Series 11: the heart of Grace
Some stories are simple.
There is, in Sheffield, a family. A grandmother, a grandson she’s bringing up. A second husband, that the boy (nearly a man) wants to keep at a distance. A dead daughter-in-law, a son who would rather run away than cope with the responsibilities that follow death.
There was, once, a traveller. A grandfather, a granddaughter that he brought up and who left. A later wife, who died. A traveller who tries to help, when he sees that help is needed – but who would rather run away than cope with the responsibilities that follow death.
And then the little family is broken apart a second time, because a monster, a serial killer, decides to come to Sheffield. The traveller tries to help, because she sees that help is needed, but she can’t (he almost never can) save everyone. And one of the people killed, one of the almost endless series of people killed since the traveller ran away that very first time, is the grandmother.
Series 11 isn’t about a mystery, or about discovering that a companion has just looked into the heart of the TARDIS and gained amazing powers, or is going to leap into the Doctor’s time line and end up creating herself. It’s simply a series of short stories where we see the three characters touched by Grace – Ryan, Graham and the Doctor – slowly grow and develop. It is, in the end, a story about those left behind accepting someone’s death by violence – and not letting it kill them.
For the Doctor, death by violence has become a way of life. But for the first time in quite a while, she’s stuck without a TARDIS, can’t get back into her little blue box and fly away. Can’t tell someone else to do the messy stuff like informing the families and arranging the funeral. For the first time in – well, probably for the first time – she gets to listen to someone explain in detail just how painful it is when people don’t turn up, when they walk away. Ryan’s Dad, Aaron, sounds very like the Doctor. It’s almost certainly deliberate; that’s the Doctor, there, listening to every friend, parent, Companion wondering why the person they needed to be there was so involved in their own pain that they not only didn’t support their friends, they didn’t honour the person who’d died.
But now the Doctor can’t run away, and now she’s there. At the back, not feeling like she’s really part of this – but there. And nobody is blaming her, because Grace’s death –
– is not her fault. Really not her fault. Not even the Doctor could blame herself; she told Graham and Grace to get the workers off the site and then get clear themselves. Grace, herself, decided to fight the Coil.
And slowly, through Series 11, we see her start to accept – not death. The aftermath of death. We see her, in stories like the Tsuranga Conundrum and Kerblam! not just attending but taking part in funerals, making a special detour to help Yaz tell Dan’s daughter how he died. By Resolution she’s able to look Ryan’s Dad in the face and tell him bluntly that he let Ryan down.
And begin to accept that this – all this – is not her fault. She didn’t kill Grace. Grace chose to fight Tim Shaw, and it wasn’t The Doctor who made Tim Shaw attack Earth not once, but twice. By Ranskoor Av Kolos, her response to Tim Shaw is to tell him not to put his desire for revenge on her. She is not responsible for the evil that others do; for her own mistakes, yes, but not for people who refuse to take the chances offered. She spared his life, he chose revenge when he could have chosen healing and repentance. Don’t try and put this on her. Not any more.
For Ryan and Graham, the story is also about coming to terms with Grace’s death – and about not letting it destroy them. Them as a family; Ryan struggled to accept his step-Grandfather when Grace was alive, and there’s a real danger he’ll repeat his Dad’s mistake and walk away now that Grace is dead. Ryan has two problems to struggle with – the struggle to become an adult when he’s a boy with a disability, and the struggle to stick with and accept his family when his remaining family (rather than his not-in-the-cast-list family) isn’t related by blood.
That’s why, at the end of The Woman Who Fell To Earth, he still can’t ride a bike. He wants to because he thinks that’s what Grace wanted, and he finds that sometimes wanting isn’t enough. Ryan’s personal journey, one of growing to accept the man he is (rather than the man he can’t be) is learning about all the things he can do – and dealing with the things he can’t. He can’t ride a bike. He possibly never will. But in the end he learns that he doesn’t need to ride a bike save his grandfather and his father. He doesn’t need to ride a bike to charm James VI and I. Okay, climbing ladders is a problem, but in the end, it isn’t a fatal problem. Maybe it might be, one day – but ‘one day’ isn’t now.
Grace wanted him to learn to keep trying and to overcome, to be the better man. By the end of the series, Ryan has understood that being the better man isn’t about riding bikes, or miraculously overcoming disabilities. Some things, like in Rosa, you can’t change. But you can face them the way Rosa Parks did – with your dignity intact.
But the major arc for Ryan is his joint arc with Graham; becoming grandparent and grandson. Graham spends most of the series trying to be a grandparent – supportive, protective, willing to risk himself for his grandson – but in the end, Ryan doesn’t see the real decision moment. In It Takes You Away, Graham chooses a real Ryan over an unreal Grace – and shows himself a better father than Erik.
In Ranskoor Av Kolos Ryan protects and saves Graham, just as Graham has protected and saved him. By that point they are a family, grandfather and grandson – and this is fully developed in Resolution, when Graham not only acts as Ryan’s grandfather, but also treats Ryan’s father Aaron as his step-son.
At the end, it’s possible to see why Yaz hasn’t had much of an arc this series, although there’s been hints of her possible Series 12 arc. She didn’t know Grace that well. She wasn’t part of Grace’s family, and she doesn’t feel (like the Doctor) that Grace is yet another casualty in an everlasting war. She has, as we see in Demons of the Punjab, her own family, her own history – and the real link between Yaz, Ryan and Graham is the Doctor. Not Grace.
The series arc? One word. Grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:8)