What Makes a Memorable Companion Debut?
Guest contributor Anna Rinaldi reflects on past companion debuts and what made them memorable.
This so-called recuperation period is taking longer than I expected. Just last night, I was dozing aimlessly at nothing in particular — a favourite hobby of mine. I remained curled in a comfy chair, decked in my TARDIS jammies and steadying Mark Gatiss’ The Roundheads novel facedown in my lap. A realisation was dawning, cultivating a dreadful premonition, even as I took a generous chomp into a stray Jammie Dodger. Suddenly it clicked, like a sonic screwdriver retracting into its case: DOCTOR WHO AIRS NO MORE…
…Well, at least for an extended hiatus of about 12-14 months. Yet even as idle time ticks by, my obsessive inclinations toward the Who canon and franchise never depreciates. I consider this article itself to be a coping mechanism, so bear with me and my effusive ramblings throughout the remainder of 2016.
Anticipation of a new companion is probably the only prospect keeping my sanity afloat. As some of you are aware, I consider Clara and Twelve the epitome of a TARDIS twosome, thoroughly peerless. Like Ten and Donna, another legendary duo, their relationship was initially a calamitous reckoning between two headstrong personalities. As they probed each other’s limitations and strengths, learning to function side-by-side despite their disparities, the writers and actors started to reap rewards. Yet times change, and so must the TARDIS dynamic, so I am gradually sidling past all of my demurs about the impossible girl’s replacement.
Before diving headlong into Series 10 (which at the moment would be equivalent to thrusting myself at a distant, impenetrable block of cement), Iet’s take a glance at past companion debuts and pinpoint what exactly makes these outings an integral part of the Who experience — aside from the fact that we’re all probably straining to hear a certain blue box materialise on our very own front doorstep. After all, there is a vacancy.
Life Without the Doctor
Trudging to work every morning, sipping coffee, turning over to a different channel, collapsing in bed only to rise again after the persistent buzzing of an alarm clock, cars swooshing past the rabble, traffic that never abates. These drab colors of sidewalks and smothering fumes beckon to the early riser each morning — a cycle that blurs into the nebulous existence we call everyday life.
I feel RTD most successfully renders this disconsolate view of the average human’s daily routine, bogged down by a future without prospects. Yet escapism is the essence of Doctor Who, and such ordinary individuals are given the opportunity to feel special by trekking across the stars in an interstellar maze of wonders. The opening sequence of “Rose,” with a teenage girl’s dull and dismal bus rides, employment at your standard department store, and garrulous mum capture the moments where time drags forward in heavy chains, never taking flight or striving for something greater. Martha, the peacemaker, grapples with her quarrelsome family members, and Donna is endlessly harangued for not taking the initiative and seeking employment. By witnessing the birth of stars and the collapse of entire galaxies, their roles in the universe are seen in perspective, and their purpose, reinvigorated. Traveling with the Doctor terrifies, enlightens, and inspires infinite potential, allowing even the most unlikely of individuals to make ripples in the vast macrocosms time and space.
A High-Stake Adventure
First impressions, they say, are everything, and nothing would amount from a lacklustre pilot trip in the TARDIS. A time and space machine is not the average convertible you rev up and take out for a spin, and the Doctor doesn’t captivate his companions without a little chutzpah.
From reptilian prisoners slithering through cracks in your wall to Judoon platoons on the moon, the Doctor reserves his most helter-skelter, catastrophic adventures for the average earthling, who somehow finds herself caught up in the thunder of it all. Lighthearted and action-packed, the companion’s introduction must be an accurate representation of all the eclectic and timey-wimey elements intrinsic to Doctor Who. Whenever I reflect on “Smith & Jones” or “Partners in Crime,” dashing down corridors, sonic contraptions, radioactive shoes, walking fat, and maniacal vampires disguised as old ladies paint quite a diverse and entertaining picture in my mind’s eye. The atmosphere is buzzing with energy, as the new awe-inspired associate tries to process all these strange goings-on while being actively invested in each impossible dilemma as it arises. Not only must the companion be convinced but also new audiences tuning in for a dip in the shallows of an all-absorbing sci-fi extravaganza. As we trudge through the banal passing of months until 2017, rest assured that Series 10’s first installment will be big, compelling, and absolutely fantastic (hopefully).
Watching the actors and characters complement one another on and off-screen is always gratifying, but when the Doctor and his companion are investigating, their dynamic becomes flawless. Pitching clever ideas and augmenting each other’s train of thought, the duo’s extraordinary intuition and dependency on each other show an effortless team ethic.
One of my favourite scenes from “Rose” is when the Doctor is futilely scouring for an Auton hub, and Rose indicates the oh-so-obvious London Eye as the focal point. It’s as if they’re playing pretend, imagining such an ordinary, central landmark to somehow emit sonar waves activating plastic alien menaces; they completely immerse themselves in this incredible playground spanning all of time and space. In an instant, you forget the principle of implausibility and just capitulate to the adrenaline-fueled chaos.
A Refreshing Outlook
Practically every companion has that classic scene in the TARDIS — that dumbfounded expression as they enter a surprisingly capacious police box, expecting to only see four walls and a cramped interior. Not only is it an opportunity for the Doctor to flex his eyebrows and impress a new recruit, but the audience is also on the edge of their seats, anticipating an intense reaction. Writers can have a lot of fun with this unanimous expectation, as seen in Clara’s vapid “it’s smaller on the outside” or Wilfred’s amusing “I thought it would be cleaner,” where all of us plus the Doctor were slightly disappointed, taken by surprise, and trying to suppress a few rounds of laughter at the absurdity. The TARDIS has seen gob smacked faces, utter denial, confusion, and the occasional guests go berserk, as their brain tries to rationalise such a gaping departure from logic. Eventually, they learn to just accept it. He’s the Doctor.
Throughout these first few interactions, it’s fascinating to watch how different personalities handle the Doctor’s insane lifestyle, whether they greet it enthusiastically or with trepidation and skepticism. In the blink of an eye, the Doctor can witness the birth and death of galaxies, can catch stardust in the palm of his hand. A new companion brings a lost sense of wonderment, allowing the Doctor to see nebulae’s kaleidoscope of shifting colors, or the glistening pulse of stars as if it were his first time and not the hundredth in a billion.
Anticipation is a double-edged sword, relieving us form our depressed reveries but also raising expectations to unforeseeable heights. As we refresh the Google news page on Doctor Who series 10 every hour or so, remember that the best (or the worst, but more likely the latter) is yet to come. Although a new companion will be a drastic change after 3 consecutive years with Ms. Oswald, hopefully, some of these familiar elements — present in almost every companion debut — will ease the transition. Until then, I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave…