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Stars of Dr Who praise first female to get role

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It has divided the sci-fi series' fanbase, but previous assistants of the Doctor say it's an inspired move by producers

ONE week on from the decision by producers of hit science fiction TV show Doctor Who to reveal the 13th incarnation of the timelord to be a woman, and the response from fans remains divided.

Last Sunday, the BBC revealed the actress Jodie Whittaker - best known for her role in Broadchurch - will replace Peter Capaldi in an episode to be broadcast this Christmas.

And it sent half of the show's millions of fans worlwide into rapture, and the other half into dismay.

For many years Janet Fielding played the Doctor's assistant - Tegan Jovanka. She appeared in 19 stories across 64 episodes between 1981 and 84 which included the finale of Tom Baker, who lives in Tunbridge Wells, and the arrival of Peter Davidson.

Now running a restoration charity for the West Cliff Hall and youth programme called MotorHouse, in Ramsgate, she took time out of recording yet another Dr Who audio play, which she does several times a year, to speak to KoS about the appointment.

She told us: "People are talking about it, and that's magnificent.

"The other thing is I think she will be fabulous. I think the way has been paved by characters like Missy and the sort of characters with some gender fluidity who have been introduced into the show over the past few years.

"I am a little bit puzzled by all these people who seem to be frightened of a bit of change, because isn't that the whole point about science fiction?

"Personally, I thought it was about imagining the future and what the future would look like - the future isn't always going to be male, is it?

"The future is where anything can happen, and something like this opens up so many more possibilities.

"She is certainly not the first female timelord. Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter would have been one and Lalla Ward played a timelord too."

She was Romana during two seasons of the show in the early 80s during which she wed the then-Doctor actor, Tom Baker, in a shortlived 18 month marriage.

Added Ms Fielding: "Jodie has joined the family, and it is a family. Because the show is so popular and there are conventions and things. I stay in contact with lots of people from the show across its 54 years and sure Jodie will be there too. It's terrific."

Actress Louise Jameson, perhaps best known for her roles in EastEnders and Bergerac, was Leela in 1977 and 78, covering nine stories in 40 episodes opposite Tom Baker.

She said: "I am thrilled Jodie is the new Doctor. It is about time we had a woman in the role.

"It is brilliant - there has been such a huge tidal wave of better jobs coming up for women. There has been a great deal of campaigning done in the past three or four years from loads of Equity members. And that's men and women saying it just isn't fair.

"So to have someone as iconic as the Doctor becoming female is utterly wonderful.

"And Jodie is so good. She is so popular and quirky and subtle - I utterly adore her work.

"I think they will go back to a male Doctor after Jodie but let's see what she does. She might be there, like Tom Baker, for nearly a decade.

"It is an incredibly hard job because you are virtually doing two jobs.

"You are taking on the acting job and then also taking on the celebrity of being the Doctor and all the events and functions that go along with that. It is very demanding on the circuit and your fame shoots through the stratosphere. It is a very tough call I think to do it for any real length of time.

"Mind you, I am not sure you could ever get bored with being the Doctor, I don't think that's possible. It is all so unpredictable. With the right team it is a joyous job and it could go on for years."

Commenting on her appointment in the role, Jodie Whittaker said: "I want to tell the fans not to be scared of my gender. This is a really exciting time and Doctor Who represents everything that is exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one."

Ironically, she plays a bogus doctor in a BBC drama, Trust Me, to be aired later this summer - prior to her taking over as the timelord.

She'll replace Peter Capaldi, previously best known as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker on the satirical drama the Thick Of It. He said of his replacement: Anyone who has seen Jodie Whittaker's work will know that she is a wonderful actress of great individuality and charm.

"She has, above all, the huge heart to play this most special part. She's going to be a fantastic Doctor."

Former editor of the Dr Who magazine Tom Spilsbury, from Tunbridge Wells, said: "I was a little surprised by this move.

"There had been so much speculation around who the next Doctor might be, and that included a lot of women this time around.

"We have already seen timelords can change gender-we saw The Master recast as a woman for the last few years, so yeah, why not.

"You can focus too much on the fact it is 'a woman, rather than look at the particular woman they've got. As ever, you want a great actor, and I think Jodie Whittaker is a great performer and will do splendid stuff, I am sure.

"Now we have to wait to see how she is going to do it. There is certainly going to be a curiosity factor. Hopefully the audience will like what they see.

"It is going to be interesting to see how she conveys the idea that she is this 2,000 year old character, and make us believe she has had all these previous lifetimes. This is quite a challenge for an actor, but I am sure she has the chops to do it

"The purists will be upset to a certain extent. I think some people will be a bit sexist. The challenge now is to win them over and that has been the challenge right back to the first time they recast it. I think the position is open to all walks of life. You could even had a male sidekick, but it might be good to see two women in the lead roles. The programme needs to keep refreshing itself."

Tom Baker did not wish to make a comment when contacted by KoS.

But the Equal Opportunities Commission said: "We welcome this move as excellent news and wish Jodie every success. It shows great courage and is to be congratulated."

Caption: STAR: Jodie Whittaker will take over the iconic role in an episode to be aired this Christmas

Caption: OFF: Peter Capaldi is all set to bow out of the hit show

Spelling correction: Peter Davison

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  • APA 6th ed.: Murphy, Chris (2017-07-23). Stars of Dr Who praise first female to get role. Kent on Sunday p. 19.
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