Spyfall, the debut serial of Doctor Who Series 12, concluded with a big revelation, and hints that the “Timeless Child”, previously mentioned in The Ghost Monument, would form a major arc throughout the season. In an extensive interview about Series 12, Jodie Whittaker, aka the Thirteenth Doctor, has teased that her character goes on a big journey in this 10-episode run.
Whittaker also talks about what’s changed between Series 11 and 12, her approach to playing the role, and reaching new audiences…
How does it feel to be returning as the Doctor?
Really exciting. My series one [Series 11] was so full of excitement and nervousness for me because I was the first female, there’s a lot of noise around that. For yourself, you’re making these choices and you’re yet to know if they work or if it’s the direction you want to go in but you’re lucky with this job, it’s 10 episodes per series so you get so much time to play. So to have a gap and then come back, it feels liberating and exciting knowing that you can go in any direction.
How is it different for you this series compared to last year?
It’s only different in the sense that you know everyone, that’s the major difference. For us, we were lucky with our family in this, that our friendship outside of work was instant and constant. So returning, it’s like the siblings and the dad back together – that’s what it feels like. But then also with the crew it’s a really unique job; you spend a lot of time with each other and we’re all really good mates. There’s a lot of give and take in that; people are very forgiving if we’ve been on 7 night shifts in a row. There’s support for everyone and I think everybody’s individual personality is allowed to have the space and freedom at work and I think that only comes from having history with people. I think that doesn’t happen often in a job.
Was there anything you approached differently this year coming back to it?
I didn’t approach anything differently in the sense I didn’t decide to work completely differently as an actor. But every new scenario is different, every new adventure is different, every new relationship with a character is different. The Doctor goes on a big journey throughout this series and that brings news things, so to hash out the same thing would be pointless and it’s not the role to do that because you’re not playing a human. You have the freedom to go in any direction – there’s no constraint or time period for social etiquette; we don’t have any of that. The only approach is be open.
Can you tell us a bit about the response you got last year?
Well, I get a really filtered view of the response because I’m not on social media. Social media is sometimes the way we decide whether something is a popular choice or not. And if you’re not on it, you have no idea.
A lot of my mates watched it for the first time so that was a really exciting thing. I’ve got a lot of people in my life who are new Whovians so that’s really exciting knowing this world is open to them. So that’s amazing; you can have this show that’s been going for years and years and years but then there are new audiences to reach.
Do you get a response when you go to the shops?
Yeah, I do. I think with this show you’re continually surprised with who watches it; there’s not an obvious demographic. You know something like Attack The Block, if I was kicking about after school time I would feel like a legend for about 10 minutes if I walked past at the right time. But I think with Doctor Who, it really surprises you, it really curveballs you sometimes the people that it touches and reaches. Because it’s a BBC show, it’s worldwide, it goes out to so many different continents, and I think for me it’s surprising you can go to places you think no one will know you and they do.
This time around, there are some amazing guest artists. What was it like working with Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry [both in Spyfall]?
I’ve worked with Lenny before so that was really lovely and in a completely different capacity – we were filming in South Africa so it was like we were all on holiday together so that was incredible and lovely. And anyone who knows him knows he’s famously absolutely lovely and brilliant, and a great energy to have on set, he’s amazing.
Stephen Fry I really fangirled over – I had met him before but I didn’t think he’d remember – we were both in St Trinians. I’m really in awe of someone who can offer themselves up to the world in a brutally honest and unapologetically intelligent and forward thinking way. I think we should celebrate brains like that. For anyone who considers themselves to be interested in learning, just some of his vocabulary was beautiful but not excluding. I think he’s an inclusive thinker and I think for Doctor Who that’s perfect but for me to be around him at 37, I was really in awe. I was just beyond excited to work with him and he was lovely and everything you’d want him to be. He’s great, for everything he’s done and does; if you’re ever going to join social media which I will never [do], do it as a contributor like him.
Have you done any stunts this year?
Yeah, there’s a motorbike! I’m not qualified to ride a motorbike so we were on a truck – looks cool though.
There’s a lot of jumping, clinging on for dear life, there’s a lot of action so you should be excited for that.
Can you tell us about the terrifying monsters?
I was actually really scared when I saw one of them, I bricked it. I proper bricked it. In rehearsal, he’s like 6′ 7″, in a suit and he’s running at you down a corridor and I was screaming. He’s called Spencer [Wilding, in episode 3, Orphan 55]; he’s one of the Darth Vaders, and he’s a bit of a legend on set. [Wilding played the Minotaur in The God Complex and the Wooden King in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.]
Is it strange when you see people on set in prosthetics?
Yes, [Bradley Walsh] can you tell this but what was funny, Brad had worked with someone, he went: “Lovely to meet you darling”, and she was like, “It’s me!” He had no idea it was her. Once I was chatting away with someone and they went: “Just so you know my ears are covered and I can’t hear a thing”, so they missed all my jokes [Laughs]. The make-up and costume department and the prosthetic department are another level.
And the return of the Judoon – what was it like working with them?
That was amazing; they’re massive. It’s weird the mouth moves and a voice comes from a person way over the other side of the set. It was brilliant; for me, it was my first interaction with the Judoon.
What has been your highlight about being The Doctor so far?
The highlight for me is being in something that reaches such a wide range of people and emotionally touches those people in ways you can’t even imagine. I think I didn’t realise what Doctor Who was for so many people and I find it really moving. I think our heroes in life come in all different forms, but to play someone who celebrates inclusivity and the fact that we don’t know the answers but that’s okay. And The Doctor can be anyone, so to be able to do that and play this role the way I wanted to play it, 10 year old me didn’t think this would happen; you know, it’s massive. Being the first female Doctor, it’s what dreams are made of really, especially growing up as an actor who wanted to play pretend.
How would you describe Series 12 in three words?
Epic, emotional, rollercoaster.
Doctor Who Series 12 continues this Sunday with Orphan 55.