the casting of Jodie Whittaker to play the central character in Doctor Who as a Time Lady rather than a Time Lord.t 4.26pm, shortly after Roger Federer became the only man to have won eight Wimbledon singles titles, the BBC interrupted its tennis coverage to announce an even more audacious first:
Whittaker, 35, becomes the 13th performer to portray the intergalactic troubleshooter. She had long figured in speculation and betting because of a belief that Chris Chibnall – the new head writer and executive producer on the hit BBC1 show – might prefer an actor with whom he had worked previously. Whittaker played the pivotal role of Beth Latimer, mother of a murdered child, in Chibnall’s ITV crime drama Broadchurch.
When Peter Capaldi announced in January that he was retiring as the Doctor, a consensus rapidly built that it was time to break the glass galaxy. Those calling for the character’s latest regeneration to involve a change of gender as well as actor included Billie Piper, who played an assistant to the ninth and 10th doctors, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant.
Piper suggested that a 13th bloke at the helm of the Tardis would be a “snub”, a view supported by the Labour politician Harriet Harman, and other high-profile women. Although Chibnall insisted that punditry would have no impact on his decision, he and the BBC seem to have concluded that the logic towards equality had become irresistible.
Yet this significant piece of TV news was broken rather curiously. Four years ago, Whittaker’s predecessor, Capaldi, was revealed in a prescheduled standalone special programme. The latest unveiling was more casual and unanchored, suddenly revealed this weekend to follow the match between Federer and Marin Cilic at Wimbledon which, given the potential length of a men’s five-setter, meant any time from 4-7pm. Tennant was in the royal box for the final, giving his latest successor a hint of the sort of social privileges playing the part can bring.
In the event, Cilic struggled with a foot injury, twice requiring medical attention on court. “Not much the Doctor can do for him,” commiserated Sue Barker, in what may have been an attempt to make the BBC’s strange juxtaposition of sport and fantasy television seem neater.
Once Federer had shown his trophy to the crowds, Barker declared that viewers would now find out the identity of the latest two-hearted time-traveller from the planet of Gallifrey. On film, a figure, face obscured by a hooded cloak, walked through woodland towards the blue police box in which the Doctor travels. A feminine-looking hand holding the Tardis key then flicked back the hood to reveal Whittaker.