A lot of changes are coming to DOCTOR WHO this season, and this past summer at San Diego Comic-Con, cast members and writers from the upcoming run of new episodes met with reporters to give a spoiler-free tease of what’s to come. Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill were present to discuss their characters (the Thirteenth Doctor, Ryan, and Yasmin, respectively). Also on-hand were Chris Chibnall (DOCTOR WHO’s newest show runner) and fellow executive producer Matt Strevens.
In the second half of our coverage, we talk a little bit more about what to expect this season on DOCTOR WHO. For part one, where we discussed the importance of finally bringing a female Doctor to the screen, as well as some of the bosses’ goals, click here.
Newness permeates DOCTOR WHO’s upcoming season. First up: Unlike previous Doctors, Thirteen will have friends instead of companions. When asked about the change in terminology, Chibnall said that “it just feels a bit more natural.” Nobody walks into a room and starts introducing people as their “companions,” so why should the Doctor? Additionally, referring to Ryan and Yasmin as the Doctor’s friends (or “mates” if you’re on the other side of the pond) “feels a bit more emotionally connected” for our new, more egalitarian Doctor.
Who exactly are these friends, anyway? Mandip Gill plays Yasmin, “a nineteen-year-old girl who went to work, just thought she could do more, who asked for more, got more — so just be careful what you ask for — and went on this adventure and found a family away from home. She’s completely in awe of the Doctor. Initially, the Doctor says to jump, [and] she says, ‘how high.” Yas has a great relationship with Thirteen’s other two friends, as well.
One of those others is Ryan, played by Tosin Cole. Ryan “enjoys the ride” and “goes with the flow.” He’s “cool in a crisis situation” but may try to come up with his own plans. When that happens, “he gets it right sometimes, wrong a lot of the time.” Regardless, he “enjoys the ride as it goes on, more and more and more.”
And the changes won’t stop there. Fans, both old and (hopefully) new, can expect an all-new DOCTOR WHO — from top to bottom. This season the newest Doctor comes with “all-new stories, all-new monsters, all-new villains.” With the season almost complete at the time of the press conference, Chibnall teased that the Doctor and her friends “haven’t come across any old villains yet.” He also noted that one of his goals was to create a story that convinced new viewers that DOCTOR WHO “is the greatest idea television has ever had; the Doctor is the greatest character creation in the history of drama.”
Additionally, Whittaker promised that “you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge on the history of DOCTOR WHO to be included in this journey.”
New Doctor, new look. How exactly does one choose what the Doctor should wear? For starters, Whittaker said of herself and costume designer Ray Holman, “we didn’t want something that felt too neat, I suppose.” She then went on to describe the story of how she found what ultimately became her Doctor’s look: “I sent [Chibnall], in between auditions, hundreds of images. And one of them, I don’t know where it was from…It was a woman walking with purpose and deep in thought, striding. She had short trousers on, boots, bracelets, and a a t-shirt. And the picture was black and white, so I don’t know what era that picture is from. And the woman had hair like mine…So, it felt…It was just a wonderful expression — in one image — of timelessness, purpose, and inclusiveness, all in one simple look. And you didn’t feel you needed to be a certain shape or age to wear it. Or gender. And that’s mainly where [the Doctor’s costume] came from.”
Even with all of these changes, existing Whovians should still recognize the DOCTOR WHO we know and love. Whittaker vowed, “for the fans — for Whovians — season eleven is for them,” and Chibnall would later back up her statement, explaining, “for people who love the show and know every episode of the show, [the mission was] to give them a really concentrated hit of everything they love about DOCTOR WHO.”
And there’s at least one DOCTOR WHO tradition that we can safely expect to continue: “I would definitely envision another episode after the end of the [ten-episode] series,” teased Chibnall. So, it’s safe to assume there’s a Christmas special on the horizon.
Setting the tone. A little bit of everything is just what the Doctor ordered: DOCTOR WHO season 11 sounds like it will have storytelling that’s as diverse tonally as it is in every other aspect. “It’s hopefully funny, scary, emotional, exciting, full of action and adventure. It’s cinematic. It’s epic.”
Traveling with the Doctor. Rather than spoil exactly where and when Thirteen and her friends may travel, the cast spoke on what interested them about joining a series which has been known for sending its characters all over time and space. Mandip Gill started off: “For me, personally, it would be to learn those things that we may not have been taught in school or forgot about — things that we think about, whether they’re out there or not.”
Following up on her comments, Tosin Cole mentioned that he’d like seeing the different planets that a friend of the Doctor may get to visit. He was “just looking forward to seeing cool stuff and learning new things.”
Of course, nobody knows exactly how anyone’s getting from point A to point B: As you’ll recall, the TARDIS exploded…But when it comes to whether there will be a new TARDIS, no TARDIS, or by which timey-wimey miracle the same TARDIS, no one’s saying a word. You’ll have to tune in to solve that mystery.
DOCTOR WHO season 11 premieres on BBC America on Sunday, October 7.