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It’d be reasonable to suggest that any incarnation of the Doctor is only as strong as their companions – especially when they’re first starting out. Throughout the years, TV’s greatest time traveller has played host to robot dogs, pansexual con men from the 51st century, and even a few so-called “impossible” girls able to do such extraordinary things as absorb the Tardis’s time vortex, or implant multiple versions of themselves across the Doctor’s timeline. With all this in mind, who’d have thought that one of the most memorable companions in recent years would turn out to be a middle-aged bus driver from Essex? But that’s the power of Bradley Walsh’s Graham O’Brien.
Introduced alongside the Thirteenth Doctor’s other two new chums, Yaz and Ryan, Graham has spent most of this recent season with one of the most emotional character arcs. Usually, a companion is thought of as a surrogate in which audiences can experience these fanciful flights of escapism when embarking on the next interdimensional adventure, but it’s in Graham O’Brien where the show manages to stay relatively grounded and relatable – if only for the humanity he brings via his humour and grieving.
Many were sceptical of Bradley Walsh’s casting heading into this new series, wondering how he would fit. But, boy, has he exceeded all our expectations. Here’s why we love Graham O’Brien.
Optimism Amid Great Loss
Right from the off, Graham’s reasoning for joining the crew once the Doctor regains control of her Tardis at the end of “Arachnids in the UK” is an honest one. Following the heroic death of his wife, Grace (played by Sharon D. Clarke) during the climax of the season opener, Graham looks to use this call for adventure as his primary coping mechanism. It isn’t unusual for the Doctor’s companions to be running away from something, but this is usually something as trivial as the monotony of everyday life – here, it’s the death of a loved one.
This has led Bradley Walsh to play Graham throughout the season with a consistent sense of faint vulnerability, as he once again is forced to ponder what he deems important in life. Despite these terrible circumstances Graham always does his best to stay strong and optimistic, whether it’s in the way he defends his fellow companions against the ongoing racial discrimination of 1955 Alabama in “Rosa” or how it’s revealed he always packs an emergency sandwich in the chilling “It Takes You Away“.
Against all odds, Graham has been gradually growing stronger following his wife’s death, slowly finding the value in life after loss. Optimism has been an overarching theme of Jodie Whittaker’s initial season of Doctor Who: Bradley Walsh embodies this perfectly, and often, beautifully.
Laughing in the Face of Adversity
To think that Graham O’Brien would be pitched solely as Doctor Who Series 11’s comic relief character may have been wrong, but that doesn’t mean he’s not funny. In fact, he’s hilarious. The character has been a replete dispenser of ‘grandad jokes’ throughout the series – always ready to defuse the tension of the scary scenarios our Tardis crew find themselves in with a bout of regular-Joe jokes. This once again feeds into the emotional journey the character finds himself on, as he continually attempts to find ways to turn his state of anguish into positivity. Even when confronted by 17th-century mud monsters and the maniacal shopping robots of an off-brand Amazon.
One of our favourite running gags so far comes from his constant seeking of grandparent legitimacy. Where, on more than one occasion, Graham has raised his hand for a fist bump to Ryan in true ‘I’m down with the kids’ fashion, only to be left hanging. Despite how “uncool” Ryan might deem it currently, we remain confident that this deal will eventually be sealed by the end of the series finale – if not then, the New Year’s Day special.
It soon becomes clear that Graham is far from the old codger the average passer-by might initially presume him to be, despite him needing to stay conscious of his low blood sugar. When Ryan suggested a bit of Bradley Walsh’s real-life friend, Stormzy, to grant the mutant spiders’ passage to safety in “Arachnids in the UK” he appeared more than willing, and made a rather convincing Steve Jobs when having to think on his feet in the face of a discriminative law enforcement officer. And how could we forget, he is now best mates with Banksy (the Doctor)?
The Voice of Reason
It’s only been passingly mentioned in the show, but as a retired bus driver in remission from cancer, Graham’s vast life experience as the Tardis crew’s most senior human member has rendered him the voice of reason on more than one occasion. This most often comes as a result of him seeking to adequately fulfil the grandad role for Ryan, one that he feels the implicit need to step-up to given the loss of Grace, Ryan’s nan. His 21st-century point of view means he is able to stay level-headed and understand Yas and Ryan’s perspective, particularly on history, alongside the Doctor.
This approach of his was indicated early on in the season when, in ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, Graham’s ‘bish, bash, bosh’ attitude and general advice to simply “ask a bus driver” proved crucial in tracking down the menacing Tim Shaw. It’s since continued to feed through into episodes like “Rosa”, “Demons of the Punjab“, and even “The Witchfinders“, where characters feel comfortable in confiding in the middle-aged retiree whenever the question their own beliefs, or what is good and right.
All this contributes to how remarkable Doctor Who’s most seemingly unremarkable companion has turned out to be, pretty much right from the off. Bradley Walsh’s Graham O’Brien is a multi-faceted character we hope will continue to be part of Team Tardis for many future adventures, even if his strong emotional through-line looks to be coming full circle by this season’s end.
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Whatever your opinion is of Season 11 of Doctor Who thus far (and I’m going with ‘I’m unquestionably a big fan of the Thirteenth Doctor, but I’m more than ready for an episode where she’s not ‘just’ another character in it’), few Whovians would say that they weren’t extremely taken with the debut of the Pting, the energy-scoffing creature from last weekend’s episode, “The Tsuranga Conundrum”.
