Nobody likes goodbyes – but when you’re an inveterate weeper like Jodie Whittaker, the kind of person who can barely get through a Christmas advert without sniffles, endings are unbearable. “I am that person,” she says. “I cry. I cry if someone else cries and I’m not even upset. So my last scene? That last day? It was so emotional.”


“That last day” was Whittaker’s final day as the Doctor. Doctor Who isn’t always shot in scene order – a finale can just as well be filmed on day one – but in this case her regeneration scene was the last thing she filmed as the time-travelling Time Lord.

“Ninety per cent of that last day I was basically in bits,” she says. “It’s the best job I’ve ever done and I’ve loved every second of it, but it was the right time. It was like giving yourself stitches – you know you need to do it, but it felt like s**t.”

And so she cried. A lot. Jodie Whittaker is, by her own admission, an emotional person, full of smiles, tears and – as in this interview – near-constant laughter.

“I’m always on the brink of tears. And I’ve had to contain that playing this character more than I do most characters I’ve ever played. Usually being on the brink is like my winning ticket. With the Doctor I’m much happier [she says it with jazz hands] than I normally am.”

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Whittaker credits departing showrunner Chris Chibnall – who also wrote for her on three series of Broadchurch as the endlessly browbeaten Beth Latimer – for bringing out the real Jodie.

“For a long time I don’t think anyone knew that I had a Yorkshire accent and laughed a lot. Had Chris not been the person to give me this job I don’t think I’d have been seen for it.”

Chibnall got to know Whittaker on Broadchurch, where he saw the person in between takes, when she wasn’t performing or doing “troubled”. That person is, in her own description, “a bit fidgety, a bit twitchy, doesn’t sit still, tries to have about 15 conversations but doesn’t quite get to the end of any of them, winds everyone up because I’m really exhausting and I don’t know when to shut up…”

It’s true – the real Jodie does talk a dime a dozen, spiralling off on errant, TARDIS-style tangents that are both maddening and fascinating (ranging from her terrible handwriting and an anecdote about spiders to her well-documented love of Coldplay).

The Doctor, The Master, a Dalek and a Cyberman.
Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor and Sacha Dhawan as The Master in The Power of the Doctor. BBC

One thing she loves about Doctor Who and the passing of the torch is that it legitimises this level of discussion.

“This is the only job where you get to go to the next person, ‘Can I just tell you what I think?’ whether they want it or not. David [Tennant], Matt [Smith] and Peter [Capaldi] never tried to say to me, ‘This is what it’s going to be like,’ but the one headline they all said was, ‘It’s like nothing you’ve ever done.’ So what I would say [to Ncuti Gatwa, the new Doctor] is to just be really, really in the moment. I realised within an hour of starting that I was going to have the time of my life.”

She says that although she hasn’t actually met Gatwa in person yet, they have spoken about the role. “He’s going to be amazing. Even just hearing his voice you can tell he is someone who speaks with a smile. And I absolutely love that in people. That kind of energy for the Doctor is beautiful.”

She delivers that line with a thunderous expletive and I tell her that it’s funny to hear Whittaker swear. In fact, she swears quite a lot.

“Why do you have to pick up on one of my flaws?” she says, laughing. “When I’m at work I’m a nightmare. Especially when I forget a line. It really rolls off the tongue. It’s like, ‘Beep. BEEP. BEEEEEP!”

It’s only striking because we haven’t heard her swear much before. She is, after all, the Doctor, the lead role on a flagship BBC programme that brings with it an ambassadorial brief. There’s a scrutiny that comes with the job. With Whittaker, it came from the moment her casting was announced.

“This was a massive break but I was 36, I’d already worked. So I knew the bits of my job I liked and the bits I didn’t. I’d already decided a long time before this job what I’m comfortable with, and a lot of that is blocking out noise. So therefore zero social media: don’t need to know. And then it’s just about knowing you’re working for a show that’s bigger than you. Just don’t be cocky and disrespect it.”

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That includes fan interactions because everyone wants a selfie with the Doctor. “If you don’t want people coming up to you, particularly fans, don’t do this job. To me, if someone’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a massive Doctor Who fan!’ that’s great. I wasn’t a Whovian beforehand but I’m a massive fan now.”

Not all her fan experiences have been so positive, however. When it was announced in 2017 that a woman would take the previously male role of the Doctor, some disgruntled fans criticised the move, even starting a Twitter hashtag called #notmydoctor. Despite avoiding social media, it’s clear Whittaker was aware of the vitriol, which has continued on and off throughout her tenure.

“‘No bras in the TARDIS!’” she barks back in a silly voice. “‘Come on! What’s your argument? I’m. Playing. An. Alien!’ There’s a fine line between the hilarity of it and the fact that it’s terrifying that a woman being given a particular job can cause so much rage. It’s just a tiny vial of rage, of course, but the anger, the negativity, are always the loudest.”

A fact that isn’t mentioned much is that Whittaker’s time in the TARDIS has coincided with her being a mum to a young daughter and, this year, to another baby. This is by design: she has been adamant that she doesn’t talk about her children, to the point where she hasn’t even made their names public. Even so, Doctor Who is a lot of work, a lot of time away from home – and any parent will tell you that the simplest job changes completely with a toddler in tow.

“It opens up a can of worms to talk about it,” she says, explaining her reluctance to cover the topic, “but I have been so lucky, because I have an amazing support network. Without that the wheels would have come off.”

She does say that for all of her final episode, which was filmed this time last year, she was in the early stages of pregnancy. “I was very sick and no one knew. [co-star and friend] Mandip Gill didn’t know because I didn’t want to worry her. She did keep commenting on how much chocolate I was eating – ‘That’s your third Penguin!’ Filming and feeling sick – that’s when I really felt sorry for myself.”

Now she is, she says, “on maternity leave. I didn’t think at 40 that I’d be going into an interview and saying I’m on maternity leave. But I don’t really need to think about work at this time, so I’m really lucky.”

Whenever she does return to work, she has the satisfaction of knowing she won’t be repeating herself – there’s no other character quite like the Doctor. And she knows that old Doctors never retire. David Tennant, for example, is back next year for the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

“I said to [new showrunner] Russell T Davies, ‘Don’t ever think of it as being ‘too soon’,” she says. “If I’m not asked back, I will be devastated. I know it might need to be a few years, but Russell knows – I’m going to be like a little terrier at his heels.”

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer with episodes of the classic series also available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.


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