So, it’s my first blog post of 2019! New Year’s Day was just over a week ago now and was also the day of the last episode of the latest series of Doctor Who. Personally, I wasn’t a massive fan of this series, but there’s an important reason why I’m writing about it on my blog. One of the main characters, Ryan, is dyspraxic. So I thought I would write a blog with my thoughts on how they portrayed dyspraxia, giving an overview of each episode.
When it was first announced that there would be a dyspraxic character I was so excited! This was the first time there had been a main character in a TV series with dyspraxia. Part of me was slightly unsure as to how they would portray it, but reading that Chris Chibnall’s (writer/producer) nephew had been diagnosed with dyspraxia and that the Dyspraxia Foundation had been involved was reassuring.
So, along came the first episode.
Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth:
This episode was brilliantly timed – at the start of Dyspraxia Awareness Week! It began with playing a vlog by Ryan, where he said:
“I’ve mentioned this on here before. I’m pretty much not an idiot, I’m actually a capable guy considering but I’m 19 and because of the thing I told you before, I can’t yet ride a bike”
It then cut to scenes of Ryan attempting to ride his bike but struggling, a common difficulty those of us with dyspraxia experience. I was really surprised (in a good way) that they had highlighted dyspraxia (although not yet explicitly) so soon into the episode!
When they had shown the scenes of Ryan riding his bike, they had shown him throwing his bike off the edge of the cliff in frustration. Later in the episode, the characters found the bike stuck up a tree in the forest. The Doctor asks why it is up there and Ryan says what happened. Graham explains that Ryan gets frustrated as he can’t ride it – when Ryan’s Nan adds “He’s got dyspraxia, it’s a coordination disorder”. Personally, it’s very rare that I’ve had a situation where someone knew what I meant straight away when I said I had dyspraxia. But then again, I’ve never been in a situation with an alien invasion!
At one point in the episode, they show two of the characters – Ryan and Yaz – about to climb ladders. I thought to myself “Are they going to suddenly forget about dyspraxia?” I was imagining a scene where they suddenly showed him climbing ladders perfectly fine. It probably sounds quite pessimistic, but when dyspraxia has never really been well understood, it’s easy to think like that.
Fortunately, they didn’t forget! When Yaz began climbing the ladder, she looked down to where Ryan was and said: “Are you alright with this? Because if it’s a problem you don’t have to do it” to which Ryan replies “I do. I can do this.” (I love the determination there!) They then show Ryan slipping on the ladder and Yaz asking if he was okay. I felt this scene was portrayed well and seemed a realistic example (well, maybe the whole context surrounding it wasn’t ‘realistic’ but you get what I mean…)
Overall, I thought the first episode was a great start in terms of introducing dyspraxia but I did hope that they would go on to show that it affected more than just coordination. Whilst I thought it was great, I didn’t really realise the significance of it until the next day. There were so many articles about it – I don’t think I’d ever seen so many articles about dyspraxia at once! At one point it was even one of the top stories on the BBC homepage! A tweet from Google Trends showed how much the search interest for dyspraxia had gone up following the episode, which was amazing to see.
So it had certainly had a huge impact. To imagine the amount of people who will have heard of dyspraxia for the first time, the amount of people who will have learnt more about dyspraxia and the amount of people who will be able to relate – all as a result of the show! I did still hope that they would get the portrayal right in future episodes and show that dyspraxia is more than just coordination difficulties. But I was excited to see what was to come in future episodes!
Episode 2 – The Ghost Monument:
The aspects of dyspraxia they showed in this episode were similar to those in the first episode. Again, there were ladders involved. In one scene Ryan sighs and says “Why is it always ladders?” and then thanks Yaz for waiting for him at the bottom, which was quite nice – it is the little things like that, waiting for someone, that make a difference in real life!
In another scene Ryan paused as he was about to climb the ladder and there was a short conversation between him and the Doctor.
The Doctor: “You ok?”
Ryan: “It’s not my favourite thing…climbing ladders under pressure.”
The Doctor: “Can I just say? You are amazing.”
Ryan: “Am I?”
The Doctor: “Think of what you’ve gone through to be here, and you’re still going. I’m proper impressed.”
