Jodie Whittaker has made her debut as the first female Doctor in the show's decades-long history. But did she pull it off?
Among those glued to their sofas were the comedians Bridget Christie and Susan Calman, authors Juno Dawson and Jenny Colgan, and the pop star Toyah Willcox – a Who fan who was once mooted for the title role herself. The Telegraph asked each of them what the arrival of a female Doctor means to them, and what they thought of Sunday's episode.
Bridget Christie: "It's ludicrous we've waited this long for a female Doctor"
It shouldn't be radical or progressive for the 13th Doctor to be played by a woman. Doctor Who is a show about a Time Lord who flies around the Universe in a blue box slaying aliens. Within that context, the Doctor could be played by a shoe or a cat, and it wouldn't look out of place.
When news broke that Jodie Whittaker was going to be the 13th Doctor, I was excited because Whittaker is consistently brilliant in everything she does. I didn't think it was a victory for women, because I am never grateful when women get things they should've been getting all along anyway, like the vote, equal pay and abortion rights – I thought it was weird to have had TWELVE men Doctors in a row.
I didn't feel gratitude that an actor of Whittaker's calibre and credentials had been given the role – I thought the show was lucky to have her.
Of course it's brilliant that the 13th Doctor is a woman, of course it is. The Doctor is heroic and brave and a genius, and now millions of girls are going to be able to imagine themselves as Time Lords, or as future actors who might one day also land a well-written part, rather than having to just stand around giggling or raising their eyebrows at men's antics. That can only be a good, positive thing. It's just how the media have chosen to spin it that's slightly annoying. You could say it's progressive to have a female Doctor Who, but you could equally say it's ludicrous there hasn't been one before.
Either way, Whittaker is an absolute triumph as the 13th Doctor and that has absolutely nothing to do with gender. She totally nailed it. She actually took my breath away. It was one of the most assured, confident turns I've ever seen. She was so loose and fluid, both in mind and body. She owned it, as we never say in the business. To me, she looked like she'd ALWAYS BEEN DOCTOR WHO. Her comic timing was pitch-perfect. At one point, when she was chasing after that bad-breathed, liquorice-lipped, tooth-faced robot idiot, she even ran in a funny way.
Another LOL moment was when she was welding together her new sonic screwdriver and pulled a funny face, but half her face was obscured by massive goggles, so we only saw the bottom half of her face AND SHE WAS STILL HILARIOUS. In fact she was so hilarious, my 11-year-old son, who was sitting in front of me in a bean bag, turned around to look at me and missed about three seconds of the show, which I'm sure he'll catch up on when he gets home from school tonight.
Whittaker's performance didn't just have wit and intelligence though, it had depth. My 7 year old daughter and I both choked up when she talked about being alone but keeping her loved ones close by carrying the memories of them around with her. It was judged so well. No self-pity, no violins, no emotional manipulation, just pragmatic stoicism, and your heart went out to her. OK, I blubbed like a stupid baby and everyone was embarrassed.
The only thing I wasn't entirely convinced about was the swirly, snakey, cable monster thing, and Bradley Walsh's thoughtful and sensitive character Graham being brutally insensitive about his step grandson Ryan's dyspraxia, which seemed a bit out of character. But I didn't think about The Chase ONCE. Not even during his wife's funeral.
I'd like to think Whittaker didn't feel she was representing her entire gender when preparing for this role, and the weight of responsibility that goes with that, but it must've crossed her mind at some point – she's only human.
Overcoming all of that, and the media circus surrounding it, to turn in one of the best Doctors I've ever seen, is way more heroic than being high up on a crane with an alien who's got a face made of dead people's teeth, and for that, I salute her. Aren't we lucky?
Susan Calman: "I've waited my entire life for this"
I love Doctor Who. I remember seeing a bit of Tom Baker growing up, but it was Peter Davidson when I started properly watching it and becoming slightly obsessed with it. I have a Tardis necklace that I've worn on QI, I've got remote control daleks – I'm even getting a new Doctor Who back door, so that when you walk into my house it's like you're walking into the Tardis.
I've always made it very clear that I have two ambitions in my life. One was to do Strictly Come Dancing, and the other is to do anything to do with Doctor Who. I would be an unknown alien with a mask on. I'd clean the toilets, if they'll just let me in the building!
Sunday night was what I've been waiting for my entire life – to see my favourite television show with someone like Jodie Whittaker at the front of it. I've been looking forward to her debut ever since it was announced. I got home, put the fire on, had dinner early so I wasn't distracted, and told everyone else in the house to shut up.
Beginning to end, I loved every second of it. It was a great episode of Doctor Who, whatever the gender of the Doctor. Jodie Whittaker is simply one of the best actresses in the country. She's funny, and she's witty, and she's charming. The Doctor's an eccentric character, that's what I've always loved about him, and I think she's got that eccentricity as well.
When she finally remembered that she was the Doctor, it was a standing ovation in my living room from me. I was weeping.
Until now, I would always tell my six-year-old niece, "You can whatever you want - but not Doctor Who." But now she can! It was the last bastion in Britain of what a woman couldn't do.
I bet there were hundreds and hundreds of women like me, sitting with their daughters and nieces, watching it on Sunday night. The reason I love the Doctor is that they're a time-travelling alien who kicks ass and solves problems. For kids to see a woman in that role, it won't be a big deal for them – and it shouldn't have to be one. It's only a big deal for us because we've never seen a woman in the part.
