Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, sings Tony Fyler.
There’s been a debate since the dawn of New Who as to what it takes to classify as ‘a companion’. Do you have to have travelled on the Tardis? Some people think so, which would leave Astrid Peth and Lady Christina D’Souza out in the cold. I’d suggest a slightly different definition – if you eventually ‘get’ the Doctor, if your interactions with him change your life for the better, if you embrace the breadth and depth of time and space as a result of having him drop into your life, and if you help him in return, I’m happy to call you a companion.
Nowhere in New Who is that probably more true than in the case of Mickey ‘the Idiot’ Smith.
It would be fair to say that Mickey when we first meet him is not living up to his full potential. To give him credit, he has not had an easy upbringing, and he’s got a reasonable job at a garage, so there’s a sense of Mickey taking responsibility for his life even then, and he’s protective of Rose so we like him, for all he comes across as a bit of an idiot. When Rose literally kisses him and runs – quite a big insult, seen one way, that run – off into the Tardis to embrace the universe of time and space, it’s Mickey who stays at home, both fearful of the alien who’s stolen his girlfriend, and also, potentially, to look after Jackie as she’s bound to fret.
That, clearly, goes spectacularly wrong when Rose goes missing for a year, and all eyes, especially Jackie’s, turn on Mickey. But in the first sign that he’s companion material, he tells no-one what’s really happened to Rose, suffering social stigma and suspicion to keep her secret. The second sign is that he’s not idle while she’s away, instead reading up, so that when Rose and the Doctor are trapped in Downing Street, with no apparent way to defeat the Slitheen, it’s Mickey they call on to do some implausibly high-level hacking and launch the missile that saves the day. It’s telling that by then, he’s less resistant to the Doctor and his influence, and is willing to go along with him, because by then, he’s seen some of the things that are not-the-Doctor, some of the things he fights to keep humanity safe.
During the course of the Ninth Doctor’s life though, Mickey stands as an alternative to him, unmoving, an avatar of the life he believes Rose has to come back to, one day. There’s a moment of almost horrible awkwardness when the Tardis team turn up for an overnight stop, and Mickey goes to meet them, suggesting that he and Rose can ‘go off somewhere’. Rose seems ready to go with him, but it’s an awkward kind of readiness, an almost-obligation that’s an extension of her initial determination to stay behind with him. It’s likely she would have gone with him, but it would have been a kind of farewell night together, had it happened. Mickey by that point represents a world that Rose is outgrowing. Indeed when Rose does come home apparently for good, having been tricked into it by a Doctor determined to prove to Jackie that he cared for Rose as she did, Mickey is almost triumphant, challenging Rose to be ‘normal’ again, like all the rest of them. Her reaction, and the backing she gets from Jackie, proves to Mickey that he’s lost Rose as a partner – if not explicitly to the Doctor, then to the wider universe to which he has introduced her. He will have to adapt to survive in her life at all, or consign her to his past.
Everything changes when the Doctor regenerates. The Tenth Doctor is immediately far more family-friendly than the spiky Ninth ever knew how to be – he stays for Christmas dinner with Jackie, Mickey and friends, having saved the world with a sword and a Satsuma, and Mickey’s attitude changes too. If this is the Doctor now, more welcoming, more smiley, then maybe he can be a part of this lifestyle after all. It’s Mickey who notices reports of weird goings-on at a comprehensive school, and calls the Doctor and Rose in to help. The events of School Reunion make a big impact on Mickey – he sees the differentiation between the Doctor’s ‘main’ companion – Sarah-Jane and Rose – and ‘the tin dog’, who, to be fair to K9, is left to fend for himself in a room full of angry Krillitanes, and eventually explodes while saving the world. As though these are his only options, Mickey Smith determines there and then that he will not be ‘the tin dog,’ that he’s worth more than that. The only way to ensure his survival in this kind of world is to become an active part of it – and so he asks to join the Tardis for himself, rather than simply to be close to Rose. ‘Getting a spaceship on his first go’ makes Mickey a full part of the crew, though he is rather sidelined by the events on board the Madame Du Pompadour, where, just as in School Reunion, he has the chance to make Rose insecure in any hopes she might have of being the Doctor’s ‘special friend.’
But it’s not until he comes face to face with his own alternative universe doppelganger, Ricky, that Mickey sees the kind of person he could be. When Ricky is senselessly, almost pointlessly killed by the Cybermen, it’s as though the universe has a vacancy for a Mickey Smith firing on all cylinders. And Mickey the Idiot steps into the breach, doing things his own way: any hopes Jake has of continuing a relationship with Mickey seem dashed, but flying an airship, plugging the right code into the cyber-circuitry and saving the world? Mickey Smith can do it all, surprising everyone in the process, probably including himself. He stays behind in the parallel world both because he’s found a way to make his own Doctor-style difference, and because he’s found his gran, and while he may not have done the best he could by her in our world, in the alternative universe, he has a chance, Scrooge-like, to live his life differently and make sure her last years are better.
By the time we next see Mickey, he’s evolved again – more sure of himself, more practiced in the arts of saving the world, and ready to take on whatever is in the strange and silent orb at the heart of Canary Wharf, or so he thinks. When he first meets the Daleks though, he still needs backup to cope with this new alien menace. But working with a straighter spine and a tougher demeanour than ever before, it’s clear that Mickey Smith has determined to stamp his name on his corner of the universe as a defender of Earth, of humanity, and of all the ‘little people’ who are just like he used to be - the people just getting by, or waiting for a saviour.
When the Daleks again threaten not only the Earth but all of reality, Mickey and Jackie both join the fray to defend against the Nazi pepperpots. When The DoctorDonna kicks them out of existence, and Rose and her Metacrisis Doctor go home to their parallel world, Mickey chooses to return to our world and leave them to it. The Cybermen are no longer a threat, he’s cared for his gran all he can, and he’s ready for a new adventure here at home. It’s telling that by now, Mickey regards the Doctor as ‘Chief’ or ‘Boss,’ and the banter between them is the banter of equals, of companions in the fight against the evils of the universe. Mickey has discovered his strength and proved his mettle time and again, changed if not directly by the example of the Doctor, then certainly by the universe he has seen as a result of his travels in the Tardis.
When we last see Mickey, he is still fighting the good fight, this time against the Sontarans, and he’s finally moved on from his interest in Rose. In fact, he’s married – in one of the show’s more dubious plotting moments – to Martha Jones. While widely regarded as an over-convenient tying-up of loose ends, there is a sense in which this works. Both Martha, who began as a headstrong, diplomatic force in her own family, and Mickey, who began as a quivering jelly, have been changed by their time with the Doctor into people determined to make a difference, acutely aware that only those people stand between the forces of oppression and the kind of people they used to be. They’ve both grown beyond the need for the Doctor’s example, having taken it into themselves and begun to live it, day to day.
If that’s not a companion, I don’t know what is.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk