This Christmas, something absolutely momentous happened in the Whoniverse: Doctor Who introduced its first female Doctor. During the final moments of the Doctor Who Christmas special, the Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, transitioned into the Thirteenth Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker.
Over the past 54 years, the beloved British sci-fi show Doctor Who has been helmed by 12 different actors. Each has played a different incarnation of the Doctor, a time-traveling alien who saves humanity, time and time again, from extraterrestrial invasion as well as from the worst in themselves. Up until now, though, the Doctor has always been a man.
In the regeneration clip, Capaldi’s ailing Twelfth Doctor contemplates his imminent dissolution. Speaking to his next incarnation, the Twelfth Doctor delivers a rousing and emotional speech that covers all of Doctor Who‘s guiding principles: Courage, kindness, and running as quick as you can from villains. He ends his speech with the three-line adage of his own making, "Laugh hard, run fast, be kind. Doctor, I let you go."
With that, the Twelfth Doctor’s limbs become glowing beams of light, and he turns into Thirteen. The ring that the Doctor had been wearing is now too large for her slim fingers, and it plunks to the ground. The new Doctor grabs a screen in the TARDIS and stares at her reflection. She’s surprised and then delighted, by her face.
"Oh, brilliant!" she exclaims. Compared to past transitions, the Thirteenth Doctor's pleased reaction to her reflection is pretty unusual. The Doctor is usually disappointed by some aspect of his new form. “Aw, I wanted to be ginger,” David Tennant's Tenth Doctor said. After running his fingers through this long hair, Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor fretted he was a woman this time around: “Hair? I'm a girl! NO! No?!” Now, the Doctor really is a woman — and Thirteen is happy just the way she is.
Still, we don’t get much time with this self-accepting Thirteenth Doctor. Before she can utter more than a sentence, she goes flying out of the TARDIS.
There’s still so much to learn about Whittaker’s interpretation of the Doctor. Each incarnation of the Doctor comes with his (or her) own set of quirks, catchphrases, and pet peeves. One thing we do know — Whittaker will be keeping her Yorkshire accent. Judging by the consensus on Twitter, fans cannot wait to find out everything they can about Whittaker's take on the role.
The historical regeneration came at the end of a Christmas special devoted to proving just how progressive Doctor Who has become. In the episode, Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor goes on an adventure with his first incarnation, played by William Bradley. The First Doctor has antiquated ideas about women's roles aboard the TARDIS — he thinks they're kept around for cleaning, mostly. He also threatens to "smack" Bill (Pearl Mackie), the Doctor's Companion, for her foul language and is shocked that she lives openly as a lesbian.
Doctor Who has managed to stay relevant for 54 years because, like the Doctor, the show can also keep regenerating. If the First Doctor represents status quo from the '60s, when the show debuted, then the thirteenth encapsulates our modern era. A female doctor is a natural step in Doctor Who's ever-evolving progression. And I, for one, can't wait to see what comes next.
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