British actress Jodie Whittaker was announced Sunday as the next star of the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who—the first woman to take a role that has been played by a dozen men over six decades. Whittaker, best known for playing the mother of a murdered boy in detective drama Broadchurch, will replace Scottish actor Peter Capaldi at the end of the year, the BBC says. Whittaker is the 13th official incarnation of the Doctor, a galaxy-hopping Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels in the Tardis, a time machine shaped like an old-fashioned British police telephone booth. In a testament to the place Doctor Who holds in Britain’s cultural life, the revelation was made on live television after the Wimbledon men’s tennis final.
According to the AP, Doctor Who ran from 1963 to 1989, and was revived to acclaim in 2005. Its longevity is partly due to its flexible premise. The central character, known only as the Doctor, can travel across space and time and can regenerate into new bodies—allowing for endless recasting of the role. Speculation had been mounting that a woman would get the role, generating excitement from some fans and opposition from others who feel that the character has been established as male. Whittaker says that becoming the first female Doctor “feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human,” adding: “I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change.”