‘Doctor Who’: The Significance of Casting the First Black Doctor

In the series' 57-year history, Jo Martin is also just the second woman to play the time-traveling extraterrestrial.
Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin in 'Doctor Who'
Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin in 'Doctor Who'
BBC / Ben Blackall

British science-fiction series “Doctor Who” has made history by introducing the first actor of color to play the Doctor: Jo Martin, who’s also only the second woman to be cast in the series’ lead role.

The January 26 episode, titled “Fugitive of the Judoon,” starred Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, alongside Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill as her companions, Graham O’Brien, Ryan Sinclair, and Yasmin Khan, respectively, along with the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness.

Martin is introduced as a character named Ruth Clayton, who is later revealed to be a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor.

Fans weren’t entirely sure if Martin’s appearance meant what it implied, but series boss Chris Chibnall has confirmed that she is the real deal. Speaking to The Mirror, Chibnall said, “The important thing to say is: She is definitively The Doctor. There’s not a sort of parallel universe going on, there’s no tricks. Jo Martin is The Doctor.”

Chibnall also noted that Martin was credited in the same way John Hurt was credited when he first appeared as another incarnation of the character, who was featured in the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor,” in 2013.

“That’s why we gave her the credit at the end which all new Doctors have the first time you see them,” he said. “John Hurt got that credit.”

It’s still unclear where Martin’s incarnation fits in the Doctor universe, but Chibnall spoke to that uncertainty as well.

“There will be answers to some of these mysteries this [season],” he said. “But as ever with ‘Doctor Who,’ answers often reveal new questions. It’s all very deliberate.”

He also revealed Martin wasn’t aware she was auditioning to play The Doctor when she met the producers to read for them.

Martin’s casting comes after another Doctor Who star, Lenny Henry, who plays a billionaire tech mogul in the series, claimed that the BBC would rather cast a dog as the next Time Lord than use a black actor.

Talking about his guest appearance ahead of the series’ 12th season in December, Henry said: “Why have we never had a black Doctor Who? They would rather have a dog do Doctor Who than a black person. There’s no black people in ‘Doctor Who.'”

On the diversity issue, he added: “We’re still a long way away. The ‘in’ group who are in charge of everything are getting complacent.”

Jo Martin is a regular on “Holby City,” where she plays Max McGerry, consultant neurosurgeon and acting CEO of the hospital. She has also appeared in “Fleabag,” “Batman Begins” and first gained attention in the early 2000s playing Natalie Crouch in the BBC One sitcom “The Crouches.”

She posted a picture of herself in costume as the Doctor on social media after the show aired on Sunday night — having kept her new role secret for months.

Whittaker, who joined “Doctor Who” in 2017, isn’t going anywhere. Whittaker told Entertainment Weekly a week ago that she’s signed on for another season as the 13th Doctor.

“Yes, I’m doing another season,” she said, before Martin’s Doctor was unveiled. “I absolutely adore it. At some point, these shoes are going to be handed on, but it’s not yet. I’m clinging on tight!”

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