Doctor Who's Jodie Whittaker could be the right Time Lord at the right time

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Fun, brisk and vivacious: Jodie Whittaker - PA
Fun, brisk and vivacious: Jodie Whittaker - PA

She came, she saw, she fell out of the Tardis. Such was the hectic fashion in which 13th Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker made her grand and belated entrance in the final moments of the Time Lord’s Christmas special. It was a fleeting introduction to the most opinion-splitting Doctor yet – whose divisiveness on social media is possibly not unrelated to the fact she is the first female custodian of the Tardis. 

But this was also an encouraging initial encounter. “Awww brilliant,” intoned Whittaker (35) in her native Yorkshire accent as, having just sloughed off predecessor Peter Capaldi’s garrulous carapace, she took in her new surroundings and appearance. She was still wearing Capaldi’s oversized suit – though his man-jewellery had mercifully slipped off her fingers. Her straight-from-the-salon fringe was a big improvement, meanwhile, on her predecessor’s out of control curls.

With only two words of dialogue any conjecture as to what sort of Doctor Whittaker will make would be premature. Still, she seemed an encouraging fit as the venerable saga powers up for a soft reboot under new show runner Chris Chibnall, creator and writer of jolly escapist romp Broadchurch (in which Whittaker excelled as a grieving mum). 

Tellingly, her 64 seconds screen time were the most memorable in an instalment that had spent the previous hour wading around in sentimental gloop – and which had subjected the eager Capaldi to an ignominious and baffling adieu. “Run fast, be kind…Doctor, I let you go,” went his farewell soliloquy, a characteristic over-egging from a franchise that has displayed a worrying taste for cod-melodrama of late. 

Whittaker’s first proper appearance in the role contrasted, moreover, with the cryptic, inaccessible figure she had cut when officially unveiled over the summer. Bathed in sunlight and required to smile enigmatically, the new Doctor had seemingly wandered in from a Seventies Cadbury’s Flake advert (augmented by yellow braces that screamed vintage Blue Peter presenter). Now, the camera hugged her face as it broke into an irreverent smile and she pressed an apparently random button on the Tardis console – which obviously plunged the time machine into a spiral and opened the front door. 

None of this made any sense. Did she know she was the Doctor? If so, why send the Tardis into freefall? Had outgoing show-runner Steven Moffat written the scene strictly for giggles and mischief – leaving it to Chibnall to clean up the mess? 

'Seemingly wandered in from a Seventies Cadbury’s Flake advert': Jodie Whittaker when she was unveiled as the new Doctor Who
'Seemingly wandered in from a Seventies Cadbury’s Flake advert': Jodie Whittaker when she was unveiled as the new Doctor Who

The blaring lack of logic was at least consistent with the rest of the episode, which served as snapshot of all that has gone wrong with Moffat’s seven years tenure, during which ratings have plunged to their lowest since Doctor Who returned in 2005. Twice Upon a Time was damningly glutinous – a putrescent Christmas pudding stuffed with in-jokes, winks for the hardcore fans and weaponised use of the word “arse”. 

The expletive –  mild yet unquestionably in the red zone – was unleashed by the rejuvenated Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie). Seated on the sofa alongside my seven-year-old I was made to feel like the world’s most irresponsible dad – not a sensation usually associated with the Doctor Who Christmas Special. 

Typical of Moffat’s time in charge, Twice Upon a Time fancied itself far smarter than it was. It brought together the William Hartnell’s original Doctor (as uncannily channelled by David Bradley) and the outgoing Capaldi, then chucked in Moffat’s old Sherlock mucker Mark Gatiss as a temporal refugee from the trenches of the First World War. Also parachuted in was Capaldi’s former assistant Potts, now gainfully employed as part of a collective of translucent aliens who – and this was presented as a good thing – rove the universe in search of individuals on the cusp of death so that they can upload their memories. 

'Fancied itself far smarter than it was': Twice Upon a Time
'Fancied itself far smarter than it was': Twice Upon a Time

Conspicuous sport was had riffing on the original Doctor’s unreconstructed gender views – this was essentially Moffat, with a loud hailer, shouting: “old people are sexist” – while the episode also threw in grumpy Dalek Rusty, a Seasonal Easter Egg presumably intended as reward for those who’d made it through the opening 30 minutes. But the conclusion – in which Gatiss’s Captain was sent back to Ypres just in time for the Christmas Truce – felt oppressively sentimental, even for Christmas, to say nothing of bumping up against Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor as crotchety eccentric. 

Whittaker’s minute and a bit, by contrast, was fun, brisk and vivacious – to the extent someone screaming and falling through a door can be fun, brisk and vivacious. She didn’t do much beyond look confused, delighted and terrified. Nevertheless her cameo was far better value than the sanctimonious sludge that had preceded it. Early days and all that. But she might just be the right Time Lord at the right time. 

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