The Doctor: “If it helps, focus on facts about acetylene as you climb.”
I saw a few people saying they really liked this scene. It was nice that they showed the Doctor acknowledging what Ryan found difficult and being understanding about it. I’m not too sure how to interpret the comment about her being impressed though – was that supposed to be due to his dyspraxia? Or everything that had happened in his family?
They also showed Ryan falling over at one point when running away. These aspects of dyspraxia were more subtle this time in comparison to the previous episode, as they didn’t explicitly mention the word ‘dyspraxia’. There are positives and negatives to this and different people had different perspectives on this. Some people liked the fact that it was more subtle, as it meant there were still aspects they could relate to without it being explicitly mentioned. Personally, I would have preferred it if they mentioned dyspraxia directly – not all the time, but maybe once in the episode. If people hadn’t seen the first episode they might not have realised why it was that Ryan was struggling with these things. Mentioning it directly would have a huge impact on awareness, as we saw in the first episode.
I personally feel there was an opportunity they missed out on in this episode! As always, whenever anyone new walks into the TARDIS they are shocked and make a comment along the lines of “But it’s bigger on the inside?” What would have been great was if there was a comment from Ryan joking about his spatial awareness/visual perception (often affected for those of us with dyspraxia) – something like “I know my spatial awareness is bad, but this is definitely bigger on the inside!”
Episode 3 – Rosa:
Dyspraxia wasn’t mentioned in this episode, but I personally didn’t feel it mattered as the episode covered an important topic. I feel mentioning dyspraxia would have taken away the significance of the episode. This was actually one of my favourite episodes of the series.
Episode 4 – Arachnids in the UK:
Again, dyspraxia wasn’t mentioned in this episode. This time I was disappointed, as I felt there was the opportunity. For example, towards the beginning they showed a scene of everyone eating dinner at Yaz’s house. They could have extended this scene to show some of the difficulties Ryan had with using cutlery etc. In fact, when this picture was used in many of the articles about there being a dyspraxic character in Doctor Who, I thought that’s what they were going to do!
There was another scene when the characters were all running down some broken escalators. Personally, I would have difficulty with this! Physically, running down stairs isn’t easy and when they’re escalators, which have different gaps between them than normal stairs, this is even more difficult! I think visual perception plays a role in this too – I find it feels so weird (in a way that makes it more difficult) walking down escalators when they should be moving! But they showed Ryan running down the escalators fine.
There was also the scene when they were catching the spider – and it was Ryan’s job to catch it. He caught it perfectly fine! Now, I’m not saying that those of us with dyspraxia can never catch anything – but you’d think they’d have at least mentioned something. Even if it was a comment like “Not a bad catch for someone with dyspraxia!”
There were a couple of parts that I didn’t notice though until I saw other people mention them. Firstly, someone had noticed that at the beginning when they were talking about going to Yaz’s house for tea, Ryan assumed that he and Graham weren’t invited. Although not directly related to dyspraxia itself, it represents an issue with self-esteem that those of us with dyspraxia commonly experience as a result of not having been invited to things in the past. It’s hard to tell if this was the intention in the episode though, but I know I’ve had situations like this in the past, as I did experience not being invited to things at school.
The second thing that was noticed by someone else was that Ryan was distracted by shadow puppets in the background of a scene. I had seen this at the time, but had only half sort of thought of it being in relation to dyspraxia, as nothing about it was mentioned. It makes sense though, as we do quite often have difficulties with concentration and attention as a result of dyspraxia.
Overall, I was quite disappointed with this episode. Four episodes in and the word ‘dyspraxia’ had only been mentioned once. In this episode in particular it seemed as though there were lots of opportunities they had missed.
Episode 5 – The Tsuranga Conundrum:
There didn’t seem to be anything related to dyspraxia in this episode either. There was a scene where the spaceship jolted and Ryan lost his balance, but it’s hard to tell if that was a deliberate dyspraxia related thing or not!
