Doctor Who’s series 13 Comic-Con@Home panel was full of interesting information about the upcoming episodes, from a short trailer and new castings (hi, Jacob Anderson!) through to major format changes and some fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes from John Bishop.
Still, perhaps the most intriguing hint came at the very end of the panel, when each of the guests were asked to describe series 13 in one word. While the cast went for traditional teasing words – “riveting,” “inspirational” and “mysterious” – Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall went a little off-piste, instead opting to say the word “swarm” as his teaser.
Really, this raises a lot of questions. Given that season 13 has been confirmed as one interconnected, serialised story it seems to be a given that “swarm” in some way relates to the series as a whole, and could end up being a major part of the arc. However, outside of any context it’s utterly baffling – not that this has stopped fans from trying to decode it.
And already they have one or two good ideas. Many fans were quick to notice that the tease shares a name with 1970s Doctor Who monster The Swarm, a parasitic creature that takes over hosts through their eyes and was embodied by a slightly ropey prawn-like beastie called The Nucleus of the Swarm.
The 1977 story it appeared in marked the debut of K-9, but despite this The Invisible Enemy isn’t remembered as an all-time classic (at least partially because of the creature design), so it seems like an odd choice for a major comeback. Still, it could be that Chibnall has decided to revamp what is at base a good idea (alien body snatchers!) and redeem the Swarm with a more modern story, which sees the Doctor unsure who to trust.
Swarm? Invisible Enemy?? Having a virus as the Big Bad would be topical! #DoctorWho— Gary Hopkins 💙 (@TheGazulator) July 25, 2021
With all that said, though, it’s also entirely possible that this name doubling is a coincidence. Given the history of secrecy during Chibnall’s tenure in charge, it seems unlikely he’d just…blurt out the name of a monster that was a part of his big plans. (Picture the scene. “My one word tease? Voord!” Chibnall says).
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Perhaps instead, the swarm nod is that fans could look for something of the tone of those monsters in series 13 – a kind of paranoia and lack of trust, possibly evidenced by the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) keeping things from Yaz (Mandip Gill) in the new teaser trailer.
I'm super intrigued by Chibnall's one word description of S13 being 'swarm.' It reminds me of when someone described the 50th in one word as 'Paintings' & it made no sense at the time, but on reflection, it was the perfect 'hint.' I hope the same will happen here. #DoctorWho— connor 💛 💫 (@whoronomy) July 25, 2021
Or, as some have pointed out, it could just be an incredibly oblique hint that makes no sense now. The Day of the Doctor’s one-word tease was “paintings,” and with hindsight that makes perfect sense. Ahead of time? We were trying to look into the past of the show for relevant art-based adventures. It could be that by delving into a world of space-prawns, we’re doing the exact same thing here.
Maybe Swarm is a character, maybe it’s a characteristic of the threats faced by the TARDIS team (swarming around them) or maybe it’s just the name of the Doctor’s new cat. Maybe it’s a super-group of insect-themed supervillains from across the Who years (The Vespiform, the Wirrn, Chantho and the Zarbi forming their version of the Sinister Six), or a new gadget welded to the TARDIS controls. It could be anything!
Also this might be a bit far fetched, but in the panel Chris Chibs’ one word to describe the series was Swarm?? Vashta Nerada getting a reprise perhaps??? #DoctorWho— honbon (@honorheward) July 25, 2021
Maybe it’s even the hint of a River Song return (pouring one out for the fans hoping Alex Kingston was the “special surprise guest” of the panel, or trying to make the tease word “riveting” include “river”) – after all, didn’t the carnivorous Vashta Nerada shadows “swarm” in her very first episode back in 2008?
Frankly, we could theorise about this for days – and rest assured, behind-the-scenes we probably will – and we have to tip our digital hat to Chris Chibnall for giving the fans some meaty speculation to tear into as they wait the next few months to actually see what it’s all about.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already pretty riveted and inspired by this mystery. And I can’t wait for the next swarm of fan theories…