BBC One announced today that the decades-spanning Dr. Who television series is about to enter a bold new era. For the first time ever, the new incarnation of the Doctor will be a woman, played by Jodie Whittaker, previously of series including Return to Cranford, Broadchurch, and Black Mirror.
In the mythology of the show, the heroic Doctor belongs to a race known as the Time Lords, and can periodically change appearances. This has helped the series reinvent itself by casting new leads regularly since its debut in 1963. Until now, though, the Doctor’s transformative powers have seemingly been limited to variations on white masculinity, which a rising chorus of critics have pointed out makes little sense in a series that features extensive time travel and a panoply of strange aliens.
But the show’s creators have been floating the possibility of a female Doctor since at least 2013. An actor of color was also reportedly offered the part at one point, but turned it down.
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Dr. Who is one of the most globally popular franchises produced by the BBC, and the ascent of a female Doctor does carry some risk of alienating longtime fans. That was highlighted on Friday, when a Daily Mail update that floated the possibility of a female Doctor was flooded with critical backlash.
But there’s more than enough evidence that genre material that puts women front and center can attract a huge audience and iconic status. That includes geeky classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel’s crossover hit Jessica Jones, and this year’s box-office smash Wonder Woman.
Whittaker’s take on the Doctor is set to make her first appearance in the series’ annual Christmas Special.