TARDIS teams seem to have gone out of fashion in the modern series of the show. In the classic era, they were common place. The very first season of the show back in 1963 had a four man crew of the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. The TARDIS housing more than just the Doctor and his companion was common, however there’s only been one full time team since 2005. The eleventh Doctor was joined by Amy Pond and Rory Williams for a season and a half, in full. Apart from that, Doctors nine, ten and twelve have all opted for just the one companion, until now. Despite Captain Jack, Mickey Smith and River Song all flirting with the idea of making up a TARDIS triumvirate, we are set to hopefully enjoy the TARDIS one closer to capacity than usual.
So what are the differences between the Doctor travelling with a solitary companion and a team? Well in season six and seven the Doctor seemed to be having the most fun any Doctor ever had. He swanned about the universe with his two best friends, basically just larking around. His relationship with Amy was similar to most modern era friendships he’s had with companions, which is perhaps down to the fact they shared a season together alone before Rory tagged along. Amy’s marriage to Rory meant that the Doctor had to consider Amy’s safety more than he might have done had the husband not been there. This shouldn’t be much of an issue in season ten though. Unless we discover that Nardole has some sort of attachment to Bill, then we should see the Doctor allow Bill the freedom he normally grants his companions.
In previously said trio, Rory was the one who often took the back seat in episodes and provided some welcome comic relief in a few darker moments. That’s not to say he wasn’t a worthy member of the team. He proved, by waiting two thousand years for Amy as well as bravely confronting an entire Cyber-fleet, that he was worthy of his place aboard the TARDIS. However, he was sometimes treated a bit like a fool by the Doctor, one-off characters and occasionally by Amy. His clumsiness and slightly dozy persona is what allowed him to be this sort of character. When the Doctor is travelling with just a companion, you find most episodes are written with a character like this to lighten the mood. Think back to season nine and Rufus Hound’s character, Sam Swift the Quick, in The Woman Who Lived was exactly that. With more than just a companion aboard, it gives a full time character the opportunity to take on that role, and that’s exactly what I think Nardole will do. Some may say this is a good thing, some may disagree. Matt Lucas is one of the biggest names Doctor Who has lured in recent years, and to get him on a full-time basis is undeniably a coup. So, it’s important his character is written properly. I wasn’t Rory Williams’ biggest fan, but Arthur Darvill was terrific at nailing both the serious and silly scenes with consistency. Steven Moffat and Matt Lucas both have a responsibility to ensure Nardole doesn’t become too silly. If he squeals every time there’s danger, like he did at Christmas when he was flying the spaceship, then he’s going to quickly become difficult to watch. I wrote a piece last year where I talked about how I hoped Matt Lucas would be allowed to write some of his own jokes. A lot of Moffat’s attempts at humour over the years have been horrid, so I think it’d really help Nardole if the serious stuff was left to the exiting head writer. Giving Lucas some leeway would help utilise what a funny man he is, as long as his acting in the sincere moments is adequate at worst.
When Pearl Mackie was cast as Bill, I was excited at what seemed like a refreshing change in the type of character the Doctor was going to travel with. Donna Noble aside, every modern era companion has been baked from the same mixture. They’ve all had their own individual quirks, but they’ve all had huge respect for the Doctor, verging on fancying him. Bill’s relationship with the Doctor already appears to be different. The respect remains, but she just seems to see him as a friend, a fatherly guide almost, taking her through space. In the two minute clip we got of her last year and in the recent trailer, she seems to be absolutely loving her experience and just being herself. She doesn’t appear to have any sort of agenda like previous companions may have had, or be adapting her personality to please the Doctor or to fit in with her surroundings. Bill is what I’m most looking forward to in season ten. From the brief glimpses we’ve had of her, she reminds me a lot of Ace, and if Bill can recreate similar chemistry with the twelfth Doctor, that Ace had with the seventh, then she will be fantastic entertainment.
The Doctor, Bill and Nardole together doesn’t quite seem like a natural fit just yet. Amy and Rory’s marriage is what essentially forced the Doctor to welcome Rory aboard. But with Bill and Nardole seemingly unconnected, there’s nothing that links them together. Will Nardole play the K9 role, in having massive respect for the pair and obeying everything they ask – not quite their equal? If he is treated just a like a second companion then I sincerely hope it doesn’t take any focus away from Bill. As I’ve mentioned, Amy and the eleventh Doctor’s relationship was allowed to blossom without Rory initially, and even when Rory joined them, he was often less prominent than the pair. I hope Bill is given a fair amount of screen time alone with the Doctor in comparison to recent past companions. Her cameo has promised much and it would be a crying shame if Nardole cast a shadow over her era and blocked her massive potential.