Episode 6 – Demons of the Punjab:
There was one part where an aspect of dyspraxia was subtly mentioned which I quite liked (by this point I had kind of given up on the idea that they were actually going to mention dyspraxia again). The Doctor was joking about where the demons were, saying “Maybe they’re out. Shopping. Catching a movie.” She then explained: “I’m talking to cover up my latent worry” and a few seconds later Ryan says “I know. Got that now”. This combination of slower thought processing and literal thinking is another aspect of dyspraxia, so it’s good to see that they showed this – as it’s often not that well understood. Although it is hard to tell whether it was intended to be dyspraxia related or not, but hopefully it was!
Episode 7 – Kerblam!:
Dyspraxia actually played a bigger role in this episode! They were in a warehouse, packing things, when the Doctor commented on how good Ryan was at it. Ryan mentioned that he’d had lots of practice in a previous job and went onto explain that the first month of the job was a nightmare. He then said: “Takes me a while to learn things physically. Get there in the end, but just some stuff takes me a bit longer.”
Later in the episode, they are going down to dispatch which involves them going down a long chute. Ryan mentions to another character that he has a coordination problem, saying that it’s:
“Not super serious, but you know, makes life really interesting. And frustrating. And difficult. Especially at moments like this.”
When down there, he worries that he won’t be able to jump down to the level below. He manages this (in a very unrealistic looking scene – but anyway, this isn’t a review of the episode itself…). Ryan does fall over at the very bottom when getting off.
I liked how this episode portrayed dyspraxia and thought both of the comments from Ryan summed up dyspraxia really well! I was glad they had finally showed dyspraxia again in a more direct way – not just with subtle things!
Episode 8 – The Witchfinders:
In this episode, there was one point where they showed Ryan struggling with what to say on the spot. Whether this was intended to be a dyspraxia trait or not I don’t know, but it was certainly relatable for me!
Episode 9 – It Takes You Away:
I didn’t notice anything in this episode related to dyspraxia.
Episode 10 – The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos:
There were a couple of subtle things in this episode. When Ryan was passed something by the Doctor he was told “be careful with them” – I noticed that this was only said to him and not to anyone else. Another part involved Ryan throwing something to someone (I’ve tried to have a quick scan through of the episode to find exactly what this was – but I can’t find it!) and they commented “Good throw”.
Episode 11 – Resolution:
There was nothing I noticed in this episode, right up until the final scene that is. Ryan’s Dad was about to fall from the TARDIS into space as the part of the Dalek which was attached to him was being sucked into a vacuum (long story…) and Ryan grabbed hold of his Dad, managing to pull him back into the TARDIS. Ryan then said “Not bad for a kid with dyspraxia, right?” I was really glad they made this comment! It fitted the scene well and finally they had directly mentioned dyspraxia again.
When looking on social media, some people didn’t like this comment as they felt offended by it. Others felt that Ryan had mentioned his dyspraxia too much (I think the opposite, if anything!) and some couldn’t see why dyspraxia would make that particular thing difficult. Well, it certainly would! There would have been a lot of balance and coordination involved in that – even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside. I thought the comment Ryan made was great and very realistic (again, maybe not a realistic context surrounding it!)
On the one hand, I was so happy that there had been a character with dyspraxia on a main TV show. On the other hand, I was quite disappointed. A whole series and they had only actually mentioned ‘dyspraxia’ twice, they hadn’t really gone into much depth about the range of things it can affect and there were many opportunities that they seem to have missed. If dyspraxia only affected the small range of things they had shown in the series, it would make many things much easier! It just didn’t feel like it was a very realistic portrayal.
As I mentioned earlier, there were lots of people who liked the fact that it was portrayed more subtly, so just because I didn’t it doesn’t mean that everyone with dyspraxia thinks the same! Equally, there may have been other subtle things that I didn’t pick up on. Another thing to remember is that everyone with dyspraxia is different, so perhaps I’m basing how well his character was portrayed based on my own experiences. But personally, I still felt it was too subtle and there wasn’t enough mentioned. Especially after it played such a big part in the first episode.
Don’t get me wrong, I am really happy that they had a character with dyspraxia, and don’t wish that they hadn’t done it or anything like that. It certainly had a big impact in terms of awareness. There were aspects that summed it up perfectly, particularly in the ‘Kerblam!’ episode. I just feel that it could have been done a lot better and there were a lot of missed opportunities, which was quite disappointing. Maybe in the next series they will explore it in more depth…
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