If you haven’t taken the time to check out the new Doctor Who on BBC America, then you probably ought to set aside an hour sometime this week to do just that. Ever since Broadchurch star Jodie Whittaker was revealed as the 13th Doctor last year, fans and critics alike have been eagerly awaiting the first-ever female incarnation of the character’s arrival on the small screen. Judging by the general reaction to Sunday’s season 11 premiere, it seems Whittaker’s debut was worth the wait.
Yet Whittaker’s introduction wasn’t the only major thing to happen on Sunday. This was also the first episode of new showrunner Chris Chibnall’s tenure, which began after Steven Moffat‘s exit with previous Doctor Peter Capaldi. As the creator of Broadchurch, where he and Whittaker first worked together, Chibnall promised to usher in an entirely new era of Doctor Who with a series that would be remarkably different from what fans of its current iteration (since the 2005 reboot) have become accustomed to.
“It should be the most inclusive show on television,” Chibnall told reporters at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con in July. “The whole concept of Doctor Who is anyone can go anywhere and do anything, and we want to reflect that both on screen and off.”
And sure enough, the new Doctor Who features a wealth of diversity, both on screen and behind the camera. It also, as Chibnall and Whittaker recently told Uproxx, endeavors to employ more diverse forms of storytelling going forward.
Might as well start big. When first coming onto the series, what was your first impression, or instinct, regarding who this Doctor and her show were, or what either could become?
Jodie Whittaker: Well, you know, the scripts were probably way beyond ever needing input from me before I even started auditioning. It was just really exciting for me, not to mention a revelation, because who knew I would ever be auditioning for it? Nevermind feeling like you can do it. When I got the scenes for the audition, these scenes that were written specifically for the audition process, the energy that Chris had put into the character was immense. He says I brought it, but to me, it bounced off the page. I think it depends on who you talk to, but as far as I’m concerned, I just was like, “Oh yeah, I get it!” It’s all of the things I love about playing. It’s movement, it’s jumping from thought to thought while having a clear purpose, it’s hopeful, it’s enjoying the little details on such an epic scale.
It’s all those things, and I think it was very much on the page already. It felt like you were bounding into this Doctor’s world. This Doctor bounds into the world, but it’s obviously not a clean slate. The Doctor has many traits, and that is always hard. I’m not important enough to sit in early script meetings and say, “I think I’d do this.” It was more like, “This is the script. We’ve worked on it a long time.” It was already amazing, which just made me want to do it even more.
Chris Chibnall: I think what you want to do when coming into something like this is, or at least what I wanted to do, create a series that reflected my love and passion for the show. The same love and passion I’ve had since I was three years old. When we knew there would be a new doctor, we obviously knew that it would be Jodie. She’s someone who everyone can access. The character is someone who feels incredibly inclusive. They’re also very mainstream. And because you’ve got a new Doctor, that gives the series the opportunity to say, “The kids who were four or five when Peter became the Doctor are now coming eight or nine. They’re our prime targets, so who would they want?”
We wanted to do a show that demonstrated the whole breadth and range of what Doctor Who can do. We wanted to make a show that would tell stories that resonate with the world we are living in now, that would be incredibly emotional. We kept asking ourselves, “What does Doctor Who feel like in 2018?” So we wanted to make a show that felt like it was connected to the world now. A show that could stand alongside Black Mirror, Game of Thrones, The CW’s programming, and all that. That was our challenge, and it wasn’t a small one, because there are dozens of possibilities in TV now. But we wanted to do everything, and we wanted it to be really good.
What about the Doctor’s companions? Where did the idea to have three come from?
Whittaker: I like to say they’re my best mates. The thing about Chris is, he’s a true Whovian and this wasn’t the start of this concept. Back in the day, there were three companions with the Doctor. I think, for Chris, it felt like he wanted to really use the original DNA of the show and bring things like this back. As for me, I don’t know any different, so I imagine it can be an interesting transition if this were still Peter’s Doctor.
Chibnall: Yeah, the idea for three companions goes back to the original version of the show. Back then it was the Doctor and his three companions. The doctor was very much an autonomous character, and his interactions with the companions set the bar for the rest of the show in some ways. You, as the audience, are the companions too. You’re going through their POV in the show. The reason for having three companions was to mine as many emotional journeys and POVs as possible. As the companions, you’re in this group of people who, in some ways, don’t yet know what there is to experience in life. They don’t yet know what they can bring to the group. They don’t even know what they’ve got inside. So when the Doctor comes along, she makes them realize they had all of this potential inside them all along. They just have to choose to go on this journey, because they’re real people. We wanted them to feel real to the audience so that they could relate to them. There’s this magical alien Doctor running around having adventures, but then there are these people that you know. People you’ve worked with, people that you hang out or go to school with. It also allows for more diverse storytelling. It means that we can go off into different areas with the script. There’s almost a game show element to it. Having three companions allows the writers to have a bigger sort of paint box to play with.
Whittaker: And the wonderful thing is the energy and the uniqueness they’ve given to these relationships between all of us. The Doctor’s relationship with Yas, or Yas with Graham, or Ryan with The Doctor — all of that is unique. It gives you the opportunity to not only see these adventures and worlds through the Doctor’s eyes, but also through the eyes of these people of different ages and backgrounds. It’s more like the world we live in today, in 2018. So it lets us explore certain adventures through entirely different points of view. It feels very much like an ensemble. It’s not always the Doctor at the forefront, which makes it all the richer.
You both worked together on Broadchurch before Doctor Who. Obviously, these are two very different shows. Anything, in particular, stand out?
Whittaker: Well, I don’t know that there are a lot of similarities between them. [Laughs] It was a five-year process working on Broadchurch for the three seasons that we did it. Interestingly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know him and we weren’t friends. I can’t remember a time that we didn’t have a shorthand. Chris knows how I work, he respects it, and he’s very generous with it. There are often a lot of questions between us, and without being pedantic, I’m quite detailed and thank god he loves that!
Chibnall: Among many, many other things, we get to make up monsters for a living on Doctor Who. It’s quite literally amazing. We get to create these cross people on the page and then bring them to life without the special effects team. Whether it’s visual effects, prosthetics or designers, that’s all been absolutely wonderful. I didn’t get to do that in Broadchurch.
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.