It can be hard to assemble a cast when there are details about your series that you just can’t share with them. Certainly that was the case when producer Chris Chibnall was assembling his ensemble for the upcoming eleventh season of ‘Doctor Who’. In particular, Chibnall’s evasiveness – born of the fact that he could not yet reveal who would be playing the Thirteenth Doctor – could well have prevented him from convincing Bradley Walsh to take on the role of companion Graham O’Brien.
You might expect that they’d want potential companions to audition with their Doctor, if only to get a sense of how the actors will play off one another. But that plainly wasn’t the case this time around. Indeed, the secrecy surrounding the Thirteenth Doctor’s identity proved understandably frustrating to Walsh. Speaking to the Radio Times, the actor detailed these conversations and revealed that it was the influence of a certain other icon of sixties science fiction that convinced him to sign on.
“I remember what the phrase was which helped sell it a while after I found out it was ‘Doctor Who’. They said: “It’s an ensemble piece, Brad. You’re not going to be the Doctor.” I went, “Well that’s good, because I don’t understand any gobbledegook.” I said, “Who is going to be the Doctor then?” And they went “We don’t know yet, we haven’t chosen them.” I went, “Oh, okay, fine. Okay, cool.”
“A week later – who’s the Doctor? “Dunno, we haven’t chosen them yet.” And that went on and on and on. And I said “How can I gauge what I’m going to do with the part ” And they said “You’re gonna be like an older companion. And it’s gonna be a bit like the bridge on the Enterprise. It’s gonna be an ensemble piece. It’s gonna be like…” And I went “I’m in!” as soon as they said that, because I’m a massive Trekkie. I went “I’m in, I’m in, that’s it, okay done it”.”
That comparison to the bridge of the Enterprise offers an interesting insight into the approach the writers are taking to this season’s particularly crowded TARDIS. On ‘Star Trek’, each of the main cast typically has a specialty. Spock is the scientist, Sulu is the pilot, and so on. Walsh’s remarks thus suggest that each of the new companions will have some sort of clearly defined role, some singular expertise or talent that they bring to the table. It would be a new approach to that sort of dynamic. After all, I can count on one hand the number of times the show has had three full-time companions in its fifty-plus year history, and not only have most of those been in the classic series. Indeed, the few times the modern series has had a TARDIS that crowded, it’s typically only been for a handful of episodes rather than a full season. And in any case, the rolls of the companions seldom got more specialized than “this one asks questions, that one punches bad guys.” So it should be interesting to see how Chibnall’s team handles it.
Before we leave, though, you may be wondering just when Walsh found out that his Doctor would be Jodie Whittaker? The same time the rest of us did, apparently. As he tells it, he got a phone call the morning of that now-legendary Wimbledon match telling him to “make sure you’re watching the tennis.” And Walsh compares the experience of watching the announcement to a lightbulb going on over his head: “I get it, I totally get it.”
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on the upcoming season of ‘Doctor Who’ as it becomes available!
‘Doctor Who’ will return later this year for its eleventh season. This season will see the arrival of new showrunner Chris Chibnall and the Thirteenth Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker. In addition to Whittaker, the new season will star Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gil.