Doctor who? Jodie Whittaker becomes the first female Time Lord

Related: There’s a girl in my Tardis: Gender politics and Doctor Who

British actress Jodie Whittaker has been named as the thirteenth Doctor Who.

The new Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker. Picture: BBC

The new Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker. Picture: BBC

The announcement will both delight and stun fans as the iconic time traveller has, for the last five decades at least, been male.

Whittaker now takes up the mantle of a character who has become a fixture in British culture and global science fiction fandom.

She replaces actor Peter Capaldi, who has been in the role since 2013.

The change of actor within the Doctor Who narrative was a plot conceit established in the 1960s when the actor who originated the character, William Hartnell, became ill and was unable to continue working on the series.

Known as "regeneration", it saw Hartnell stagger into his London police box time machine, the Tardis, and collapse; when the shimmering light subsided, actor Patrick Troughton was in his place.

Though the character of The Doctor has always regenerated into a new face, he has until now retained his gender.

In the last decade, however, there has been persistent speculation that a future incarnation of The Doctor might be female.

That notion was etched into the show's narrative when the role of The Doctor's recurring nemesis, The Master, another "Time Lord", was re-cast with Michelle Gomez.

That move effectively changing the character from The Master to her new name, "Missy", and established that a change of gender during regeneration was possible.

Like The Doctor, The Master had been previously played by men, notably the brilliant Roger Delgado, the somewhat more Bond villain-esque Anthony Ainley and, more recently, by John Simm.

"I'm beyond excited to begin this epic journey, with Chris and with every Whovian on this planet," Whittaker said in a statement released by the BBC.

Whovians are diehard Doctor Who fans, along the same line as Star Trek's Trekkers.

"It's more than an honour to play the Doctor," Whittaker added. "It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can't wait."

The change of Doctor comes as executive producer and showrunner Steven Moffat is bowing out, to be replaced by Chris Chibnall.

Whittaker's appointment is Chibnall's first in the new gig.

"I always knew I wanted the thirteenth Doctor to be a woman and we're thrilled to have secured our number one choice," Chibnall said.

"[Jodie's] audition for The Doctor simply blew us all away.

"Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role."

Whittaker's predecessor Peter Capaldi also offered his praise and best wishes.

"Anyone who has seen Jodie Whittaker's work will know that she is a wonderful actress of great individuality and charm," he said.

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

Capaldi announced his plan to step down in January, 2017; the upcoming Christmas episode, The Doctors, will be his last.

Capaldi made his debut in the series, briefly, in the program's 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, which was broadcast in 2013; he later made his formal debut in the Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor.

For the duration of his tenure as The Doctor he had three companions: Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas).

Despite the perception that, like James Bond, the role of The Doctor is one which has been inhabited in history by only a handful of actors, there are in truth almost too many to count.

There are the official incarnations of The Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.

Then there was John Hurt's War Doctor (a between Tennant-and-Smith Doctor), Adrian Gibb's The Watcher (a pre-Davison regeneration Doctor), Michael Jayston's Valeyard (an evil future Doctor) and two actors who have subbed for re-appearances of Hartnell's Doctor since Hartnell's death, Richard Hurndall and David Bradley.

On stage, in The Seven Keys to Doomsday and stage adaptations of serials such as Evil of the Daleks and The Daleks Masterplan, he was played by Trevor Martin, Michael Sagar and Nick Scovell.

And on film, in two 1960s-era features, Dr Who and the Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD, the role of Doctor Who – in this iteration a human scientist and not a Time Lord - was played by the legendary Peter Cushing.

To that pile of bodies we can still add Richard E. Grant, who played The Doctor in the webisode Scream of the Shalka. And, with a little affection, the multiple regenerations of The Doctor featured in the BBC charity broadcast Curse of the Fatal Death, including Rowan Atkinson, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and, finally, Joanna Lumley.

Wait, Patsy Stone was the first female Doctor Who?

Not quite, as Curse of the Fatal Death was not strictly in the Doctor Who canon, but it was certainly the first indicator that a Time Lord could, in regenerating, change gender as well.

Except for two breaks, between 1989 and 1996 and 1996 and 2005, the BBC series has been in production since 1963.