When the Doctor gets a new gender on Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor, the show needs to also freshen up the Doctor-Companion dynamic, and it could do that by borrowing from and subverting the dynamic at the center of Logan.
In Logan, a weathered and jaded version of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is out of fucks to give — that is, until his cloned daughter compels him on one final journey. Theirs is less a father-daughter dynamic than it is a dynamic duo battling towards the same goal. Laura doesn’t even really need protecting — she fights with a ferocity and efficiency that makes Logan himself raise his eyebrows — but she does need help.
On the surface, Logan is about Wolverine helping the young girl, but keener minds realize that it’s more about Laura saving Logan from himself. Besides, Logan is old and dying from poison, barely able to fight like he used to. Laura has to take care of him more often than he takes care of her.
This is exactly the sort of dynamic that Doctor Who should borrow from in selecting the companion for the 13th Doctor, one that presents a certain dynamic before subverting our expectations. Wouldn’t it be cool if instead of the distant, cynical Doctor we always get, a brighter and better Doctor helped a companion heal from old wounds?
Bring in a grumpy older man, who’s consistently reminded that this young, brilliant alien woman is a million times more capable — and better — than he could ever hope to be. It would let the Doctor heal and inspire in ways the character hasn’t managed in quite some time.
In a way, such a story would be the direct inverse of what happens in the 10th Doctor adventure “The Doctor’s Daughter.”
In “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the Doctor visits a war-torn planet where he is cloned. The resulting clone-daughter, Jenny, is brash, bold, held back by an innocent kind of ignorance. The Doctor’s wisdom and noble sense of self-sacrifice inspire her by the end of the story, and she gives her life for his. It’s a touching story that leaves its mark on the 10th Doctor.
Though it’s something of a middling episode, “The Doctor’s Daughter” at least it presents different character dynamics to Doctor Who.
Time and time again, the default character relationship on Doctor Who is between an older, charming Doctor and a younger human female. The Doctor’s primary companions tend to be smart, curious, and beautiful. They’re ostensibly the focus of Doctor Who, but the female companion’s agency is usually undermined by poorly drawn romantic tension with the Doctor. It’s a tired dynamic that has no place in Season 11.
Rose had emerging feelings for the 9th Doctor before falling full-on in love with the 10th. Martha also had her own stretch of unrequited love for the 10th. Amy had a weird infatuation with the 11th Doctor that began in childhood. Clara also fell for the 11th Doctor in some capacity, or at the very least flirted with him enough to be deeply alienated by the much older 12th Doctor when he arrived (as were many fans).
Exceptions and variations to the rule do exist: The 10th Doctor and Donna were just “mates” (in the friendship sense). The platonic relationships the grandfatherly 12th Doctor had with his two companions — Clara and Bill — felt fresh for the show, but they weren’t quite enough for most fans to truly rally behind Peter Capaldi.
There was also the delightful presence of Wilf at the end of David Tennant’s time in the TARDIS, as he presented a cheery older Companion so different from what fans were used to.
But all of that was then and this is now, when Doctor Who could do with something a bit darker and more than a bit different. BBC must know it’s time for Doctor Who to shake things up, which would explain why they’ve finally introduced a female Doctor. With Jodie Whittaker taking over at the end of this year’s Christmas Special, Doctor Who can look to stories like Logan for inspiration.
A female Doctor presents Doctor Who with a unique opportunity to try something new: a narrative in which a nearly omniscient and bewilderingly brilliant woman is accompanied by a gruff old man who thinks, incorrectly, that the Doctor needs protecting or saving.
In short, Doctor Who can tell an emotional story much like Logan and subvert our expectations about what it means for an older man and a younger woman to travel together throughout all of time and space.
Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor will make her debut in the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas Special.