And Lo, Jodie Whittaker Begat Ncuti Gatwa: Feelings on the Thirteenth Doctor’s Impending Regeneration

This fall, in a 90 minute special airing in October as part of the BBC’s Centenary Celebration, the Thirteenth Doctor will regenerate as the Fourteenth Doctor comes into being.[1]  After all the speculation as to who would follow Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor in the TARDIS, the BBC announced Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa was cast as the Doctor’s fourteenth regeneration[2] (well, you know, fourteenth not counting the Fugitive Doctor, the War Doctor, the Morbius Doctors, and every incarnation of the Doctor we’ve met and/or seen alluded to with the Timeless Child).  Naturally, there’ve been many pieces reporting the announcement and compiling quotes from Ncuti Gatwa, returning showrunner Russell T Davies, Jodie Whittaker, Chris Chibnall, and everyone else in the orbit of Doctor Who willing to comment on the news.  This piece isn’t that.  Others have written it (and have done a better job than I could (that’s not my strength as a writer)).  Instead, I want to talk about feelings (much more my forte!) about this impending regeneration when our ever-changing Doctor will change once again.

Before we jump in though, while this may seem obvious for some, for anyone who isn’t familiar with Ncuti Gatwa’s work or is curious and/or anxious about whether or not they are pronouncing his name correctly, Ncuti is pronounced “Shoo-ti” and Gatwa is pronounced “Gat-wa.”  If you’d like to hear him pronounce his name himself, here’s a great video where Ncuti and Kedar Williams-Stirling, his castmate on Sex Education, interview each other:

Coolio?  Coolio!  Ok, so let’s dive into feelings swirling around this impending regeneration.

I’ve written before of how I began watching Doctor Who because of Theresa.  When I started teaching, Theresa’s room was next door to mine and she was my salvation.  The only reason my first year wasn’t spent crying in a corner was because of the gift of her help, guidance, and friendship.  Now, I count Theresa among my closest friends, she’s very much family :), and it’s hard to remember a time before I knew her.  One of the things we bonded over was a shared love of pop culture and we’d discuss the early MCU, Star Wars, TV, comics – heck, it was Theresa who introduced me to a character called Squirrel Girl on a team called the Great Lakes Avengers.  Now Doreen Green is my favorite superhero ever!  Yet Doctor Who was a great love of Theresa’s I knew nothing about.  Our friendship was the reason I finally decided to start watching Doctor Who.  Then Theresa and I could add it to the list of things we banter about!  I’ve never looked back.

Theresa was the reason why I started watching Doctor Who but Jodie Whittaker being cast as the Doctor provided the impetus for when I started watching.  For the first time in over fifty years Doctor Who would have a female Doctor at the TARDIS’ console and I wanted to be a part of that.  This felt important.  This felt significant.  So in the wake of that announcement – and eager to discuss all the Doctor Who-related thoughts, questions, and excitement I’d have bubbling in my mind with Theresa – I began watching David Tennant’s first series as the Tenth Doctor (I had heard so much about him I figured it was as good a place as any to jump in (don’t worry, Theresa quickly redirected me to Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor (and I’m so glad I listened to her!))).  I wanted to watch all of modern Doctor Who before I watched Jodie Whittaker’s first episode live.

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The newly regenerated Thirteenth Doctor stands in the tattered remains of the Fourteenth Doctor’s suit. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

And I did!  Starting on Amazon and then buying all the DVDs once it was no longer on Prime Video (because I was already in love with the show so of course I’d buy it all, episodes unseen!), I watched all ten series of Doctor Who before the premiere of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” on 7 October 2018. 

The Doctor Who fandom likes to talk about the concept of “my Doctor.”  For as much as I love Doctor Who, I will admit to always being a little baffled by this idea.  They are all my Doctor.  I have watched the Tenth, Ninth, rest of the Tenth, Eleventh, War, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fugitive, First, Second, and Third Doctor so far in my ever-expanding experience of Doctor Who and I love them all.  They have all been my favorite and each regeneration of the Doctor I’ve meet has filled my heart with fun and excitement.  Each has brought light and hope into my heart when I needed it most, too.

So as much as any one Doctor could be (even though the term/idea doesn’t fit with my experience of the show), the Thirteenth Doctor would be my Doctor.  Yes, I saw David Tennant first.  The Tenth Doctor will always be my first Doctor – and you never forget your first Doctor.  (I have a t-shirt which says just that alongside a picture of a TARDIS and it starts the best conversations.)  But I began watching for Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor and while every Doctor I’ve met has been my favorite in their own way, the Thirteenth Doctor is first in my heart.

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Without her TARDIS, the Doctor builds herself a new sonic screwdriver. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

I love her so much!  And I am not ready to see her go or say goodbye!  I’m pretty sure I’ll be a mess come her regeneration.  I cried with every regeneration I’ve seen.  I cry with every regeneration I see no matter how many times I’ve seen it.  They are always such poignant, beautiful, exciting moments.  But I’ve never seen one like this before.  This regeneration – as Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor becomes Ncuti Gatwa’s Fourteenth Doctor – will be the very first I watch as it airs in real time.  While I’ve no way of knowing what it will be like, I can’t imagine I’ll cry less XD.

