Confession #116: I Dig the New TARDIS Team

In the past week or so, several (shall we say) less-than-awesome things have been making news in Whovian circles (e.g., Nicholas Pegg getting fired from DWM, the public revelation that someone well-known in the US con community is a sexual predator, and the death of Dudley Simpson). It made me glad I had some happier news to discuss here. Sometimes it pays to be late to the game...

I'm referring, of course, to the two-and-a-half-week-old news that there will once again be a crowded TARDIS when Thirteen begins her tenure at the controls. In a press release on the official website, the BBC announced that there would be three regular cast members accompanying the Doctor on her travels (as well as someone in a "returning [recurring] role").

Even putting aside the fact that I think a larger cast can make for more interesting character interactions, and thus better stories overall, I love the way that it recalls TARDIS crews of old. When we first met the Doctor fifty-odd years ago, he traveled with his granddaughter and two humans who eventually became friends; Susan, Ian, and Barbara remain one of my favorite TARDIS teams.

Similarly, I know a lot of folks who became fans during the Fifth Doctor's run. He, too, traveled with a posse (Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric). I can't help but think that reminding those fans of their favorite era by stuffing the TARDIS with a variety of friends for the Doctor might tempt them to give this new version of the show a try, even if they've been more reluctant of late.

Of course, as someone who has been wholeheartedly on board these past three seasons anyway, I'm probably not the right person to ask about how to bring back disgruntled older-era fans. Instead, I'm going to look ahead to the coming changes and celebrate them, because I think we've got some really exciting possibilities in the works.

So let's review the line-up. Although we know nothing about these characters other than their given names and who will play them, we can posit a few things based solely on those actors. First up is new Companion Graham. Graham will be portrayed by Bradley Walsh, who is well-known in the UK for a career that has included playing professional football, acting on high-profile shows like Coronation Street and Law & Order: UK, presenting game shows, and—more recently—singing.

Graham presents as a run-of-the-mill, middle-aged white dude. Walsh is in his late fifties, and thus provides a more "mature" profile next to Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, whose outward appearance is now that of a mid-thirties white woman. I suspect Lynne from Verity! nailed it when she suggested that in some stories, people are likely to assume that Graham is the Doctor at first because he fits their expectations. Depending on how that's handled, it could provide some great social commentary.

Next we have Yasmin, played by Mandip Gill. Gill is just shy of 30 herself, and is of (South Asian) Indian extraction. Since that is probably the most common non-white ethnicity in the UK, it’s great finally to see an Indian Companion on the TARDIS. I envision Yasmin being the Doctor’s guide through social pitfalls previously unknown to her, as she navigates Western Earth cultures with her first feminine mien.

But like Bill's, Yasmin’s melanin could well force the Doctor to examine some things she’s mostly avoided or ignored in the past. I hope that we get more acknowledgment through the coming series (plural) of the way different identities cause (or allow) one to interact with the world around us.

Our third regular is Ryan, a 20-something Black man played by Tosin Cole. My main hope for him is that he doesn't come across as a Rigsy knock-off. At the very least, as he's been invited to travel with the Doctor, he'll have to be quick-witted in at least one manner, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the Doctor's relationship with him blooms. It's sure to be a dynamic we've not yet seen.

In fact, the whole crew is unlike any we've yet seen. With this combination of Companions, for the first time ever our TARDIS team will have multiple POC members. (Unless, I suppose, you count Journey’s End, (which I don’t), as Martha and Mickey were both part of that crowd. But that was a "kitchen sink" situation, not a single, coherent team.) What excites me most about that prospect is that it provides an opportunity to expand beyond tokenism. Neither Yasmin nor Ryan will have to represent Every Person of Color for the show.

There’s still a risk of some of that monolithic characterization, yes (thus my Rigsy comment above), but it’s lessened by every character we get outside of the straight white male (or the straight (mostly white) woman pining for him) default. Once they’re not the first/only such character, they can be expanded into fuller, multifaceted individuals. I’m really hopeful that Chibnall, who is known for character-focused writing, will take the opportunity he’s created for himself with this casting lineup, and run with it.

Let's not forget, however, Sharon D. Clarke—listed as almost a footnote in the press release—who is slated to play that recurring character. When I looked her up, I got even more excited for Series 11. An accomplished actress, Clarke is a queer Black woman in her early fifties. All of these identities are underrepresented in media. While we’ve no way to know what her character’s orientation will be or to what degree it will factor into the character’s arc, the inclusion of an older woman—and a Black one at that—itself buoys me and provides one more brick for the wall of hope I’m building as my viewing platform for the Chibnall era.

So far, the sight-lines look pretty good.

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