“I’m the Doctor.” These three words strike hope into the hearts of millions worldwide. Premiering on the BBC on November 23, 1963, the television program “Doctor Who” is not only the longest running science fiction show in history, but one of the longest running shows of all time. “Doctor Who” was originally created to educate — the episodes in which the titular character traveled to the future were meant to teach science, and the episodes in which they traveled to the past were meant to teach history. The show follows the adventures of a time traveling, regenerating alien known as the Doctor. Coming from a race known as the Time Lords, who reside on the planet Gallifrey, the Doctor stole a ship for his own — the TARDIS [time and relative dimension in space]. Equipped with the two hearts particular to the Time Lord race and a sonic screwdriver, the Doctor travels all of time and space in his TARDIS, usually with a human companion. Whenever close to death, the Doctor has the ability to regenerate into a new body.
For fifty five years, the structure and gender dynamics of the program have remained the same — the male Doctor travels with his human companion, usually an attractive female. However, on July 16, 2017, a monumental announcement was made. After the Wimbledon’s men’s tennis final, the 13th Doctor was revealed. Walking through a forest, a cloaked Doctor approached the TARDIS, key in hand and ready for adventure. And when the Doctor pulled down their hood, it was none other than Jodie Whittaker, the beloved British actress from the critically acclaimed series “Broadchurch.” For the first time in fifty five years of history and fourteen incarnations of the character, the Doctor was now female. The reveal was nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon. Not only was it the culmination of years of progressive movement and themes in the series since its revival in 2005, but a disturbance to a tradition and established fifty-five year formula. Uncertainty reigned as fans and non-fans alike awaited the first look of Whittaker’s 13th Doctor. Would traditional Whovians who want their “Doctor Who” to reflect the white male scholarly Britain (as it did in the 1960s) boycott in outrage? Would modern feminists be interested in picking up the series now that it would star a female heroine? In the end, the venture proved to be a success. Videos and posts alike titled “It’s About Time” were posted, featuring female Whovians praising and crying over having the first female Doctor.
The international event not only swept headlines, but brought fans together as they waited in nervous anticipation for Whittaker’s debut. On Sunday, October 7, the big day came. At 6:30 GMT, fans sat down for the two hour premiere of the first female Doctor. Ratings for Whittaker’s Premiere were at an all time high since the show’s revival, bringing in over 1.4 million viewers — up 67% from the previous three seasons starring Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor, and 48% from the post-revival seasons as a whole. Reviews were, as a whole, glowingly positive, as well as emotional. Female Whovians recorded their reactions to seeing a female Doctor, some laughing and some crying in excitement. One review was a tribute to new companion Ryan Sinclair, who has dyspraxia (a disorder that affects motor skills), and what the show’s representation of the rarely-portrayed disorder meant to certain fans. Others complimented companion Yasmine Khan, a woman of Indian descent and the first non-black companion of color on the show.
Yet, through praise and excitement, there were still those who expressed their concerns regarding the 13th Doctor being female. Not only did it go against fifty-five years of tradition and establishment of the Doctor as a male lead, the choice seemed to fulfill a political agenda, even showing a glass ceiling shattering in the trailer with, as one critic of the decision put it, “the subtlety of a brick” as a metaphor for the significance of a female Doctor. Others simply want a scientific explanation as to why the Doctor has not yet been female. However, no matter which side fans sat on, one general consensus was abundantly clear — Whittaker not only looks and performs wonderfully as the Doctor, but embodies the role perfectly. And Whittaker’s high ratings confirm this, as well as the importance of this event that has been half a century in the making. All around the world, fans banded together to say, just like the show itself, it’s about time.
The premiere of Whittaker’s 13th Doctor is undeniably monumental in shaping the future of “Doctor Who,” as well as television itself. Will other male heroes played by multiple actors, such as Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, be given a female twist? What does this challenge on tradition mean for other long-running established programs? These are all questions which, as the season continues, will slowly begin to be answered. For now, however, there is but one word to describe the new face of “Doctor Who” — the first word and catchphrase of the 13th Doctor herself.
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