Bye Fam. Yesterday, Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch) and 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch, Attack the Block), the series’ first female Doctor in its half-century-and-counting run, announced that the upcoming season 13 would be followed up by three specials, after which the pair will depart from the TARDIS. As all three of Whittaker’s predecessors – David Tennant (Broadchurch, Good Omens), Matt Smith (The Crown) and Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It, Paddington) – served for three seasons apiece, rumors of the actress’ departure have circulated the series for quite sometime, with The Hollywood Reporter dubbing Thursday’s news “one of the most widely expected announcements from the sci-fi world.”
BREAKING: Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall to leave Doctor Who in a trio of Specials, culminating in an epic blockbuster Special to air in autumn 2022 as part of the BBC’s Centenary celebrations.
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) July 29, 2021
After Capaldi and, longtime Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat (Sherlock, The Adventures of Tintin), stepped off the TARDIS in 2017, Chibnall was named showrunner and ushered in a hard reset of the series’ storytelling. While companions have often carried-over from one Doctor to the next, Capaldi’s sidekick, Pearl Mackie (Horizon Line, Greed), left after only one season. Chibnall welcomed a whole new “fam” onto the TARDIS with triad of companions – Bradley Walsh (Coronation Street, Law & Order: UK), Tosin Cole (Hollyoaks, Unlocked) and Mandip Gill (Hollyoaks, Five Dates). The new showrunner additionally replaced Michelle Gomez’s (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Flight Attendant) iteration of classic Doctor Who villain The Master with Sacha Dhawan (The Great, Iron Fist), who made his splashy debut in season 12.
Taking on the mantel of Doctor Who is a heavy burden to bear, with each subsequent Doctor and showrunner welcoming a new wave of fans and critics alike. While BBC reports that Whittaker’s historic debut as the Doctor attracted 1.5m viewers to the program in 2017, the outlet likewise cited a steady decline in ratings in subsequent seasons. “While many have praised Whittaker’s casting,” BBC referenced the double-edged sword of Doctor Who’s recent seasons, “some fans and critics have criticised the show’s recent narrative direction.”
However fans may feel about Chibnall’s time as showrunner, the producer has promised to end his Doctor Who run on an unconventional and ambitious storytelling note. During Doctor Who’s recent Comic Con @ Home panel, Chibnall shared that the pandemic-truncated season thirteen will tell one, serialized story, a break from Doctor Who’s more episodic nature. After season thirteen’s six-episode run, Whittaker will star “in a trio of specials, culminating in an epic blockbuster to air in autumn 2022 as part of the BBC’s centenary celebrations” (CNN).
The first of the three specials will air on the BCC on January 1, with subsequent specials, celebrating Doctor Who’s centenary, airing in the spring and fall. The fall 2022 special will feature Whittaker’s regeneration, marking the end of both her and Chibnall’s time on Doctor Who.
Of Whittaker’s three original companions aboard the TARDIS, Walsh and Cole made their exit in this years New Year’s Day Special, “Revolution of the Daleks”. There has yet to be word as to whether Gill and brand new companion, John Bishop (John Bishop’s Britain, Little Crackers), will remain involved in Doctor Who’s ongoing story after Whittaker and Chibnall’s departure.
Upon the official news of his forthcoming exit from the series, Chibnall revealed that he and Whittaker had a “three series and out pact” from the beginning of their time on Doctor Who, via CNN. Variety quoted Chibnall: “I wish our successors – whoever the BBC and BBC Studios choose – as much fun as we’ve had. They’re in for a treat!”
The topic of Chibnall and Whittaker’s possible successors had already been an ongoing discussion amongst fans of the series, who saw Thursday’s announcement as inevitable. Variety reported in June that It’s A Sin star Olly Alexander (God Help the Girl, Bright Star) had denied rumors that he had been tapped for the role as the next Doctor. During Whittaker and Chibnall’s run, fans met Jo Martin’s (Holby City, Chef!) Ruth Clayton, the first Black Doctor in the history of the series. Martin’s name has been popular among fans as a possibility for the next Doctor, with Den of Geek devoting an op-ed to pitch her as Whittaker’s replacement.
With Chibnall and Whittaker’s last TARDIS adventure still a year away, it might be some time before fans receive an official announcement as to who will be taking the pairs’ place in guiding the series’ future. However, it won’t be long now until fans receive a thirteenth season of Doctor Who, as the series’ first teaser promised audiences a 2021 premiere, despite the fact that production has yet to officially wrap in the UK.