Doctor Who: Jo Martin becomes first BAME actor to play the Doctor

Martin Belam

After 56 years on our screens, Doctor Who made history on the weekend by casting the first BAME actor in the lead role, with Fugitive of the Judoon introducing Jo Martin as the Doctor.

Martin is a regular on Holby City, where she plays Max McGerry, consultant neurosurgeon and acting CEO of the hospital. She has also appeared in Fleabag, Batman Begins and first came to prominence in the early 2000s playing Natalie Crouch in the BBC One sitcom The Crouches. She posted a picture of herself in costume as the Doctor on social media after the show aired on Sunday night – having kept her new role secret for months.

Reaction to her arrival was spontaneous and joyous – the production team had managed to keep the surprise entirely under wraps.

And after just one appearance, Martin’s incarnation of the Time Lord has already begun to inspire fan art.

The casting, though, isn’t as straightforward as announcing her as the new Doctor to succeed current Doctor Jodie Whittaker. Her character was revealed to be a previously unknown version of the Doctor hiding on Earth disguised as a human tour guide called Ruth Clayton. Pursued by the Judoon as a fugitive, Clayton and Whittaker’s Doctor travelled to a remote lighthouse to discover Martin’s Tardis buried underground as her memory was restored.

Fans have since posited several theories of how Jo Martin’s Doctor could fit into the show’s established history:

Parallel universe Doctor

In a Tardis scene where the two Doctors sparred with each other over their costumes, neither Whittaker nor Martin claimed to recognise the other – raising the possibility that Martin’s Doctor comes from an alternative dimension. This season’s opening story Spyfall set up the idea that there were possibly multiple versions of Earth being invaded by an alien species called the Kasavin, and at one point Whittaker’s Doctor appeared to be transported to their dimension. Perhaps she didn’t make it back to the right universe?

Past Doctor: between Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee

There’s a gap in on-screen continuity between the Second and Third Doctors. In his last regular appearance in the role, Patrick Troughton was forced to change his face as a punishment by the Time Lords. In the next episode, we see Jon Pertwee’s Doctor fall unconscious out of the Tardis. Crucially, though, we never see Troughton actually morph into Pertwee. It is possible that Martin’s Doctor fits in here – although the fact that she didn’t recognise the sonic screwdriver, as first used by Troughton’s Doctor, suggests otherwise.

Past Doctor: pre-William Hartnell

There are rumours that there may be a whole host of Doctors we’ve never encountered before, who lived before the William Hartnell Doctor. The theory goes that some cataclysmic development had wiped his memory, leading him to forget his earlier selves, and to live believing he had never regenerated before.

The clues are there. Martin’s Doctor referred to the Tardis as “the ship”, as only Hartnell used to, and the design of her Tardis is very similar to the iconic version that was first seen on screen in 1963.

The show has previous in terms of introducing unknown past versions of the Doctor. John Hurt memorably guest-starred in the 50th anniversary special as a grizzled elderly version of the character who had rejected the name “Doctor”.

Not the Doctor at all

Other fan theories have suggested that she can’t be the Doctor at all – Martin’s character has just found a way to disguise herself, thereby fooling Whittaker’s Doctor into thinking they are the same Time Lord. Several villains from the past might be able to achieve that – the Master, possibly, or the Rani, who hasn’t appeared in Doctor Who since 1993.

This could even signal the return of the Valeyard – a twisted evil version of the Doctor who appeared as Colin Baker’s main adversary in the 1986 story Trial of a Time Lord. Fans have long yearned to find out the fate of this amalgam of all the Doctor’s negative traits who was said to be somewhere between the Doctor’s twelfth and thirteenth incarnations.

But showrunner Chris Chibnall has said there are no tricks. “Jo Martin is the Doctor, that’s why we gave her the credit at the end which all new Doctors have the first time you see them. John Hurt got that credit.”

Perhaps we won’t find out how she fits in for a while

Plenty of significant characters in Who history – the Doctor’s daughter Jenny, granddaughter Susan, Clara and Maisie Williams’ immortal Me/Ashildr – have waltzed off the show, leaving us wondering what happened to them, and never appeared again. Chibnall appears to have ruled out John Barrowman returning as Captain Jack again this series after his cameo at the weekend, and has hinted that this year’s season finale might not tie up all the themes of the story arc just yet, saying: “There will be answers to some of these mysteries this series. But as ever with Doctor Who, answers often reveal new questions.”

Doctor Who continues on BBC One on Sunday with the episode Praxeus.

  • What did you make of Jo Martin’s debut in the role? And how do you think her Doctor fits into the Time Lord’s history? Let us know in the comments.

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