Doctor Who Season 11 Didn't Fully Balance Its Companions
Overall, it seems that Doctor Who fans have embraced new companions Yaz, Ryan and Graham, but this season has struggled to give each member of the team the attention that they deserve. Bradley Walsh’s Graham and Tosin Cole’s Ryan are already popular with fans. Their respective struggles with grief and dyspraxia ensure that they are accessible and relatable presences aboard the TARDIS. But their quirks and histories remain mostly inaccessible or disjointed, because each episode is working hard to juggle their fellow travellers, the plot and the show's action sequences. "The Woman Who Fell to Earth” establishes the issue of Ryan’s dyspraxia, but outside of him learning to ride his bike, it has been referenced very little since that first episode.
Even when these designated character moments are attempted, it doesn’t always pay off. During “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” Ryan discusses his father issues with Mandip Gill’s Yaz, in a scene that oddly takes place during the central, escalating threat. Rather than serving as an emotive heart-to-heart, the episode’s pacing shudders to a halt because the moment feels unnatural and shoehorned in. And regrettably, Yaz suffers the most out of the new characters.
“Arachnids in the UK” and “Demons of the Punjab” are the first points at which audiences can glean a greater sense of Yaz's personal life outside her police work. Yet these episodes occur around the series midpoint, well after her initial introduction. As a central character, there's too much of a gap between her first appearance and these explorations of her life. Furthermore, after these episodes establish Yaz’s family situation, they have no bearing on what follows. As such, she continues to be the least fleshed-out member of the TARDIS crew. On another note, its strange that this is even occurring. Thanks to a change in the show's format and runt-time, Doctor Who's writers have even more time to get to grips with their characters and stories, but they are clearly not doing so.
Doctor Who is no stranger to ensembles, since the First Doctor travelled with his granddaughter Susan and her teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton. Even so, the newer series have shied away from bigger core casts, only maintaining two or three companions for several episodes at most. Now that the first series has established the group’s quirks and dynamics, Doctor Who’s writers may now be able to evolve and test this group of travellers more than they have already done so. Yet as it stands, the case of Ryan, Graham and Yaz might exemplify why the show rarely operates with a larger TARDIS team.
Jodie Whittaker Is A Great Doctor, She Hasn't Had Great Stories (Yet)
Though Jodie Whitaker’s casting still provokes anger in some quarters, it’s safe to say that few (if any) of season 11’s failings are her fault. From the get-go, she has truly captured the fierce intelligence, the eccentricity and the empathy that defines the show's lead character. Certainly, while she’s embodied the enduring core of this British icon, Whitaker’s Doctor has also opened the door for new storytelling possibilities. The way in which the Doctor was initially treated as a servant by King James I during “The Witchfinders” could hardly have occurred if the Doctor had retained a male form. Plus, the cheeky implication that the Doctor has been a woman before her twelve male iterations has added a new twist to a canon that’s almost fifty years old.
However, despite all of this, season 11 hasn’t served Whitaker’s Doctor as well as it should have. In the same way that her companions are unevenly handled, the Doctor is frequently left sidelined within her own stories. Because of this reduced focus, audiences have not had the same amount of time to become acquainted with every one of this particular Doctor's quirks.
This is further emphasised by the fact that few episodes have attempted to directly interrogate the Doctor’s psyche through their stories. In previous years, ‘Dalek’ and ‘Heaven Sent’ tested what it was that drove the Doctor and made them the person they are, but there’s little of that on display in the Thirteenth Doctor’s inaugural series. Moreover, Chris Chibnall has avoided many references to the Doctor’s conflicted past, including the Time War. Though this conflict had become somewhat overused during the Twelfth Doctor’s run, the trauma that each incarnation carried undeniably lent the Doctor a sense of hard-earned experience, age and mystery. The Doctor should not be an angst-ridden alien, but by downplaying these fictional tragedies – and leaving her emotional state relatively untested – the character loses part of what made the Doctor’s many iconic forms so compelling in the first place.
Nevertheless, there is still plenty to enjoy as Doctor Who progresses. From its thoughtful treatise on humanity, to its quirky humour, Doctor Who still has a lot to offer to viewers of all demographics. And though there’s little to indicate how Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor – whose return has been confirmed – will develop throughout the coming years, season 12 has a lot of potential to deliver it’s a compelling and thrilling exploration of time and space.