50 Years of Who: The Companions
John Hussey continues his 50th anniversary retrospective, this time looking at the companions.
2013 is a milestone year for all things Whovian as Doctor Who reaches its grand 50th anniversary, marking 50 years since the show first materialised on our screens back in 1963. Along with my 50th Anniversary Doctor Retrospectives (the 11th Doctor will be published in December following Matt Smith’s final episode), I will add another tribute to Doctor Who TV with ’50 Years of Who’ which serves to look over the different elements of the show that have kept it running throughout its long legacy.
First things first, the companions.
The companions have been a part of Doctor Who since the very beginning and are, in some respect, the main highlight of the show. They are physically placed within the confinements of the mad, blue multi-dimensional box to serve as a bridging point between us the audience and the Doctor’s wild adventures through time and space. Without the companion there wouldn’t be a link between us and the Doctor. We all follow the Doctor, who is the main protagonist of the show, but it’s through the companion’s eyes that we really get to see just who exactly the Time Lord is. The Doctor opens up to the companion, in both a good way and a bad way. We get to see the Doctor’s different layers of both his alien nature and humanity seep through piece-by-piece through the different companions.
The function of the companions
Their function within the show is pretty clear: they are there to serve as our eyes. The companion asks the questions that we, the viewer, want to know about the Doctor, the TARDIS and all the other things that go on both inside and out the Police Box’s doors. The companions are us, but as with all things, it isn’t always that simple. Sure, their function on the outside is to help us the audience delve into this mysterious world that the Time Lord leads, but it’s also inside that counts.
The companion is essentially there for the Doctor. Plain and simple. The Doctor was an old man, even when the show started back in 1963 in ‘An Unearthly Child’. They are his company within his journey of discovery across time and space. At least that’s how it began with his granddaughter Susan Foreman. With his other original companions, they were there against their own free will after stumbling into the Doctor’s life through curiosity. So in reality, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright were the First Doctor’s ‘hostages'; at least at first anyway. Over time they became fond of the First Doctor as did he to them and they formed a very close friendship.
This brings us to the other reason the Doctor likes to have companions – a form of friendship – which was first developed through Ian and Barbara. Also through Ian, the companion’s role became that of a protector towards the Doctor, although this was more due to the First Doctor’s older appearance. But that fundamental role still remained throughout the years with future and present companions.
With Barbara, it became about showing the Doctor right and wrong and basically stopping him, if necessary. The Doctor is an alien and what might seem rational to him might not apply to his companions, especially back in his earlier days when his alien side was more dominating and he lacked a sense of human intuition. The amount of times a companion has confronted the Doctor about his actions is almost uncountable (because it happens nearly every episode). The Doctor has even admitted that the companion’s function is to stop him if required, with many telling him that is what he needs. Sometimes the Doctor requires the companion to simply think outside of the box and collect information/point things out that he might not necessarily spot because of his alien way of thinking.
The other main reason the Doctor has a companion is to forge a friendship. The Doctor from time to time (like the best of us) gets lonely and needs someone to talk to. Being as old and wise as the Doctor, I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to be alone in case you talk yourself to death. Answer: have someone travel with him so he can share his knowledge, which on many occasions you can clearly see how happy it makes the Doctor.
In some ways the Doctor just loves to show others the wonders of the universe and on many occasions he has wondered why anything else can compare, demonstrated most recently when Amy Pond and Rory Williams speak about dealing with their own lives outside of the TARDIS. The companions are there for both us and the Doctor, allowing the Doctor either to gain friendship, company or somebody there to stop him on his journeys in the TARDIS, while at the same time the companions serve as our eyes and ears and bridge us with the world of the Time Lord.
The different companions and their different personalities
There are various types of companions within the show and each of them are very different. The most common type of companion is one that provides the Doctor with friendship on his travels through time and space. The majority of the Doctor’s companions fall under this category forming the basic relationship between Time Lord and companion during their travels. One of the prime examples is Donna Noble with even the Tenth Doctor admitting that all he wanted was a mate to travel with him in his blue box.
The next most common companion is one that provides protection to the Doctor. The first to establish this role was Ian Chesterton who protected the First Doctor during his early days. Other companions took on this role, the next main one being Jamie McCrimmon; the Scottish boy from the Highland Wars. As well as being the Second Doctor’s best friend, he at all times acted as a guard for the Doctor and resorted to action in order to deal with enemies that threatened the Time Lord.
Then there are the companions who are simply loyal to the Doctor. These appear in two kinds of forms; those who simply follow the Doctor throughout his travels and trust him no matter what, and then there are those who follow him from a more militaristic perceptive. A main example of the loyal-type would be Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart who worked alongside the Doctor from his second incarnation all the way up to his seventh. Although the pair didn’t always see eye-to-eye, the Brig always retained a sense of loyalty to the Doctor no matter what and was in many ways fond of him and they were the best of friends. The most recent example of this is Captain Jack Harkness who retains a similar type of loyalty as the Brigadier and also like the Brigadier acts a form of protector to the Doctor on his travels.
