Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker\’s Aikido Tricks Are a Callback to the Jon Pertwee Era

The faces, personalities and even fashion senses may change on Doctor Who, but one thing has remained the same. That is, until the arrival of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor in the franchise’s 55-year history.

Yet, so far, she’s still very much the Doctor audiences have long known and loved. With the first two episodes of Season 11, we’re beginning to see Whittaker’s portrayal of the Doctor features little callbacks that remind us of her history, including her choice of martial arts.

‘The Ghost Monument’

One of those nods to the past is the Doctor’s hesitance to use firearms. We’re still being introduced to this new incarnation, but we at least know she will help those in need and will do so without resorting to extreme violence. We’ve seen this in both the premiere episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” and in the follow-up, “The Ghost Monument.”

In the latter, we’re reminded the Doctor knows aikido — Venusian aikido, to be exact. While we’re not sure exactly what it is about Venusian aikido that makes it different, we do know it’s a martial arts style that focuses on defensive maneuvers while doing as little harm as possible to the attacker. Students of aikido learn how to use the attacker’s momentum against him with throws and pins, as well as strikes. That is paired with mental training, so the student remains calm even in a situation where she is outnumbered.

Aikido is the perfect martial arts discipline for the Doctor. As someone who doesn’t enjoy inflicting harm, aikido allows the Doctor to focus on disarming and escaping instead of attacking. The additional mental training is also useful for an alien who often finds themselves vastly outnumbered. The Pandorica is a prime example of this: only hatred of the Doctor could get all of those alien species to band together. We all know how selfish Daleks usually are.

Three and Twelve

The first time that we saw the Time Lord use aikido on television was way back in the 1970s, with the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee. He was a dapper man, ready to spring into action at any given moment, but he he was also a pacifist. So while in the heat of action, if he had to get away, he would employ Venusian aikido (though he would sometimes refer to it as Venusian karate).

The 1970 episode “Inferno” has a parallel scene to 2018’s “The Ghost Monument,” with both Doctors striking a man’s throat with their fingers, thus paralyzing him until the Time Lord removes the pressure. However, there has been a more recent use of Venusian aikido in the Doctor Who television series, with the Twelfth Doctor.

The Twelfth Doctor was a more serious Doctor, with serious eyebrows and a bit of a rock star side. Episodes like “Robot of Sherwood” and “World Enough and Time” showcased how this eccentric Doctor remembered his Venusian aikido training. “Robot of Sherwood” had the Doctor disarming the legendary Robin Hood using a strike to the arm. “World Enough and Time” revealed the origins of the Cybermen and reminded us that the Doctor knows how to throw someone, which he uses on Jorj. Despite looking older, Twelve was still a Gallifreyan of action.

Hopes for Thirteen

The fact that the Doctor is female now makes her use of self-defense even more significant. With Thirteen, Doctor Who could potentially be attracting more female viewers than ever before. Girls will finally see someone who looks more like them at the helm of the TARDIS (other than River Song, who was the best TARDIS pilot, let’s be honest).

As a new BBC study found, both girls and boys want to see more female superheroes. The Doctor certainly qualifies as a superhero. When children see the Thirteenth Doctor use self-defense skills, they may become inspired to learn self-defense as well.

Beyond literally spending some time in the Twelfth Doctor’s shoes, the Thirteenth Doctor shares more similarities with her predecessors. As she says herself, she’s a “grandmaster pacifist.” She makes it explicitly clear where she stands as far as guns are concerned: “never use them.” The Doctor’s insistence to outthink their attackers because “brains beat bullets” is a core Doctor Who belief, making Thirteen a Doctor we recognize, regardless of gender.

Airing Sundays on BBC and BBC America, Doctor Who stars Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill.

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