There was something curiously understated about Sunday night’s announcement regarding season eleven of Doctor Who. 10.35pm (UK time) on a Sunday night with no prior warning is a bizarre time to announce something as important as three new companions. Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole have been cast to play Graham, Yasmin and Ryan, respectively. But why did such a big announcement get so little coverage? What are the BBC and Doctor Who playing at?
Since the single tweet from the official Doctor Who Twitter account on Sunday night, there has not been a single mention of the news from the account, nor the BBC’s. Now think back eighteen months. Prior to Pearl Mackie’s casting, we were given days of warning that the announcement of who would play the new companion would be made at half time during an FA Cup semi-final on BBC One. Millions would’ve been watching. And when it arrived, we weren’t just given an announcement, we got a two minute clip of Pearl Mackie in action as Bill, fighting a Dalek alongside Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. The show had gone all out to introduce Pearl Mackie to the world and the BBC had done all the could to facilitate a high profile launch for one of their flagship show’s new stars. So what’s happened since then? This is the second major announcement since then. The other being Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the Doctor. That was treated similarly to Mackie’s cameo, with a short clip of Whittaker revealing herself under a hood, straight after the Wimbledon final, again on BBC One. Now I’m not saying that every announcement the show makes has to be done with such gusto, but could we not have had a bit more than what we’ve been given? As I type, a few days have passed since the announcement and still all we have is a picture of the new TARDIS quartet in their own clothes. At least put them in costume. Excite the fans. There’ll be around a fifteen month gap between season ten ending and season eleven beginning, with only a Christmas special in between. Surely a few promotional pictures of the new gang in their costume, fighting off a monster or just posing, would give fans something to talk about?
I’m no stranger to giving some stick to Doctor Who’s promotional team. In the past, they’ve regularly spoiled cliffhangers with misplaced trailers. The cooperation between them and the writing team is something Chris Chibnall needs to improve when he takes charge. But this just seems odd. Almost like the BBC don’t want people to be talking about the show. That is bizarre.
Representation has always been one of the shows strong points. With the first female Doctor having just been cast three months ago, the show reached a new level of diversity. And with four characters of mixed gender and race, you’d think the show would want to highlight this? It’s fantastic that Doctor Who is leading the way in gender and racial equality in television, so they should be shouting it from the rooftops. Give us interviews with cast members. Let them inspire others who might’ve previously felt held back by their gender, race, or even sexual orientation or religion.
I’m disappointed in the show, and the BBC. Regardless of my opinion on having a TARDIS team for the upcoming season (I’ll get to that shortly), it seems like an obvious opportunity has been missed to promote the show and everything it stands for. The three new cast members may also feel aggrieved if they look back and compare their welcome to the show to previous companion, Pearl Mackie’s. That could have any sort of affect on their confidence and moral going into filming.
Now the decision to have a TARDIS team in the first place is somewhat controversial. Initially, I was all for it, but four of them just seems like one too many. Season eleven is arguably the most pivotal season in the show’s long and distinguished history, along with the first season in each the modern and classic eras. The Doctor’s character is going to visit places he/she has never been before, and this should undeniably be the focus. So I just can’t see how three additional characters will help achieve this, especially when the season is being cut from twelve episodes to ten. Chris Chibnall won’t have a lot of screen time to flesh out the Doctor’s character compared to previous seasons, so how much time can be wasted on companions? Of course, companions are key to the show and always have been, but do we really need three? The overcrowded feel in the eighties certainly hampered Peter Davison’s run as the show’s protagonist, and I feel we never really saw him reach full potential because of it. Some have pointed to the three companions that the first Doctor jaunted around with, and yes they were superb together, but William Hartnell was very ill and couldn’t have all of the focus on him.
To me, this feels like a cautious move from the show. It cries of “We don’t have 100% faith that a female Doctor will work, so we’re putting three safety nets up around her to shift the spotlight if it doesn’t go so well”. There couldn’t be a worse approach. Doctor Who, Chris Chibnall and the BBC have done the hard bit, they’ve changed the gender of one of television’s most iconic characters. They’ve faced the inevitable backlash and got on with it. So just commit to the idea. Trust Jodie Whittaker and put all the focus on her. If it doesn’t work, so what? At least they tried their best. But to appoint Whittaker and then suffocate her with additional characters is just madness. The people opposed to a female Doctor will criticise regardless, and if it goes wrong, the rest of us will bemoan this revolutionary change wasn’t given a chance to breath and develop. I can only hope one, if not two of the characters will take a back seat, Nardole-esque, if you like. And as for future announcements, a bit of welly wouldn’t go amiss next time.