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Jodie Whittaker on saying goodbye to Doctor Who: ‘I thought, what if I’ve ruined this for actresses?’

·11-min read

Jodie Whittaker made history in 2017 when she took over from Peter Capaldi and became the 13th Doctor in Doctor Who, making her the first woman to ever play the time-travelling alien with two hearts. She grew up near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and is, she says, “really emotional”, a trait she turned to good use in a series of harrowing parts, most famously in Broadchurch, where she played a grieving mother alongside David Tennant (himself the 10th Doctor). When the Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall took over as Doctor Who showrunner, he said that casting Whittaker was “a no-brainer”. Their first series came out in 2018, and this year Chibnall revealed that the two of them had a “three series and out” pact. In July, they announced they would be leaving the show after three specials, which will air in 2022, when Russell T Davies will return as showrunner and a new Doctor will take over from Whittaker. Her final full series of Doctor Who, subtitled Flux, ends on 5 December.

In summer, you said that you thought you’d be “filled with grief” at the end of your run. It has been a few weeks since you filmed your last scene as the Doctor – how are you feeling?
I’ve literally just got off the phone with Mandip [Gill, who plays the Doctor’s companion, Yasmin Khan]. It’s been four years of my life. My grief of saying goodbye to the job is one thing. But it won’t feel like the end until it’s the end. It’s the everydayness of these people and this atmosphere and this group … I find myself monologuing at various people on WhatsApp, checking that they miss me! Mandip’s had to take the blue ticks off because I’m “exhausting”.

It’s something of a drawn-out farewell, because after Flux ends you’ve still got three specials.
Once they’ve decided on the next Doctor and announced that, then it will become really real. The way they shot the last day was brilliant, because they shot it in order, and we never do that. I knew my last shot was my last shot when I filmed it, which was necessary for my head to make sense of it.

Do you know how you’ll feel when there’s a new Doctor?
I don’t mean in a patronising sense, but I think it will be more like a maternal [thing]. Even if they’re 20 years older than me, there’ll be that thing of knowing: ah, you are going to have the best time and you’re going to smash it. But the good thing is, for me now, it hasn’t been cast, and I don’t have to know about it. So it’s still mine, which is really lovely for me, because it just means that I have my joy of sharing the season and going: I hope everyone’s enjoying it.

Chris Chibnall said that you and Mandip made a secret video for the crew. What did that involve?
That’s never seeing the light of day! I am quite into a power ballad, so it was a music video and we shot it on location after work one night. It was absolutely pissing it down. We roped a couple of other people into it, who were sworn to secrecy. We wanted a cheesy goodbye, with photos from the last four years. Once the series comes out, I’ll probably get Mandip to put it up on her Instagram. It was my finest work. I am an excellent lip-syncer. I think it basically summed up mine and Mandip’s personalities, in the sense that I’m sentimental, and she is hilarious. She’s got very good funny bones. I mean, it’s not the normal goodbye gift, is it?

It sounds like a great goodbye gift. So then you had the wrap party …
It was really good. It was fancy dress as well, and I go all out. I take that really seriously. I’d spent more time working out the bloody music video and my costume than some of the other things that I should be prioritising as a 39-year-old. Weirdly, it was one of those things where the night was great, but you know you’ve had your best times, because your best times have been four years of unexpected moments. And then there’s the things that go with this job that you can’t imagine, like the random interactions you have with people who’ve been watching it far longer than I’ve been alive. It’s so much more than a part.

That must have felt like a lot of pressure at times.
The most heightened point of pressure for me was at Madison Square Garden in September 2018, at New York Comic Con. The very first episode was being shown live in front of a massive audience, and I went and sat next to my husband, and I’d absolutely gone. I just thought: “There’s this crowd of Whovians that are really excited and full of love and support.” And I was like: “What if I have pitched this so badly wrong? What if I’ve ruined it for actresses?” Because I know full well that when lads were cast in the part, they weren’t representing men, they were representing their own personal casting. The way it was described in every outlet was not: “Can Jodie Whittaker play the part?”, it was: “It’s a woman!” I suddenly thought: “Have I hindered us? Have I held us back?” Because we’d filmed the first series, and I’d loved it. I really felt confident all the way through. Then there is that moment where you go, oh God …

I don’t think the backlash to the Doctor being a woman was necessarily there in the way that some people anticipated, though.
“No bras in the Tardis” and stuff like that? There’s noise like that about everything, and that’s not the kind of thing that affects me, day to day. As soon as the first episode goes out, it’s either your cup of tea or it’s not. You realise, you’re not representing anyone other than yourself. Then you get the amazing Jo Martin [another incarnation of the Doctor], so then it’s really old news about me. And hopefully, with the next 15 generations of Doctors, we never have to have this chat again. I’m delighted it was mine, but it never has to happen again, thank God.