There is then the one-off companion who simply travels with the Doctor for one consecutive story before departing for whatever reason. This is either because they do not wish to join the Doctor on his travels, they die during the events of the adventure or the Doctor simply doesn’t want them to travel with him.
One of the more rare and unique type of companions are those who form a more romantic bond with the Doctor. The first companion the Doctor really showed true feelings for was Sarah Jane Smith, a bond that was strongly hinted upon during their reunion in ‘School Reunion’. Romana (in my opinion) was the first companion relationship that really showed spark onscreen with the Fourth Doctor, and Romana II really intensified their chemistry.
Grace Holloway was the first companion to passionately kiss the Doctor but this was as far as the relationship went for their one-off adventure together. Rose Tyler was the first to fully form a relationship with the Doctor which was far beyond friendship. Although nothing ever really came out in the open between them, the signs were all there that they had feelings for one another, but like with a lot of people, it’s simply getting the urge and confidence to speak one’s mind when in love with someone. The romantic thing was played out with Martha Jones but in a more rebound kind of a way. She loved the Doctor but he was still damaged by the loss of Rose Tyler and never really saw the signals she tried sending to him. The only companion (or in her case one-off companion) to fully fall under the romantic category is River Song who in fact married the Doctor and has a clear onscreen romantic relationship with the Doctor.
The new series has introduced another different type of companion and that is the ‘tag-along’. This has been established through the main companion having a partner and they join them and the Doctor on their journeys within the TARDIS. This type of companion doesn’t last long though because the said tag-along ultimately works their way up the rank of companion type and becomes a more dominant role within the TARDIS rather than being there solely because their partner is there. This best suits Rory Williams who was essentially there at first as Amy Pond’s fiancée before slowly becoming a good friend to the Doctor and in some ways became his protector from time to time, even sacrificing his existence once to protect the Doctor.
With Clara Oswin Oswald, the companion became about curiosity as the Eleventh Doctor tried desperately to find her, after encountering her twice in different lifetimes, and attempting to uncover the mysteries behind the Impossible Girl. So far she has served a unique case after being revealed to be the Doctor’s protector throughout his entire timeline.
Not only do you have the different personalities to consider with companions, there’s also time, i.e. the time periods the companions come from. This also helps to create another layer of uniqueness when it comes to the companion’s importance in making the show more interesting. By having a companion from the past you add the factors of them not understanding more scientific elements along with having no knowledge of future events from our present adding new educational purposes for the Doctor. Plus, it also allows the audience to delve into the past and be themselves educated by elements of history.
Present day companions have the obvious potential of linking themselves with the audience due to them being contemporary and they have a better understanding of how they feel towards the new environments the Doctor is leading them into. Companions from the future however opens the doors to many possibilities as to how the writers wish to perceive future events and how people think and act. It does allow for a different kind of character which is open to more fictional elements while still maintaining a sense of realism when it comes to their emotions and how they think. The final kinds of companions are ones that don’t even come from Earth which, like the companions from the future, opens the doors to more fictional elements and adds in new layers of ideas with the Doctor interacting with another alien on a daily basis.
By having all these different types we get more of a variety of characters within the companion and it allows the show to remain fresh; filled with new ideas and directions.
Why the companions have kept the show going
The companions have kept the show going because they are an interesting idea that helps to draw in us the audience/fans into the mad lifestyle of the Doctor. They are the bridging point between us and the Time Lord and have served that purpose for nearly 50 years and will continue this function for as long as Doctor Who remains alive.
The idea of the companions brings about the creation of unique characters with different qualities and these qualities and characteristics continue to shape the course of the show according to their individuality. You could say they shape the show as much as the Doctor himself. Depending upon their character, this determines what sort of tone and storyline takes place within their eras of Doctor Who which ultimately means that each companion brings about a new style to the show. That is why they are unique, because they continue to shape the show and allowing it to evolve and take on a continuous different direction which keeps the show fresh while at the same time maintaining its roots and keeping to the design that has kept the show alive for 50 years.
On top of this the companions all have varying personalities and character traits and therefore each companion is different. So not only do the stories change, but the characters do as well and this is a nice treat for the viewers/fans.
The final bonus is that we are allowed to follow their unique character and cheer them on as they make their travels in the TARDIS and fight evil across the cosmos. In many ways we grow to love their characters and feel for them, putting ourselves in their shoes and joining them along for the ride of the century. Because we become attached to their characters, we follow their journey from start and ultimately their end, however they might come. Their ending also strikes a unique part about their design because it means we come to their conclusion and have to bare the sadness of their departure.
