Last week brought the sad news that time’s up for the TARDIS’s latest owner: Jodie Whittaker is exiting Doctor Who at the end of 2022, leaving alongside showrunner Chris Chibnall. But in true Doctor Who manner, now that we’ve already wondered about the future, it’s time to reflect on the past — with the moments we’ve loved most from the 13th Doctor so far.
Every Doctor throws themselves into that first moment of realisation in their regeneration story, the coalescence of who they are — and what they are is, well, the Doctor. Whittaker’s Time Lord didn’t quite have the extended post-regeneration trauma we’re used to, but her proud declaration to Tzim Sha (Tim Shaw, to his friends) of who she was and what she stood for sold us from the start. Hello, Doctor!
Forging the Sonic Screwdriver
Whittaker’s Doctor, from the get-go, had a sense of crafting and tinkering quite unlike any of the recent incarnations of the character we’ve seen. Oh, they had gadgets and gizmos aplenty, but the 13th Doctor held a deep love for craft, poking and prodding at whatever she could get her hands on. No TARDIS, no backup, little idea who she was, and she still manages to make a functioning screwdriver out of junkyard scraps? Easy peasy.
Finding the TARDIS
Whittaker’s Doctor does wanderlust quite unlike any other before her and while she does it plenty, there’s still something that sings about her reuniting with the TARDIS — without it for the bulk of her first two episodes as it hurtled across Time and Space repairing itself from a particularly explosive regeneration. The love, the awe, the joy at rediscovering this new version of a familiar space, it’s all so satisfying.
A Scathing Lesson
Whittaker’s second season as the Doctor saw her develop a hard edge underneath her usual breezy and jovial exterior. That was with good reason, considering the overarching thread of season 12 was the Doctor learning from their old frenemy, the Master, that everything they knew about their own existence was predicated on a horrifying lie at the heart of Time Lord civilisation. So you can’t blame, for example, when a broken and exhausted Doctor just snaps back at her companions — and the audience — in the wake of a visit to a climate ravaged earth that things can only get so bleak if humanity fails to come together and save its planet in a way that she can’t.
This might be one of the best, regardless of how you feel about the season at large, summations of Doctor Who’s 11th season. It’s incredibly silly and weird, funny, and yet deeply emotional and full of a haunted, loving sense of wanderlust. It’s Jodie Whittaker dancing circles around a CG frog. That’s Doctor Who in a sentence, right there.
The Doctor and The King
“The Witchfinders” for the most part is a pretty standard Doctor Who historical, but it’s the first time that the Doctor’s current gender being female really becomes an actual challenge that their — often earned — arrogance over the assumption anyone will immediately do as they’re told the moment the Doctor steps into a room can’t overcome. Being confronted with King James’ quest for persecution and coming up short is a brilliant twist on the Doctor’s usual dominance in historical narratives, and Whittaker plays the frustration and fear excellently.
Eye to Eyestalk
A Doctor’s first encounter with the Daleks is always a test of mettle for an actor to relish, and Whittaker’s first encounter runs the whole gamut of what you’d want out of this matchup — the gloating, the disarming humour, but also the anger, the fear. There’s an energy — even before things go inevitably sideways and extermination beams start flying about the place — that’s electrifying and sets the stage for what’s so far become symbolic of Whittaker’s run: she’s at her best up against Who’s most iconic enemy.
The Fear of the Cybermen
Another dark moment from season 12, but one that packs even more of a punch following her rage in “Orphan 55” comes in the climax of “The Haunting of Villa Diodati.” Trapped in a twisting house with an unyielding foe, faced with fulfilling a dire prophecy or breaking time itself, the Doctor lets her mask crack in order to steel herself for an encounter with the Last Cyberman. The Doctor’s companions (her beloved “fam”) have become so important to her that she feels fear and rage about losing another of them to the Cybermen. The threat when she reminds them just How All This Works is perfectly bone-cold.
Embracing the Truth on Gallifrey
The shocking revelations of just how crucial the Doctor was to the existence of the Time Lords will go down as the biggest creative swing of Chibnall and Whittaker’s time on the show. Whether or not it gets picked up much (or even retconned) beyond their tenure remains to be seen. But that doesn’t rob the moment the Doctor breaks out of the Master’s imprisonment within the Time Lord’s Matrix of Knowledge, embracing that there’s so much more for her to understand about herself, and not being broken by it.
As previously established, Whittaker’s Doctor shone when confronted with the Daleks, and this year’s New Year’s special “Revolution of the Daleks” was no exception. The Doctor at their best, with her back against the wall in the face of overwhelming force, delivering a plan equal parts destructive and deceptive? It’s great, and the little holographic gloat before blowing the Daleks to smithereens is just delightful.