Doctor Who: Chris Chibnall, Mandip Gill Talk Yaz, Mental Health & More

In two days, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) finds herself still locked away in a space prison, leaving it to series-returning (for this round) Captain Jack (John Barrowman), series-departing Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole), and series-staying Yaz (Mandip Gill) to save the Earth from the machinations of a new version of the Doctor's arch-enemy. That's where things kick-off when the Doctor Who Festive Special 2020 "Revolution of the Daleks" debuts on New Year's Day. To promote the special, series showrunner Chris Chibnall and Gill have been making the rounds to discuss what fans can expect- but in a recent interview with RadioTimes.com, the duo discussed the previous season's focus on Yaz's (Mandip Gill) mental health as well as those of the rest of "Team TARDIS" in "Can You Hear Me?" and how the series will continue focusing on mental health and wellness moving forward.

doctor who
Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America

For Chibnall, it's important for a series seen by so many to reflect the issues that so many face. "I think it's really important, because every family is dealing with something. And I think the responses we get to those stories, a bit like dealing with things like Rosa and Demons of the Punjab in the previous series, the responses we get are amazing. The family audience is the great thing, because you know that families are watching, and you know that families can sit down and discuss them afterwards." For Gill, it's important for shows like Doctor Who and television in general to use its reach to not just entertain but also educate. "Like I do get, it is a sci-fi show, and people watch it for escapism. It's about an alien. But TV has a responsibility to teach people about these issues and allow those who are suffering to see themselves. I think that's what's really good about 'Doctor Who', Chris' writing but the writers before that too. They are able to mix the two worlds together effortlessly."

Chibnall wants to make sure that those watching the show see themselves represented and represented accurately. "We want people who are suffering to feel that they are represented, and feel like they can see themselves in these characters, they can see their fears and concerns and joys in these characters," Chibnall explained. "It feels massively important, and I'm really proud of how everyone's done it. We've been really grateful for all the organizations that we've worked with in creating those stories, and the responses they've had." One advantage that the show has is that it can wrap up important issues like mental health in the trappings of a "genre" show. "There is something you can do in 'Doctor Who' that makes it even more resonant, because you're also dealing with the metaphors. So you're not just dealing with the literal expression of these things, you're dealing with metaphorical and emotional resonances within them," Chibnall explained- a tool that Gill sees as having worked well for the series. "It doesn't feel, for me, weird that you're talking about mental health and then an alien. They just go hand in hand together, and probably a big part of why Doctor Who works, because you are able to relate to it to some degree, and then you have that escapism that people will probably need, from real life."

For Chibnall, tackling issues surrounding mental health is continuing in the show's long tradition of tackling important social issues- such as racism, violence, environmental issues, and more. "It's really important to keep 'Doctor Who' connected to the time it's being broadcast in because there's lots of 'Doctor Who.' And you want the current 'Doctor Who' to feel like it's part of the world that its audience lives in. And some people might disagree, but that feels very important to me." So will Yaz's mental health become a focus heading into Series 13? "This storyline was very important in how we're revealing Yaz's character over a long period of time to the audience," Chibnall explained while keeping mum on any specifics. For Gill, now that the storyline foundation has been set there's now something that can be built upon down the road. "We started to see Yaz with her mental health storyline. Now that can sort of be explored a little bit further – there's room now to explore that. It never probably felt like the right time to do it before. So I'm looking forward to it."

doctor who
Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBCA

Joining the special are Chris Noth (Sex and the City) as the returning (and disgraced) Jack Robertson, as well as Dame Harriet Walter (Killing Eve, Succession) making her Doctor Who debut alongside television star Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (The Trial of Christine Keeler). Now here's a look back at the original announcement trailer for the special, followed by some more intel on our new Daleks.

Viewers last saw the Thirteenth Doctor at the end of season 12, where her fate was left hanging in the balance as she was locked away in a high-security alien prison with no hope of escape. In the upcoming New Year's Day special, Yaz, Ryan, and Graham are far away on Earth and having to carry on with their lives without her. However, they soon discover a disturbing plan forming. A plan which involves a Dalek. How can you fight a Dalek without the Doctor? Even with Captain Jack's help, the gang is set to face one of their biggest and most frightening challenges yet.

As we mentioned in previous posts, something viewers should know about "Revolution of the Daleks" is that it's pulling double-duty: serving as both a stand-alone episode as well as a sequel to 2019's "Resolution (of the Daleks)." In fact, from what showrunner Chris Chibnall and executive producer Matt Strevens had to say, it sounds like a rewatching before "Revolution" might be in order. "I kept to using just one Dalek in 'Resolution' because they're powerful things singly anyway, so that's fun just to be able to give one that space. But also I was planning to bring them back in greater numbers for this episode," Chibnall revealed.

"We knew that when we said goodbye to the Reconnaissance Dalek, when it was jettisoned out of the Tardis doors into a supernova at the end of 'Resolution,' that that would not be the end of it. Chris already had the idea of this return, that the next time we see the Daleks, it'd be straight into a sort of origin story for the version in our era of the series."

When it came to designing a new look for the iconic villains, Chibnall wanted to make sure that they went with a look that would be unique while still staying true to the Daleks. "We wanted something sleek, shiny and powerful, and slightly different from any Dalek you've seen before," he revealed. "There's always a pressure when you refresh any Doctor Who monster. But equally, that's part of the job and that's part of what keeps it new and interesting." That said, neither Chibnall nor Strevens are looking to replace what came before them.

"You're never replacing what's gone before, you're just adding a new variant," Chibnall explained. "It's just this story is about these black and red Daleks, which light up at night and do all sorts of things." Strevens agrees, adding, "You want to contemporize them, and make them hold up to scrutiny under modern filming techniques, and to look as high-end as you possibly can. You can't stray too far from the classic design – but then what can you do within that? How can you make them feel different and relevant, and sexy, and lethal as well?"

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About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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