Playing it safe? Why Doctor Who should have stuck with an all-female TARDIS team for series 13
Warning: contains spoilers for the Doctor Who New Year's Day Special Revolution of the Daleks (check out our review here)...
Change is all part of the course with Doctor Who. After two seasons (and a couple of festive specials), the show said goodbye to companions Ryan and Graham, leaving Yaz as the sole companion to Jodie Whittaker's Doctor. Keeping Yaz on - who finally started to get some character development last series - the show established a first for the franchise; an all female TARDIS team.
Except, that as soon as the credits had finished, we were introduced to new companion Dan, played by John Bishop.
Now, I have nothing against the casting. Bishop doesn't necessarily strike me as companion material, but then Catherine Tate and Bradley Walsh have proved us all wrong. A new companion is always a great thing, as it gets to shake up the status quo and offer something new to the TARDIS. Doctor Who succeeds because it keeps changing up its cast (and if the rumours are to be believed, then another regeneration is coming sooner rather than later). I'm also loathe to criticise the show too deeply. As a Doctor Who fan, I think the show has its flaws and I much prefer the Moffat era to Chibnall's, but the great thing about the show is that there will be those that love the current version more. And with fan hate so vitriol on most big franchises (Doctor Who included), I'm loathe to add too much negativity.
But the more I think back on the special, there more I think that the show is missing a golden opportunity. Jodie Whittaker's Doctor was revolutionary; the first female Doctor on the show, opening up the show to exciting new possibilities and given another strong female role model to girls young and old. She is not always given the strongest material to work with, but there is something endearing about Whittaker's performance. I personally hope the rumours of her impending departure are just that; rumours. But then, I've always felt that her two predecessors should have had at least a series or two more in them.
With Mandip Gill sticking around for at least one more series, Doctor Who is giving audiences the first ever all-female TARDIS team. While the show usually balances the gender (there was almost always a female companion or two to the male Doctors), there were instances where there was a male companion to Doctor. Frazer Hines' Jamie was a stalwart companion to Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor even as female companions came and went. Matthew Waterhouse's Adric travelled with Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor between female companions. So a female companion to female Doctor isn't without precedent. After almost sixty years, the Yaz / Thirteenth Doctor does something we've never seen on Doctor Who.
Announcing Dan before we've had time to digest what this means diminishes that completely. In the effort to create a new 'Fam', Chibnall has squandered the best opportunity he has had since he cast Whittaker as the Doctor. A female perspective on the universe. It's completely understandable why the Doctor had male companions to start with, striking that gender balance that has run through the show's history. But two series in, doesn't the Thirteenth Doctor deserve a little more?
What would two female time travellers encounter in the past, without a character like Graham? The Witchfinders might have turned out somewhat differently. Would an all-female perspective to an alien invasion or a house of horrors play out differently without a male gaze? Would the audience accept a female-only male cast? I don't see why not and those objecting probably aren't worth debating. The trouble is, we're not going to see that because Yaz isn't going to be the only companion in the next series of Doctor Who.
Not replacing Ryan and Graham would also solved the 'too many companions' problem that has hampered character development in the recent two series and in the past (see Nyssa, Adric and Tegan for example). Yaz can finally shine and more importantly, the Thirteenth Doctor can finally take the spotlight in a show that had largely made her a passive character in too many stories. Chibnall can write great character drama, but he hasn't done enough to make Whittaker's Doctor the hero of the story. In her brief appearances, there's been far more gravitas to Jo Martin's Doctor than Whittaker has had across most of her run. And if this is going to be her final run of episodes, then the focus on another companion is only going to eat into the valuable character development real estate these next eight episodes are going to offer.
I'm still going to keep watching Doctor Who. I'm intrigued by what Bishop will bring to the role of Dan. I'm also excited to see what Yaz is like without Ryan and Graham and hope this is not really the end of the Thirteenth Doctor. The current version of Doctor Who might not always be my cup of tea, but I still enjoy sitting down to watch a new episode and I don't think that's ever going to end. But I'm also disappointed that the show isn't just a little bit braver too.