In just a few months, Doctor Who fans will be climbing aboard the Tardis for another season of the long-running British science fiction show.
But this season, just about everything is new — the logo, the companions, the showrunner and notably the Doctor herself.
That’s right. Herself. For the first time in Doctor Who’s 55-year history, the titular character will be played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker. She’s the 13th actor to play the role that’s changed hands so many times through the character’s ability to regenerate into a new body instead of dying (just go with it).
Whether you’re totally caught up or got sucked into a pocket universe, here’s a rundown of everything we know so far about the upcoming season.
We’ll update this story as new information becomes available.
For the unfamiliar, Doctor Who dates back to 1963. It’s the long-running story of an alien called the Doctor who travels through the always wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey space and time using a police-box-shaped ship called the Tardis (Time And Relative Distance In Space), which he stole. And yeah, the Tardis is bigger on the inside.
The show can go on decade after decade because the Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, and Time Lords have the power to regenerate. So, when an actor feels like splitting the show (or gets pushed out), the Doctor gets a new face and some new personality quirks, but theoretically, the character’s the same person.
There was thought to be a cap on how many times the Doctor could regenerate (12), but during the Christmas special where the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) regenerated into Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, the Time Lords granted him more regenerations.
Along the way, the Doctor meets people who end up traveling with him back in time or to the far-flung reaches of the universe to save perhaps a handful of people stranded on a spaceship, or, you know, the fate of humankind. He’s got a knack for running into villains like the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels and others ranging from campy to creepy.
Doctor Who is also a British institution and staple of Saturday night television. Stateside, it’s picked up quite a bit of popularity in recent years after the series was rebooted in 2005 with the Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston.
Expect Doctor Who is set to start back up in the fall. When, exactly, the BBC hasn’t said. IMDb lists 10 episodes for the season. You can catch it on BBC America or stream older episodes on the usual spots like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.
If there’s one thing you can count on Doctor Who for, it’s the periodic refresh of the cast.
After the Twelfth Doctor played by Capaldi announced he’d be leaving after three seasons, talk started swirling about who would get the keys to the Tardis next.
In July 2017, the BBC announced Jodie Whittaker would get the gig.
“It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be,” Whittaker said in a Q&A on the BBC site for Doctor Who.
Predictably, not everyone on the internet was stoked the Doctor would be played by a woman, although there’s been outcry before that the role should go to someone who isn’t a white guy at some point.
Peter Davidson, who played the Fifth Doctor from 1981-1984, initially lamented that boys would be losing an important role model. Others like Colin Baker, who played the Sixth Doctor from 1984-1986, countered that boys definitely have other heroes to look to, plus the preceding decades of the show. “You don’t have to be of a gender of someone to be a role model,” he said, also calling it “game-changing casting.”
A woman Doctor shouldn’t come as a complete surprise — over the years there have been a handful of hints that Time Lords could change genders. In the sixth season of the reboot, Matt Smith’s Doctor referenced another Time Lord called the Corsair who had regenerated into a woman. Most recently, the Doctor’s longtime best friend/nemesis (it’s complicated) the Master, regenerated into a woman and called herself Missy.
Let’s also not forget Doctor Who is getting a new showrunner. Chris Chibnall, who’s written for shows like BBC drama Broadchurch and Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, is taking over from Steven Moffat. Chibnall’s written episodes for the sci-fi series in the past, so he’s not a stranger to the show. What’s more, he’s worked with Whittaker on Broadchurch. Broadchurch also stars Doctor Who alum David Tennant, who played the Tenth Doctor.
Space can be a lonely place.
Throughout the seasons, the Doctor has tended to travel with companions who often abandon the world they know when they get a glimpse of a life zipping around the cosmos saving the day. But more than being tourists along for the ride, companions have served as moral and ethical compasses, emotional anchors, friends and even love interests.
And yet, the Doctor is always confronted with the problem of getting attached to companions who don’t always survive their adventures, and the guilt and sadness that comes with saying goodbye to yet another one.
Whittaker’s casting opens up the possibility for some new dynamics on the Tardis. Plus, Capaldi’s companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), exited the show as well. In October, we found out Whittaker will be joined by Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, though there’s not a ton of detail yet about their roles as Graham, Yasmin and Ryan.
When we left off at at the 2017 Christmas Special, Capaldi had regenerated into Whittaker after a monologue about the importance of being kind, choosing love and never eating pears. When Whittaker, as the Thirteenth Doctor, gets a first look at her reflection, she utters, “Oh, brilliant!” with a big smile. But her joy is short-lived as the Tardis careens out of control and she gets sucked out as a fireball seemingly consumes the interior.
Presumably, the Doctor will figure out a way to break her freefall and get her ride back. Otherwise, we don’t know much about the plot of the upcoming season.
There’s been some speculation that a few of the upcoming episodes will be historical, with one even relating to Rosa Parks. There’s also been some chatter that the season could be built around a single storyline. While speaking to the Royal Television Society in June 2017, Chibnall was asked if the BBC would allow such a thing and he responded, “Yes. What the BBC was after was risk and boldness.”
The cast of Doctor Who is set to appear at San Diego Comic-Con in July, where we expect the announcement of the premiere date and likely a trailer for the new season. Chris Hardwick, formerly of The Nerdist Podcast, was supposed to moderate the panel, but has since pulled out amid allegations of sexual and emotional abuse from ex-girlfriend Chloe Dykstra, which he has denied.
The Thirteenth Doctor also appeared briefly in comic form, getting a one-page introduction. More stories are on the way. Titan Comics and the BBC are also partnering on a three-part comic called Road to the Thirteenth Doctor, which is slated for July.
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