So Jenna Coleman is leaving Doctor Who. Would whoops of glee be inappropriate? Well yes, actually they would. I’ve been opining that Clara should go for the whole of the last series, but having seen the first two episodes of series nine, I am actually hopeful that this last series of hers will be a great one.
But she is going, which means a new companion needs to be found. So who should be it be? I have no idea, but I thought I’d have a look back at what I’ve liked and disliked about some of the companions over the years and what I’d like to see from the next companion. These are my memories (some of them rather old now) and some of them could be quite controversial.
Let’s start with what I don’t want.
Back in the dim and distant there were rather a lot of these. Jo Grant is probably the earliest companion I really remember and she did way too much screaming. Of course that was the 70s and that was the way women were portrayed on TV a lot back then. Which is why, if I’m to be fair about this, I also have to say that Sarah-Jane Smith did more than her fair share of yelling too, but then, she had something more about her too. I don’t want a screamer for the fact that it distracts from the story. Okay every now and then screaming might be necessary, fairly sure that if I was stuck in a dark alley with the Vashta Nerada I might scream for help, or, come to think of it, not, I wouldn’t have time. Still the point remains, let’s keep the volume down eh?
When I heard Billie Piper was going to be a companion I was rather disheartened, as I didn’t at that point know she could actually act, but she could and it worked well. The whole Doctor and Rose love storyline worked reasonably well, I have no major gripe with it, but it’s been done now and to keep it the special relationship that it was, it needs to never be repeated. Ever.
The Love Sick Puppy.
Well Martha Jones suffered rather with this affliction, and the viewer had to suffer her suffering. Surely it wasn’t just me that wanted to slap her and tell her to move on, was it? Jack Harkness wasn’t much better. I suppose love sick puppy is better than hero worshiper, but not by much. The love sick puppy problem is that they follow adoringly and lose their own personality in the process. Not to mention that they’re too likely to be chained up and used against the doctor - his compassion will get him in the end.
The ‘What’s-he-here-for’ One.
In fairness I only remember one real hanger-on that lasted, and that was Turlough. Can’t remember if this guy actually had a personality, the writing was that poor, but I do remember that he got captured a lot - Mark Strickson has even been known to say he ended up in various ‘states of bondage’, which I can be opened minded about, but it's not really what you want in a show that families watch together.
The Family One.
One of my bug bears over the last eight series has been the number of times the stories have been Earthsentric, and a lot of that is because the companions, Rose, Martha, Amy and Donna, were all tied so tight to their families. I’ve got nothing against families per se, but they have chained the series somewhat.
The Busty One.
Yes, go on then, all say her name together now, three, two, one - Peri Brown. Thing is, Peri wasn’t actually that bad, for all she rather stole the show when Peter Davidson regenerated, let’s face it, there are two points in that moment no man is ever going to forget, and that’s the problem. Peri was a good companion, but all those leotards and bouncing around distracted from that fact, the stories and her memory.
The Bossy One.
Well there have been a few of these of late, Clara was the worst, the self-proclaimed control-freak, after all there was nothing more important that her egotism. There were plenty of others though, of NuWho I have to include Amy and River at the very least.
The Victim (or Sacrificial Lamb).
This might not be obvious, but there have been a few. The ones I remember most are Astrid Peth and Adric. Remember Adric, anyone? Young kid, sweet, travelled with two Doctors (Baker and Davidson), Tegan and Nyssa, then he became (sort of) the meteor that wiped out Earth’s dinosaurs.
The Irritating One.
Wasn’t intending to add this in, but then I remembered Tegan - hopefully that’s enough said.
Okay, so that’s what I don’t want. So what do I want to see? What are the characteristics of a good companion? Well here are a few.
Not too intelligent, the Doctor couldn’t cope with someone too intelligent, one high functioning sociopath per TARDIS please. Which is probably why the Doctor and the Master couldn’t travel together, definitely why the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes should never travel together. And when I say intelligence, I don’t mean intellectualism, somewhere nearer to street smarts. Rose and Donna had those in spades. No the Doctor really should be the smartest one in the room, but his companion needs to be smart enough, like Sarah-Jane.
There have been rather a few of these, those that would stand up to the Doctor and tell him to stop. Donna obviously, but Sarah-Jane, Leela, Nyssa, Ace and River were all able to function without the doctor and work out how to save him when it was necessary.
This is highly related to independence, but I think exemplified best by two specific companions, though with one it’s stretching the definition a little bit. The Lethbridge-Stewarts. Brigadier Alister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in particular. That man was a force to be reckoned with from the word go (Troughton’s Doctor I believe), he stood shoulder to shoulder with Pertwee’s Doctor in UNIT, and Baker’s too, he also put in appearances with various others. He never screamed, he rarely complained, he knew when to give the doctor his head and when to rein him back in. To hear that the Brigadier had died rather (unexpectedly) choked me up. However, Kate Stewart has aptly filled his shoes (Oh dear, I watched Death in Heaven last night, now I have an image of the Brigadier in those low-heel orange court shoes she was wearing - bad brain, bad).
