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HomeTechI'm Beginning to Miss Doctor Who's Domestic Moments

I’m Beginning to Miss Doctor Who’s Domestic Moments

James Whitbrook

The latest season of Doctor Who is barreling toward its end, and barreling toward things is something the 15th Doctor and Ruby have been doing an awful lot of in their debut set of adventures together. More often than not, we’re joining them right as they’re jumping out of the TARDIS and into their next romp across time and space… and that’s making me realize just how much Doctor Who needs its home base check-ins.

Scenes set in the TARDIS as bookends to an adventure have long been a part of Doctor Who, of course—the myriad versions of the console room have become a constant in a series defined by its ability to be anywhere, any when, doing anything, from one week to the next. They’re the moments we actually get to see the Doctor and their friends exist as, well, friends: glimpses of what their lives are actually like between the adventures, chances for them to just talk and get to know each other, touches of personality that act as a grounding point to contrast the wild escapades we see them go on. The TARDIS is a home away from home for Time Lord and companion and like, and that’s been reflected in not just how the console room has evolved in terms of design in the last 60 years, but the personal touches that develop to liven up the set—from clothes racks to piles of books, from biscuit dispensers, to even little things on the chairs.

Image for article titled I'm Beginning to Miss Doctor Who's Domestic Moments

Image: BBC/Disney

The current console room, by comparison, is huge and austere. Its clinical design is interesting—its bright lights a nice contrast to the moodier glows of the crystalline console room of Jodie Whittaker’s TARDIS—and the scope of it is unlike anything Doctor Who has been able to afford before, a massive set of depth and height and width that you can have actors just absolutely pelting around. And for as spartan as it is, at least the 15th Doctor added one little touch of personality to it, inherited from his brief predecessor, in the form of a jukebox. The problem, however, isn’t that the set is so big and stark that even the shot of color from the jukebox isn’t enough to make it feel a little more lived-in and homey. It’s that we barely actually get to see it at all in the current season, never giving it the chance to develop that aforementioned lived-in feeling—because in the process, we just get less scenes of the Doctor and Ruby hanging out together and living between the events of their stories.

It’s not like they can’t hang out during the course of adventures, of course, but the narrative is going to focus on that adventure rather than necessarily that the Doctor and Ruby are just co-existing and getting to know each other more. Without those moments in a home base, a chance for them to decompress when they’re not being threatened by larping Bird Aliens, musical trickster beings, or the threat of battlefield capitalism, it ultimately feels like—even seven stories into their tenure—we actually don’t really know this version of the Doctor, or Ruby, all that much. We’re just getting small pockets of information here or there, factoids and broad traits rather than anything particularly characterful that make them this Doctor, or make Ruby stand out from all the companions before her. And that in turn makes moments when the show has to play into the drama of them being in danger—that these best friends could be split apart or come into harm’s way—not quite land as much, because we’re told, as the stars of the show (and even with Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson’s superlative chemistry together) that they’re friends, rather than really seeing their relationship develop in the moments between these stories. It’s especially tough when this season is also just eight episodes long, meaning the time to develop that connection between the Doctor and Ruby is even more crunched.

Image for article titled I'm Beginning to Miss Doctor Who's Domestic Moments

Image: BBC/Disney

It’s especially odd considering the bulk of this season has been written by returning showrunner Russell T Davies, who really built on the sort of domesticity that had always been in Doctor Who and took it leaps and bounds further when the show returned under his vision in 2005. We didn’t just get to see Rose’s life between adventures in the TARDIS, but out of it as well—her family, the push and pull of what it actually meant for her to be whisked away from her life on these adventures, and how it impacted those around her, and what changed as those lives increasingly merged the longer she knew the Doctor. It was the same for Martha and Donna, and all the companions that came after Davies departed as showrunner the first time—and again, when the 14th Doctor was reunited with Donna in last year’s anniversary specials. In comparison, Ruby’s adoptive mother and grandmother have made brief reappearances since their introduction, sure, but not only were they fleeting, they were more directly weaved into the narrative of the episode—how “73 Yards” pushed its supernatural horror into personal stakes for Ruby by creating a divide between her and her mother, or “Rogue” flashing back to a conversation between the Doctor and Carla where he promised to protect Ruby from danger. They’re moments that didn’t exist to just flesh out the exterior life of Ruby or her relationship to the Doctor, and more to just serve the larger plot of the week.

Yes, Doctor Who is a show that’s always about running forward—from one adventure to the next, from one time and place to another, up and down corridors away from monsters and explosions and terror—but those things are made all the more impactful because of the times when the series stops running for a second, and lets its characters breathe and just exist.

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