Is Courtney Woods a Companion?

Guest contributor Will Atkinson looks at how companion status is decided.

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I liked Kill The Moon. A lot. I don’t think it’s my favourite story of Series 8 (Listen has that position at the moment) but it’s up there. I think it might be one of my favourite stories of New Who, and of Doctor Who in general. There were just so many things that worked well with it – the beautiful Moon landscape, the scary CGI spiders germs, the tension between the characters, the great guest acting… basically, I liked all of it.

Except for two things:

One, the fact the Giant Moon Flea™ was able to lay an egg the size of the moon, despite the fact it was neither pregnant or and, well, it was a bit silly. Two, is Courtney Woods a companion? I know this might sound like a quite banal point, but it was the thing that stuck at the front of my mind when the episode finished. I liked the character, and I thought she was much better than Angie and Artie would’ve been if this episode had been made for Series 7 as originally intended. But is she a companion? I mean, she travelled in the TARDIS at least twice and at the Doctor’s request. She has a companion-y name, and she’s appeared in multiple episodes. And, more importantly, she has interesting hair.

There’s a lot of people right now who’ll be shaking their heads, and I’m also inclined to agree with them. Since when did travelling in the TARDIS make you a companion? Liz Shaw never did. There are lots of companions who snuck on board without the Doctor’s permission. Companions don’t have to have good names-Vislor Turlough, Dodo and (shudder) Adric are all names you wouldn’t particularly want to give to your children. So, what actually makes a companion?

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Look! Interesting hair!

For the classic series it was a mention in a list of assistants in a summer special that qualified you for full TARDIS traveller status. Nowadays, the qualification was to have your name in the title sequence, but then they started chucking in the odd John Simm when the Master turned up. Of course, there are a lot of characters who are obviously “proper” companions-the characters who accompany the Doctor for whole series, the Sarah-Janes, Aces, Roses and Claras of the Whoniverse.

However, especially in the revived series, we’ve had a proliferation of one-story individuals who occupy the companion role, or people who join the Doctor for brief periods, or recurring characters, like the Paternoster Gang. Are they all companions? The makers of the program would probably argue yes; saying Kylie Minogue is the new companion is a sure-fire way to drum up interest in the program. However, others, like Christina or Jenny (both of her), have never stepped foot in the TARDIS yet have taken up the role of his assistant for at least a story. Personally, I don’t buy the argument that you have to have travelled in the TARDIS to be a proper companion. There have been lots of characters who haven’t travelled in the TARDIS that I would much rather count as companions than the ones we actually got; Todd from Kinda for example, or, more recently, Journey Blue.

So far I haven’t actually got anywhere with my argument – I’ve just danced around definitions of what makes an assistant or companion. To tell the truth, it’s because I didn’t really have a clue what makes one when I started writing this article. The last 500 words have been me working out what really makes a companion. And now I think I know.

It’s whomever you choose to be a companion.

Not literally you understand. That would be very meta and deep, but I what I mean to say it’s whomever a fan chooses to think of as a companion. The Doctor’s had so many assistants and fellow travellers on television alone that there are going to be some that we don’t all agree on. Take Mike Yates for example. Fan lore says he’s a bona fide companion, but I don’t think he is, because he never (on screen at least) either took a trip in the TARDIS (I know, I know I’m being a hypocrite) and because I think Sergeant Benton is a better candidate because he both went into the TARDIS and, well, I like him more as a character. Does this affect the way I watch their stories? No, not in the slightest. I count Sara Kingdom as a companion, and I know many other fans wouldn’t. I don’t count River Song, but I do count the TARDIS. Is that wrong? In my opinion, not at all. We all have the ability to decide for ourselves what we count as our personal “canon”) so why should companions be any different?

So, basically, I’ve just spent eight hundred words answering a question by telling you all to make up your own minds about it. Sorry.

But is Courtney Woods a companion? Well, in my opinion… yes. But tell me what you think in the comments below.