During the coronavirus pandemic and UK lockdown, Doctor Who has been a source of distraction and comfort for many fans, who have taken to episode rewatches, virtual conventions, quizzes and more to pass their time stuck at home.
But a particular highlight of Doctor Who in recent weeks has to be the messages recorded by current Doctor Jodie Whittaker, shot from home on a mobile phone with a spare costume – and now series boss Chris Chibnall has revealed exactly how he and Whittaker brought the messages to life, starting with a short speech delivered by the Doctor from a cupboard.
“I was having sleepless nights about any small way in which Doctor Who could help as the world changed,” Chibnall writes in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, explaining that he tried to put himself in the mindset of a child upset by the coronavirus pandemic.
“By my third sleepless night, I knew I’d want to hear something from the Doctor. And the Doctor had started talking to me, little sentences cropping up in my brain. Question is: would Jodie be up for doing something?”
Before he could even ask her though, Whittaker sent a voice message with an idea…
“I’ve just had a really random thought, and I don’t know how you feel,” she said. “But I’ve got my costume with me. And I just thought maybe I could do a video to post…”
“I’ve talked before about how Jodie understood from the start that playing the Doctor is more than just the days you’re on set,” Chibnall continues in the regular Production Notes column.
“You represent the values, the show, the hopes of the viewers young and old, while you’re in the part. And here she was again, showing that understanding.”
The writing process began as Chibnall and Whittaker pinged messages back and forth about what they thought kids (and adults) would want to hear from the Doctor, before Chibnall sent a first draft on his phone.
“She responds an hour later with a note about the first paragraph (she’s right!),” Chibnall says. “I rewrite it and send it back.
“We talk about logistics, how she’s going to do it. She’ll film it over the weekend.”
Soon, Whittaker had something shot, and sent it over – and Chibnall said it was a genuinely moving moment.
“There’s the Doctor, in the dark, bright light beyond her. I watch the take Jodie has sent. She leaves me a voice message: ‘Happy to do it again.’
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) March 25, 2020
“I watch it. It makes me feel pretty emotional, despite knowing the content. Because there’s the Doctor, and I really need to hear from the Doctor. Because I’m still eight years old inside.”
After going through multiple levels of approval within the BBC the tweet using the video was released – and Chibnall writes that he was truly touched by how many people (and especially children) it seemed to help.
“This character, this show, this result of 57 years of so many people’s creative efforts – it is so unknowable, so emotional, so daft, and occasionally so important,” he writes.
“Jodie Whittaker in her cupboard. The Doctor.”
Later, when the BBC asked Whittaker to film a public advice video, she insisted it be her in character as the Doctor, and that Chibnall write it. And with regular new short story released online, the Doctor Who contributions just keep on coming.
“I think the show, in all its eras and spin-offs and stories in whatever form you care to name, gives us something to hold on to during these days. And I’m grateful for that,” Chibnall concludes in his column.
“I hope you and yours stay well. And I hope you stay charged with hope. It’s what the Doctor would want. I know. She told me.”
“Steven, you know full well we’re always winging it…”
Out this Thursday!
— Doctor Who Magazine (@DWMtweets) April 27, 2020
Doctor Who returns to BBC One in late 2020/early 2021