peter Capaldi back in 2017 it was, she admits, just a role. A big one. But nevertheless, the Doctor was just the latest role in a fine career that had begun in earnest with Venus opposite Peter O’Toole in 2006, continued via brilliant, contrasting performances in The Night Watch for the BBC and cult hit film Attack the Block before her central role in Broadchurch, which became the most talked-about TV show of 2013.
Whittaker knows better now. “It’s so much more than a role. It’s a whole world. And it’s the most exciting world to be in,” she says.
When Jodie Whittaker talked to The Big Issue ahead of her debut episode in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, she said: “Inclusivity and hope – that is what I want to bring to Doctor Who.” So it feels right to ask how she feels she fared on these key metrics.
“I suppose I can’t take much credit for most of it, because that is down to the writing,” she says.
“But that was the overriding feeling of the Doctor I wanted to bring. And I feel I was given that opportunity, and that this show, at this time, represents everything I wanted it to be.”
Whittaker’s opening series took on big moments in history. Demons of the Punjab was a history lesson about the partition of India, a reminder of the death toll and refugee crisis that followed, an intensely personal journey for Yaz, and one of the better episodes of recent years. Similarly Rosa saw the Doctor and her squad witnessing and safeguarding a pivotal moment in history. Predictably, accusations of so-called ‘wokery’ followed (as though being loudly, proudly anti-racist is in some way controversial).
“Whichever angle you look at it, racism is horrific. And wrong. So to me that’s not political, that’s a fact,” Whittaker says. “It was amazing to bring that story to a younger generation that might not have done it at school or who might know who Rosa Parks is but not the details.
“You never want to appear as if the Doctor is getting credit for something that has nothing to do with them – it’s actually real people in history. But Rosa felt very special to all of us.”
There was plenty of hope in Jodie Whittaker’s first series finale, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. Asked for a favourite moment from her time in the Tardis, Whittaker selects the Doctor’s inspirational monologue from that episode: “None of us know for sure what’s out there. That’s why we keep looking. Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you. Constantly.”
It sums up everything about Doctor Who. And was delivered beautifully.
“It’s a beautiful speech, bookended with ‘travel hopefully’. And I love the idea that the universe is just there for the taking,” says Whittaker.
“As humans, let’s live like that. We are limited to adventures on earth at the moment but who knows in 20 years. And even if not, metaphorically reach for it. Travel with this open-heartedness.”
Jodie Whittaker wears her heart on her sleeve. It’s there in all her interactions and is only magnified on screen.
“In real life, you know, you’ve met me a few times, I can be quite fidgety and a bit manic and all those things that I often have to rein in to find a natural stillness in the characters I play,” she says.
“Not this time. I had to take it and dial it up for the Doctor – and Chris [Chibnall, writer] was brilliant at pushing me in that direction. My opening line was ‘brilliant’. And it has been. And my dialogue in the regeneration is just really perfect.
“Chris has really married the optimism with the loneliness and the sadness that comes with having such hope and then such loss as that hope is dashed. I didn’t know it was going to emotionally challenge me so much.”
Back to the exit interview. Has she felt supported in the role? “A hundred per cent. A million per cent.” Any regrets? “None. I would have loved it if my last season had been me, Mandip [Gill] and John [Bishop], plus Brad[ley Walsh] and Tosin [Cole].
“When those guys left I found it really heartbreaking – it was like breaking up the band. But then we got a great new band member. So it’s not a regret, just a petulant child who doesn’t like change!”
And did she receive sufficient feedback? “I feel like I heard the bits that were nice to hear and I managed to filter out all the bits that would have probably upset me.”
What comes next has been trailed for a long time. Fans are excited. Whittaker is also excited. Russell T Davies is taking the reins again from Chibnall after 12 years away. Ncuti Gatwa will become the next lead actor in the most iconic show in British television, and starts filming very soon. But first (we think), David Tennant will reprise the role opposite old sparring partner Catherine Tate in special episodes to mark 60 years of Doctor Who in 2023.
“Of all the things to happen, you can’t get more exciting than Russell T Davies coming back,” says Whittaker, echoing the entire Doctor Who fandom. “It couldn’t be in safer hands. And Ncuti Gatwa doesn’t need any advice from me – he is far more qualified than me. He is absolutely amazing.