Again this has been seen in a lot of companions, after all, that’s what the Doctor leaves behind him, as seen in The Stolen Earth. But the example that really jumps to mind was Leela. All ragged (sexy) leather and that knife hanging from her belt and crossbow in hand. Yes she was a handful and a bit of a shoot-first-ask-questions-later type, but she was fun and ballsy and I miss that.
A Sense of Justice.
Again I have to point to Sarah-Jane Smith with this one. She’s not the only one, but was she was the best and most enduring. The Sarah-Jane character was so near the perfect companion, and she’s the one that we know went on to other things. She didn’t let her time with the Doctor cripple her to life as it could have, as it would have with Rose until she got the human Doctor Meta-crisis to take home and play with. Sarah-Jane went on to have a life, and several series and all of them really were about bringing about justice, saving the Earth and being the best she could be. Okay things weren’t the same as before the Doctor (see what she had to say about it in School Reunion), but justice and power to see it through were at the core of who she was.
This is a bit of a cold one, after all, we don’t want Spock in Doctor Who, let’s not mix genres, but logic can help solve problems. Of course the most logical companion was K-9. Loved K-9. Loved the way Tennant called his name on seeing him when Sarah-Jane brought him out in School Reunion.
Curiosity, an insatiable curiosity.
One of the big roles of the companion is to ask questions, to be excited at the thrill of something new. That was what attracted the Doctor to Astrid Peth (among other things). Donna had it. And Ace, she was ever the seeker of something new. It was also the thing about Sarah-Jane that kept her interesting, the investigative journalist that wanted to know.
This might sound a bit odd given that the main character of the show is in fact an alien, but there were plenty of non-Earthling companions before now, why not another one? An alien companion might let us get off the overly Earth-bound trip that the Doctor has been on of late. This is a science fiction show after all, I want to explore new worlds new civili - okay stop it Gail, mixing genres again. But here’s a list of the Alien companions I remember, Adric, Nyssa, Turlough, Ramona, I suspect there were others, but this is where my memory fails me.
No not that kind, think I covered that with the whole lover thing above. I mean, we’ve had all male doctors up till now and mostly female companions. There have been some great male companions in the past - I vaguely remember Peter Pervis and Jamie in a kilt (Frazer Heinz), I’ve already mentioned some others, but in NuWho there’s really only been Rory who was more an Amy Pond appendage than a companion (unfortunately) and Jack Harkness, who didn’t really last that long as a companion. Others have come and gone, but they haven’t really fulfilled the role of long running companion. If we can entertain the prospect of a female Doctor (Hayley Atwell’s angling for it), why not have another long running male companion?
That’s all, just a mate. Someone to travel with. Of course, for me, the best companion ever, was the Doctor’s best mate ever, Donna Noble. Loved Donna Noble. Cry every time I see the Doctor steal himself from her, hell I got choked up just writing that sentence. Yes she was cocky and brash, hiding the lack of self worth with a gob the size of a small planet, but she had a heart the size of a whole galaxy. Can’t say this enough, Donna, loved her, best companion ever - well so far at any rate.
So much for the previous companions, what about the next one? Do I think we should see an existing character return? Not really. There was Osgood, and I have heard rumours that she might come back, and I can see potential there, but the inhaler thing could get a little limiting - unless the Doctor takes her into the future or some different civilisation to get her asthma sorted out.
What about the Doctor and Missy travelling together for a while? I have a suspicion that that might happen and get old real quick.
I’ve seen comments here on Warped Factor that Professor Bernice Summerfield would make a good TV companion, but I can’t really comment, I’ve never listened to Doctor Who, only watched it on TV. From what Tony Fyler says about her, she does seem to have the characteristics I’d like to see more of, but I’m not convinced. For a start, she’s a Professor of Archaeology no less, and we’ve already had River Song, not to mention that Ace used to call the Doctor ‘Professor’, that’s a lot of Professors, and what do you have when you get three Professors around the table? The Big Bang Theory - oh no, I do wish my brain wouldn’t do these cross-genre jumps. No, too many Professors tend to make for academic boredom and Who is worth more than that.
Clearly, I’d like to see a brand new character for the companion. One who is intelligent, independent, has a backbone, a fighting spirit, and a sense of justice. Someone who uses logic, but is insatiably curious. I don’t care if this person is male or female, it would be nice to have an alien but even that’s not a deal breaker.
But most of all the Doctor needs his Watson, his best friend. Find a worthy one for him Moffat - Please.
Gail Williams lives in her own private dungeon populated with all the weird and the wonderful she can imagine. Some of it’s very weird, and the odd bits and pieces are a bit wonderful. Well okay, she lives in Swansea with her husband and daughter. And the world’s most demanding cat. To find out more about Gail, check out www.gailbwilliams.co.uk - Dare you!