Jennifer Perrott on directing Jodie Whittaker in ‘Doctor Who’
Doctor Who (Photo credit: BBC)
After directing two episodes of the new season of Doctor Who, Jennifer Perrott could be excused if she felt a tad nervous before today’s global premiere of the iconic BBC show.
To the contrary: Perrott tells IF there was no discussion about the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female doctor in the show’s 55-year history during pre-production or the shoot in Cardiff.
“It was never a talking point on set or when I met Jodie that she is female,” says the director, who got the gig after the showrunner Chris Chibnall saw her 2016 short The Ravens, which starred Sarah Snook, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor and Indianna Gregg.
“Not once was there ever a discussion about, ‘OK so there is this moment and you are a female Doctor Who so we will attack this differently.’ The Doctor is an alien, hundreds of years old, is brave, funny and a bit eccentric and Jodie brought her own flavours to that. Jodie is brilliant, so fun and full of energy and such a perfectionist.”
Chibnall, who created Broadchurch, wrote the first episode entitled The Woman Who Fell to Earth, which introduced the Time Lord’s new companions played by Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill.
The first reviews were glowing, typified by Deadline’s Dominic Patten who hailed the premiere as very earthbound and surprisingly emotional and one of the most complete and rewarding resets for the BBC and BBC America series since it first appeared in the UK in 1963.
There are enough in-jokes and references to keep the die-hard fans happy while the show is inclusive enough to attract new viewers, according to Patten, who described the introduction of the new Doctor as narratively and culturally poignant.
Variety’s Caroline Framke observed: “Whittaker’s deft, frenetic, confident performance speaks for itself. Within minutes she’s made it clear that yes, being a woman suits the Doctor just fine.”
Perrott was surprised to be hired as she had zero experience in the sci-fi genre. The Ravens is a drama about a troubled young girl named Ruby who projects her anxieties onto a pair of ravens, who become a catalyst for the family’s journey from crisis to healing. Her credits include episodes of Offspring, Newton’s Law, Home and Away and the UK series Doctors.
But as a kid she was a big fan of Doctor Who, then played by Tom Baker, and the producers told her they wanted directors who are good with actors and visuals. Fellow Aussie Peter McTighe was among the team of writers together with Ed Hime, Malorie Blackman, Vinay Patel and Joy Wilkinson. Perrott had always wanted to work with McTighe on FremantleMedia/Foxtel’s Wentworth but was never asked.
Perrott describes the Doctor Who gig as a career-changer for her as she was then hired to direct two episodes of Gentleman Jack, an eight-part drama created, written and directed by Sally Wainwright (Last Tango In Halifax, Happy Valley).
Commissioned by the BBC and HBO, the show based on real people stars Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster, Save Me) as landowner Anne Lister, who returned to Halifax, West Yorkshire in 1832, determined to transform her faded ancestral home.
Much of the drama revolves around her relationship with Ann Walker (Peaky Blinders’ Sophie Rundle), a wealthy heiress whom Anne soon sets her sights on marrying.
“Gentleman Jack is a huge, epic show about a real woman who was a pioneer as an entrepreneurial woman and as a lesbian and a very strong female figure,” she says. “All the issues are so contemporary. Suranne Jones is incredible and the script is gorgeous. Sally Wainwright has been researching this show for 20 years.”
She hopes to confirm her next UK show soon and is keen to direct another episode of Doctor Who next year. With her family she is renting a house near Bristol for two years and after that intends to return to Australia.
“TV directing offers so much and is very seductive right now but I really want to get some space and money to make films,” she says.