Doctor Who and Disability

Dyspraxia Facts
Also known as Developmental Coordination
Affects children and adults
Symptoms include difficulty with: Fine (small) motor skills
Gross (large) motor skills
Motor planning
Often happens with other diagnoses
Changes daily
Also might influence speech and executive function
Estimated 1 in 10 people have it
Dyspraxia Foundation UK
Dyspraxia USA

            I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for a while now. The characters, story, and setting are what drew me in initially, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they consistently got disability right.

            One of the current companions, Ryan, has dyspraxia. I don’t have dyspraxia, so I can’t know what it’s like without a huge amount of research, but I will say the writing accurately portrayed much of the experience of living with learning disabilities. It reflected much of my experience, at least.

            It’s also impressive that they chose to give a young adult dyspraxia. Like dyslexia, a child with dyspraxia will grow into an adult with dyspraxia. It never goes away, but people get better at handling it. His race is also important, too, as he is black, and most LD representation is of white people.

            That said, his disability isn’t the focus of his character or story line. It’s a large part of it, as it should be, and it’s brought up from time to time in things he struggles with, but again, it’s not constant. Ryan is flawed, funny, brilliant, and makes mistakes. He’s human.

            Doctor Who also has a history of casting people with disabilities. There was one scientist who had dwarfism. I don’t recall her size or body-type as being relevant to the story, though it influenced how she interacted with the world around her. Last season, one character had blindness, Hana, and a blind actress was cast in the role, Ellie Wallwork. Her blindness played a large role in her character, but that wasn’t all she was. Hana was a smart, sassy teenage girl who knocked Ryan out with a door at one point.

What? I have a soft spot for slapstick.

            Disability is hard to get right in any fictional medium, but Doctor Who does it well.