The era of the Thirteenth Doctor has come and gone. Like the Time Lord herself, Doctor Who has miraculously regenerated again into the show the world as it is today needs it to be. Has it ever really done anything else?
Jodie Whittaker’s take on the TARDIS’ Time Lord pilot was certainly controversial — but with fandom being the way it is these days, the first female incarnation of one of television’s most iconic ongoing characters was bound to be, wasn’t she?
Many of Whittaker’s critics express a grudging respect for her approach but disdain for outgoing show runner Chris Chibnall’s writing — a fair point, but at its lowest is it really any worse than “Timelash”? “Paradise Towers”? No, the show as a whole was on par with past seasons for sure. It’s more likely that an honest exploration of once-marginalized communities has awoken the “anti-woke” crusaders for The Way Things Have Always Been and Don’t Mess With Them, Thankyouverymuch. Some people will never be satisfied.
Chibnall described Whittaker’s impact on the iconic role in a recent BBC interview:
She changed the game. She changed history in terms of Doctor Who. I think what she’s brought is a Doctor who is full of hope, and positivity and generosity and I think that these times really needed that. I think she’s shown off her incredible sort of clowning side, the humour that she can do, which maybe some people didn’t know her for beforehand. I think she’s enriched the character of the Doctor, as all actors who play the Doctor do, but it’s an incredibly bold and brave performance.
And she took responsibility for the Doctor being a woman, she took it on her shoulders and represented and that was not a given, that was her strength and decision and power. I think she has been utterly magnificent, she exceeded all of our expectations. She’s given a whole generation of young girls and women a chance to feel that they are the Doctor also and that was always the purpose from the start of this era, was to really widen that net.
Jodie’s Doctor was a revelation — her very first identity crisis resolving with the determination to keep “sorting out fair play, throughout the universe.” Again, that’s classic Doctor Who if you’ve ever bothered to watch a moment of it at all. “Spyfall” and “Prisoner of the Judoon” changed the series, perhaps forever, in ways episodes of the classic series could only hope to move its venerable narrative forward, and “The Timeless Children” and the lockdown-influenced structure of “Flux” continued this evolution in spectacular fashion. And her swansong was full of appearances from her best friends and worst enemies, new and old — as it should be.
She was the Doctor who saw a generation of young viewers (and not-so-young legacy fans) through a scary pandemic with shifting protocols and uncertain endings, unlike a TV show where you know the danger will be sorted out within the hour, and attacked it like any other challenge she faced on her adventures. Her little lockdown messages were like mini-episodes or at least Doctor monologues that inspired hope. Could other Doctors do the same? Of course they could — but it was her burden, and she owned it even as it rocked the program’s shooting schedule.
With the “Fam” of Ryan, Yaz and Graham, it was great to see the TARDIS so full again during Thirteen’s historic run. And Whittaker’s tenure as the Doctor turns out to be one of the longest on record — but it doesn’t feel like it. Hopefully we’ll still get some decent novels and Big Finish audio adventures, when the time is right, to flesh out her groundbreaking Doctor Who era the way it still deserves.
Thanks, Thirteen, for everything. And long live the Doctor!