Would Bradley Walsh actually make a good Doctor Who companion?
It’s easy to dismiss the Chase star out of hand – but he could actually breathe new life into the series says Huw Fullerton
Could BRADLEY WALSH really be the next Doctor Who companion? It’s the question on many Whovians’ lips after shock reports on Tuesday that the comic-turned-actor and gameshow host is set to join Jodie Whittaker in the Tardis when the Thirteenth Doctor begins her rounds next year.
Right now, we should probably take the whole story with a pinch of salt – remember when Kris Marshall was definitely going to be the Doctor? – but even if this does all turn out to be misinformation spread by the BBC or just an honest mistake (Walsh could be playing another role in the series), we do have to consider the least complicated answer.
Maybe, just maybe, the story’s true – and if it is, the question of whether Walsh could be the companion takes on a very different meaning.
You see, when I first heard this rumour, I reacted pretty negatively. Would the BBC really cast Bradley Walsh, these days best known for presenting gameshows The Chase and Cash Trapped on ITV, as the co-lead in their big, bold reimagining of the show? How would the fans respond to an older male companion (Walsh is 57 to Whittaker’s 35), or indeed a main male companion at all? And if the show was going down that route, wouldn’t it plump for an actor with slightly more serious dramatic chops, not a shiny-floor presenter?
Now, it wasn’t just me being this shallow – I got a lot of texts from friends who watch the series assuming this was a late April Fools’ gag – and for a while, I couldn’t help but wonder if casting the ever-popular Walsh was a cynical attempt to bring a more mainstream audience over to Doctor Who, and I felt disappointed by that idea.
But then I thought about it a little more, and looked around at Walsh’s past work. Yes, his starring role in Law & Order: UK is a connection to that series’ creator and new Doctor Who boss Chris Chibnall that lends the idea of his casting a little more weight, but it's also a reminder that he has a strong drama pedigree, as does his work in Coronation Street over the years. And anyway, hasn't Doctor Who cast great comic actors in serious roles before, like Catherine Tate's fan-favourite companion Donna Noble?
Walsh has also proved he can hold his own in Doctor Who’s sci-fi world after a guest role in series spin-off the Sarah-Jane Adventures.
And perhaps the concept of an older male companion isn’t such a turn-off for viewers as I'd first imagined.
Following the news, RadioTimes.com ran a poll asking fans what they thought of having a more senior figure accompanying the Doctor, and the response was overwhelmingly in favour, with 67.75% supporting the idea and only 32.5% not keen (though this was a general poll and not about Walsh in particular, the context would have put him at the forefront of voters’ minds).
On Twitter there were also a lot of positive responses (see above), and one fan’s suggestion (that Walsh’s character could be a middle-aged man down on his luck “saved” by the Doctor) made me imagine the possibilities of this new sort of companion. Doctor Who would be different, yes – for most of the series’ history the Doctor’s “primary” companion has almost always been a younger woman – but that wouldn’t necessarily be bad.
Casting Walsh would allow for new kinds of stories, instantly refreshing a half-century-old format in the same way that casting a woman as the Doctor already has. An older companion would react to adventures, danger and monsters differently to a young ingénue, and that fresh take on a slightly worn sci-fi format could be exactly what the series needs.
And hey, if Walsh’s casting did bring in some fans of his other work, would that be a bad thing? Doctor Who is a family teatime stalwart, a national classic that should be just as popular with viewers of The Chase as any lifelong Gallifrey Base member. Bradley Walsh is a popular public figure with a big profile, serious acting experience and the potential to inspire interesting new storytelling. How is any of that bad news for Doctor Who?
Bradley Walsh and Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker
Now, of course it could be argued that all of this is premature. Walsh hasn’t been confirmed as the companion yet (personally I still have my doubts about the truth of the story), and even if he had been, we’re probably over a year away before seeing a single scene of his character in action. The end result could be terrible.
But I think it’ll be worth giving Walsh a chance, just for now. Maybe a surprise regeneration for the companion, as well as the Doctor, is just what Doctor Who needs.
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 this Christmas