With the news of Jodie Whittaker being cast as the new Doctor, most every article is claiming that she is "the first woman" in the role.

However, I've also seen a lot of fans scoffing and saying that she is not.

Who is/was the first woman Doctor Who?

  • 9
    * "first woman Doctor". Even if the main character was called "Doctor Who" previously, that's not the case anymore (as pointed - not after Eccleston, and not even some old Doctors' runs). Jul 17, 2017 at 12:36
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    @Gallifreyan Just to add some extra confusion, I've seen one or two "She's the first female Time Lord"
    – Izkata
    Jul 17, 2017 at 14:15
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    @Gallifreyan - The Master (in her Missy incarnation) said that the Doctor’s name was “Doctor Who” just a few episodes ago. ;)
    – Adamant
    Jul 17, 2017 at 17:36
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    @Adamant And you believe her? Regardless, the Doctor has never referred to himself as "Doctor Who". Jul 17, 2017 at 17:59
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    @DaveJohnson Yes, exactly. The character's name is the Doctor, but if you mention "The Doctor" to anybody without sufficient context, naturally their reply will be "Doctor Who?"
    – user11521
    Jul 17, 2017 at 18:58

5 Answers 5


It depends on what you consider "official".

Doctor Who is famous for its very loose and ill-defined canon, with tons of spin-off materials (TV movies, comics, novels, audio-only stories, etc.) piling on top of the TV shows. One, in particular, stands out as an anomaly: the Comic Relief special.

Of particular note here is that, in that show, The Doctor regenerates multiple times over the course of the movie, finally into Joanna Lumley.

However, the Comic Relief show is generally not considered canon by most fans. It's an obvious parody of Doctor Who, written for charity. (This isn't the only comedy Doctor Who special — there's also one where David Tennant plays The Doctor teaching the class from Catherine Tate's Lauren sketches). The actors in the show playing the 9th–13th Doctors don't fit anywhere in the continuity of the TV show (which does, at this point, have an unbroken line from 1st – 13th doctor.)

So, for most purposes, it's accurate to claim that Jodie Whittaker is the first female to play The Doctor.

The backlash against the media isn't because they claim she's the first female Doctor. It's because there are a number of media outlets claiming she's the first female Time Lord. That's patently untrue, as so far in the show we have seen many female Time Lords.

  • One of the Doctor's old companions was a female Time Lord (sometimes called a Time Lady) named Romana,
  • and one of the classic villains was a female Time Lord called The Rani.
  • There were multiple minor/unnamed female Time Lords shown on the few occasions where The Doctor returned to his home planet.
  • Depending on how you define a Time Lord (vs. just being genetically Gallifreyan) it's also possible to count The Doctor's granddaughter Susan (most likely), his daughter Jenny (probably not) or his wife River Song (possible) as Time Lords.

It's not even the first time that a male Time Lord regenerated into a female one.

  • It was hinted at a few seasons ago when The Doctor talked about an old friend of his, the Corsair, being both "he" and "she" at different points.
  • In Season 8, we saw the Doctor's long-time nemesis The Master had regenerated into Missy, played by Michelle Gomez.
  • And we finally, in Season 9, we see an on-screen regeneration of a Gallifreyan general from male to female.

The backlash is coming because it's so trivially easy to check this kind of thing, but so many media outlets are making the same silly mistake.

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    And don't forget the General regenerating into a female in Hell Bent.
    – Nzall
    Jul 17, 2017 at 13:39
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    It amazes me that anyone can say Jodie is the first female Time Lord, since the last episode that was aired literally two weeks ago had Missy in it. Jul 17, 2017 at 13:56
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    For the first actual on-screen male-to-female generation (excepting the Comic Relief special), the Gallifreyan general in "Hell Bent": youtube.com/watch?v=93nJQj2Z97M
    – apsillers
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:16
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    It seems to me that she’ll be the first serious female Doctor. In “The Curse of Fatal Death,” not only was the whole thing rather comedic and out of continuity, but the idea of the Doctor being female was itself treated as a joke.
    – Adamant
    Jul 17, 2017 at 17:39
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    @Adamant Given that the whole thing was supposed to be comedic that isn't unexpected, however given that it portrayed the 13th doctor as a woman and the actual 13th doctor is literally going to be a woman, perhaps it's not a joke after all...
    – user11521
    Jul 17, 2017 at 19:01

Joanna Lumley played the 13th Doctor in Comic Relief: Doctor Who - The Curse of Fatal Death (1999).

While not a part of any future Doctor Who continuity, this was a BBC approved production, written by future series writer and show runner Steven Moffat.

enter image description here

Link to youtube

  • 6
    So why is she being ignored?
    – phantom42
    Jul 17, 2017 at 12:19
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    So it's a splitting hairs thing? "She's the first in-universe woman doctor, but not the first one in an official production"?
    – phantom42
    Jul 17, 2017 at 12:22
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    Correct. Also, CoTFD is fairly obscure.
    – Politank-Z
    Jul 17, 2017 at 12:22
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    And it's a Parody made while DW was on its break. It's nice that Rowan Atkinson got to be The Doctor for a bit, though. Jul 17, 2017 at 13:56
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    @phantom42 Curse of Fatal Death is usually regarded as non-canon (to the extent that there's any concept of canon in DW), and it certainly contradicts the main continuity of the show, with the Ninth to Thirteenth incarnations of the Doctor being played by Rowan Atkinson, Richard Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley rather than Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, Capaldi, and Whittaker. It was a spoof and clearly takes itself even less seriously than the rest of DW.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 18, 2017 at 11:09

There was a brief period in "Journey's End" where Catherine Tate's character Donna became the "DoctorDonna", the mind of the Doctor in Donna's body. This could be argued as being a prior time that a woman played the Doctor, albeit briefly. http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Journey%27s_End

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    One of the greatest story arcs of the Tennant era, IMHO. <3 Donna.
    – Chris K
    Jul 20, 2017 at 4:47
  • What about Rose Tyler in "The Parting of the Ways"? "Rose appears, wrapped in the glow of the time vortex"
    – user66716
    Jul 20, 2017 at 19:28

It's fan fiction and not canon, but if Rowan Atkinson's comedy version can be considered, then it seems to me that one could also consider the fan fiction film series that contains The Wrath of Eukor and Broken Doors (which are not comedies, and are earlier) from 1984-1988, which cast actress Barbara Benedetti as The Doctor.

Barbara Benedetti as The Doctor


The home page of the series.



  • Was this done by the BBC or an otherwise BBC approved production like the Rowan Atkinson one was?
    – phantom42
    Jul 19, 2017 at 5:35
  • It was not done by the BBC, and I see no sign it was BBC-approved. It was a fan production in Seattle, in the USA. The series home page link I added mentions the BBC in the context of remarking that anyone thought it was a BBC production. I don't see any mention of them consulting the BBC even for permission.
    – Dronz
    Jul 19, 2017 at 6:21

After Joanna Lumley there was Arabella Weir in the 2003 story Exile from Big Finish productions (also starring David Tennant).

  • 8
    You might want to expand on this answer, adding some links and pictures would be nice. Jul 18, 2017 at 20:23

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