To recap, the Pting is a small bipedal creature, a little bit like a reptilian Beanie Baby or an extremely old dinner lady who has been left in the wash. It feeds off pure energy, even going as far as to munch on the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver in the aforementioned episode. It’s immortal too. And it’s completely adorable. Word has it that the BBC has been inundated with requests for Pting toys to be made in time for Christmas (we’ll take two please, thanks).
Much is made of Doctor Who’s ability to leave viewers hiding behind the settee, and with good reason. But the show is no stranger to bringing us creatures more “aww!” than “eww!” And so, we thought now was as good a time as any to see how the following Doctor Who cuties compare to the Pting. It’s going to be a close-run thing…
First appearance: “Partners In Crime“, 2008
Inspired by a stuffed toy that then-showrunner Russell T. Davies owned, this vaguely humanoid creature takes its name from ‘adipose tissue’, the scientific name for body fat. You know them. They look like happy Tic Tacs or andromorphic marshmallow, and the year they debuted, they were the only Christmas gift any Doctor Who fan wanted. The Pillsbury Doughboy was another frame of reference for their creation, although the creatures’ signature central fang didn’t come about until acclaimed post-production team The Mill (they made the groovy title sequence in the RTD era) came to work on the project.
How cute are they compared to the Pting? Probably cuter. But there are loads of them and (that we’ve seen) only one Pting, so it’s not really fair.
First appearance: “The Visitation“, 1982
Despite being war-loving space reptiles – albeit ones who were huge fans of art and beauty, going so far as to consider conflict itself part of that last category – there was always something about the Terileptils that slightly resembled an elongated Cabbage Patch Kid. Of course, the CDT homework nature of many old Doctor Who creatures neutered how scary they were intended to be, to some extent. But never more than in the case of these guys, who despite being a dangerous foe for the Fifth Doctor, really did look like, on some level, they’d stop all this warmongering if they just had a nice hug.
How cute are they compared to the Pting? The Pting wins, despite the Terileptils ruffles. BUT IMAGINE A PTING WITH RUFFLES!
First appearance: “The God Complex“, 2011
On one hand, these gopher-like-humanoids are cute, in the sense they’re, y’know, gopher-like humanoids. On the other, they’re so cowardly – their species desperate to be a conquered and enslaved – that how supremely irritating they are does a lot to negate how much you’d like to spend any significant time with them. Beneath the prosthetics, that’s David Walliams from terrifyingly problematic, early noughties sketch-comedy sensation Little Britain. Although the only reason we draw attention to this is to say, “HE’S A GOPHER!”
How cute are they compared to the Pting? They’re too snivelling to be truly cute. That they made their debut in an episode with a giant Minotaur in it means they perhaps appear more cute comparatively than they would have if they hadn’t.
First appearance: “The Dominators“, 1968
It’s no secret that the Quarks came about as a result of the BBC desperately trying to recapture the popularity of the Daleks, who at the time were due some downtime, as they have been, if we’re being really honest, throughout the entirety of the show’s history. Then-producer Peter Bryant approached writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln and asked if they could create an adversary to the Doctor with a view to replicating the merchandising opportunities that had arisen via the success of Skaro’s most exterminatory upturned dustbins. This is what they came up with.
Okay… You need to watch the Quarks to really see how badly Hausman and Lincoln delivered on their brief, or at least hear them, the surprisingly tiny robots sounding a bit like someone whose boffed helium trying to talk underwater. To be fair, an argument over edits to Haisman’s and Lincoln’s original designs resulted in the pair walking away acrimoniously from Doctor Who (the episode they appear in is written by ‘Norman Ashby’, a pseudonym), so they could have been imagining something different. Let’s hope so.
How cute are they compared to the Pting? It’s close. It’s really, really close. But the sheer fact that we think hugging a Quark would feel a bit like hugging a washing machine means that the Pting wins out.
First appearance: Okay, we’re cheating a little bit. This little guy turns up in the ninth and tenth episodes of Season 1 of Doctor Who spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, in 2008 (RIP Elizabeth Sladen, you are forever missed…).
There comes a point in all creature design, where, no matter what other menacing physical attributes your creature might possess, you’ve made the eyes slightly too big and it ends up looking cute. Try it. Take out a copy of the paper. Find yourself a politician or other rotter doing their best to make the world a meaner place, take out your pen, apply it to the paper, and make their eyes really big, and full, and wide — and you’ve got yourself an adorable monster!
How cute are they compared to the Pting? It’s a clear win for the Pting. Although. We. Can’t. Stop. Looking. Into. Those. Lovely. Eyes. Of. His.
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren released DNA results proving her claim of Native American ancestry. Trump previously mocked her claims calling her Pocahontas.
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She’s here, she’s finally here! After 55 years, the quintessentially British Doctor of the BBC’s “Doctor Who” has finally regenerated into a female form. And the effect is, honestly, almost besides the point, so natural is actress Jodie Whittaker (“Broadchurch”) in the role of the time-traveling, two-hearted, mischievous alien who saves the world (well, a…
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Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the season premiere of “Doctor Who.” The moment the Doctor realizes that she is now a “she” goes by in the blink of an eye. Having fallen clear out of the sky and through the roof of a train under alien attack — and losing her trusty […]
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