First female Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker prepares for emotional final run

Jodie Whittaker, who plays the Doctor, in Doctor Who: Flux. PHOTO: BBC STUDIOS

LOS ANGELES - In 2017, Jodie Whittaker made history when she was cast in the lead role in British science-fiction series Doctor Who.

Now, after a groundbreaking run, the first woman to play the iconic time traveller known as "the Doctor" is preparing to take her last bow on the show.

"Even thinking about it makes me upset," says the English actress, 39, at a virtual press conference for the new batch of six episodes, which will be her last full season as the Doctor. "But this show needs new energy and with the Doctor, the joy of this part is you hand on your boots."

Doctor Who, which first began as a series for children, is the longest running sci-fi show in history. It originally ran for 26 seasons from 1963 to 1989, followed by a revival in 2005 which has run for 13 seasons.

The latest, Doctor Who: Flux, is now airing on BBC Player and BBC First (StarHub TV Channel 502) in Singapore, and three specials are planned for next year (2022).

The story follows the Doctor, an alien who travels through space and time, trying to help people or stop bad things from happening.

The character, who has the ability to regenerate into a new body instead of dying, has been played by 13 different actors over the years.

But it was not till 2017 that Whittaker became the first woman to fill those shoes - which displeased some of the show's fans in Britain, where Doctor Who is a cultural institution.

The writers were accused of excessive political correctness for the gender flip and some other attempts to make Doctor Who's storylines more inclusive.

Yet, Whittaker's fan encounters have been overwhelmingly positive.

"I'm really lucky - whenever I get a reaction, it's always really joyous and everyone is really warm and welcoming," she says.

"The fans are the show - there's no way a show can last this many years without loyalty and a fan base. To have those interactions when you have them is wonderful."

For Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall, it was always the plan for both to leave and hand over the reins eventually.

"It's taken longer than we expected, if we're being honest," says Chibnall. "I've been throwing batons at people for about a year now, and finally someone's picked it up."

He will be replaced by former showrunner Russell T. Davies, with no announcement yet on the new Doctor.

Jodie Whittaker (centre) flanked by Mandip Gill (left) and John Bishop as the Doctor's time-travelling companions in Doctor Who: Flux. PHOTO: BBC STUDIOS

Whittaker knew the end of her tenure was coming, but that did not make filming this season any less emotional.

"I'm a crier," she admits. "We haven't finished filming so I can avoid the thought of it, but we're filming some behind-the-scenes stuff and (I was asked), 'Can you tell us how you feel about the crew?', and I just lost it."

The Doctor is the most high-profile role to date for Whittaker, who had a supporting part in the acclaimed crime drama Broadchurch (2013 to 2017).

"I know that this is the best time I will ever have on a job. I have felt like that from the start of it," she says.

She has considered the fact that this may end up being the role she is best remembered for - something actors who play wildly popular characters often come to resent.

But Whittaker does not think she will be one of them.

Jodie Whittaker (right), who plays the Doctor, with her companions, played by Mandip Gill (left) and John Bishop (centre) in Doctor Who: Flux. PHOTO: BBC STUDIOS

"I started working when I was 22 and I'll be 40 next year, so I'm in the middle bit of it and I kind of feel, of all the things that you know you're going to be associated with forever - thank God it's the thing that I have loved so much.

"If everyone comes up to you forever going, 'I'm a Doctor Who fan', then that's an absolute joy because it's been such a pleasure."

It is bittersweet preparing to leave the show, she says. "Letting go of it, I feel like I'll be filled with a lot of grief for it."

Yet, she feels it is right to step aside, even though she does not know who will replace her. But she promises whoever it is will have a wonderful time.

Doctor Who: Flux is now airing on BBC Player and BBC First (StarHub TV Channel 502) in Singapore.

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