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Doctor Who S11: What we learned from the SDCC 2018 panel

Earlier this week, Hall H at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con played host to key cast and crew members from the upcoming eleventh series of Doctor Who

Moderated by IGN’s Terri Schwartz, the Doctor Who panel at SDCC 2018 was the first in the show’s history to introduce a new Doctor to fans before their first series had even aired – in this case, the first-ever female incarnation of the Time Lord, Jodie Whittaker.

Joining Whittaker to take questions both from Schwartz and the assembled fans were two of the Doctor’s new friends, Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair) and Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), as well as showrunner Chris Chibnall and executive producer Matt Strevens.

As well as revealing a brand-new trailer, the series 11 team also hinted at what fans can expect as the new TARDIS team embarks on new adventures…

Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is ‘a pillar of hope’

The panel was keen to stress that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is very much a continuation of the character that fans have come to know over the course of Doctor Who‘s 50+ year history.

Whittaker herself described the Thirteenth Doctor as ‘a pillar of hope, striving for brightness and inclusion’, with Chibnall elaborating:

“It’s the Doctor you’ve known and loved with a fresh take. The thread is still there. It’s very important the Doctor’s a pacifist. It’s very important that the Doctor has a sense of humour.  The Doctor solves things through brains, not punching or bullets. So the Doctor’s still very much the Doctor.”

Chibnall also revealed that Whittaker ‘nailed’ her Doctor Who audition, saying that she ‘just walked into the room and she was the Doctor’:

“You don’t know what you’re looking for until you see it. The energy she brought was just the Doctor but it was new, it was fresh, it was very funny, it was very emotional. It’s really exciting as a showrunner when you see an audition and you want to write for it instantly.”

The Doctor’s gender is ‘irrelevant’ – but will not go unnoticed

With much having been made of the casting of the show’s first female Doctor, Whittaker discussed how much the character’s new gender would come into play in the new series:

“Essentially, gender is irrelevant, and that’s completely liberating. As a woman, who isn’t a genre – who’s just a woman – I’ve never approached a role thinking, “How would a woman do this?” I’ve just done it from my perspective. But the wonderful thing about playing the Doctor is, I’m playing an alien. All those rules are irrelevant to the approach.”

She did hint, however, that the show would examine the attitudes of others when confronted by a female Doctor:

“Sometimes within episodes other people’s response is different because they’re speaking to a woman, and that’s interesting. And that’s why this role will continue to be layered and fascinating to play, because of everyone else.”

The Doctor has a new sonic screwdriver

Designed by Doctor Who‘s new production designer Arwel Jones (Sherlock, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures), the latest iteration of the sonic screwdriver isn’t as sleek as its predecessors, featuring a more naturalistic look, unique curved handle and a new crystalline orange light running throughout.

Chibnall elaborated on how the new sonic fits into the show:

“There’s a very specific way that the Doctor comes by this sonic screwdriver.

“It’s made out of some interesting components, which you’ll find out about in episode one. There is a story to how the Doctor comes by this sonic.”

Three new companions mean many new dynamics come into play…

Gill elaborated on her character Yaz, a 19-year old from Sheffield who:

“[…] enjoys her job but she thinks she can do a little bit more, so she asks for a little bit more, and she GETS a little bit more. And she’s whisked on this amazing adventure with these people that then become her family. And she’s in absolute awe of the Doctor and completely believes what the Doctor’s saying as truth.”

With Bradley Walsh missing from the SDCC panel, Whittaker dropped some new hints about his character, Graham O’Brien, and how he fits in with the others:

“Graham’s a brilliant dynamic for us because we’ve got these three youthful – I’m counting myself as youthful! – energised characters, and Graham is certainly the most cautious of the characters. He’d love a chair in every scene, and probably a sandwich!”

And Gill revealed that having three new people join the Doctor would introduce a range of dynamics between all of the characters:

“The dynamic between the three friends is beautiful, and it develops nicely over the course of the ten episodes. The way we get on with the Doctor, we’re very very different. We all bring something completely different.”

 …and ‘bigger emotional journeys’ for the Doctor’s new friends

Discussing the casting process for Yaz and Ryan, Chibnall explained what the new actors needed to be able to handle:

“We were looking for people who just have incredible range, because the tone of the show demands everything. It’s emotional, it’s funny, it’s scary. You’ve got to be able to act to nothing as well as brilliant guest actors.”

“We talked a lot about bringing emotional truth to the show, as it’s always had, but it’s really important for us this season particularly. There’s bigger emotional journeys for everyone to go on.”

There will be no two-parters, making Series 11 ‘accessible’ to everyone

Chibnall confirmed that series 11 would comprise ten standalone stories, the first series of Doctor Who to do so since the split series 7 in 2012-2013. With no two-parters to come this year, the showrunner claimed that series 11 is the ideal time to introduce new viewers to the show:

“This year is the perfect jumping on point for that person in your life who has never watched Doctor Who. I want you to go out there and recruit that person and go and sit them down for Jodie’s first episode.

“There is no barrier to entry this year. It’s always great when a new Doctor comes in, new friends, it’s a great moment to bring everybody on board. It’s a big inclusive, mainstream, accessible series of 10 really varied, exciting, standalone stories.”

Returning elements will be kept to a minimum – which could mean no Daleks

With a host of brand-new faces both in front of and behind the camera, Chibnall revealed that this regeneration of the show would continue into what fans would see on-screen:

“We’ve got lots of new villains, lots of new monsters, lots of new characters for you to fall in love with.”

“You won’t see very much from the past. There’ll be little things here and there which [fans] are going to spot because we have a lot of love for the show and a lot of knowledge of the show.

“There’ll be less old stuff returning, more new treats.”

When asked specifically if the Daleks – who have made an appearance in every series since the show’s return in 2005 – would be returning to face off against the latest incarnation of the Doctor, Chibnall teased:

“We’ve got two weeks left of shooting and we haven’t seen any yet!”

The diversity of the new cast will hopefully help inspire a new generation

The last words of the panel itself fittingly went to Jodie Whittaker, who discussed what playing the Doctor meant to her – and what it could mean to others:

“I didn’t want to stand at the side giggling and clapping. I wanted to run about and jump about and do all those things. Those people didn’t really look like me!

“So I hope we as friends are what young kids can now look up to and go, “Ah, man, I wanna do that!” Well, you can, ‘cos we are! And we want you all on our journey with us.”

For those with an hour to spare, the full SDCC panel has been made available by BBC America and can be viewed below, featuring more questions from Schwartz, fans, and a special cameo from a certain Mr Bradley Walsh…

Doctor Who series 11 is set to air this autumn on BBC One and BBC America.