During a time when on-screen representation in Hollywood is a hot topic, Jodie Whittaker taking on the titular role in “Doctor Who” serves as a sort of case study. Will the show, a cult classic, succeed with a female doctor?

Early signs point to a resounding yes.

Whittaker’s debut Sunday as the Doctor — a time-traveling, humanoid alien — shattered the show’s record for viewers of an episode when it pulled in 8.2 million of them on BBC One, according to the Hollywood Reporter. (U.S. audiences can watch it here — the show airs on BBC America on Sunday nights.)

That’s approximately 200,000 more viewers than tuned in for “The Crown” actor Matt Smith’s 2010 debut as the Doctor. The show attracted 40.1 percent of British television viewers, leading the Express to declare that “the BBC series’ premiere essentially owned prime time television.”

Critical response

“Doctor Who” is a sci-fi series following the adventures of the Doctor, who visits various times in human history, helping both people and fellow aliens in distress. The BBC originally aired the show from 1963 to 1989, then revived it in 2005. Since then, it has inspired several spin-offs and slowly grown from cult classic to mainstream must-watch.

In 2017, when BBC announced that Whittaker would take on the lead role, there was a showering of praise for the network’s progressive casting, but also canon-citing screeds claiming that the character couldn’t possibly be portrayed by a woman because the previous 12 were not.

Critics were bowled over by Whittaker’s performance in the popular show’s lead role.

“Through its many incarnations, the show has imagined a universe of infinite possibility, so it seemed nuts that the Doctor would be limited to resurrecting as a series of white guys,” wrote Jenna Scherer in Rolling Stone. She added that “like many other women who love ‘Doctor Who,’ I’ve been waiting for the day when that Time Lord regeneration glow would fade to reveal a different sort of face than the ones we were used to.”

“The real world is miles behind, but as far as speculative fiction is considered, we have the sci-fi equivalent of a female president,” she added.

Variety deemed the episode, which has clocked in at 90 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, “impressive.” Critic Jeva Lange declared in the Week that Whittaker “will be a great Doctor. In fact, she might just be the best in a generation.”

Fans respond

Fans, even those who were wary of a female doctor, seemed similarly enamored.

“A complete beautiful reinvention of #DoctorWho,” tweeted writer Paul Cornell. “So relatable, down to earth, with such character and sense of place. A great new Doctor too. And we immediately love all her friends. Drama, scares and comedy for all the family. Brilliant.”

BBC Studios and Mattel have partnered to create a Barbie doll based on her character.

Whittaker’s casting came about when Chris Chibnall became the newest showrunner for “Doctor Who.” Chibnall previously worked with the actress on the British crime drama “Broadchurch.”

“I always knew I wanted the 13th Doctor to be a woman, and we’re thrilled to have secured our number one choice,” Chibnall told the BBC in 2017. “Her audition for the Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, supersmart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role.”

Whittaker said at New York Comic-Con on Sunday that while she thinks her casting is “a step in the right direction,” Hollywood still has a long way to go to achieve equal representation.

“Do I think the glass ceiling is broken?” Whittaker said. “No. Do I think that this is a positive step in the direction of equality in the representation on film? Yeah. But it’s not broken.”

Furthermore, she’s hoping her character isn’t a role model only for women.

“When I was growing up, there was never a question that as a girl you would look up to guys,” she said. “That’s what you did. Whereas there’s a slight mythology in the sense if you’re a girl, you’re a hero for a girl, which is not the case. And so, I think the wonderful thing about this is being a role model for anyone, which the Doctor has always been regardless of gender.”

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