Sometimes these departures are sadder than others, like with Jamie McCrimmon, Adric, Donna Noble, Amy Pond, Rory Williams and the Brigadier. Some of course are more subtle, with the companion meeting a mutual agreement and leaving on happier notes. Others of course leave on their own terms, either wanting to leave because they’ve had enough, like Tegan Jovanka, or simply find a new life beyond the TARDIS, like with Jo Grant who falls in love and decides to get married. Although we are often saddened at the departure of one companion, it opens the door to a new beginning with the arrival of the next companion who brings in exciting new directions for the show and the Doctor. This cycle will continue throughout the course of the show and that’s why the companions have kept Doctor Who going.
Best companion stories
‘An Unearthly Child’ – Susan Foreman
Susan Foreman – the original companion and granddaughter to the Doctor – proved very useful as a hook for the very first episode of Doctor Who. Her very presence sparked mystery into our minds; puzzling over who she really was and why she possessed such knowledge and intellect which all led up to the events of how the show began.
‘The Romans’ – Ian Chesterton
Ian really did prove his worth when he was turned into a Roman slave by putting his wits and strengths to the test and battling against the slave-trading, warrior civilisation in order to reach Rome and find Barbara before it was too late.
‘The Aztecs’ – Barbara Wright
Barbara was put to the test when she mistakenly became the Aztec goddess Yetaxa and tried her very best to turn their civilisation around and destroy the evil natures of their spiritual beliefs. This of course became a true battle for not only her and her friend’s survival, but also a battle to keep the timelines intact.
‘The Invasion’ – Zoe Heriot
Zoe’s intellectual skills in mathematics really did help out U.N.I.T. during their battle against the Cybermen as she successfully, in a matter of seconds, calculated the perfect formation for their missile launch which ultimately brought the utter destruction of the Cybermen’s fleet, thereby preventing their further invasion of Earth.
‘Battlefield’ – Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
The Brigadier proved his ultimate loyalty to the Doctor when he returned to the battlefield after long retirement. In many ways he had missed his action days with his trusted friend the Doctor and aided him in his battle against Morgaine and the Destroyer, even knocking the Seventh Doctor out in order to take his place in facing the Destroyer. Afterwards they enjoyed each other’s company at his home, preparing dinner and doing the gardening while the girls were out on a joyride in Bessie.
‘The Invasion of Time’ – Leela
Leela, even though the Fourth Doctor was acting suspicious and hostile, did what she was told and left the Citadel of the Time Lords and went on to round up a small army via those who had abandoned their identities as Time Lords. This later aided the Fourth Doctor in defeating both the Vardans and the Sontarans. Also Leela’s huntress abilities came in real handy against the clone race.
‘Destiny of the Daleks’ – Romana
Romana successfully regenerated into her new form, even to the point of trying on different bodies before stubbornly deciding on the body of Princess Astra. In her new form she managed to battle against the terrors of the Daleks, after being driven into fear by interrogation, even to the point of outwitting them by pretending she had died via Time Lord trickery of the heart. Romana then went on to prevent Commander Sharrel from activating the Nova Device via a battle in the sands which ending in the robot being disarmed (literally) and deactivated after its energy pack was removed.
‘Earthshock’ – Adric
Adric committed the biggest self-sacrifice of them all when he decided to stay onboard a space-freighter in order to make sure he used his mathematical skills to prevent the Cybermen’s plans to use the ship to crash into the Earth. Although he caused the end of the Dinosaurs, his death prevented billions of lives ending in the future and also prevented the Cybermen gaining a technical advantage in the Cyber-Wars.
‘The Curse of Fenric’ – Ace
Ace showed true strength when she confronted the Seventh Doctor about his manipulative nature and demanded to know his intentions after being constantly left in the dark. Ace was one of the very few to have mutual respect from the Doctor and they formed a very close, if rough at times, friendship – one of the strongest within the entire show.
‘Last of the Time Lords’ – Martha Jones
Martha did a brave thing when the Tenth Doctor was made the Master’s prisoner and thereby had to complete his plan to stop his reign of terror by travelling the Earth for an entire year all by herself. In that year she told everyone about the Doctor and made sure that they would think about him upon the end of the Master’s countdown in order to combine their minds against the evil Time Lord by using his own psychic network against him to revive the Doctor.
‘The Name of the Doctor’ – Clara Oswin Oswald
Clara committed the ultimate sacrifice for the Doctor, in order to save his entire existence from the Great Intelligence’s wrath, by entering his time-stream and splintering herself across his timeline in order to protect him over and over again almost like a guardian angel.
The second part of ’50 Years of Who’ will look over the monsters and villains that have plagued both us the audience/fans and the Doctor throughout his travels in time and space and I will discuss why they, like the companions, have helped shape and keep Doctor Who alive for its 50 years of legacy.