It’s a whole new era for “Doctor Who,” and the show’s panel at Comic-Con in San Diego on Thursday reflected the changing of the guard, beginning with new showrunner Chris Chibnall (“Broadchurch”) and executive producer Matt Strevens (“Misfits,” “Skins”). Naturally, the crowd in Hall H was on hand to see the new Time Lord herself, Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor, and her new companions Mandip Gill, who plays Yasmin, and Tosin Cole as Ryan. Bradley Walsh, who plays the third companion, Graham, was not present, but he did pre-tape a video that showed off his delightfully goofy personality.
To mark the occasion of the very first female Doctor, some fans — lacking their own personal TARDIS — resorted to camping out for the line for the Hall H panel as early as Monday. Several were also already dressed in a rainbow-striped shirt, suspenders, highwater pants, and hooded coat: the new costume for the 13th Doctor. Besides the anticipated trailer, which dropped during the panel, fans were also hoping for any other nuggets for the upcoming Season 11.
Spoilers were scarce, but Chibnall warned fans not to expect the familiar monsters or allies that have been seen in the past. “There’s 10 standalone stories; lots of new villains, lots of new characters. This is the perfect jumping-off point for the person in your life who has never seen ‘Doctor Who.’ There’s no barrier to entry this year,” Chibnall said.
Whittaker knew that taking on the role of the Doctor would be huge since growing up British, she grew up with “Doctor Who” as part of the fabric of her childhood. “TARDIS is used in everybody’s vocabulary… [This role] was going to have extra responsibility… but it’s incredibly inclusive… and you join a huge Whovian family that you want to be a part of. The madness will be part of that.” She also summed up what the Doctor has always meant to her: “To me, the Doctor is a pillar of hope and striving for brightness and inclusion.”
Below are some of the details the cast and crew were able to spill about Season 11, and the advice that previous actors who’ve played the Doctor gave Whittaker.
The New Doctor
Whittaker described her take on the Time Lord: “I feel like this Doctor requires a lot of energy, a lot of childish wonder… I’m quite fidgety. There’s not a lot of stillness I’m afraid.” Cole and Gill backed that up and called her bubbling, energetic, playful, and humorous. Strevens added that Thirteen has a “joy for life. This Doctor is in love with life and keeps pushing for life… She treats everything with awe and wonder and respect.”
Chibnall wrote three “special scenes” for the Doctor’s audition, and when Whittaker walked into the room, she had the right energy — “Fresh and very funny. It was very emotional,” Chibnall said. Whittaker also had to make her own prop for the scene, and so she used a shoe box filled with “iPhone wires and cables… and I defused a bomb. I absolutely nailed it.”
Speaking of things that go boom and explode, Whittaker admitted that she’s afraid of fire. But after experiencing plenty of scenes on set that involved sparks and “things going bang,” she began to get pumped up by the action. “I’ve gotten a lot braver,” she said.
The New Companions
BBC / BBC Studios
Chibnall said, “We were looking for people who have incredible range… it’s emotional, it’s funny, it’s scary.” After their auditions, the person who knew they were perfect was the Doctor herself. Whittaker said, “It’s those two.” When Cole booked his gig as one of the companions, he actually spilled to his friend that he not only got the job, but that he was joining Whittaker, whose role wasn’t announced at the time.
Gill spilled some details about her character, Yas(min): “Yas is a 19-year-old girl from Sheffield. She enjoys her job, but … she thinks she can do a little bit more, so she asks for more, and she gets more.” In joining the Doctor, Gill said that Yas gains a new family, and “she’s in absolute awe of the Doctor” to the point that she believes everything the Doctor says is the absolute truth.
The New Sonic Screwdriver
The trailer gave a glimpse of the new sonic screwdriver (no sunglasses here), and during the panel, Whittaker held it up for the fans to see. Chibnall tried his best to give some details about the refreshed tool, which was the handiwork of production designer Arwel Jones (“Sherlock,” “Torchwood”). “There’s a very specific way that the Doctor comes by this screwdriver,” he said. “It’s made out of some interesting components, which you’ll find out about in the first episode. There is a story.”
— Doctor Who Official (@bbcdoctorwho) July 19, 2018
When Steven Moffat was the showrunner, he introduced the beautiful horror of the Weeping Angels, and Chibnall will follow suit by introducing brand-new monsters that he said are a combination of practical effects and digital. Despite this detail, fans were still keen on seeing some of the vintage creatures, such as the first-ever monsters seen on the show, the Daleks. “We’ve got two weeks left of shooting, and we still haven’t seen a Dalek yet,” said Chibnall. He also added that he hasn’t considered whether or not he’d add some of the classic foes to Season 12 yet.
Although Whittaker being the first female Doctor is a big deal, her gender won’t influence the show too much except for how certain people may address her character. “I think I’m allowed to say sometimes within episodes, other people’s response is different because they’re speaking to a woman, so that’s why this is interesting. It’s layered and fascinating to portray because of everyone else,” Whittaker said.
The Former Doctors Speak
Whittaker was previously already associated with a former Doctor. She had co-starred on “Broadchurch” with David Tennant, who played the 10th incarnation of the Time Lord. Chibnall, who had created “Broadchurch,” had told Tennant that the new person who would be playing the alien would “give you a ring so that they could ask you some questions.” Thus, when Whittaker called at the appointed time, and her name popped up on the Caller ID, Tennant freaked out from the surprise. In turn, she asked “about a million questions.” She also noted that Tennant, Matt Smith (Eleven), and Peter Capaldi (Twelve) all gave her the same advice: “This is the most amazing thing that can happen to you that only a few of us know how it feels.”
“Doctor Who” premieres this fall on BBC America.