“I got caught up in the euphoria of it all like everyone else. But that’s the beauty of this job. You get to hand it on. And you get to discover, like a fan, where it is going to go next. And now I will get to watch it without being stressed out about whether I nail a speech or if anyone can understand my accent. I’ll get to watch something I love from the safety of my living room.”
The series is all about time. All about the relentless march forward. All about creating a better future. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Because before Whittaker steps away from the Tardis, she has a feature-length farewell. And everything we know about it sounds extraordinary.
As is customary (and correct), we are able to share very little about The Power of the Doctor. But there will be Daleks. There will be Cybermen. There will be Sacha Dhawan returning as the Doctor’s ultimate nemesis, the Master. We will also witness the return of Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred as beloved companions Tegan and Ace.
“It’s a fair list, innit?” says Whittaker. “It’s a right send off for me.”
There may be more old friends (and foes) too. And don’t get us started on the final scenes between the Doctor and Yaz (Gill) – last seen sitting on a beach, a rare moment of stillness amid the manic energy of the Whittaker era, discussing the impossibility of a relationship.
“Our storylines have mirrored the love and respect we have for each other and the joy of being around each other,” says Whittaker of her off-screen friendship with Gill. “I knew the chemistry was there at her audition. I walked out and said to Chris, ‘I could be best mates with her’. He was like, ‘Well, there are other important factors!’ But she made me laugh so much. I knew she would be someone I would never tire of being around.
“I’m still not used to not seeing her every day yet. I was walking around just now on the phone, monologuing to Mandip.”
There are more big feelings in The Power of the Doctor. Filming the final scenes, in order, was tough. “It is pulling on every emotional string,” says Whittaker. “We were like method actors on that last day because it was the first time we filmed in order. So my last scene is the last scene. Before they even finished checking the last take of the last scene I was in bits. Even when we wrapped on a corridor we would always run down, or did the last costume checks with the person who’s stood by you through all this time. You know, even my last lateral flow test was emotional!”
The day after Jodie Whittaker shot her final scene, she was on Graham Norton’s show – having to lie to the nation’s favourite chat show presenter. “I was in a bit of a daze on his couch. I was hiding my pregnancy and I get really sick. So I think I told him I was hungover from the wrap party. But I wasn’t at all. I was much more professional than that. I was really sick and hiding it. Then Coldplay got me up on stage while they sang. I thought I was going to either cry with joy or vom down myself and be publicly humiliated.”
Safe in the knowledge that the future is bright, fans are hyped and ready to give a generous, celebratory reception to Whittaker’s big finale.
“I’ve had the excitement of Ncuti being cast. But still, at this moment, even though I don’t get to put the coat on, I am still the Doctor. And that is really emotional for me. Because I have loved it so much. In a way that was completely unexpected. I just couldn’t believe that I could enjoy something so much.”
For some fans, there has been a nagging feeling that some of the sharpness in writing and plotting left with the end of Steven Moffat’s tenure. And the way the show moved around the schedule to a new home on Sunday evenings and the loss of Christmas episodes in favour of New Year specials felt like a downscaling of ambition or lack of confidence. Audience figures suffered.
But Whittaker brought real empathy to the role – less solitary genius, more team player, with a rich humanity that contrasted nicely with Peter Capaldi’s more alien interpretation. And as the first woman in the role, Jodie Whittaker broke vital and overdue new ground.
So where next?
“It’s a funny one, isn’t it? If you are a guy, there is a worry about being typecast. But for me, I was lucky, I will never be in a situation that this feels repetitive. So I suppose anything that fills me with the kind of top-of-a-roller-coaster feeling that this did when I started, that excited fearful adrenaline. That is what I’m looking to do next. But it doesn’t have to tick a box. It could be a contained, emotional drama set in one room. That could bring the same feeling and excite me in the same way as something epic and dystopian and cross-genre.”
And to those of us who would love to see her, one day, tackle a Russell T Davies script? Maybe some of that famous hope she is so fond of. Final question of the exit interview – could you ever imagine returning to the fold?
“I know this is the end of my tenure properly,” Whittaker says, pausing, fighting to hold back another upsurge in emotion. Then laughter.
“But I’m clinging on for dear life. And I do keep saying that if Russell ever wants me, I would come back. I’m already vying for a walk-on part! I’m trying not to annoy anyone so I will get asked back.”
Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor airs on Sunday October 23 on BBC One and iPlayer