You could say it's about time. When Doctor Who returns next week, more than 50 years since it debut in 1963, the Doctor will be a woman.

"It's a long time coming, but that's perfectly fine because it happened when I got the job," jokes Broadchurch star Jodie Whittaker, who is taking on the time-travelling role.

For the uninitiated, The Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey who regenerates into a new human form every couple of years or so, allowing for a succession of actors in the role. At the risk of stating the obvious, it's been a total sausage-fest thus far.

"To have gender boundaries taken down within this already hugely successful and very famous show is exciting," continues Whittaker. "But it still fits within the world of what the Doctor is. The Doctor regenerates and it's still absolutely staying true to the themes of the show."

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Whittaker has experienced such gender boundaries herself and understands just how significant this move is for both the industry and the audience.

"I have often felt frustrated in the sense of when you are auditioning for something and the very exciting dynamic leading role was never going to be the part that you were going in for. Now the young people looking up, young girls can go out there and not necessarily have to always go for being the companion."

Again, for those not in the know, "companions" are human helpers who assist the Doctor and were traditionally young and female back in the day, but now come in all forms. The new Doctor will have three companions: Ryan (Tosin Cole); Yasmin (Mandip Gill) and Graham, played by Bradley Walsh, best-known as the host of popular quiz show The Chase.

Viewers were briefly introduced to Whittaker's Doctor - the 13th official manifestation of the character - in last year's Christmas special, which saw the previous portrayer Peter Capaldi regenerate into Whittaker, who then uttered, "Oh brilliant!" in reaction, echoing the exclamations of the legions of "Whovians" who'd been eagerly awaiting a female Doctor.

Whittaker's tenure begins proper with the premiere of season 11, which also marks the return of the show to its original, long-time New Zealand home, TVNZ, 22 years after the character last appeared on the network, in the 1996 telemovie starring Paul McGann.

Following that film, the character lay dormant for almost a decade before a celebrated return in 2005.

TVNZ will make the season 11 premiere available on its OnDemand service the same day it airs in the UK, before screening on TVNZ2 the following Friday.

The fast-tracked move is to keep the show's intensely devoted fans happy - something Whittaker first learned about when starring with David Tennant - the 10th Doctor - in Broadchurch.

"It was apparent then that even if you had not been in the show for quite a few years, the fans are still really passionate and you know once you're in this family it doesn't matter how many go again, you're always a part of it."

It was something that made Whittaker even more eager to accept the role.

"It is loved by people all over the world and there are very few jobs you can do in your life that touch that many people. You know that coming into it and that's really exciting. It'll be incredibly overwhelming at times, I imagine. It certainly hasn't harmed anyone else's career going forward, so ..."

Season 11 of Doctor Who has another Broadchurch connection in the form of new showrunner Chris Chibnall, who created and wrote the Bafta Award-winning crime drama. Chibnall tells TimeOut that his history with Whittaker didn't necessarily help her gain the role.

"If anything, because I knew her and knew her work, we really wanted to be sure there wasn't any latent bias or anything, so possibly we made her work even harder," says Chibnall. "But it was just really obvious from the first audition that she brought something really 'Doctory' and really new at the same time, which is what made it so exciting."

Chibnall says he welcomes the increased scrutiny the show is facing thanks to the debut of the first female Doctor.

"I'd have been really annoyed if we'd taken it over and nobody cared what we were doing," says Chibnall. "No, it's really exciting. The fact that people are excited to meet Jodie's Doctor and Tosin and Mandip and Brad's characters, that's really lovely for us actually."

Unlike many characters played by multiple actors, such as James Bond, the role of the Doctor allows for a more personal interpretation. Whittaker claims she's just being herself.

"Very often, the parts that I play, particularly in Broadchurch, are kind of a world away from what I'm actually like," says Whittaker. "And this was one of the first jobs that I've had where Chris really pushed me in the audition to tap into my natural energy, which I've not necessarily played very often. "

Born in 1982, Whittaker came of age in what was something of a fallow period for Doctor Who. Apart from the 1996 telemovie, there were no new Doctor Who episodes between 1989 and 2005.

"If you're British, it's a part of your upbringing in the sense that and everyone's heard of it and we all know what the Tardis is. But it wasn't something as a family we used to sit and watch, and so I'm not coming at it from the point of view of a Whovian."

She says that helped her make the role her own.

"I need to make sure I'm fully aware of the history, but then also not be clouded by previous knowledge. I can be completely brand new with my approach."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Jodie Whittaker
What: Doctor Who
When: Available on TVNZ OnDemand from Monday
Also: Screening on TVNZ2 on Fridays at 7.30pm