The Doctor, Yasmin, Ryan and Graham are the most diverse team we’ve seen in modern Doctor Who. But is the TARDIS starting to feel a little overcrowded?
It’s fair to say that Chris Chibnall ruffled a few feathers when he announced the new companions for Series 11. Instead of the ‘lone young female’ we’d been conditioned to expect since the series’ reboot, 2018 introduced us to a four-strong TARDIS team for the first time in the modern era. Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh have all joined Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor for an adventure in space and time. Between them, they cover a range of ages, races, and genders, making for one of the most diverse lead casts in Doctor Who history. All the cast is brilliant, but now that we’re three episodes in, we are wondering if there is enough room in the TARDIS for everyone.
A Return to The Past
Of course, you could argue this was never a shake-up at all. It’s clear that a lot about Series 11 (like the titles and theme music) is intended as a throwback to the show’s 1963 roots. The larger TARDIS team is likely no exception. The very first episodes of Doctor Who had three companions: Ian, Barbara, and Susan. And quite often throughout the classic series, the Doctor travelled with a team rather than a single person. Therefore, it’s very possible that Chris Chibnall made this decision as a subtle nod to the past. In that regard at least, it’s hard to deny that this year’s season has felt very “classic” in approach.
What’s Old is New
You could also argue that a busier TARDIS is not unusual by modern Who standards, either. While we’ve typically had just one ‘main’ companion – Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Clara, or Bill – there’s often been other characters hanging around the TARDIS with them. Mickey and Jackie (Series 1 and 2), Wilfred Mott (Series 4/The End of Time), and Danny Pink (Series 8) to name but a few. The biggest and best example though is, of course, Rory Williams (Series 5-7). While Amy was clearly the dominant force during her TARDIS tenure, Rory was never too far behind. He went from a weedy bit character in The Eleventh Hour to a full-fledged companion by The Angels Take Manhattan. Back then, it was refreshing to have three people at the helm, and the Ponds’ marriage added an extra layer to the dynamic. After they left, it wouldn’t be until Series 10 that we got another TARDIS trio, with Bill as the standard companion and Nardole offering some comic relief.
Bigger is Better?
Series 11, then, once again adopted the “bigger is better” philosophy. And yet, it’s also doing its own thing and subverting expectations in the process. Before the season started, everyone (including us) thought Bradley Walsh would just be playing a lovable, if unessential, member of the TARDIS crew. However, a few (brilliantly delivered) quips aside, it’s clear that Graham is not just filling the void left by Nardole. His street-smarts and winning charm make him, perhaps, the most valuable companion in the series right now. You only had to look into Bradley Walsh’s heartbroken eyes during the climax of Rosa to realise what a wonderful asset he is to this show. Undoubtedly, of the Thirteenth Doctor’s three new friends, he’s the one we’ve warmed to the fastest.
Ryan is perhaps the character we know most about. He’s the first face we saw in Series 11 and he played a central role in the opening three episodes. Most notably, Ryan was (inadvertently) to blame for Tim Shaw’s arrival in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. He also got the brunt of the racist abuse in Rosa. He’s definitely the most fleshed out companion so far. That might be because, on pure numbers alone, we’ve likely spent the most time with him. (And enjoyed the time, BTW.) But we’ve also seen in-depth explorations of how he struggles (and deals) with his dyspraxia. We’ve also seen him lose his grandmother, a shock event which will have an ongoing impact on his life.
The Companion that Never Was
In a funny sort of way then, Grace is the glue that bonds our characters together, despite her absence. Her family ties to both Ryan and Graham mean that the two inherently share a (sometimes forced) relationship. It’s already clear that, as the series progresses, we’ll see both of them coming to terms with Grace’s death – as well as each other. (But will Ryan ever call Graham “Grandad”…?)
We Need More of Yaz!!
Admittedly then, that leaves Yaz as the odd person out, and it shows. We should stress: this is absolutely not a slight on Mandip Gill’s acting performance or the character she portrays. We love Yaz. Every time the camera’s on Mandip, she shines. She’s a cool, confident and captivating presence. The problem is, her character’s (quite literally) just been taken along for the ride. It’s not as if she’s a blank slate either: we know she works for the police and we know she went to school with Ryan. But, so far, Yaz’s character has just had very little to do. Or at least, very little of significance. She has a bigger role in Rosa than previous episodes, but even then, it paled in comparison to the Doctor, Ryan, and Graham.
All For One
Fortunately, it seems that this weekend’s episode – Arachnids in the UK – will finally be putting Yasmin in the spotlight. The synopsis suggests we’ll get to meet her family, and a preview clip shows her inviting the Doctor round for tea. We’ll also be travelling to her roots when the TARDIS travels into the past for Demons of the Punjab. Fingers crossed both episodes will serve up plenty of development for her character!
Team TARDIS 2018
A few qualms aside, we’re a fan of all three new companions, individually and together. We have to keep remembering that we’re only a third of the way into this season. There hasn’t been time to give everyone a fair crack of the whip yet! But clearly, when they do all work, they all work well. As Rosa proved, Team TARDIS 2018 is an incredibly grounded and diverse bunch – and that can lead to some really powerful storytelling. Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor was just the tip of the iceberg for this new era. Series 11 has a character for everyone, and that’s honestly wonderful. Doctor Who is a vast and inclusive show, and it’s refreshing to see the lead cast reflect this. The balance of screen time and development has been a little uneven, but that could easily be remedied in an episode or two. The worry merely was whether Chris Chibnall had given himself too many balls to juggle. The evidence thus far is (mostly) promising, so let’s hope he can keep them all in the air between now and the finale…