“Doctor Who” premiered the first trailer for season 11 — including new star Jodie Whittaker, the show’s 13th Doctor Who — during Sunday’s World Cup finals between France and Croatia. This has been one of the most highly anticipated premieres of a “Doctor Who” trailer since the show rebooted in the mid-aughts and Whittaker is the first woman to play the lead character since the show began in 1963.
Interestingly the trailer, unlike most, was not so much a direct glimpse into the coming season but rather a second introduction to Whittaker, as well as her supporting cast. It emphasizes the supernatural aspect of the Doctor’s character as opposed to those around her, assuring fans that the names, faces and genders of the characters may have changed, but the show remains the same — so there’s nothing to worry or complain about.
The trailer, unlike most, was not a glimpse into the coming season but rather a second introduction to Whittaker, as well as her supporting cast.
While some shows drop trailers made up of clips from the coming season, the rise of spoiler culture, especially in genre fandom, has put a damper on this strategy. (It does not help that about a minute’s worth of footage from the still unscheduled “Doctor Who” premiere episode leaked on Twitter a couple of weeks ago.) The trailer instead acts as a standalone snapshot depicting the moment that the Doctor materializes into the lives of her new companions — in this case in a coffee shop. Whittaker is revealed as a strange but beautiful figure, with a golden halo of a bobbed hairdo and a long silver trench coat. (The show may insist her gender isn’t going to matter, but they’re not above playing to her looks either.)
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Like “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who” has been facing an online revolt for this recasting, primarily led by a small but vocal minority of white male fans. For the uninitiated, the character of the Doctor is actually an alien who has been billed somewhere between genderless and gender-fluid throughout its decades-long history, so the protests of fans betray both sexism and a lack of understanding of the show’s backstory. But while Disney and Lucasfilm continue to ignore their troll problem in hopes that it will disappear, the BBC has been proactive, loudly denouncing anyone who disagreed with the decision, stating “the concept of the Doctor as a constantly evolving being has been central to the programme” and suggesting those who disagree are not true fans of the show. The majority of the actors who have played the part over the years also have spoken up in Whittaker’s defense.
This solidarity has helped quell complaints somewhat, as has the long period of time that elapsed between the casting of Whittaker and her first appearance as the Doctor. It has been one year since the announcement sent massive ripples throughout the fan ecosystem. The show itself is not expected to debut until sometime in the regular fall TV season — the trailer gave no indication of a debut date as of yet. These gaps between casting announcements (and between seasons) is one of the reasons the show has been able to successfully reboot its casting by allowing fans to adjust to the coming changes and rebuke potential fan uprisings.
The series stumbled onto the idea of using recasting to ensure longevity quite by accident, when the original lead, William Hartnell, began showing signs of memory loss and had to retire.
There’s a reason “Doctor Who” has lasted so long and with so many leads. The series stumbled onto the idea of using recasting to ensure longevity quite by accident, when the original lead, William Hartnell, began showing signs of memory loss and had to retire. Rather than cancel the show, which would have been the standard at the time, the production “regenerated” the character as a new actor. (After all, the Doctor is an alien and who says aliens die like humans do?) The Doctor’s supporting cast of “companions” has constantly refreshed as well over the years, getting on and off the TARDIS like a police box-shaped bus. Each time the series turned over, the production disruption would put long gaps between seasons.
Since the most recently rebooted version began in 2005, the show is now on its third creative staff and fifth lead actor. The time between Whittaker being announced as the Doctor and her first full episode is trending towards the longer side, but by giving the fandom more time to mentally prepare for the gender-swap of the show's stalwart title character, the team seems to be hoping to make the transition smoother.
But the trailer suggests that even with the BBC’s prolonged rollout and planned PR splash on San Diego Comic Con’s opening day, the show is still nervous. When castings for the roles of the Doctor’s companions were announced back in October of 2017, the leading announcement was for Graham, an older white male (played by Bradley Walsh). The Doctor may be a woman, but the show wants fans to know there will still a leading older white man in the cast.
Besides Graham, the trailer introduced viewers to Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandip Gill), both of whom are actors of color. Yasmin is the first character of South Asian descent in the show’s history. (The books and comics have had more diverse companions, but the main TV show has not.) This will make the oncoming season the most diverse ever. But if all three travel with the Doctor weekly, the TARDIS will be a crowded house. The show has not carried this many characters around since the mid-1980s, after Tom Baker’s controversial exit after nearly a decade in the role.
Perhaps the show is cushioning itself with a larger cast in hopes of bringing in as wide a viewership as possible to check out the new version. But hopefully Whittaker’s arrival, along with her companions, remains as smooth and magical as the trailer would like us all to believe it will be.
Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. Regular bylines can be found at Elite Daily, WETA's TellyVisions, and Ani-Izzy.com.