Two Women Played Doctor Who Before Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor


  • Key takeaways:
  • Jodie Whittaker was not the first female to play the Doctor in Doctor Who; Joanna Lumley and Arabella Weir previously portrayed the character in unofficial productions.
  • The Doctor is able to regenerate, allowing for different actors to take on the role, including Ncuti Gatwa, who will be the first Black Doctor.
  • While Lumley and Weir’s portrayals were not canon, Whittaker still made history as the first official female Doctor in a three-series run.



While it is true that Jodie Whittaker was the first official female lead of Doctor Who, two other women have previously portrayed the Doctor in officially licensed productions of the BBC series. When Whittaker was announced as the 13th incarnation of the Doctor in 2017, much fanfare was made about how no woman had assumed this role before, but it turns out this was not the case. Over the course of the series’ 60-year history, there have actually been two lesser-known instances of women taking on the role of the iconic extraterrestrial Time Lord known simply as the Doctor.

Since its 1963 debut, Doctor Who has been led by 13 actors, including favorites like David Tennant and Tom Baker. The transition from one actor to another is possible due to the Doctor’s power of regeneration, a function that allows the Time Lord race to change their appearance and personality following a fatal injury. This means that, theoretically, any actor could portray the Doctor, with Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa set to become the first Black Doctor later this year. With so many possibilities for the character, there had long been calls for a female lead prior to Whittaker’s casting in 2017. However, when looking at all the official Doctor Who releases, two examples of female Doctors can be found.

Who Played A Female Doctor Before Jodie Whittaker

The first example comes from a 1999 Doctor Who special “The Curse of Fatal Death” where Joanna Lumley portrayed a female Doctor for the first time in the show’s history. Released for Comic Relief, the charity special saw many actors, including Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant, play the Doctor as he cycles through several regenerations before finally turning into Lumley. Having been pursued by their nemesis, the Master, throughout the special, following Lumley’s introduction, the two characters become smitten with one another and are seen walking away together. This was the first televised Doctor Who script written by Steven Moffat, who later became the series showrunner from 2010 to 2017.

The second woman to portray the Doctor was Arabella Weir in the 2003 audio adventure “Exile”, the sixth installment in the Doctor Who Unbound series produced by Big Finish Productions. The series presented what-if scenarios and this audio story depicted the first female Doctor as an alcoholic, with a dull life, working in the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. The episode was written and directed by Nicholas Briggs and sees this female Doctor evading Time Lords from her home planet Gallifrey. Weir would also later appear as Billis in the 2011 Doctor Who Christmas special “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.”

The Doctor Who Unbound episode “Exile” also features an appearance from the future tenth Doctor, David Tennant, as a Time Lord searching for Weir’s character, two years before he took on the role of the Doctor himself.

Why Jodie Whittaker Still Broke History For Doctor Who


Two other women have previously played the Doctor before, but that isn’t to say that Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as a Time Lord was not a historic achievement. Neither Joanna Lumley nor Arabella Weir’s portrayals are strictly canon within the Doctor Who universe and, therefore, they are not recognized within the show’s official continuity. Whittaker was the first true female Doctor, despite others having played the role before. The appearances of Lumley and Weir were short one-off events, while Whittaker led Doctor Who for three series between 2017 and 2022, and holds the honor of being the first official female Doctor.

Jodie Whittaker’s historic assumption of the role represents the series moving with the times and embracing these calls.

Doctor Who is the longest-running sci-fi series of all time. Over the years, it has seen countless actors face off against Cybermen and Daleks. The show has seen changes across generations and consistently stayed in the public consciousness while many other series faded from memory. Much like other iconic and re-castable characters, such as James Bond, there have been consistent calls for the show to address gender inequalities, minority representation, and environmental concerns. Jodie Whittaker’s historic assumption of the role represents the series moving with the times and embracing these calls, and now, as the show enters its seventh decade in existence, it appears set to continue this trajectory.

  • Doctor Who Poster

    Doctor Who

    Release Date:

    Jenna Coleman, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Kingston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi

    Adventure, Mystery, Sci-Fi


    As the last of the alien species known as the Time Lords, the Doctor travels through time and space in his TARDIS, a time machine thats bigger on the inside than the outside, seeking out adventures in the ancient past and unimagined future while also serving as the protector of Earth and mankind. With a human companion by his side, the Doctor meets extraordinary – and sometimes deadly – characters and creatures from across the universe.

    Doctor Who

    Story By:
    Sydney Newman C. E. Webber Donald Wilson

    Mark Gatiss, Toby Whithouse, Neil Cross, Steven Moffat, Chris Chibnall



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