I’m letting go of the Doctor I began watching Doctor Who to see and I can’t imagine that will be easy.  Plus, I’m sure I’ll be crying because…wait, have you seen “Eve of the Daleks” and “Legend of the Sea Devils”?  If so or if you haven’t but you don’t mind spoilers, you can read on.  If you haven’t and you do want to avoid spoilers, then skip down and pick up below the back-to-back pictures of the Doctor and Yaz standing at the TARDIS door and the the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan meeting pirate queen Madame Ching.

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Yaz, the Doctor, and Dan prepare for some swashbuckling adventures in “Legend of the Sea Devils.” / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

As someone who has plenty of experience with both waiting too long to tell someone I love them and finding the right person at the wrong time (my twenties were a wonderful mess), I know the end of the Doctor’s time with Yaz is going to break my heart.  No matter what happens I know I’ll be crying.  With “Eve of the Daleks,” Yaz admits for the first time to herself and to Dan that she’s in love with the Doctor.  Dan broaches the subject with the Doctor though she does her best to brush it aside.  But in “Legend of the Sea Devils,” the Doctor and Yaz openly discuss their feelings for each other.  As they work to stop the renegade Sea Devils’ plan the Doctor opens up to Yaz:

The Doctor – “You know what I said earlier about not being a bad date?  Well, dates are not something I really do, you know.  I mean, I used to.  Have done.  And if I was going to, believe me, it’d be with you.  I think you’re one of the greatest people I’ve ever known.  Including my wife.”
Yaz – “Your what?”
The Doctor – “Ah.  Wasn’t going to mention that.  It was a long time ago.  I was a different man back then.  But the point is, if it was going to be anyone, it’d be you.  But I can’t.”
Yaz – “Why not?”
The Doctor – “Because at some point time always runs out.”

Later, after they’ve saved the day, Yaz and the Doctor are alone on the beach and they resume their conversation: 

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The Doctor and Yaz sit together on the beach. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Yaz – “You okay?”
The Doctor – “Yaz, I can’t fix myself to anything, anywhere or anyone.  I’ve never been able to.  That’s what my life is.”
Yaz – “Yeah, of course.”
The Doctor – “Not because I don’t want to, because I might.  But if I do fix myself to somebody I know, sooner or later, it’ll hurt.”
Yaz – “My nani says, courage is knowing something will hurt and doing it anyway.  Mind you, she also said it’s the definition of stupidity.”
The Doctor – “Can we just live in the present?  Of what we have, while we still have it?”
Yaz – “Sure. [picks up a stone] Make a wish and skim it.”
The Doctor – “I wish…”
Yaz – “You can’t say your wish out loud!”
The Doctor – “You can where I’m from.  I wish… I wish this would go on forever.”[3]

Me too, Doctor, me too.  They don’t have enough time!  And yes, I agree with what Paulo Coelho writes in Brida, “Above all, though, we are responsible for reencountering, at least once in every incarnation, the Soul Mate who is sure to cross our path.  Even if it is only for a matter of moments, because those moments bring with them a Love so intense that it justifies the rest of our days.”[4]  I believe that with all my heart.  Still, it doesn’t mean other parts of me wouldn’t like the Doctor and Yaz to have more time together now that they’ve openly shared their feelings.

Incidentally, I saw a fantastic tweet about this episode:

On the subject of Twitter (ha! it wasn’t incidental at all!), what makes this romance all the more beautiful is it came about because Mandip Gill read all sorts of posts online and understood how important it was to fans.  During panels at Gallifrey One, a Doctor Who con, Mandip and producer Matt Strevens talked about how she showed Jodie these posts and she and Jodie pushed to make it canon.  Seeing its importance to fans, “even before the romance was explicitly explored…[Mandip] intentionally played the role as Yaz going from admiring to falling in love with the Doctor.”[5]  Talking to Radio Times Mandip explained, “It was massive.  But you know what, I’d seen a lot of stuff on social media.  So I’d seen people’s reaction to that.  I’d seen people building that up way before it was on screen and whatnot.  So it kind of… it came naturally.  It weren’t this thing that had been discovered on screen and then all of a sudden the fans saw it.  It was part and parcel.  I’d seen fan art of that happening, I’d seen people talking about it, I’d seen people had rewritten like storylines and all that stuff.  So we’re like, ‘OK, you asked for it.  And here it is.’  It was always exciting.  Seeing it was exciting.  Seeing it play out was exciting.”[6]

I’m not just losing the Thirteenth Doctor with this regeneration but I’m watching the Doctor’s time with Yaz end as well, since Yaz won’t be continuing on with the Fourteenth Doctor.[7]  And I’m gonna be a wreck.

