The first words out of Jodie Whittaker’s mouth when she assumed the role of Doctor Who's Thirteenth Doctor were “Oh, brilliant!” And brilliant she is. A versatile actor with a range that resists typecasting, Whittaker brings a unique warmth and individuality to all her roles. She flew largely under the radar before stepping into the TARDIS, quietly amassing an impressive catalog of film, TV, and stage roles. Her recent exit from the show, beautiful as it was heartbreaking, has opened her schedule to a number of exciting projects, and the future has never looked more promising for the former Time Lord.
Since leaving Doctor Who, Whittaker has been gainfully employed as well she deserves. She made a triumphant return to dramas this year after her foray into science fiction. She has most recently starred in the Australian series One Night and the second season of the acclaimed drama Time. Her newest project, Toxic Town, a Netflix series based on a true story, is still in production.
None of her new shows are available to viewers in the US yet, so while we wait for more Whittaker to grace our screens, we’re looking back on some of her most notable roles to date.
'Attack the Block'
In this cult classic sci-fi flick, Whittaker plays a young nurse named Sam, who becomes the unlikely ally of a group of teens fighting an alien invasion. She co-stars alongside a pre-Star Wars John Boyega, making this a sort of origin story for two of the most defining sci-fi leads of recent years.
Her character seems at first like a one-note damsel in distress (or, maybe more accurately, Karen in distress), but as the story unfolds, she and her young co-stars become scrappy action heroes. This film also gives Whittaker permission to unleash her full vocabulary, known as she is for swearing like a sailor when cameras aren’t rolling. This film has far more to say than its premise suggests, with a message about race, class, and the prejudice that young Black boys face living on a council estate. Whittaker navigates the film's more serious moments just as well as she wields makeshift weapons against alien invaders.
This anthology series tells a different moral tale each episode, each set in near futures where technology is only slightly more sinister than it already is in the present day. The first season premiered in the UK in 2011 before earning a global following when it moved to Netflix in 2016. Whittaker appears in the third episode of the first season, “The Entire History of You,” playing a wife accused of cheating on her husband. The truth of the matter (as well as deeper emotional truths about their relationship) is revealed through memory-recording implants that nearly all people wear in this alternate reality.
Following Broadchurch, this is the second entry on this list that falls into the category of “Jodie Whittaker screaming in rage and grief” and she sure is good at it. The format of Black Mirror makes this feel more like a short film than an episode of TV, and Whittaker’s performance would be equally at home on the big screen.
Whittaker co-stars in this celebrated biopic of record store owner and Belfast punk scene tastemaker Terri Hooley as Hooley’s (ex-)wife, Ruth Carr. Many of Whittaker’s pre-Doctor Who roles fall into the category of “wife of...” or “mother of...” characters. The inherent limits of these roles don’t stop her from delivering outstanding performances, and Good Vibrations is no exception.
On top of funding Hooley’s musical endeavors, Carr became a well-known writer and editor of Northern Irish women’s literature. Whittaker makes Carr a compelling figure in her own right, never allowing her to fade into the background of the story.
'Adult Life Skills'
One of my personal favorite movies of all time, Adult Life Skills is a bittersweet indie movie starring Whittaker as Anna, a woman on the cusp of 30, living with her mom and grieving the death of her twin brother by making home videos with characters drawn on her thumbs. When her mom gives her an ultimatum to move out before her 30th birthday, she finds unexpected companionship in her neighbor’s troubled child and an awkward real estate agent.
Any Doctor Who fans will recognize Whittaker’s performance as Anna as a prelude to the Thirteenth Doctor’s socially awkward charms. The combination of Whittaker’s acting and Rachel Tunnard’s directing turns a character who could have been played as a joke into a deeply relatable and deeply real woman who has the strength to go against the tide and find joy in unusual places.
Whittaker’s most well-known role before Doctor Who was in the acclaimed crime drama Broadchurch, alongside fellow Doctor Who stars David Tennant and Arthur Darvill. She plays Beth Latimer, the mother of a young boy who is mysteriously murdered in their sleepy seaside town. Whittaker plays the role with righteous anger and pain, painting a harrowing portrait of grief that only deepens when her son’s murderer is put on trial in the second season. She grounds the show as the emotional heart of the story, shifting seamlessly from quiet desperation to fierce rage.
We owe Whittaker’s turn in Doctor Who to Broadchurch, because both come from the mind of Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall. Chibnall and Whittaker make for a dynamic duo, and Broadchurch gives Whittaker an opportunity to chew on some of his more outwardly emotional scripts that she doesn’t get often in Doctor Who.
Like any actor who has played the role of the Doctor, Whittaker will carry the role with her no matter where her acting career takes her. When she became the first woman to play the role in 2018, she was met with high expectations and harsh critics. She rose to the challenge, bringing a refreshing sense of joy and hope to the role, along with an underlying pain much more subtly conveyed than some of her more grandiose predecessors. She has spectacular chemistry with her co-stars that goes far beyond the words in the script, most notably Mandip Gill as her companion Yaz and Sacha Dhawan as her nemesis The Master.
She has also been one of the best ambassadors the show has had in recent years, becoming a beacon for female fans and a comforting face for fans around the world with her in-character lockdown message early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctor Who highlights Whittaker's comedic talents more than the other roles on this list (but if you want to her Whittaker in a real comedy, there’s always her minor role in St. Trinian's). She leans into the Doctor’s quirkier side and unleashes her full range of physical comedy with an expressiveness that has become emblematic of her Doctor.