Doctor Who’s New Year special promises an intriguing mini-reboot
Forget the Daleks – this episode is really all about the Doctor/companion relationship. **CONTAINS SPOILERS**
It doesn’t seem completely out of line to observe that new Doctor Who special Revolution of the Daleks doesn’t have the most cheerful of finales.
Despite successfully holding off two separate Dalek invasions, saving the world and cracking a few jokes in the process, Jodie Whittaker's Doctor concludes her latest adventure on a slightly dour note, with the departure of longtime companions Graham and Ryan (Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole) casting a pall over her victory.
“It’s OK to be sad,” remaining sidekick Yaz (Mandip Gill) tells Whittaker’s Doctor as the pair watch their friends walk away, in what may not be the most dynamic mission statement for their upcoming series together – but despite this, I’m intrigued by the seeds sown for Gill and Whittaker’s revamped partnership in the upcoming episodes.
According to Jodie Whittaker herself in Doctor Who Magazine, the now-filming series 13 can be defined as “the new adventures of the Doctor and Yaz,” and amid all the action, fond farewells and Dalek attacks this New Year’s episode does begin to lay out exactly how this shake-up could look in the series.
Though we now know that John Bishop is also joining series 13 as a new companion called Dan, it still seems like the Doctor/Yaz interaction will be key in upcoming episodes, if not more so because of his presence. After all, based on this episode it'll be interesting to see how Yaz reacts to a new face joining "the fam" and potentially changing her relationship with the Doctor.
Throughout Revolution of the Daleks the dependency Yaz has developed for the Doctor is highlighted, with Gill’s police officer (who appears to have abandoned her career, though this isn’t stated explicitly) unable to move on from her time-travelling days in the way her friends have.
When the Doctor does return, Yaz reacts personally and physically to their separation – she shoves the Doctor, quite violently – and is troubled by Captain Jack’s (John Barrowman) hints that travelling with the Doctor can have its downsides when you’re left behind.
Despite all this, by the close of the episode she’s so eager to keep on travelling that she blurts out her response before the Doctor can even finish asking her – and while the Doctor is delighted to have one of her friends onboard, viewers may wonder whether we should be reading into Yaz’s desperate need to be with the Doctor.
Of course, more likely than not, this eagerness to pick up where she left off is just intended to demonstrate Yaz’s enthusiasm for life with the Doctor, teeing up a series where the new TARDIS trio (now including Bishop) have lots of fun and excitement throughout time and space.
But you also have to wonder whether we’re in for some greater examination of the Doctor and Yaz’s relationship going forward, the renewed focus on a smaller cast (just three instead of four regulars) meaning that we’re in for a more targeted, interpersonal kind of storytelling in the next series.
Because arguably, the grand companion experiment introduced by showrunner Chris Chibnall when he took over the sci-fi series is at an end. Since 2018 the BBC sci-fi drama has boasted three additional cast members alongside the Doctor in contrast with the traditional (at least for the modern series) one Doctor/one or two companion relationship, with some arguing that the large cast meant each actor didn't get enough to do.
Now, at a stroke, the “fam” as a four are no more. Once again we are back to what we had during Peter Capaldi or Matt Smith's tenure - one Doctor showing a duo of companions the weird and wonderful sights of the universe – with the potential for more emphasis on those two companions' relationship with the Doctor rather than the “group hang” feel of the last two series.
Behind-the-scenes, Mandip Gill herself already seems to have noticed a difference filming series 13.
“I have straight away noticed that I am at the forefront, I do have more lines. That is really exciting,” she told SFX.
“I don't know where it's going to go, or how long it's going to last, but, right now, I am enjoying being at the forefront.”
Surely with this focus, the series has to drill a little into what connects and separates the Doctor and Yaz, just as it did with companions past like Rose Tyler, Martha Jones or Amy Pond? With the larger cast, it sometimes felt like Yaz could get lost in the mix – now, there seems to be no reason why she couldn’t be in for some greater exploration going forward.
Assuming, of course, that introducing Bishop's Dan doesn't take up too much energy in the series. While we've had new companions join the modern series before we've rarely had them tacked on to an already-established Doctor-companion relationship, and exactly how this plays out could be fascinating. Could Yaz resent Dan taking up more of the Doctor's attention? Would Dan feel left out of the Doctor and Yaz's past experiences? And what would Graham and Ryan think about being replaced so easily?
Certainly, it opens up interesting new story ideas that could help bring something different to this new era of Doctor Who. And however Chris Chibnall and his team approach this changing dynamic, Revolution of the Daleks is the first step in a journey for what looks set to be a rather altered version of the series.
It's going to be new, and it's going to be different – but personally, I’m quite intrigued to see where the Doctor, Yaz and Dan go next.
Doctor Who will return to BBC One this year. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.