Jodie Whittaker made a brief but emphatic debut as Dr. Who on the show’s Christmas special Monday night. The BBC announced that Whittaker would become the first woman to play Dr. Who, the time-traveling alien that has captivated English TV audiences since 1963, over the summer.
Peter Capaldi relinquished his four-year leading role in the final minutes of the latest episode. In a regeneration ritual full of flying sparks and bolts of electricity, he disappears and the character is reborn as Whittaker. She catches a glimpse of her own reflection and quips, “Oh, brilliant.”
Whittaker is the 13th person to portray Dr. Who for the BBC. “I always knew I wanted the 13th Doctor to be a woman and we’re thrilled to have secured our number one choice,” director Chris Chibnall said in a statement in July. “Her audition for the Doctor simply blew us all away.”
Whittaker’s resume includes roles in Attack the Block, Black Mirror and Broadchurch; she reportedly beat out a group of actresses that included Tilda Swinton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge to win her part on Dr. Who. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Whittaker said she never expected to even have a shot at the role. “As a young girl, I did not think that ‘Time Lord’ would ever be on my CV,” she explained.
The announcement that a woman would play Dr. Who for the first time led to a wave of sexist backlash. “I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender,” Whittaker told the BBC. “This is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change.”
“I”m playing an alien,” she added when speaking with Rolling Stone, “and gender is not a part of that.”