All change! There’ll be a new team on board the TARDIS next year when Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill join Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor for an adventure in space and time.
Well then… here we go again! After Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat bow out in Twice Upon a Time this Christmas, we’re in for yet another Doctor Who reboot. Just like the transition from ‘the RTD era’ to ‘the Moffat era’, the show as we know it is in for a shake-up. Of course, the biggest new change will be Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor herself – a groundbreaking move for the series. We don’t know yet if she’ll have a new sonic screwdriver or TARDIS interior, but we do know she’ll have a whole new set of friends. With Bill also exiting (again!) this Christmas, there’s a vacancy for the Time Lord’s companion. But in yet another surprising move from Chris Chibnall, we’re getting not one, not two, but three new companions for Series 11. The question is: how will this affect the show’s dynamic?
Over the last twelve years of New Who, we’ve been conditioned to expect the ‘male Doctor plus young female companion’ model. With Jodie Whittaker at the helm now, it was clear that formula would be flipped on its head. But even so, we don’t think many people would have expected this! It’d be fair to say that the introduction of Bradley Walsh (playing Graham) was not a surprise – partly due to the rumours, partly due to him being a well-known male British personality. It’s the addition of the two younger faces, Tosin Cole (playing Ryan) and Mandip Gill (playing Yasmin), that we find really interesting. Not only does this blow the tried-and-tested New Who format out of the water, it also promises some really exciting things for the future of the series.
Looking to the Past
Before we go any further though, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time we’ve had more than one companion. Heck, the very first episodes of Doctor Who had three companions: Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Quite often in the classic series, the Doctor would travel with a team rather than a single person. It’s possible that Chris Chibnall made this decision as a nod to the past, but it’s fairer to judge it by New Who standards than anything else. While we’ve always had one obvious companion – Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Clara, Bill – there’s often been other characters hanging around the TARDIS too. Mickey and Jackie were sort of companions in Series 1 and 2. You could maybe count Wilf from Series 4, even if he never joined Donna on her adventures. More recently we also had Danny Pink, Clara’s ill-fated love interest throughout Series 8.
The biggest and best example of a multi-companion format though is Amy and Rory. While Amy was clearly the dominant force through most of Series 5 (and, let’s face it, the other seasons as well), Rory was never far behind. He went from a weedy bit character in The Eleventh Hour to a full-fledged companion by the time he left in The Angels Take Manhattan. At the time it was really refreshing to see three people on the TARDIS. Notably, Amy and Rory’s marriage added an extra layer to the dynamic – for once it was the Doctor who was the third wheel. It wouldn’t be until Series 10 that we got another regular TARDIS trio with Bill and Nardole. Bill filled the standard companion role, while Nardole served as an older, more bumbling, (dare we say it) ‘celebrity’ character to bring in some comic relief.
The Fab Four?
If we had to hazard a guess, Series 11 looks to be aiming for the best of both worlds.Anyone who’s watched Law & Order UK knows that Bradley Walsh can act, but he’s undeniably best known for presenting daytime quiz show The Chase. For the casual audience, he could easily fill the void left by Matt Lucas – a lovable if ultimately unessential part of the TARDIS dynamic. From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense: bring in someone people recognise to bump up the viewing figures from the get-go. That leaves a clean slate for Tosin Cole’s Ryan and Mandip Gill’s Yasmin, who are likelier to be the ‘real’ companions. Again, a bit like Bill, but with the potential benefits of an Amy/Rory-style double act. Are they another couple? Could they be friends or family? Do they have nothing to do with each other at all? Time will tell.
The one spanner in the works is the additional casting of Sharon D Clarke in an unknown role. From her absence in the promos, it’s safe to predict she won’t be an actual companion. Or is this just a red herring? Arthur Darvill was never billed as a companion – not even a part-time one – before Series 5 first broadcast. He organically earned his place as the episodes progressed, his name finally appearing in the titles for Series 6. If Sharon is another slow-burning companion-of-sorts, that would mean five people on the TARDIS! That’s one hell of a big crowd, although we suppose it is meant to be piloted by six people. Although, on second thoughts, Michelle Gomez was mysteriously announced in a similar fashion pre-Series 8. Are we looking at another “Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere” situation…?
All For One
Ultimately though, this is all just wild speculation without context for the characters. Until we see their costumes, or the way they act, absolutely anything could be possible. For all we know they might be from entirely different planets or eras altogether! But, assuming they aren’t all caked in prosthetics, one thing is abundantly clear. Team TARDIS 2018 will be the most diverse to date. Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor is just the tip of the iceberg. Different races, different genders, different ages… all covered. There’s something for everyone, and that’s honestly wonderful. Doctor Who is a vast and inclusive show, and it’s nice that the core cast will reflect this. The only concern is that they all get appropriate screen time and development. Chris Chibnall has given himself a lot of balls to juggle. Let’s just hope he can keep them all in the air.