In Doctor Who this week Graham opened up to the Thirteenth Doctor in a scene set in the TARDIS. During ‘Can You Hear Me?‘ the fears and anxieties of the companions were explored. Graham’s was particularly personal to his character. But when he shared his fears with the Doctor, her reaction seemed a tad uncharacteristic.
As ‘Can You Hear Me?‘ developed it was revealed that Graham was frightened that his cancer might return. This would necessitate more treatment or potentially an even worse outcome. One of the key messages of the episode was how important it is to talk and share. A problem shared is a problem halved as the saying goes. So, towards the end of the episode Graham talks to the Doctor about his worries.
“The thing is Doc, I worry about getting sick again. You know, About the cancer coming back. And I didn’t know who to say it to. So I thought I’d say it to you.”
Graham continues, explaining that once someone has cancer it never really leaves you. It is a constant fear that many struggle with, something that many of the viewers watching at home can sadly relate to. But when presented with a friend in need, being brutally open and honest, revealing their inner turmoil, not knowing who to turn to, the Thirteenth Doctor remained silent and distant. She showed no warmth or compassion. Remember the Tenth Doctor saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” when presented with someone suffering? Well, there was none of that.
“I should say a reassuring thing now shouldn’t I?”
For some reason the Thirteenth Doctor didn’t react in a way one might expect. She seemed disinterested. Blasé perhaps. Certainly not supportive. Offering no words of comfort, the Time Lord simply wandered over to the console. Astonishingly, the Doctor talks Graham through this, openly acknowledging her failure to provide any support. Fortunately, Graham laughs it off but he surely would’ve benefited more from a few kind words. Maybe even a hug? In a series where the Doctor has offered words of wisdom regarding climate change, for example, you’d expect her to come up with something moderately positive or uplifting. Worse still she blames this inability to offer some wise words or comforting actions on being awkward in social situations!
“I’m still quite socially awkward.”
At what point has the Thirteenth Doctor appeared socially awkward? Traits of social awkwardness include a difficulty at interacting in situations with other people, failure to pick up on social cues and reduced intuition of social graces. Throughout this series we have seen the Doctor interact with total strangers she has never met before. She didn’t seem socially awkward in those situations. In Orphan 55 for instance, we saw her become the dominant voice in a group of several people in addition to her three companions. If Chris Chibnall and the other writers are (finally!) trying to develop some individual characteristics for this particular incarnation of the Doctor it seems odd to declare such a thing without providing examples of those traits to support such a statement.
So why was The Doctor so cold to Graham?
Perhaps we are overlooking the obvious. The Doctor is an alien. Human anxieties and fears are likely to beyond the realms of her understanding. Of course, there is also nothing wrong with not having the words or knowing what to say. These can be very difficult conversations. If the Doctor can’t find the right thing to say then maybe we shouldn’t feel guilty when we experience a similar situation. But with a character who is so rarely lost for words this seemed entirely uncharacteristic.
Maybe there is another reason? Does the Doctor know something that we and Graham don’t? As in does she know that Graham’s cancer has or will return? Her avoidance of the subject might support that theory. Similarly, we are fully aware of a series finale featuring the Cybermen. Could cyber-conversion offer Graham an escape from further illness?
We may soon find out…