The Doctor is traveling with only one human. In Doctor Who Season 14, coming 2024, not only will the eponymous Time Lord regenerate into Ncuti Gatwa but he’ll also be joined by a human named Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson. With this new pairing for the TARDIS, aspects of the new Doctor Who are starting to feel a bit retro for longtime fans. Is Who going back to basics?
Doctor Who Season 14 cast
Following the brief — and as yet, unexplained — return of David Tennant as the Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa is set to become the incumbent Doctor by the end of 2023, and into the regular season, starting in 2024. And, on November 18, 2022, the BBC revealed that Millie Gibson will join Gatwa as the new companion. Interestingly, all the press around this news has focused on the word companion, as in a singular companion, rather than a group of companions. Throughout the tenure of Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor, the Doctor had a TARDIS team of three companions in Seasons 11 and 12, and two during the events of Flux (Season 13). The 13th Doctor referred to this full TARDIS as her “fam,” and in the big finale episode – “The Power of the Doctor” — several companions from previous eras joined the adventure, too.
But the future of Who is looking a bit simpler. In fact, with the casting of Gibson, it almost seems like Doctor Who 2024 will be a soft reboot.
Gatwa and Gibson ... the new Smith and Gillan?
Although the number of regular companions in the TARDIS has varied over the nearly 60-year-long history of Doctor Who (and the show began with three companions on the TARDIS) contemporary fans tend to think of the series as a series that stars two people; the Doctor, and the companion. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper kicked off the new era of Who in 2005, which was followed by David Tennant and Billie Piper in 2006. Following that it was Tennant and Freema Agyeman for Season 3, Tennant and Catherine Tate for Season 4, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan for Season 5, Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman for Season 7, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman for Seasons 8 and 9, and then Capaldi and Pearl Mackie for Season 10.
Now, hardcore fans will point out that throughout all those eras, there are multi-companion stories, specifically the fact that Rory (Arthur Darvill) is a huge part of the Smith era after Season 5, and that Matt Lucas’ Nardole is arguably just as important to Season 10 as Mackie's Bill Potts.
Still, broadly speaking, from 2005 onward, the format of Doctor Who generally favors just one companion. And, this ratio tends to describe some of the more popular classic Doctors as well. Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) traveled alone with the 3rd( Jon Pertwee) and 4th Doctor (Tom Baker), while Ace (Sophie Aldred) — who recently returned for “The Power of the Doctor” — traveled alone with the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy).
Whovians might debate endlessly about the merits of having multiple companions, but for most fans, the general vibe of Doctor Who tends toward this format. “I was brought up on the Tennant and Matt Smith era,” Gibson said in a promotional interview about her casting. “I always remember Amy Pond.” She’s not alone.
A new (old) Who era
Although the Jodie Whittaker era briefly teased the notion that the 13th Doctor had several one-on-one adventures with Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), the truth is, most of those stories occurred off-screen. This means, the time of the 13th Doctor generally consisted of a pretty packed TARDIS. With showrunner Russell T Davies returning to Who (he relaunched the show back in 2005) it seems he’s slipping back into familiar formats for the series, starting with giving Ncuti Gatwa one best friend, instead of several.
“They are the eyes into [the Doctor’s] world,” Gibson said to Gatwa. “And they are the audience’s eyes to see what will happen in your [the Doctor’s] universe.”
Will Ruby Sunday remain the only companion of Gatwa’s Doctor throughout his run? Will their partnership remind us of Amy Pond and the 11th Doctor? Or of Clara and the 12th? If we’re lucky, the answer will be both all of the above, and none of the above. Doctor Who always subsists on an element of nostalgia to fuel the TARDIS, but here’s hoping the upcoming era of Gatwa and Gibson will feel new, too.
Doctor Who airs three 60th anniversary specials on BBC and Disney+ in late 2023. Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson will star in the new season of Doctor Who in 2024, also on BBC and Disney+.