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As monologues go, that expression of joy, uttered by Jodie Whittaker in last year’s special Christmas episode of Doctor Who, may not rank up there with the best of Shakespeare. Nonetheless, it was an exultation of huge cultural significance — and one that sprang directly from the preferred vocabulary of the actress herself. “My two go-to words are ‘Brilliant!’ and ‘Ace!’” says Whittaker, 36, while chatting with EW at a studio in the show’s home city of Cardiff, Wales, this past May. “I’ll try to get the Doctor an ‘Ace!’ in there somewhere.”
The “Doctor” in question is, of course, the titular character of Doctor Who. A two-hearted alien from the planet Gallifrey, this time-traveling, monster-battling hero has been played by a succession of actors in the show’s 55-year history, thanks to the Doctor’s ability to “regenerate” his physical form. Up until last December, the “Time Lord” was always depicted as male. But at the end of the Christmas episode, Peter Capaldi’s so-called Twelfth Doctor regenerated into Whittaker’s Thirteenth. It was that switch in sex that prompted the character’s delighted “Aw, brilliant!” after he — or rather, she — saw herself reflected in a computer screen on the bridge of the Doctor’s time-and-spacecraft, the TARDIS.
The choice of Whittaker to play the lead role on Doctor Who represents a massive gamble on the part of new showrunner Chris Chibnall — who’d previously cast Whittaker as a grieving mother on his cop drama Broadchurch — and the BBC, which successfully revived the sci-fi series in 2005 following a lengthy hiatus. More than 18 million Doctor Who DVDs have shipped, 12 million action figures have been sold in the 13 years since its relaunch, and in 2013 a 50th-anniversary episode was screened in 94 countries. In the U.S., the show has become the flagship series for BBC America, which will premiere the new season this fall, simulcasting the first episode so it screens at the same time as in the U.K. There is a lot riding on Whittaker’s ability to make audiences around the world fall in love with a female Doctor, as the actress is well aware.
“There’s no rules, and it’s liberating,” she says. “But it’s equally terrifying.”
EW spent two days on the set of Doctor Who for this week’s cover story, hanging out with Whittaker and the trio of actors who are playing the Doctor’s new companions: Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, and Tosin Cole. Your writer also spoke with Chibnall who explained why he had made the decision to make the Thirteenth Doctor female once Whittaker’s predecessor, Peter Capaldi, decided to leave the series.
“I just felt the time was right,” said Chibnall. “I think if the show hadn’t done it, we would have been behind the world, and Doctor Who has got to be out front leading the world, and being a great example of all the amazing things that are in the world. So, it wasn’t even a question in my mind.”
But, much like the Doctor’s bigger-on-the-inside timeship the TARDIS, there is so much more to see in this week’s Comic-Con preview issue of EW. Like what? Like exclusive images from films and TV shows, including Shazam!, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Halloween, The Walking Dead, Star Trek: Discovery, and the new, small-screen version of The Purge franchise. You’ll also find one of our signature “Three Rounds” articles with the cast of The Magicians; a deep dive into M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Glass; an oral history of the Wesley Snipes-starring superhero-vampire movie Blade; and profiles of It and Castle Rock star Bill Skarsgård and graphic novelist-turned-She Ra and the Princesses of Power exec producer Noelle Stevenson.
The only problem we can imagine you having? Finding the time to check it all out. Maybe Jodie will let you borrow the TARDIS!