It's going to be a rough year for Doctor Who fans - with only the 2016 Christmas Special to sate viewers until the show's return in 2017. After a solid two years as the Time Lord, Peter Capaldi and the Doctor Who crew are taking a year off to regroup - and set the stage for a new showrunner (and likely new star) in the eleventh "modern series" season. However, before Steven Moffat bows as writer-producer of the series, handing the reins to Chris Chibnall, the BBC has another role to fill - a replacement for Jenna Coleman's companion, Clara Oswald, who departed the series in the season 9 finale.
While viewers have enjoyed fan-casting their own choices (we've got our own picks for who the network should cast as the new companion), no names had, up until now, been floated (officially or unofficially). Still, with a fan base as loyal and eager for news as Whovians, something was bound to slip out eventually - and, today, we may have discovered the identity of the next actor to journey with the Doctor through time and space.
According to a report from the Radio Times, actress Rakhee Thakrar is in talks with BBC to co-star in season 10 of Doctor Who alongside returning Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi. American viewers might not be familiar with Thakrar but the actress is well-known in the UK for her work as Shabnam Masood on the British drama, EastEnders.
The report has yet to be confirmed by BBC and Radio Times suggests the actress is one of several performers who will meet with producers; though, Mirror UK elaborated on the initial rumor suggesting that, unless something changes, Thakrar could be the front-runner for season 10's companion. It might sound like a wild rumor at first but the potential addition of Thakrar comes as the actress resigned her role on EastEnders. At this time, assuming the rumor is even true, it's possible Doctor Who producers came knocking when they heard the actress was about to become available.
Either way, the timing is suspect and certainly hints that Thakrar has a clear schedule to begin preparation for Doctor Who - which anyone familiar with the production knows is an extremely grueling and time-consuming role. In addition to press tours, convention appearances, and other secondary responsibilities, Doctor Who series regulars spend a significant amount of their time on set. Between the highly cinematic and special effects-heavy filming of Doctor Who as a TV production, the Doctor and his companion have the added challenge of carrying the show's main story - requiring a hefty amount of screen time, compared to similar 1-hour dramas with a much larger cast (and multiple plot arcs). That's all to say, while portraying the Doctor's companion can be one of the most rewarding jobs in TV and movies today, it's an enormous commitment that prevents performers from taking-on much else.
It may be awhile before we get any official word from BBC, especially since the series is prepping for one of its biggest overhauls to date; though, it would make sense that, with such a large and ambitious plan for Moffat's final season, the network would start lining up key pieces. It may be over a year before the show returns in full, aside from the 2016 Christmas Special, but episode writers and pre-production artists will need to get rolling on season 10 in the not-too-distant future - since, as previously mentioned, Doctor Who requires a lot of time to film and post-produce. As a result, even though the report may seem to come out of nowhere, Thakrar could, indeed, replace Jenna Coleman in the TARDIS.
For anyone familiar with Thakrar's work, the actress is an intriguing fit - and the exact kind of talented performer that BBC would need for a co-starring spot next to Capaldi. Bucking Moffat's trend toward twenty-something companion actresses, Thakrar is slightly older at 32 years - and would also represent the first non-white full-time companion since Freema Agyeman's one-season run as Martha Jones in series 3 (alongside David Tennant). Agyeman would return to the Doctor Who universe on multiple occasions after her exit, especially in the spin-off Torchwood, and other non-white performers appeared in smaller companion capacities over the years, as recently as Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink; still, Thakrar would be a unique shift away from the predominantly white central cast that had dominated Moffat's run.
As Doctor Who has grown into a global phenomena, fans (both longtime and new) have begun calling for greater diversity - with many going so far as to hope that the Doctor himself could soon regenerate into someone other than a caucasian male. For that reason, it's not surprising to see BBC meeting with actresses that could showcase greater diversity in the central cast - especially since Thakrar is first and foremost a very capable actress.
Until BBC offers official confirmation, treat this report as rumor for now. Different outlets are treating the rumor with varying levels of significance and, even if Thakrar is BBC's first choice, front-runners don't always make it to the finish line. There's plenty that could still go wrong that might prevent Thakrar from taking her spot as the season 10 companion. That said, she's an exciting choice - and one that, if selected, should have no trouble carrying the companion mantle.
Doctor Who will continue with a Christmas special in December 2016. Season 10 is slated to air in 2017.