Doctor Who: A 6-Part Story Is the Perfect Ending for the Thirteenth Doctor
Dominic Miller
Thirteenth Doctor actor Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall will leave Doctor Who after a trio of specials in 2022, the announcement coming days after the first trailer for Season 13 was released. Airing later this year, Season 13 will consist of six episodes forming one singular storyline, which is an opportunity to tackle an issue plaguing the Whittaker era since it began: the character development of its core cast.
When Chibnall became Head Writer and Executive Producer of the series in 2017, he adopted the basic format applied by his immediate predecessors, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. Upon bringing Doctor Who back in 2005, Davies established a pattern of mostly standalone episodes, with the occasional two-parter and a loose arc culminating in each season finale. Moffat did vary this pattern in each of his seasons, but he still utilized mostly self-contained stories, and Chibnall likewise stuck to this principle in Seasons 11 and 12.
However, though Chibnall has been the showrunner of other episodic programs such as Law and Order: UK and the first two seasons of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, he is perhaps best known outside of the TARDIS for creating the crime drama Broadchurch. All three seasons presented a new investigation while balancing the ongoing plots of various characters, having the freedom to do so given their serialized structures. Chibnall has so far attempted to inject Doctor Who with a similar multitude of narratives, but doing so within Davies and Moffat's formula has proved rather challenging.
Doctor Who - All Doctors
Doctor Who - All Doctors
For one, he gave the Doctor three companions during Seasons 11 and 12, a rarity even when Doctor Who was more serialized during its original 20th-century run. Having four protagonists is an enormous obstacle for any Doctor Who story, which also has to introduce a new location in time and space with an accompanying guest cast and their journeys. Season 11 was composed entirely of standalone episodes, meaning each one had only 50 minutes to develop the TARDIS team and anyone they met before wrapping things up and moving on.
This minimized the focus on certain characters, especially Mandip Gill's Yasmin Khan. As plenty of screen time was given to the growing bond between Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh) and step-grandson Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), Yaz had little left to establish her personality. Season 12 had the opposite problem: Graham and Ryan's tale had effectively concluded long before their actual departure, while Yaz got a moving backstory that clarified her motivations in Episode 7, "Can You Hear Me?"
Yet, it is the Doctor who has suffered most, with the show refusing to challenge her sometimes troublesome behavior. The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) was berated by Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) for trying to wipe her mind without her consent, but neither Graham, Ryan nor Yaz stopped Number 13 from doing the same to Ada Lovelace, one of many questionable decisions of hers which they could have opposed.
In fact, there has not been much friction inside this crammed TARDIS, despite them being presented with potential sources of conflict. In Season 12's opening two-parter, "Spyfall," the Doctor's friends realized that they knew almost nothing about her. Though this was mirrored in later episodes by the Doctor's discovery of her secret past as the Timeless Child, it did not seriously alter their dynamic with her, squandering the chance for them to collectively move past it and provide the depth their relationships sadly lacked.
Though Doctor Who Season 13 is a six-part story in part due to the pandemic, it does free Chibnall to use the multifaceted storytelling technique that made Broadchurch a success. With no need to set up a new premise and group of guest stars in every episode, he can better focus on developing the Doctor, Yaz and new companion Dan Lewis (John Bishop). It may not be the final battle of the first female Doctor, but it is her last full season at the TARDIS helm, making it the key to ending her era on the high she truly deserves.
Doctor Who will return on BBC in the United Kingdom and BBC America in the United States later this year.