The Quintessential Companion
Guest contributor Mike Falino on the most important qualities in a good companion.
What makes someone a good companion for the Doctor? It isn’t that straight forward a question to answer; fan opinion, good casting, clever writing, palpable chemistry, and so many other factors play a part in whether or not someone is perceived to be a good companion. I will attempt to break this question down into what I see as its component parts. This is not a piece about who the best ever companion is, but rather a flexible thought experiment in trying to ascertain what makes someone fit to travel with the Doctor.
The following five attributes are what I consider to be the most critical aspects of a person’s personality if they are to travel with the Doctor: Adventurousness, Compassion, trustworthiness, loyalty, and optimism.
Let’s See What’s Out There
First and foremost a potential companion must have a robust sense of adventure. For someone who is perfectly happy in their own few square blocks of life between their home and job, traveling with the Doctor probably isn’t a good idea.
A thirst for knowing more about the world—about the universe—is a must. The nagging sense that there is always something more to see must burn within. Perhaps it can even be interpreted as a sense of wanderlust, and on rare occasions a sense of dissatisfaction with the circumstances of one’s life. But in either case the potential to see all of time and space must pique someone’s interest more than the next episode of Celebrity Rehab Sing-a-long.
This sense of adventure doesn’t always have to be evident from the start, as seen with someone like Donna Noble, but it is a quality that must manifest if someone is going to spend any sustained amount of time traveling with the Doctor and actually enjoy themselves. The Desire to experience something more amazing and more beautiful than the last must be a driving force in a potential companion’s life.
A Kind Heart
The sort of person who can’t turn a blind eye to suffering and doesn’t think twice about helping someone in need has at least some of what it takes to travel with the Doctor. As the Doctor says, “We don’t walk away!” So of course a strong sense of empathy is a must for any potential companion. It may even be the most important part of traveling with the Doctor. Most often the danger of traveling with him lies in his indelible sense of compassion. If someone has the capacity for suffering the Doctor probably wants to prevent that suffering if he can.
Compassion must also be doled out to non-humanoid life, potentially even someone initially perceived as bad or undeserving of compassion. A good companion must always have in them the potential for kindness, even if it isn’t always earned by the recipient. Cruelty, revenge, and sadism are so repugnant to the Doctor you may as well define him by what he abhors. A good companion must display their compassion when it counts most, even in the most difficult of circumstances. This isn’t to say justice comes second to blind compassion, as with Amy Pond’s leaving Madame Kovarian to the Silence, but a companion must be able to recognize when kindness is more important than anything else.
Trust in Those Who Reach For Your Hand
Sometimes it takes a while, and sometimes it happens quickly, but eventually the Doctor always shows that he trusts his companions. When taking strangers along for a joyride on the most powerful weapon in the universe one must show a measure of trust in those brought aboard. But it goes so much deeper than that. The trust the Doctor bestows upon his companions, and in most cases, the trust they have earned, is not just about the TARDIS, it is often about his trust in their capacity for doing what is right and necessary. Essentially, the Doctor must be able to trust his companions to act as his moral proxy.
Being able to know his companions won’t run when the going gets tough enables him to be the hero that he is. While he can almost certainly never rely on his companions to listen to him when he tells them to stay put and away from danger, he can always trust them to heed his command at the most critical of times. If an entire world were at stake the Doctor must be able to entrust his companion with a task, or even simply knowledge that has the power to condemn or save.
Through Thick and Thin
While loyalty isn’t a character trait I’d say the Doctor looks for per se, it is invariably a necessary quality. It many ways it is not dissimilar to trustworthiness, but I see it as a much more viscerally emotional condition. In short, those who travel with the Doctor often love him. No, I’m not talking about romantic love, although that does obviously come into play from time to time. What I’m talking about is that sort of emotional love you have for your family and closest friends.
Every companion has experienced at least one instance when it appeared as though the Doctor was dead or about to die. What went through these companions’ heads is not that they might be stuck on some alien world or be displaced in time, but that the loss of the Doctor is a greater tragedy. A good companion can never consider running out on the Doctor in his time of need, just as they trust him to always be there when they need him.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
We’ve seen the Doctor destitute, beaten down, terrified, miserable, and at his whit’s end, but rarely, if ever, do we see the Doctor completely devoid of at least some glimmer of hope for too long. Someone so awestruck by the beauty and wonder of the universe, captivated equally by the sound of a pleasant tune, the scent of a flower, or the punch line of a joke, couldn’t possibly mope around the universe thinking it was all for nothing. A companion, while not necessarily having this quality at first, will invevitably adopt the Doctor’s outlook on things.
A good companion must be able to provide that positive outlook when the Doctor has nearly given up hope, or remind the Doctor of the potential for good in everyone when his own compassion seems withered and frayed. We’ve seen the Timelord Victorious and the Destroyer of Worlds, and we’ve seen how necessary it is for him to be reigned in by the kind words and gentle touch of a companion who asks him to rise above his darker impulses and do the right thing. The Doctor can all too often be consumed by the darkness he encounters, and it often takes the optimism of his companions to remind him of his most treasured values. If a companion loses all hope, what chance has the Doctor?
What Makes A Good Companion?
A suitable companion for the Doctor must be many things; full of adventure, kind, worthy of trust, loyal, and optimistic. But these are but the base stats, if you will, of what sort of person the Doctor would have traveling along side him in the TARDIS. This is by no means a complete list, but I feel it is a good framework at the very least. What makes all of the Doctor’s companions so interesting, and the adventures they share together so different, is each companion’s uniqueness, and they way they view the world the Doctor shows them. All, however, share some qualities the Doctor finds favorable. I think if I listed the Doctor’s greatest traits it might look something like what I came up with for his companions. I think in some ways that is how he defines himself, by his companions.
So who fits the companion criteria the best in your opinion? State in the comments.