According to breaking reports from the UK’s The Mirror, Jodie Whittaker is leaving Doctor Who after what will be three years in the role as the Thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor. Though the BBC have declined to comment on the story, the often hyperbolic and excitable tabloid actually has a reasonable success rate at inside scoops about the show. The news seems to have been echoed around the media very quickly thereafter with no firm denial from the BBC.
Whittaker’s tenure in the Tardis has undeniably been controversial. Whittaker was the first female actor to play the role which had some sections of fandom complaining before a single frame was lensed that it should be a man as it had been before. Though that section remained vocal, the majority of the viewers branded that as sexist and seemed eager to give the show and actor a fair chance to see how it went – and the truth is that change-overs in the lead character have always generated strong opinions (the joke being that, initially, everyone prefers ‘their’ current Doctor to the newcomer for a while until it’s time for the latest to leave). It’s also true Doctor Who is one of the few series and characters in which a gender-swap was a viable creative option – it had long been established that Gallifreyans could dramatically change their appearance and personalities (and the likes of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi – not to mention John Hurt – were all very different in looks, stature and performance) and changes in gender were referenced during Steve Moffat’s tenure as show-runner. There were even comments when Tom Baker left in the early 1980s that a female actor might be picked though that came to naught). Jodie Whittaker herself is a respected actor who had handled a range of roles on stage and screen before, including working with the incoming Who showrunner Chris Chibnall on the acclaimed Broadchurch.
However as Chibnall came in there were a lot of changes made all at once. As well as the central role’s gender there were the marketing visuals, new music and intros, the show moving away from its traditional Saturday slot to Sunday evenings, the cast was enlarged to have three regular companions and the tone of the ever-topical-issue stories arguably seemed to cater more for a younger audience. There were few familiar enemies in the first season but a major shift in the show’s mythology as Jodie’s second season crew to a close in March 2020. All these changes and their reception largely came down to a viewer’s individual’s taste. Series ratings were lower than before, but rumours of problems behind the scenes (including people claiming they had inside sources saying Chibnall and Whittaker had walked off set/quit/being fired never appeared to be anything more than hearsay from vitriolic sections of fandom and while ratings were lower than before, that was to be expected in an ever-competitive television landscape.
If the departure is confirmed, it is not known if this will affect Chibnall’s future plans concerning the mythological elements of the show. Whittaker had always said she planned to do at least three seasons.
The Mirror‘s report claims that while their sources say Whittaker will shoot a regeneration scene for sometime in the next run, Chris Chibnall himself will be staying on. The recent festive special was shot in late 2019 and filming on the next full run (which has a reduced running count of eight episodes) has been delayed by COVID-19 restrictions. It is currently underway with Whittaker, Mandip Gill continuing as Yaz and comedian/actor John Bishop will play a new character ‘Dan’ (as revealed in a special epilogue at the end of last week’s special). It was expected that the show will return to screens in the late Autumn if all goes as planned… which might mean a Christmas regeneration once more if true. There’s no news so far on whether there will be a 2021 festive special.
The site/paper’s insight into who will play the next incarnation of the Time Lord has been less accurate over the years, at least until much closer to the reveal, so it’s comments about Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joanna Page as been ‘tipped for the role’ seem like abstract guesswork at this stage.