Matt Smith said that when you become the Doctor, “the shift in your life is extraordinary, because it crosses generations”. Have you found that?
I’ve been friends with David Tennant since Broadchurch, which is way after Doctor Who. At no point when we were out did people come up to him and go: “You’re that guy in Broadchurch.” They all went: “You’re the Doctor!” And that was years after he left, so I was very aware of the culture of it.

Some viewers are very young. I don’t think you’ve done any roles before this that were …
… age-appropriate? [Christmas family film] Get Santa is the only thing I’ve done that is family-friendly in that way. I adore that side of it, because I am a massive fangirl. I’m really into Brooklyn Nine-Nine and at Comic-Con the entire cast was there; I was beside myself, I just wanted to quote all of their lines at them. I find the escapism of music, film and television has been my outlet for my noise [the chatter in her head], which is quite hyperactive all the time. It’s been my outlet all my life. So from that side, being able to share it with every generation is the most joyous thing about Doctor Who to me. It’s for everyone or anyone, and it doesn’t exclude. It shines a light on the outsiders being on the inside, and I really love that.

Are you aware of the “shipping” that goes on around the Doctor and her assistant?
I’ve never heard that term!

It’s an internet thing: when you ship two characters, you want them to get together.
Mandip’s on social media, so I’ve been aware of it. It’s probably also based on the fact that every time me and Mandip are photographed on set, my arm’s forever draped over her. You can base it on the fact that I absolutely adore her and I’m never more than a foot away from her in real life anyway.

Which Doctor Who baddies are creepy in real life?
When there’s a group of Weeping Angels and you don’t know which ones are the actresses and which are the statues, and you’re in between takes and then someone will scratch their face, you’re like: ahhh! And when a troop of Cybermen are power-walking towards you, there is something in that. They’ve earned their presence. That can catch your breath.

In terms of what you will do next, nothing’s going to be quite like this, is it?
It’s not. This has been the most unique thing of all, so there’s going to be nothing that I read that makes me go, it’s a bit similar or I feel like I’ve done that. Really, what [Doctor Who] does is make you feel like everything is interesting. I suppose in a way, I’ve always been scared of comedy, because it’s never been something I’ve ever done, and it feels like a very particular, talented world. My confidence has always been in drama; I’ve done a lot of crying. Doctor Who has a bit of everything, so I feel like now I don’t ever want to shut myself off to anything. Also, I’m lucky: I’ve only just got home. I don’t have to worry about that yet.

They have just announced a sequel to Attack the Block. Are you in it?
I’m not, but I’d bloody better be. I really want to be an extra. Now I’m unemployed, I’m definitely writing to [director] Joe Cornish, because I loved that film. Even if I just walk past the lens and I’m blurry, I just want to be in it.

You did an early episode of Black Mirror, The Entire History of You, about people being able to record and rewatch their memories. What is your relationship with tech like? You’re not on social media.
That episode is my idea of hell. I don’t want that [technology] being invented. I think we’ve gone far enough, thank you. I never joined Facebook; not out of protest, I just didn’t join it. So then it gets to a point where you’re too old. With Twitter, I just felt like: “Well, I’ve not even got a Facebook page, I’m not going to join Twitter.” Instagram’s the next thing, and that’s an even bigger jump. To me, it was just the natural progression: if I haven’t started, I’m all right with that. I can totally appreciate that with all my geek stuff, I miss out on so many things. But what I get out of it is a less noisy head.

Jodie Whittaker with Andrew Buchan in Broadchurch.
Time to grieve … Jodie Whittaker with Andrew Buchan in Broadchurch. Photograph: ITV/Rex

Does it help with your noisy head?
I just think I’d believe my own hype and I’d believe my own shite. I like being flawed. We’re all flawed. I want to have flawed people in my life. I’m not interested in perfection, and I think I would absolutely be down a rabbit warren trying to present some form of perfection that isn’t realistic. So I’m just not going to.

How will you watch your last episode as the Doctor?
I’ll definitely want some ceremony around it. My best mates up north, for my very first ep ever, they had their own premiere. People brought the kids, and they walked in, they all had a daft costume on, nothing to do with Doctor Who, just whatever was in the back of the cupboard. They were videoing it, and I did notice throughout all the videos that they were just sat chatting through my episode. So I think what I might do is make everyone come round and do that, but: “Shh! Watch me on this bit!” We don’t get to see the episodes before they go out.

Really?!
I got sent the very first episode, but none of the rest. I’m sure if I asked they’d probably send it to me, but I don’t want to watch it on a laptop, I want to watch it on television. Because of that, it’s brand new to me and I love that. I watch it like an audience member. So I’ll make sure there’s a lot of us, if we’re allowed a group, and if we’re allowed a group, then they will be silent.

Doctor Who: Flux concludes 5 December, 6.20pm, BBC One; the first of Jodie Whittaker’s final three specials airs on New Year’s Day 2022.

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