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Gazing at the bottom of the ocean floor wouldn’t be a bad date, no. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

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I love whenever the Doctor gets to do pirate-y things and I would love to see lots more of it! Also, for those of you avoiding spoilers, it’s safe to read now! / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

In a beautiful mix of polarized parts within myself, I don’t want to say goodbye to Jodie’s Thirteenth Doctor just as I’m excited to meet Ncuti’s Fourteenth Doctor.  Zoe Williams discusses this anxiety and excitement around the arrival of the Fourteenth Doctor in a beautiful op ed for The Guardian titled, “Ncuti Gatwa will make Doctor Who new and exciting again – just like Jodie Whittaker did.”  Discussing this perennial debate she writes, “Now I think of it, some form of impassioned debate occurs around every regeneration.  People thought it was sexism that led Whovians to angst over a female Doctor, and some of it was, but a lot of the Timelord anxiety was timeless.” [8] 

It is important to name the inherent sexism with (not all critiques of this era but those rising from) that small-yet-vocal part of every fandom which fears and damns any “progressive” change to a pop culture story (the same frightened, small-minded anger I’ve already seen directed to the news of Ncuti’s casting).  I don’t want to divert this piece too much but how this Twitter exchange frames this anger about the “wokeness” of the Thirteenth Doctor’s era is worth sharing:

Returning to Williams’ piece, she frames this ever-present anxiety in this way, “How could they have an old Who (Peter Capaldi) when the last one was so distinctively young (Matt Smith)?  How is excitable, genius ingenu (Smith again) going to work, when the previous Doctor knew all and saw all (David Tennant)?  I know people (my mum) who thought no show could survive the departure of Tom Baker, since with it died wisdom.  Then Peter Davison came along.  Granted, he was not as wise.  You shouldn’t be able to dress like a one-man barbershop quartet and get away with it.  Miraculously, though, he did.”[9]

Despite all the anxiety and speculation, Williams writes, “Then they announced Ncuti Gatwa, and everything just fell into place.  Of course he’s the Doctor.”[10]  AMEN!

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Ncuti Gatwa and Russell T Davies at Virgin Media BAFTA TV Awards. / Photo Credit – Scott Garfitt/REX/Shutterstock​ for BAFTA

So yes, this won’t be an easy goodbye for me and there will be many tears as the Thirteenth Doctor regenerates.  But change and tears are a part of life, especially on Doctor Who, and I’m excited to meet Ncuti Gatwa’s Fourteenth Doctor and see where the next chapter of Doctor Who takes us.  It’s also exciting because I’m sure, for many, just as Jodie Whittaker was for me, Ncuti Gatwa will be the reason they start watching Doctor Who for the first time!  That fills my heart, too :).  Jodie Whittaker provided the time for me to finally step into the world of Doctor Who and find the greatest story I’ve ever known (and learn Theresa was more right than I ever could’ve guessed about how amazing it is) and soon Ncuti Gatwa will be opening that door for a new generation of Doctor Who fans.  There’s nothing left to say except Allons-y!

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She was the perfect Doctor! And I couldn’t be more excited to meet the next perfect Doctor, too. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Would you like to read a little more about Doctor Who?  Well you’re in luck!

Should I Watch Doctor Who? / How to Begin Watching Doctor Who is a short li’l piece looking at why you should try Doctor Who if you’ve never seen it and how/where to begin watching it.  If this new Doctor announcement has you excited but you’re a bit unsure about jumping in, I offer this humble advice :).

A Doctor of Kindness: Doctor Who and a Universal Ethic is a consideration of the Doctor as a character, looking at the key traits which make them so unique, important, and lovable amongst all fictional characters.  

Considering the Timeless Child’s Place Within the World of Doctor Who examines the story arc which forms the heart of Chris Chibnall’s time as showrunner and the Thirteenth Doctor’s journey within the larger context of Doctor Who.


[1] James Hibbs, “Russell T Davies confirms runtime of Jodie Whittaker’s final Doctor Who episode,” Radio Times, May 12, 2022, https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-centenary-special-runtime-newsupdate/

[2] “The Future is Here – the new Doctor is revealed: The BBC has today announced Ncuti Gatwa is the new Doctor set to take charge of the TARDIS,” BBC, May 8, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/mediacentre/2022/ncuti-gatwa-doctor-who

[3] Haolu Wang dir., “Legend of the Sea Devils,” Doctor Who, Easter Special, BBC, 2022.

[4] Paulo Coelho, Brida, trans. Margaret Jull Costa (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 30.

[5] Lauren Coates, “‘Doctor Who’ Producer On How The Relationship Between Yaz and the Doctor Came Together,” ScyFy Wire, February, 25, 2022, https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/doctor-who-stars-open-up-about-how-the-relationship-with-yaz

[6] Huw Fullerton, “Mandip Gill teases Thasmin development in Doctor Who’s next special,” Radio Times, April 3, 2022, https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-thasmin-mandip-gill-legend-sea-devils-exclusive-newsupdate/

[7] Huw Fullerton, “Doctor Who’s Mandip Gill says Yaz’s final appearance will leave fans in tear,” Radio Times, April 3, 2022, https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-yaz-ending-tears-exclusive-newsupdate/

[8] Zoe Williams, “Ncuti Gatwa will make Doctor Who new and exciting again – just like Jodie Whittaker did,” The Guardian, May 9, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/09/ncuti-gatwa-doctor-who-jodie-whittaker-whovians?CMP=twt_a-culture_b-gdnculture

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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