The Doctor is… out? Yes, Doctor Who’s semi-regular regeneration rumour mill is in full force once more, with new rumours (emerging in the Daily Mirror newspaper) suggesting incumbent Time Lord Jodie Whittaker is planning to leave Doctor Who after the next series of the BBC sci-fi drama.
Whether these reports are true or not is currently unclear – the BBC has declined to comment on what it describes as “speculation” about Whittaker’s future in the show, which isn’t a firm denial – but if they are borne out by the facts, I have to confess I’m disappointed.
Because really, it still feels like Whittaker is just getting started. After two series and an awful lot of adventures, I’m still looking and waiting for her quintessential “Doctor” moment, the scene that will define her period in the role and be looked back on by fans with fond nostalgia.
I like the Thirteenth Doctor, but I’m still not sure if I know her. And while it’s possible that (as with Peter Capaldi’s incarnation) her final series could finally define and secure my impression of her, I still feel like we could use more time with this particular Time Lord.
Of course, there’s an argument that after three series Whittaker should have had plenty of time to make that case. And indeed, when these exit rumours first emerged fans were quick to note that if she were to leave later this year Whittaker would be following the pattern of modern Doctor Who, which tends to see Time Lords hand in their sonic screwdrivers after (roughly) three series and four years at the helm.
Beginning at the end of 2017 and (apparently) regenerating in 2021 or early 2022 fits that trend perfectly – but with Whittaker, there’s a twist in the tale. While Peter Capaldi did only play the Doctor from 2013 to 2017 in three series, he managed to rack up significantly more screen time within that period than Whittaker has in hers.
We know there are currently eight episodes in production for season 13, down from 11 thanks to coronavirus restrictions, so if Whittaker were to leave in the last episode it would mean she’d played the Doctor for exactly 30 episodes. By contrast, Capaldi played the Doctor for 40, while Matt Smith (again in a similar time period) had 44 episodes. David Tennant? 47.
In fact, across all of Doctor Who classic and revived, Whittaker’s episode count would be the third-lowest of any Doctor, just above Paul McGann (who only appeared in the 1996 TV Movie) and Christopher Eccleston (who departed after a single series of 13 episodes). Through a combination of shorter series, fewer festive specials and longer production gaps, Whittaker’s Doctor has only had a light presence on our screens – and if she were to leave after 30 episodes, it feels like she’d be going before her time.
Another full series of 10 episodes (on top of the eight we’re getting this year), pushing Whittaker up to Peter Capaldi’s count, would feel like a respectable capper for a Doctor who still has a lot of potential. With a new dynamic coming to the TARDIS (as well as John Bishop’s new companion Dan) now feels like the time for the Thirteenth Doctor to really hit her stride, not be lumbered with a lame-duck series where the viewers will just be wondering who’s replacing her.
If nothing else, the whole situation would feel unfair to Jodie Whittaker. No matter what criticisms fans have had about Doctor Who in recent years, few would deny Whittaker’s talent as an actor or brilliant ambassadorship as the Doctor offscreen – and I think, at the very least, she should have the same amount of screen time as other modern Doctors to make the case for her version of the character (especially if coronavirus is partly to blame for cutting her era short).
Of course, it could be that this is all nonsense and Whittaker will be playing the Doctor for some time (and space) to come. The 60th anniversary of Doctor Who is coming soon, after all, and the period shortly before a big anniversary does not seem like the ideal time to introduce a new Time Lord to the world.
And again this is just one newspaper rumour, and those have been wrong before. Until we get official confirmation from the BBC or Whittaker herself, for now the Doctor’s future – just like her past – remains a mystery. We just hope change isn’t coming too soon.
Doctor Who returns to BBC One later this year. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.