Doctor Who is popular. Whether we quibble about ratings or moan about the latest TARDIS team, Doctor Who really is popular. Everyone can name a Dalek. Most people know who the current Doctor is. Viewers old or new likely have a favourite Doctor or Doctors, though fans rarely admit to this. And it’s screened all over the world, more often than not being available on one of the largest streaming platforms ever. So: Doctor Who is popular, and with popularity comes media attention, and with media attention comes controversy.
The current controversy is over the latest companion, Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson. She’s barely got her feet in the door before the press has pulled her apart; no sooner had a potential new companion been spotted filming were there rumours not just that Gibson had left Doctor Who, but that she’d been actively “dropped” by the production team.
And it’s simply nasty.
First and foremost, we should acknowledge that this is what companions do: they leave, more so than the Doctors. With filming taking place for Series 15 before Series 14 has even aired, it’s no great shock that we see another actress shooting next to Ncuti Gatwa despite Ruby Sunday only having one adventure screened so far (though it was on Christmas Day, a high-profile slot, for sure). Why are we so surprised that Millie might have left already? After all, if they’d shot, say, Doctor Who Series 4 before they’d even screened Series 3, the tabloids would no doubt be inciting controversy about Freema Agyeman leaving already — or perhaps being “dropped” in the same way the rumour mill has turned against Millie.
And Gibson will still be in her fair share of stories. By my count, she’s in eight this coming series, has already been in The Church on Ruby Road, plus next year’s Christmas special; there’s talk she’s in three of Series 15’s eight episodes. That would make 13 episodes in total, i.e. a full series under the old Russell T Davies model.
Right now, we simply don’t know the terms under which Gibson signed up for Doctor Who. We’ve had a few years of companions staying longer than perhaps expected — Amy and Rory, Clara, Ryan and Graham, and especially Yaz — but interspersed with them are shorter-lived companions like Bill and Nardole, or Dan, the latter of whom only appeared in eight-and-a-bit episodes (The Power of the Doctor feels more like a cameo, doesn’t it?). So why is the media picking on Millie so much?
There are certainly elements who will blame misogyny. That may be the case. Similarly, it could be her age and comparative inexperience in the industry, making her, for want of a better term, easy pickings. I’m not too sure about the misogyny angle, but it’s simple to argue that’s a factor. That would only be backed up by social media’s obsession with imagining her as something of a spoilt youngster who doesn’t like night shoots — an idea that seems to have come from nowhere, given Millie has worked on Coronation Street since she was a kid. Sure, maybe she doesn’t like night shoots. That’s fair enough. Not liking a particular part of a job doesn’t mean she should be cast in a negative light. (Heck, I’m pretty sure all of us have a part of our jobs we’re not entirely enamoured about.)
Her youth might also play a part. The “spoilt brat” angle is always appealing for the media, and it’s a miracle more youngsters thrown into the spotlight aren’t even further warped by their experiences. Imagine being Millie, an enthusiastic 19-year-old taking on an acting role and embracing it so completely… only for your face to be splashed on front covers and journalists tearing you apart. I’m not sure anyone deserves that. At the end of the day, Doctor Who is a job; her personal life isn’t ours or the press’ to pick to bits. We are not vultures, but if we must take on such a persona, it might be better to fashion ourselves as the ones who sing “we’re your friends” at the end of The Jungle Book.
I’m not one of those “#bekind” folk you see on Twitter (or X or whatever), not least because those people tend to be the ones who cast the first stone and that’s pretty abhorrent, but they do have a point sometimes: it’d help if people approached a situation with compassion and understanding.
So why hasn’t the BBC or Russell T Davies announced Millie’s departure yet? It’s a fair question. It might be because this is all a bit… awkward. Normally, we have an interim period, where one companion announces they’re leaving, then we have weeks or months to wait before the new incumbent is revealed. This time, that ship has well and truly sailed. Releasing a press release about Gibson leaving and Varada Sethu being cast will nonetheless sound harsh, as if the former has been dropped, despite what the truth is. They might also be worried about a situation similar to what happened with Ninth Doctor actor, Christopher Eccleston, whose departure was announced — in a regrettable fashion, resulting in the BBC having to apologise later on and admit they’d not consulted him about the announcement beforehand — after just one episode of his tenure had aired (as with Gibson).
There is, of course, one more potential reason we’re overlooking: that she’s not left. These rumours started in The Mirror and that newspaper is normally pretty spot-on. But what if, like Martha Jones, played by the aforementioned Freema Agyeman, Ruby’s story isn’t done yet? She could still pop up in Doctor Who again, or, like Martha in Torchwood, be in a spin-off; maybe that much-speculated UNIT versus Sea Devils one, The War Between The Land And The Sea?
Whatever happens, I maintain that Millie Gibson is being treated very unfairly by the press and by some sections of fandom.
And we’re The Doctor Who Companion, so come on, readers: let’s give our full support to our Doctor Who companion.