‘Changes are taking the pace’
When the news was released in the Mirror a couple of months ago that Bradley Walsh was rumoured to be a companion to Jodie’s Doctor , the reaction was I seem to remember mixed and dismissed by some as false news. At the time I was actually quite excited by his potential casting. I saw his character work in Law and Order and I know he has an acting CV so I wasn’t worried with the idea of an older man interacting with a younger doctor. But I will be completely honest with you now I am slightly disappointed that there are more companions following ( Mandip Gill as Yasmin and Tosin Cole as Ryan announced as joining the Tardis) Jodie Whittaker has described the new announcements as a ‘dream team’ For me it feels really crowded for such an important debut and I frankly enjoyed the Bill and the 12th Doctor relationship last series so there is a lot of merit for me in the Doctor and one companion relationship. Given my reaction and how era Whittaker is going to be mixing up the previous rules I thought it would be a good time to explore the idea of the ‘power of four’ dynamic.
‘Look out you rock ‘n rollers’
Of course having a team of weekly regulars is nothing new. It’s happened before. Go back to the very beginning with Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor and there you have the original Tardis team. During Hartnell’s time this Tardis crew was a finely balanced experiment with each character unconsciously mirroring the traditional family. Ian was ‘the father’ figure ready to take on any action that an older Doctor perhaps could not. Barbara was the mother figure and through these two Earth people’s eyes we could learn about the knowledgeable and mysterious ‘grandfather-y Doctor’ and his ‘unearthly’ grand-daughter.
It’s well documented that part of the remit of Doctor Who given by Sidney Newman, the new Head of Drama for the BBC in 1962, when helping to create the programme was it should have an educational element without ‘bug eyed monsters’ so it made sense to have two teachers, knowledgeable in science and history, able to convey information about different time periods they would encounter on their travels and also that little bit older to be able to challenge the Doctor. The historical ‘educational’ stories are at their strongest in this era with the ambitious exotic Marco Polo, the unsettling Reign of Terror and one of my favourite stories, ‘The Aztecs’, which has Barbara wrestling with whether she can go against barbaric practices, inherent in the Aztec’s culture, to save people but which could implicitly change the course of Aztec history.
What contributed to making the team format work in the 1960’s was the year round serialised nature of the programme where stories ran over several weeks. Each week had a cliff-hanger leading into the following week. The pace was hard for the regulars as one episode took approximately a week to film but they were able to take breaks and it didn’t necessarily affect the flow of the stories too much, so if a character was missing from one episode they would usually be back the following week. The formula did sustain as Carole Ann Ford left the show and Maureen O Brien came in as Vicki, similarly a young girl like Susan. The exception was towards the end of Hartnell’s era where due to his failing health (he suffered from arteriosclerosis , it affected his ability to learn his lines so he needed more regular time off. He is absent for a whole episode during ‘ The Tenth Planet’
‘Just gonna have to be a different man’
With Series 11 we have a run of ten 50 minutes episodes in which doesn’t give us much time to get to know three new characters, including a new Doctor. We don’t know yet how these characters are linked (if they are) so the question is will the companions have enough individual development to carry them through the series? It’s an unusual mix having an older man and two younger characters. I’ve read the rumours that Chris Chibnall may be considering changes to the structure with one connecting overall story for the whole series. This could be a positive development if the characters Graham, Yasmin and Ryan are allowed to grow and change throughout the story Children of Earth style. I’m thinking of Jack here as he ended up having to make huge sacrifices affecting his work and his family which almost broke him.
In Series 6 of Doctor Who we were carried along a particular story arc around River’s identity, the religious order the silence and the doctor’s name. River Song , Matt Smith’s Doctor, Amy and Rory were a quartet in five episodes and whether you thought that particular storyline and those episodes worked depends in part how much you liked the characters and the narrative. One overall storyline also has its weaknesses though as if people aren’t invested they could get bored halfway though and not watch the rest. I don’t believe that with the limitless format of Doctor Who they would necessarily go down the one overall story route as strictly as the Broadchurch connection but who really knows ?
I do wonder if Chibnall is trying to emulate the freshness of Peter Davison’s first series broadcast in 1982 by casting three companions. After seven years Tom Baker had tired of the role and hung up his scarf and the series needed a reboot to reflect going into the new decade and Peter Davison was cast . The reaction a few months ago to the female Doctor casting feels similar, to the furore around Peter Davison in 1980/1 as he was the youngest Doctor at 29 years old at the time to take on the role inheriting three new companions to see him through a new era.
Peter Davison came from a hugely successful, family orientated programme ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and was able to use that wave of popularity alongside some decent writing to make an impact. The show, which had traditionally been on Saturday evenings, was put on twice a week during the week on Mondays and Tuesdays, prime time early evening and Season 19 peaked at 10 million viewers with ‘Black Orchid’ as opposed to around 5.9 million viewers for Season 18.
I don’t believe Jodie Whittaker has necessarily the same height of profile as Peter so I really hope that being in a team of four doesn’t take away the focus from her. Series 11 has to be about Jodie Whittaker, taking that centre stage, making her mark as the first female Doctor. The show is so iconic in British television, she has seen to be leading the show from the front. I really won’t be shocked if it’s announced a few months from now that the programme will move away from Saturday nights.
As with many Doctor Who stories it will come down to how cleverly all the scripts for Series 11 are written. The classic series has highlighted how writing for more than two companions at a time can be tricky but also unsatisfying for the viewer. When Patrick Troughton started his tenure the more ‘hip’ Tardis had the attractive Polly and Ben who had joined William Hartnell in his last season. Frazer Hines had also only joined a few weeks. The script for ‘The Underwater Menace’, which was set in the lost city of Atlantis, was brought back after being dropped due to budgetary concerns. Jamie wasn’t in the original script. Having two young male leads now meant Jamie had to be incorporated in meaning he shared/stole some of Ben’s lines.
In the Davison era we had the story ‘ Kinda’ which hardly included Nyssa, as Sarah Sutton hadn’t been planned as a companion originally when the script was written, so her character was allowed to ‘recuperate’ abroad the Tardis whilst the other characters had the adventure. The irony is that it was decided that three companions was too many in Season 19 and originally Sarah Sutton as Nyssa was going to be written out but Peter Davison objected, so Adric who was seen as the most unpopular with viewers, drew the short straw and met his end. I wonder if all our new companions will make it to the end of series 11 ?
These are strange, exciting times and it really is another twist in the upcoming Chibnall era having a larger team. In the bible the number 4 derives its meaning from creation. On the fourth day of what is called ‘creation week’ God completed the material universe where he brought into existence our sun, the moon, and all the stars (Genesis 1:14 – 19). We can but hope that with Chris Chibnall at the helm all goes hunky dory with all the changes from Adelaide to London.