One of the few constants on Doctor Who is change. Companions come and go. Even the Doctor herself is not guaranteed to look the same from one season to the next. Such is the cycle of life in the TARDIS.
Therefore, few fans were likely surprised by the news that stars Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole, who play Graham O’Brien and Ryan Sinclair respectively, would depart following holiday special “Revolution of the Daleks.” After all, the show itself hints that Ryan, at least, is more than ready to return to his real life during the final few episodes of season 12.
And the thing is—as sad as we’ll be to say goodbye to Ryan, Graham, and both the charming men who portray them, this casting shift is probably the smartest move Doctor Who could make right now. It’s a natural endpoint for both characters’ stories. More importantly it also neatly solves multiple problems currently facing the series.
At the moment, the TARDIS is simply too crowded. Showrunner Chris Chibnall has really never cracked the secret of how to tell a story around four leads. There’s clearly a reason we haven’t had a three-companion set-up since Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor era. As a result, it feels like no one gets the screen time they deserve or has much in the way of genuine interiority.
While Ryan and Graham’s relationship was a cornerstone of season 11’s plot, both characters have languished in season 12. Yaz has been a companion for two full seasons, and yet it often seems as though we barely know her. The show has given each big, emotional moments, but fails to do the everyday work that strings them together into real arcs. And that’s a shame.
The departure of Ryan and Graham will not only allow Yaz, a criminally underused character, to finally step forward into the spotlight, but it will also change the composition of the show in an unprecedented way. In season 13, the TARDIS will be populated solely by women for the first time in Doctor Who’s 54-year history—a change that feels both extremely necessary and long overdue.
True, the Doctor has never been female before. It’s not like we could have witnessed this dynamic prior to this moment. But this is an opportunity the show should embrace. Because although star Jodie Whittaker is the first female Doctor in series history, Doctor Who has seemed largely uninterested in truly exploring what that means for the character or how that shift should impact the stories it tells.
Part of that is due to the aforementioned overcrowding in the TARDIS. That has presented us with so many new characters that it’s been difficult to truly get to know any of them, even and perhaps especially the Doctor herself. But it’s also due to the fact that Doctor Who has been loath to give Thirteen much in the way of an inner life. The series rarely acknowledges the difference that being a woman might make in the Doctor’s journey.
A few notable episodes, such as season 11’s “The Witchfinders”, directly address how explicitly different Thirteen’s experience is now that she no longer wears a man’s face. But in trying to make sure their first female Doctor wasn’t presented in an overly gendered way—and thank goodness she’s not running through space and time in stilettos or anything—the show has opted to shirk dealing with her gender at all. But by making both the Doctor and her companion women, the issue is both unavoidable and an organic part of the story.
Doctor Who has never really written female friendship before, certainly not in the same way it handled the thorny relationships between the Doctor and companions like Rose or Clara. This is the show’s chance to do so, and it should seize it. Yaz already has the most intense connection with the Doctor out of Thirteen’s current companions; their relationship is worth exploring in greater depth. (She is the only person to really stand up to or disagreed with Thirteen in any significant way.)
Yaz fits the mold of many of the standalone companions that have come before her. She’s a young, adventure-seeking woman with a take-charge personality and a desire to find her place in the universe. She is perhaps the most underserved character of the Thirteenth Doctor era. The idea that she will finally get to take center stage is certainly an exciting one.
But most exciting of all is the idea that Doctor Who will finally embrace not just female-focused stories, but a distinctly female-focused perspective in its storytelling. It’s something many fans have waited to see since this Doctor regenerated in the first place. And now, it feels as though we’re finally going to get the chance to do so.