There was a lot of noise when Jodie Whittaker became Doctor Who's 13th Doctor. Many were excited, not only because Whittaker was a great actor, but because she'd be the first female Doctor in the show's almost 60-year run. With her now plotting an exit from the TARDIS, let's dig into the impact she'll leave behind on the legendary sci-fi series as it charts a path forward.
This week, the BBC announced she and showrunner Chris Chibnall would be leaving the show after the upcoming 13th season. Both Whittaker and Chibnall signed on in 2017, and — according to a BBC press release — made a pact to only do three seasons together before bowing out.
The end of Whittaker's soon-to-be three-season run will likely be sad for many who loved the 13th Doctor. The announcement, however, also calls for a time for reflection and celebration of how Whittaker has impacted Doctor Who's timey-wimey universe.
Fans had been asking for a female version of the Doctor years before Chibnall cast Whittaker. Previous showrunner Steven Moffat has started down the road of broader gender representation by making the Master — the Doctor's nemesis — a woman in his later seasons. Missy, as she went by, was wonderfully played by Michelle Gomez. But having Whittaker wield the sonic screwdriver was something different; a true chance for the show to let sci-fi fans finally see someone outside the casting pool of white men to see themselves in the Doctor.
Chibnall also gave Whittaker's Doctor a whole "family," not just the solo companion usually (but not always) at previous Doctors' sides. Her three original companions — Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) — also make the Doctor more like the weird relative at family dinner.
Whittaker's Doctor is more than that though — she's exuberant and hopeful, a creature of the cosmos ready to embrace change and have new experiences. She is, in short, a delight, whether she's dealing with Daleks or putting her found family in trouble and then trying to get them out of it.
Some episodes of the last two seasons were admittedly better than others. And as the show goes into Whittaker's last season, she'll start out with only Yaz at her side, although it looks like she'll get an additional companion as well, played by John Bishop. No matter what the last season has in store, however, I've no doubt that her impact on the Doctor Who world is a positive one.
Whittaker and Chibnall's last batch of new Doctor Who in 2022 will have three feature-length specials rather than the episodic form of seasons past. Where the two take the show in their final romp around the universe remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is where the show will go next — it'll have a new Doctor and a new showrunner at some point. Who those two will be, however, is anyone's guess. (Having another Doctor who's not a white dude though, would continue to be welcomed by many who have pushed for more Doctor diversity).
One thing, however, is certain — the world of Doctor Who will continue to reinvent itself. That's what Doctor Who is, and as Whittaker said in the statement announcing her departure: "I know change can be scary and none of us know what's out there. That's why we keep looking. Travel Hopefully. The Universe will surprise you. Constantly."
Doctor Who returns this fall on BBC America.