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Doctor Who: Why Millie Gibson's departure shouldn't come as a surprise

There'll be a new companion in Ncuti Gatwa's second year as the Time Lord

Doctor Who
Image credit: BBC

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Since news broke this weekend that Millie Gibson would be replaced by actor Varada Sethu as the Fifteenth Doctor’s companion after one season of Doctor Who, there’s been no shortage of commentary on social media about the decision, with theories thrown around concerning the timing, the speed, and what it means about Gibson’s work on the show in general. Here’s the thing, though: this is arguably the least surprising announcement from Doctor Who in a while.

Look at the history of the show from the last time current showrunner Russell T. Davies was in charge: across the four seasons — and subsequent specials, for that matter — there was never a pairing of Doctor and companion that lasted more than one season. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was the only companion to last two seasons in the first RTD era, and she had two different Doctors to partner with; once she was gone, both Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) only lasted one season apiece; by the time Donna was brought back for the 2023 specials, she was theoretically dealing with a new partner in David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor, as familiar as he seemed.

With that in mind, of course Millie Gibson’s Ruby Sunday was only going to make it through one season — especially given that we know there’s a story to be explored about her origins and just who abandoned her at the church at the end of Ruby Road. Knowing that she’s going to be leaving the show after one season provides, if nothing else, confirmation that Ruby’s backstory is going to provide the narrative backbone of the upcoming season in much the same way that “Bad Wolf,” Harold Saxon, and the multiversal return of Rose Tyler did for earlier Russell T. Davies seasons.

The most surprising thing about the news is realistically the timing; it’s unexpected to find out that Gibson is leaving the show before her season has even started airing — it begins in May — but the timing is likely related to the fact that the subsequent season has started production already, and leaks and social media spoilers being what they are, Gibson’s absence from the shoot, and Sethu’s presence, were almost guaranteed to be quickly noticed. Confirming the news in this manner at least lets producers retain some level of control, even if it low-key spoils the next season to some degree.

So, what we have to look forward to is a very Ruby-centric season to come, and then another brand new creation the following year. All things considered, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing — especially when you consider how great some one-season companions of the past have been. (Bill, I still miss you.)

Doctor Who returns to the BBC in the UK, and Disney+ internationally, in May.

If you want to start watching Doctor Who and don't know where to start, check out our handy Doctor Who watch guide. Or maybe you're already finished with the show - We've got the perfect Ten shows to watch when you're done watching Doctor Who guide for you too. If you're already heads over heels for the Fifteenth Doctor and want to learn more about the actor playing him, check out what he's been in before here. Or maybe you just need to figure out how the new series numbering is going to work (Are there really gonna be two series 1s? Yes.) - if so, this is the explainer you want.

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