July 13, 2018 at 01:00 PM EDT

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When new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall contacted Jodie Whittaker at the end of 2016 to ask for a meeting, the actress assumed they would be discussing the upcoming junket for the final season of Broadchurch, the British crime drama which Chibnall created and on which Whittaker played a grief-stricken mother. In fact, the producer wanted to ask Whittaker if she was interested in auditioning for the role of the periodically “regenerating” Doctor on the long-running science fiction show, a part Chibnall had decided should, for the first time, be played by a woman.

“It was hilarious because, I was going, ‘Are you looking forward to starting your new job?'” Whittaker told EW earlier this year at the Doctor Who studios in Cardiff, Wales. “And he said, ‘It’s interesting that you bring that up. Would this be a part you’d consider auditioning for?’ It took me [just] a second to go, ‘I’m throwing my hat in the ring.'”

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Whitaker auditioned for Chibnall and the show’s executive producer Matt Strevens, reading specially-written script pages designed to see if she could handle the many different emotional sides of the eccentric Time Lord. The pair then asked the Broadchurch star to self-tape herself spouting what Whittaker describes as “sci-fi gobbledygook,” something she found surprisingly enjoyable. “I had an iPhone, wires, in a box,” she says. “I pretended to defuse something, and I loved it.”

Strevens reveals that he and Chibnall “saw a few actresses for the part,” but couldn’t stop thinking about Whittaker. “She was just so compelling,” says the EP. “In a way, it was a no-brainer. The fact that we were casting a female Doctor disappeared really quickly from our minds. We were just casting the Doctor and she felt like our Doctor.” Chibnall says that casting Whittaker “was the easiest decision I made in my whole career.”

Alexei Hay for EW

Whittaker’s Doctor made a brief appearance on last year’s special Christmas episode and the actress has spent this year shooting episodes for the first season to star her version of the alien time-traveler, which will premiere on BBC America this fall. Has the experience lived up to her expectations so far?

“Yeah, absolutely,” she says “Absolutely. There is an element of, ‘You are the Doctor for the rest of your life,’ and that’s an honor, and also will be at times probably overwhelming. But that’s the joy of when art reaches the masses. I’m given this platform, and everyone works there arse off to get it seen, and I can’t moan about that. I have had only the positive so far.”

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