It's like when some people complained about Bodyguard, saying there were too many women in charge. But in reality there are women in charge – the head of the Metropolitan Police is a woman. It's simply reflecting the reality of life. The more women are at the centre of TV shows, the less people will think it's strange.
Toyah Willcox: "I was terrified by the first Doctor"
I've had a long history with the show, and I know that the BBC have been toying with a female doctor who over the decades.
In the Eighties I was approached to as a possible Doctor – so were KD Lang, and Joan Armatrading – and there were lunches, there was never any offer. I think it's absolutely vital now that a woman is cast. I just don't think they could have left it any longer. I always got the feeling it could have been Victoria Wood at some point in her career – there's something of her in the humanity of the writing.
We live in a world where we're trying to create equality, and if you cannot give a woman a role of that responsibility then you're actually not moving forward. The whole franchise would have suffered if they hadn't done this.
Women have constantly been written out of history to the point where they don't know that they don't know that they can be great at mathematics, or engineers – and we desperately need women engineers in the world. To have Jodie cast as the Doctor – to see a female Doctor rebuilding the Tardis – is of vital importance.
She is one of the greatest role models we are going to have in a long time: a woman who is nurturing, who is strong, who is fearless, who is hugely educated, and believes in self-growth.
Her speech about humanity, about how we can evolve and push ourselves forward, and we can always change, made me think, "Oh, my god – you don't get any speeches like that anywhere on TV."
My very first memories of watching TV were a children's puppet show called Fireball XL5, and Doctor Who – and they were both utterly terrifying! I remember being very frightened by William Hartnell, the first Doctor. In his very first series there was this incredible sense of mystery, as everything was left to the imagination – because of the lack of technology. But, like Star Trek, Doctor Who has evolved: the stories have always been out there and ahead of human capability, but now technology is catching up.
Sunday night's episode had its moments of absolute fear, too. The whole thought of having a predator come to earth and want to hunt human beings – with teeth embedded in his head? It's fantastically frightening.
Juno Dawson: "It's not about monsters – it's about family"
My grandma was the one who got me hooked on Doctor Who – we would watch Sylvester McCoy's Doctor when she used to come and babysit. So I used to write little adventures for an audience of one – just my grandma. I never dreamed that 25 years later I'd be writing a Doctor Who adventure for BBC Books.
Of course, to me the series has a personal resonance – there's the notion that at our core we can be exactly the same person, but look different. How could I not recognise something of that in myself? But there is a lot of difference between a shapeshifting alien creature from Gallifrey and a trans woman – I'm not from space!
Too often we are introduced to female character through a male character. They are his wife, or his girlfriend, or his companion, or his assistant. They're just there to support a man's narrative. Whereas by having a character like the new Doctor – or Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel – we're saying that women have their own stories to tell and that our stories matter. I think that for girls watching this that's an incredibly powerful thing.
I'm excited by Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, but what's more interesting to me is to see what the new head writer Chris Chibnall brings to Doctor Who. From what I saw last night, it has more in common with Russell T Davies's era.
When I was commissioned to write the novel, the word that kept coming up was "family". The Doctor doesn't have companions now, she has a family. And that's why she's surrounded by this team of characters, rather than the one sidekick that the Doctor has traditionally had.
That's going to be at the heart of everything. This is going to be a show that's more driven by the characters than it is by monsters and time travel conundrums, which Steven Moffat was very much a fan of.
Chibnall's approach – having a new story each week – reflects the different ways people watch TV now. If you've got a series ready to watch as a box set, I think having a complex storyline works very well. But Doctor Who isn't like that. We have to come back to this week after week. The Moffat years work really well if you binge them on Netflix – and that isn't a criticism of them – but I think Chibnall has realised having standalone adventures is better suited to weekly drama.
I also think the move to Sunday night is genius – they should have done it years ago! Saturday night is going out night; when it was shown on a Saturday night in the summer, I remember thinking I'd rather be at a barbeque than sat in watching Doctor Who – and I'm the biggest Doctor Who fan in the world. But this Sunday I watched it with my boyfriend, with some food and a glass of wine. (Is he a fan? No. Did I force him to watch? Yes. Did he enjoy it? Yes, I think he did. He didn't know what was going on, but he enjoyed it.)
Also, Sunday is a school night. I had a horrible time at school, and I would dread Sunday nights, because I used to get really panicky about school on Monday morning. So having Doctor Who on a Sunday night would have been just the best.
Jenny Colgan: "My favourite part was how masculine it was"
The bounce and verve of Jodie Whittaker's new Doctor seems to have swept most of the doubters away, with over 8 million tuning in. She's fizzy, fun, and recognisably the Gallifreyan we already know. There were none of the awkward character lurches or terribly debilitating regeneration issues that have held back other Doctors' first appearances.
My favourite part was how masculine the setting was; lots of neon and rain, a Terminator style monster, a Back to the Future engineering montage in a garage and – in case you still hadn't got it – a finale up some extremely tall steel erections. Don't worry chaps – the Doctor is for everyone. And she still comes with pockets.
Doctor Who is available now on TVNZ OnDemand and will also screen on TVNZ2 on Fridays at 7.30pm.